CE Week Line Show – Updated 6/30/2014

I spent a few hours this week browsing the CE Week Line Show in New York. This is a small show with a handful of the big companies in consumer electronics and a whole bunch of small ones. Nothing really directly applicable to pro audio or music production, but it’s a good excuse to get away from home for the day and get a good pastrami sandwich before catching the long haul bus back home. Lots of health and wellness apps for iOS devices, remote home control with iOS devices, Bluetooth speakers and whole-house audio, as well as a bunch of pretty silly stuff that’s very important to the developers.

One thing that might be of interest to the on-the-go recording musician or producer is the iStick, a plug-in flash drive with two connectors, the conventional USB plug and a Lightning plug. Not being a member of the iGadget class, it never dawned me that the iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch didn’t have a USB port (even with the camera connection kit) that was capable of hosting an external disk drive. The LiiStickghtning port on the new new generation devices, however, can do that, so here’s a way of plugging in additional storage for your device. It’s just a little larger than a standard USB flash drive with a slider in the center to expose one connector or the other.

The obvious consumer application is filling it up with movies, a pro audio application could be to use it with a program like Auria for multitrack recording sessions. It’s a Kickstarter-funded project and, kind of pricey compared to standard USB flash drives, ranging from $80 for 8 GB up to $300 for 128 GB. I expect some of that is for the mechanical design and assembly with the slider (I’m sure there’s a good reason why they didn’t just put one connector on each end and mold them in place), and there’s probably a license fee for the Lightning connector. But if it’s really a useful product, the price surely will come down within a year or so. It should be available now. More info at the iStick web site.

I reported on the WiSA (Wireless Speaker and Audio) organization, a group hosting a new wireless technology for multi-channel audio. They were at the show again this year showing some new high grade home speakers from B&O, and they’ve picked up a few new members planning to incorporate the technology into their products. New and of interest this year is the group recently under the Gibson umbrella including Gibson (guitars), TEAC, and Onkyo. We talked some about hooking up a pro audio company to apply the technology to stage and studio wireless headphones and I suggested PreSonus, since they’re already big on wireless remote control of their digital mixing consoles and active loudspeakers. Keep up with them at the WiSA web site.

In the world of silly stuff, how about a 1990s cordless phone, brought up to date? The Brick has the look and fbrick-featureeel of an early portable phone. It’s actually a Bluetooth accessory that can connect to your modern cell phone and serve as a speaker phone or a handset with some heft that almost feels like a real phone handset that you can hold against your ear with your shoulder when you need a free hand and don’t have an earphone setup. The Brick does that, looks really cool, and, in its most basic version, isn’t very expensive. There’s a version in the works that accepts the SIM card from your modern cell phone and lets you use The Brick on your phone network. (No, I didn’t ask about locking, or which network). Meet The Brick here.

Lots of pulse rate monitors for those who want to keep up with your exercise regimen, and a sensor that you place on a muscle and get a report of the strength, fat content, and a few other things you thought you’d never need to know. And by golly, a collar for your dog that measures vital signs and reports things like body temperature, calories burned, heart and respiratory rate, all to let you know how your dog is really feeling.

[Added 6/30] –

With all the recent commotion about high resolution audio, I was expecting to see some high grade file and media players at the show, but surprisingly, there was only one, the Sony HAP-S1, two if you consider its close cousin the HAP-Z1ES on the same table. As is becoming more typical of trade shows, Sony had no literature on this product at their booth, and when I got home, while I could remember most of the important features and details of the unit, for the life of me I couldn’t remember the model number (they said “just go to our web site for all the info”) so it took me a little time to locate it.

The HAP-S1 is a tabletop unit that’s capable of playing nearly every audio file format available today including DSD formats. OGG was the only one I’m aware of that’s missing, but you can’t have everything. There’s a 40 watt per channel power amplifier as well as a hefty headphone amplifier, and it plays files off of an internal 500 GB hard drive which can be expanded by connecting an external drive to the USB port on the rear. I asked why, for a thousand bucks, they didn’t include at least a 1 TB drive, and the only answer they could come up with was that they designed the unit three years ago when half a terabyte was a big drive.

The hard drive is important, because, while there’s computer connectivity via an Ethernet port and built-in WiFi, those only serve to transfer files from the computer to the player. Although it includes the vTuner streaming player which covers a wide range of streaming Internet radio stations, you can’t use your computer’s web browser to find on-line music and pipe it into the HAP to take advantage of its high quality D/A converter. The USB port serves only for connecting an external disk drive, and it’s worth noting that it doesn’t use the standard FAT32 disk format. Connecting a virgin drive to the USB port brings up a prompt telling you that it isn’t formatted for the device, and inviting you to do so. If this was a review rather than a report, I’d rant and rave about that. If you have an audio interface for your computer that has a S/PDIF coax or optical output, the HAP-S1 has connectivity for it, so that’s a route getting what’s in your computer out through what reports to be a very good sounding D/A converter. There’s also two pairs of analog inputs on RCA jacks for your turntable, tape deck, or other analog source. The HAP-Z1ES, for an extra grand, leaves off the power amplifier, headphone output, analog and S/PDIF digital inputs, but includes a 1 TB hard drive and a DSD up-sampler to convert your files to DSD (which doesn’t really improve anything). Both models include an “enhancer” that claims to restore some of the high frequency detail lost in the MP3 data reduction process. More info on the Sony High Res Web Page.

One great feature of this show, and I wish all the trade shows I attend would adopt it, is that they periodically bring out free snacks during the afternoon so we don’t have to survive on booth candy. It’s a bit ironic that, with all of these health and wellness monitoring gadgets on display, at around 2 o’clock, out came the hot dog cart. They were good hot dogs, though.

I’m skipping the Summer NAMM show, so the next stop will the AES show in Los Angeles in October.

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Moog Introduces the Theremini

This isn’t the usual kind of thing that I report on here, but I’ve always had great respect for Bob Moog and his contributions to music making. One of his products was a Theremin, an electronic musical instrument which the player controlled by waving his (or her – some of the most famous Theremin players were women) hands around two antennas.

In the spirit of Bob Moog, the company that bears his name this month introduced the Theremini. The original Theremin had one sound, the very electronic eery science fiction movie sound effect. The Theremini includes a library of Moog synthesizer sounds and effects based on the Animoog and, of course, including the original Theremin sound. A number of innovative features make what’s always been a very difficult-to-play instrument accessible to those who don’t specialize in it.

The new instrument offers such features as a “chromatic tuner” display that shows you when you’re on pitch, not only an aid to playing, but also an ear training tool which, with practice, will allow you to play it accurately. Though it sounds like cheating, the Theremini features controls for pitch correction, scale, and root note, which allow anyone to adjust the level of playing difficulty, and to explore new means of music creation and gestural control. At one end of the scale, the Theremini will play every note in a selected scale perfectly, making it impossible to play a wrong note. With pitch correction set to minimum, it performs exactly as a traditional Etherwave Theremin in which the pitch is determined by a variable frequency oscillator beating with a fixed oscillator. Unlike the original Theremin in its wooden cabinet reminiscent of an old fashioned wind-up Victrola, this is a stylish tabletop instrument, and it costs just a bit over $300.

More info from Moog here.

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NAB 2014 Show Highlights Posted

This is a consolidated version of the blogettes that I posted during the show. Not a lot of new information since then other than links and a few pictures, but if you didn’t read those, you’ll find the full report on the Trade Show Reports page, or just grab it here.

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Prism Sound Presents Free Mike-to-Monitor Workshop

Learn about audio hardware design, get the best out of your studio and talk to leading engineers as they personally take you through their mixes and reveal their tips and tricks to achieve their acclaimed, signature sound.

Prism Sound presents a workshop featuring special guests Edward J ‘UK’ Nixon, chief engineer for The J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, and multi-Grammy award winning producer Dwayne ‘Supa Dups’ Chin-Quee. Topics to be presented are:

  • How do the pros do it?

  • What makes great gear great?

  • How is that hit sound achieved?

  • What does it take to become a successful and in demand engineer?

The seminar will be presented live in Atlanta on March 19 and Orlando on March 21. The March 21 presentation will be webcast live for those of us in the rest of the world.

Register or get more details here.

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Vintage Trade Show Reports Posted

A friend from the rec.audio.pro newsgroup way back located some NAMM and one AES show report that he had captured from my newsgroup postings. This was from a mostly pre-web era and these reports were newsgroup posts that I made reporting what i saw at the show that day. They’re not organized by product category nor spell checked and edited very diligently, no pictures, not many URL links (most of which are probably dead by now anyway) but they’re a picture of what was happening in the late 1990s. You might enjoy reminiscing or reading for the first time what was hot back then, and being glad that we don’t have to do it that way any more.

Gil Griffith of Wave Distribution once introduced me to someone as “Mike was blogging about shows before the word ‘blog’ was invented.” These are some early blogs. Visit the Trad Show Reports page, or go directly to them here:

NAMM Winter 2000
NAMM Winter 1999
NAMM Winter 1998
NAMM Summer 1997
NAMM Winter 1997

AES 1998

 

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Focusrite Studio Console Video and Contest

Our friends at Focusrite have produced an interesting historical video about the first studio console that they designed. There were only ten of those consoles built, and the video traces each one from its first installation to where it is today. It’s kind of interesting to see how far these things have gone (one was in a New Jersey studio that suffered a lot of flood damage from last year’s hurricane Sandy) and the efforts that owners have taken to keep those consoles alive and in use

The excuse for the video (or maybe it’s the other way around) is the 25th anniversary of the Focusrite brand. To celebrate, they’re having a contest, the prize being an expense paid (hopefully including transportation) recording session at AIR Studios in London. The contest is now closed, but the video is still up and it’s an interesting story and worth watching.

Watch the Focusrite 25th Anniversary video.

 

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The 78 Project

A piece on NPR’s Morning Edition (see the link at the bottom of this page) about The 78 Project caught my ear this morning. I’d never heard of this project before, but apparently it’s been going for a few years. A couple of folks from New York have resurrected a portable (it weighs 50 pounds, but there’s a handle on the case) Presto disk recorder from the 1940s, and have been takPrestoDiskCutter_78_Projecting it around, making direct-to-lacquer disk recordings of musicians in non-studio environments, invoking the spirit of Alan Lomax and his extensive field collecting work for the Library of Congress.

The 78 Project’s work isn’t quite like Lomax in that they’re not discovering music history. Most of their work, at least that which they’ve published, has been with established contemporarly artists in the (though I hate the term) “americana” genre, Richard Thompson, The Secret Sisters, Elvis Costello, Rosanne Cash, Marshall Crenshaw and such. They’re issuing their recordings as vinyl LP pressings with a digital download including extensive notes, and for those who don’t have a turntable, their recordings are available for download through iTunes. This is definitely lo-fi stuff, and clearly a bit of a novelty, but they’re pretty serious about what they’re doing. In essence they’re using the disk recording and playback process as a signal processor, following up with contemporary digital mastering, sort of like using Grandpa’s TEAC to “warm up” your digital home studio recordings. From the photos, it looks like they’re using the original microphone that came with the recorder, or one like it.

I’m not sure how technically hip they are (the write about desparately changing tubes before a session), and their gear lust for a Newcomb suitcase turntable owned by one of their artists is a little strange (this is the sort of player common when I was in elementary school in the 1950s). They accept the flaws and glitches of the one-take sessions, but they seem to have some good guidance and want to let people know about what they’re doing, so I’m doing my part here in the interest of maintaining vintage technology. I hope they’re using something better than the Newcomb for transcribing the masters, and that they’re taking good care of the lacquers. They have a film in the works, too, as Kickstarter funded project.

For further details, visit The 78 Project web page

Here’s the NPR story

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