NAMM 2015 Notes – Day 2

NAMM 2015 Notes – Day 2 January 23

 

Today was another day of running around like a crazy person trying to see this one at that time and another one right now and forgetting about another scheduled demo. Oh, well. No big exciting developments, but a lot of neat little things that can help you do your job better.

 

I reported on the Softube Console 1 last year, but to refresh your memory, it’s a hardware controller for every knob you’d find on a console input strip that goes along with Softube’s own plug-ins. The console that they modeled the system around is the Solid State Logic SL 4000E, not a bad choice. This year they introduced an SSL XL 9000K console strip set for the Console 1. A lot of engineers and producers loved the 4000 when it was introduced because of how much it could do and how well the automation worked, but few cared for the sound (though they used it anyway). The 9000, introduced later, had much lower distortion and was cleaner all around. By that time the recording industry was well into the “clarity of digital” so this became a favorite. Today, however, people with their DAWs miss the rock’n’roll sound of the 4000, so that’s why Softube chose that as their first Console 1 emulation. Now you have a choice of two probably equally well accepted SSL sounds, a pristine one and a little dirty and gritty one. I’ll have to try to find someone who knows how the business end works, if you get both models when you buy a Console 1, if you’ll get a choice, or if the 4000 is still the standard and the 9000 is an extra cost option. That’s what it looks like on the web site, where the 9000 has an on-line ordering tag of $329.

 

RAM Mounts is a product of a musician who has a factory that makes products for agricultural machinery. They showed a diverse line of device holders that attach to a mic stand. There are a couple of sizes of four-finger spring loaded “claws” for tablets and phones, a cradle for a compact mixer up to about 8 channels, clamps for stomp box sized effect processors, a camera mount, and even a drumstick quiver and cup holder. They’re made of a tough reinforced plastic with ball joints for flexible positioning. The ball (there are two sizes for light or heavy things) as well as the clamp that goes on the stand tubing, is coated with a rubber surface for a no-slip grip. They’re a little pricey, but they offer a lifetime guarantee (send them a photo of your broken clamp and they’ll send you a new one).

 

LoKnob is a replacement for the knobs on your stomp box or amplifier that you’ve tweaked to perfection and you don’t want to change accidentally. The idea of a shaft lock isn’t new – I have a few pieces of old military surplus gear and computer gear that have a collet to clamp down on the shaft, but the LoKnob is sized for modern music electronics an you can install it yourself with no tools but the allen wrench which is included with the knob. (OK, you might need a screwdriver to get the original knob off) It’s not an infallible lock, but more like a fairly fine detent that you release by pulling upward on the knob. Release the knob, the teeth on the knob and the ring that you install on the chassis grab, and the knob is safe from being turned from careless handling. They only come in one style, round knurled aluminum, so they won’t replace the chicken heads on your vintage amplifier, but they’ll help save your settings. The inventor whittled his initial model from wood!

 

Dialtone Pickups adds a new twist to the conventional magnetic guitar pickup. In addition to his own tweaks to the winding and magnetics, there are two flush mounted rotary knobs at the corners of the pickup case. Those control the center frequency and Q of an active filter (it’s powered by a 9v battery) to get a degree of tone control right out of the pickup. It’s an interesting concept.

 

I normally don’t bother to write about stomp boxes because I don’t use them myself, so I’m writing here about a switch that I’ve never seen before that’s used on the pedals made by MC Systems. It looks like the typical push-button toggle (push-on-push-off) switch that meets your foot, but with a twist. If you give it a really good stomp, in addition to doing what the switch usually does, it toggles an additional function. In the case of the pedal I looked at, it switched to an alternate drive level setting. They told me that there’s a “pressure plate” (their words) behind an ordinary switch. It takes quite a bit of pressure – I couldn’t activate the third function with my thumb – so I hope these are mighty sturdy pedals.

 

Shure introduced a new series of USB mics. They cover a lot of bases with this line. The top of the line, the MV51, is in a case that resembles the old Shure 51 (not quite “The Elvis Mic”) and contains a 1” condenser cardioid capsule. There’s DSP that provides EQ and compression presets for speech, singing, acoustic guitar, and “loud” (an amplifier or drum kit) in addition to flat. There’s a mute button and headphone jack for monitoring, with a mixer to combine the mic signal with playback through the USB connection.

 

The Shure MV88 (note the connection of model numbers here) is a sort of version of Shure’s VP-88 single point stereo mic. It’s an M-S configuration with one cardioid and one bi-directional mic that’s sized and shaped to plug directly into the Lightning connector of a newfangled Apple mobile device. It comes with an app that provides a stereo width control (with a graphic representation), five presets (I assume essentially the same as with the MV51), gain control, monitor output through the iGadget’s headphone jack, and it’s a stereo recorder. The mic has some agility so you can swing it around to keep it vertical if you’re shooting a video in landscape mode.

 

Rounding out the series is the MV5 is a ball on a stand, essentially a podcaster’s mic. The MVi isn’t a mic, but rather, a single channel USB audio interface with a combo XLR jack that provides 48v phantom power for a mic, and a high impedance DI input for an instrument on the XLR and ¼” holes in the combo jack. Like the others, it has the presets for sources, and an input gain control.

 

Lastly, for the lover of vintage cheap guitars, Kay Vintage Reissue has re-issued several classic Kay electric guitars, the ones that not yet famous but got famous musicians played when they were coming up. One is the model that Paul McCarthy played before he got the Hofner that he made famous. The Twin was Jimmy Reed’s guitar. Eric Clapton played a Jazz II. And so on. I asked if they were going to re-issue the aluminum doghouse bass that all the bluegrass bands used to use because they could tie it to the roof rack of the one car that they all traveled in. Nope, they said, that’s a whole different thing. Oh, well.

 

Off to find some more interesting stuff, I hope.

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NAMM Show 2015 – Day 1 Notes

NAMM 2015 Notes – Day 1 January 22

 

If you’ve been following my NAMM show reports, or anyone’s NAMM show reports, you probably know about Hall E. That’s “the basement,” the downstairs hall in the Los Angeles Convention Center where they put all of the new exhibitors and many of the foreign manufacturers looking for US distribution. In addition to new suppliers of familiar products, it’s the place where you can see things that nobody ever thought of, or nobody ever made before, some really wacky, some really curious, and some that are just darn good ideas. I usually try to start the show with a Hall E tour, but didn’t get very far before a few press conferences took me to other places hither and yon. I hope to spend more time there today (Friday).

 

It’s been three (I think) years since Mackie introduced the concept of a mixer that replaced the hardware control surface (which, in my book, is what makes a mixer a mixer) with an iPad. This year, it seems that nearly every company that makes small mixers, and even some that make large ones, has picked up the idea. New entries into this pool this show are PreSonus, Phonic, and Soundcraft, and I expect I’ll run into a couple more before the weekend is out. They all offer a range of number of inputs and outputs and on the surface appear to be pretty similar, but there are distinguishing features that give you a reasonable basis for choosing one over the others. All of these manufacturers have some experience in the digital mixer market, and they bring their own brand of DSP technology to these “black box” mixers. PreSonus offers the full complement of EQ, effects, and remote controllability offered by their hardware based StudioLive mixers. The Soundcraft Ui series bring processing from dbx, Lexicon, and Digitech (other Harman companies). There’s lots to study here, and hopefully reviewers will help you to make an intelligent choice should you decide to make the move in this direction when buying your next (or first) mixer.

 

Hear Technologies brought the concept of individually controllable monitor mixes to the commercial marketplace a dozen or so years ago. This year they introduced the hear back PRO, a 16 channel system (they’ve been limited to 8 channels since its introduction) as well as other features such as stereo mixing with panning on all channels, level indicators, storable presets, both ¼” and 1/8” headphone jacks (no adapters needed), and an input for an on-stage private intercom. It’s digital, of course, and claims less than 0.25 ms latency. It’s a really slick looking unit, and with all the other similar systems on the market now, it’s nice to see the originator, a really small company, getting caught up.

 

Does the world need another DAW? Nick Garcia (who, as it turns out, is a local Washingtonian) thinks so, and designed the Lumit-Audio DAW specifically to work with a touch screen display. System requirements are pretty modest – a Pentium 4 with Windows 7 or 8, and it features unlimited track count, drag and drop editing, automation, effects, and some gesture awareness for those accustomed to using touch screen devices.

 

The AmpRidge MightyMic S is a miniature plug-in powered shotgun-like style condenser mic designed for recording on a mobile phone. I plugged it into my decidedly not fancy Android phone and recorded a short spiel about it from the developer. It worked really well in the noisy show floor environment. It’s probably better for making a “live me” video than for recording a concert from the back of the room, but then this is a characteristic of shotgun mics that not everyone understands. I’ll pay closer attention to the sound of the background noise when I get home and can hear it over real speakers. It’s a good functional design, it doesn’t look awkward when attached to the phone, it includes a headphone jack for listening to playback without unplugging the mic, and it includes a foam wind screen.

 

The Hook from Wishbone Workshop is a microphone boom designed for instrument amplifier. Looking a bit like a cross between a boom mic stand and a Club steering wheel lock, The Hook slips under the handle on the top of an amplifier and extends a boom out in front of the speaker. It can be slipped under the speaker cabinet if there’s no handle, and can go between a speaker cabinet and amplifier head, though, honestly, I didn’t think this arrangement was very stable. This is a typical Hall E product – out for a trial to see who’s interested.

 

Sennhiesier has a wide range of wireless mics and systems (their 9000 digital system is perhaps the industry’s most complete and complex) and at this show they introduced the D1, a fully automatic just-plug-and-play system that takes care of the things that musicians often don’t understand about RF systems, while not dumbing down the technology and taking advantage of what the company knows about making wireless mics reliable. It’s a diversity system that seamlessly switches between two RF signals, with a third RF channel that maintains the diversity operation should one of the primary channels become unreliable. It automatically searches for free channels and sets up the receiver and transmitter for the best RF signal. The backup channel is constantly monitored so that if it needs to use it, it will know that it’s switching to an available channel. It comes in two packages, one hand-held and one with a belt pack with either a headworn or lavaliere mic.

 

There’s always some computer audio interface news. Focusrite introduced a new line, the Clarett, with four models from 2 to 8 inputs. This is a cut above the Scarlett and features a higher grade preamp and Thunderbolt computer I/O. I liked the mic preamps on the Focusrite Forte when I reviewed it, and told them that I wished they had a 4- or 8-channel interface with that preamp. From what I can tell, the Clarett doesn’t use that same circuit, but, like the Forte, it’s based on their top grade ISA series. However, I was bummed to learn that Thunderbolt was the only computer connection, no USB, no Ethernet, and of course no Firewire. This is going to keep it out of the hands or a lot of PC users (including me) until we get a new computer, but Mac users should embrace it.

 

Arturia, known best for their analog hardware synthesizers and classic analog synth plug-ins, introduced the Audiofuse, a compact desktop 2-channel USB audio interface with a well thought out and straightforward user interface. Following the trend, there’s a big knob for monitor volume adjustement, individual gain controls for the two inputs, built-in talkback mic, insert jacks for both inputs, and it’s expandable with ADAT optical and S/PDIF I/O.

 

Universal Audio announced Apollo Expanded software as part of a software update expected to be released this Spring. The new update will allow any combination of up to four Thunderbolt-connected Apollo interfaces of any configuration to be integrated as a single device. In addition, two UAD-2 hardware outboard DSP host devices can be included to make, as I count it, as large as a 64-channel interface capable of running a heap of UA’s plug-ins.

 

 

Gotta run, see more stuff. Stay tuned.

 

 

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NAMM 2015 – Notes From Preview Day

Here are some rough notes, which I’ll try to post some of daily during the show. There will be a full, consolidated report next week.

NAMM 2015 Preview Day Notes

 

IK Multimedia – iRig Mic HD-A yet. Hoped this would be the digital mic that I could use with my Android phone and tablet, but without one to try, I can’t be sure. They know that it doesn’t require the Samsung Pro Audio operating system extension but think it might require Android OS version 5 (I have vesion 4). I’ll try to get deeper into this when the actual booth opens. Their new Android product is a guitar interface, as well as a bunch of apps for Android.

 

iZ Technology – Lots of buzz around the pro audio forums about the new Radar Studio. The excitement is about that it it’s a one-box DAW. It integrates iZ’s highly respected A/D and D/A converters (as well as an assortment of digital I.O options), recording software, and system controller (a keyboard with a button for everything you’ll need).

That’s pretty much what they’ve been doing for over 20 years. The thing that puts it all together is that it’ll run Pro Tools, or any other DAW that runs under Windows. It’s not quite perfect, yet, thought. Radar and Pro Tools can’t run simultaneously in the same box. It’s a dual-boot system and when you boot it up, you get a choice of what you want to run. So, you can do your tracking on Radar and not have to fuss with a mouse, and then switch to your DAW for editing and mixing. It comes pre-loaded with Pro Tools 11 Native and Harrison Mixbus, but (I’m pretty sure) you have to provide your own license. It has a port for an external monitor, but there’s a touch-sensitive LCD on the front panel so you really don’t need anything but the single box if portability is an issue.

 

GTC Sound (a new company) – Revpad is a system that consists of a pedalboard-sized box that contains four of their own effects, along with a wireless controller that you can stick on to your guitar to select the effects, which can be chained as presets, and adjust parameters of the effects with a small touch pad. That’s not all that special, but wait! There’s more!

Two features caught my eye, and they can be cleverly integrated. First it has jacks for an (just one) external effect processor input and output. This can be a single effect by itself, or can be incorporated into a chain. The other cool thing is that it can send MIDI control data, which can be controlled by the remote controller. So, in effect (pun intended) you have a wireless remote control for an outboard MIDI-controllable effect processor or for a VST plug-in running in a computer or mobile device,

 

Relish Guitars (new to me) – A Swiss company that makes solid body electric guitars with a couple of interesting features. They have a solid aluminum “backbone” inside the body that mounts the pickups and tailpiece together on a solid metal block. Their claim is that this increases sustain. But the thing that caught my eye was the wiring and control of the pickup system. They offer a plain old three position mechanical switch, but they have an alternate switch that’s electronic, operated by a pair of touch-sensitive buttons on the guitar. Advantages? The obvious one is no noise, and no contacts to get fussy during a show. They have models with standard wiring, but they also have a modular option with plug-in connectors for the pickup, switch, and pots so that it’s easy for the owner to customize the instrument by swapping components without soldering. What caught my eye (and prompted me to stick around for a demo) was that all of the internal wiring is shielded cable, and it uses SMA (or maybe the one that’s a bit smaller – neither they nor I were sure) coax connectors. That’s really classy.

So much for a pre-show teaser. The real show starts today.

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2014 AES Show Report Posted

My report on the 2014 Audio Engineering Society convention in Los Angeles, California, October 9-12 2014 is now posted. Read or download it directly here or visit the Trade Show Reports page for this one and others.

It was a good show. Of course I didn’t report on everything, just what was interesting to me and my readers. You’ll find this to be particularly software-free, so you won’t find reports on new plug-ins, but cool hardware abounds.

A note (there’s always something):  I may have been a little casual with the TASCAM DR-10X plug-on miniature recorder when I wrote “Phantom power ….Fugeddaboudit!” To clarify, the DR-10X uses a AAA battery and does not supply phantom power. Its target application is ENG, where an omni dynamic mic such as the EV 635 is commonly used.

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Prism Sound Lyra 1 Review Posted

As an individual reviewer (as opposed to a magazine or big web site) I rarely get the opportunity to get my hands on a really top tier product. Having had some experience with Prism’s high quality A/D converters, I’ve been bugging them for over a year to get one of their USB interfaces for a review. Being a smaller company, Prism don’t have a large number of units to pass out to reviewers (the big boys get them first) but they finally came up with one for me.

The Lyra is quite a bit more expensive than the usual fare here, but the quality was apparent from first listen and it held up through use for the fairly short period that I had it. Even if you can’t afford it, you’ll find it educational to read the review.

Visit the Product Reviews section or, if you can’t wait, jump directly to the Lyra 1 review here.

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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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