NAMM 2016 – Day 1 Tidbits

My usual plan for Day 1 of the show is to start out in Hall E. Traditionally this is where they put the new exhibitors, and after they’ve survived for a few years (many don’t), they “graduate” to one of the upstairs halls. These days, while there are still plenty of wacky new music making stuff, Hall E has also become home for some of the smaller instrument makers (both small production and small instruments like ukes and hand percussion), as well as machine tools like laser cutters and automated milling machines.

My Hall E tour was cut short on Thursday because there was just so many loud guitars demonstrating pedals and other processors that I needed to move on quickly. While I was there, I had a good look at a device that was designed to work in just such an environment, the Soundbrenner Pulse. It’s a wearable metronome that both blinks and vibrates in rhythm. It can operate as a stand-alone device, but it really gets up and dances when connected via Bluetooth Smart (yeah, you might have to wait until it’s time to update your phone) to an iOS or Android device. With the app, you can select from a list of time signatures that reads like an ad for a set of socket wrenches, set accents, construct a set list with rhythms and tempos, and synchronize up to ten metronomes so everyone in the band can get the beat. Though at this point I’m unsure of the hookup, it integrates with Pro Tools, Abelton Live, and Logic Pro X to take tempo information from a project file while you play along. Power is from an internal battery (4-5 hours estimated running time), rechargeable through a mini USB connector.

While seeking shelter from the raucous guitars in Hall E I got a phone call from an old friend I hadn’t seen in several years, I went upstairs to meet him, and we ended up hanging out together for a couple of hours, mostly looking at speakers for his band’s PA system. Once I was upstairs, that’s where I stayed for the rest of the day. I’ll get back to Hall E another day.

However, before the Hall E tour, my day started with a press conference where Mackie introduced the DC16, a new mixing control surface which, when combined with their DL32R 32 channel in-and-out “mixer in a stage box,” becomes the Axis Digital Mixing System. Mackie’s 25+ years of experience in building mixers carries through in this system, with the goal of providing a lot of the visual feedback that gets lost when consoles went from analog to digital design, and knobs and indicators disappeared until you brought them to the display surface. While I think it can be operated “barefoot,” a tray at the back edge of the top surface accommodates up to three iPad tablets with some clever smarts. The one in the center is the primary one and it can be selected to display any of the various sets of screens available. The other tablets can be used as sticky displays for things that you want to see or control without pressing any extra buttons. A particularly cool feature is that, since a tablet can be removed from the console, for example, to walk up to the stage and adjust monitors, it remembers what it was doing when docked at the console, and automatically reverts to that function when put back where it came from. This one will probably hit the stores before Summer.

Mackie also introduced a couple of tiny desktop mixers designed for the soloist or duo. Front panel control is limited to selecting an input and adjusting its volume. The guts include EQ and dynamics on each channel, plus an effect processor and a graphic equalizer on the outputs, all controlled from and iOS or Android portable device. In addition to the analog inputs, the mixer will also take an input stream via Bluetooth for playing backing tracks from the tablet controller. Speakers have been a big part of Mackie’s for the past dozen years or so, and this year they introduced a new subwoofer designed to be a companion to their long standing SRM350 and SRM450 full range speakers. Although it’s been around for a while and has had several reviews already, this was their first showing of their Reach portable PA speaker/mixer which offers a pair of built-in rear/side firing speakers which serve as on-stage monitors.

Neutrik is the first name (or maybe second if you’re a Switchcraft fan) in audio connectors, and this year they surprised us with a different form of connector, a wireless one, with the introduction of their Xirium Pro system. The system consists of a transmitter and a receiver that caries two channels of full bandwidth audio with no companding via a 5 GHz RF channel. Each transmitter and receiver can be mated with one of three I/O modules, – line level analog on XLRs, AES/EBU 24-bit 48 kHz (XLR) and Dante (Neutrik EtherCon locking RJ45). In addition, the receiver can take a fourth module that converts it to a repeater for extended distances. Setup and status monitoring is done via WiFi with an iOS application.

Sonoma Wire Works introduced a hardware family of interfaces, connecting various music sources to a computer via Lightning. A USB OTG cable is included so that Android owners with newer devices with the Samsung Audio Technology firmware. The first out of the gate (and actually available now) is the Guitar JStage, a guitar interface in a 4-switch foot pedal format with a variety of built-in effects and knobs for hands-on control, with further control and editing via an app. Other family members coming later this year are the Studio Jack (2 mic/line inputs), Guitar Jack Mini and Studio Jack Mini.

Miktek started out a few years ago with a couple of studio grade sub-$1K mics that got a good reputation pretty quickly. Like so many of the newer companies, they’ve been expanding in the downward connection, and now have a couple of inexpensive USB mics. One that caught my eye at this show was the ProCast SST. This is an integrated microphone, mixer, and USB interface aimed directly at the podcaster with a nod to the tabletop musician. What puts it in a different category from the many USB mics with a monitor output and possibly a secondary input is its base. It’s heavily weighted and the microphone is mounted on an articulated swing arm very much like what you see in practically any photograph of a radio broadcast studio. The base has three sliders for level control of the mic, an external mic/line/instrument input, and a monitor mix blending the source with playback through the USB port. There’s an LED level meter, phantom power for the external mic, and even a mic mute switch (the “belch button”). The inputs are hard-assigned left and right in the stereo digital stream, with a Mono button to put a single source in the center of the headphone mix if you’re recording a single source. I came away really impressed with the design, though I wish it was a little more of a mixer. While you can record a stereo instrument with the inputs provided, you can’t record a stereo instrument along with a vocal. If there were two line level inputs, even if their levels were controlled with a single ganged slider, it would be possible to record a vocal with stereo accompaniment, or, more important in a broadcast-like situation, have a stereo source such as a CD player connected and quickly move from speaking to playing music.

Shure introduced a new dynamic mic, the KSM8 Dualdyne. Its significant feature is that it has a cardioid pattern, but with substantially less proximity effect than the typical cardioid. They do this with what they call a dual diaphragm design., there’s only one diaphragm that actually has a voice coil, the other is more like a baffle that’s in the acoustical path to the rear of the active diaphragm. It’s similar in concept, though different in execution, to the E-V Variable D mics such as the RE-20. Shure sees applications both on stage and for broadcast.

A curiously named product from Belcat Co. Ltd (China) is the Bluetooth Cable. The company makes a line of instrument preamps, effects, small amplifiers, and accessories. Now I thought that the reason why we have Bluetooth was to get rid of the cable. Well, what this really is, is a Bluetooth receiver with a mic input and mixer, and an analog output. It’s designed for singing along with music streamed via Bluetooth.

In the smoke-and-mirrors department, Morrow Audio cables is yet another company that has found the secret to making a better sounding cable. Their blurb is that with stranded wire, the signal is caused to “jump from strand to strand instead of flowing through a continuum.” Morrow uses only solid wire, though some of their cables use multiple strands of insulated wire for high current applications such as speakers. They are also heavily shielded to minimize RFI and use a small diameter conductor for low shield to conductor capacitance. Good design principles, but no magic here.

A lot of the booths have famous artists dropping by to sign autographs and maybe talk or play a bit, and particularly on weekends, aisled are severely clogged with people standing on line to get their autograph or selfie photo. This is my 28th or maybe 29th Winter NAMM show (plus a few Summer shows), and for the first time ever, I stood in line to meet an artist. Engineer, producer, and writer Sylvia Massey has a new book coming soon from Hal Leonard Publishing, and she was there to talk about some of her experiences and give some hints as to what we’ll find in the book entitled Recording Unhinged. It promises to be a collection of stories from Sylvia herself as well as a number of her industry friends, together with some do-it-yourself tips and techniques that she’s used to capture sounds and solve problems. Having read a fascinating series of articles she wrote in Mix Magazine several years back I just had to meet her. She’s a delightful person and I expect that the book will be both a useful and entertaining read.

More later.

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NAMM 2016 – Tidbits from the Preview Day

For several years, NAMM has held a preview day where a relatively small number of manufacturers display their new wares for the media. This year, the small space set aside for this event was jam packed, with many of the major music web sites there with camera crews, so you’ve probably already seen videos of several new gadgets. In addition, manufacturers are holding press conferences a day before the show, so everyone can get the news before anyone else. Here are some tidbits, with more details to follow over the next few days.

DiGiGrid, a dedicated networked plug-in host plus signal router that’s getting a lot of attention in the live sound field is now hosting plug-ins from a few companies other than Waves, their original partner. They’ve also introduced a series of small boxes that use the DiGiGrid Ethernet protocol, but rather than hosting plug-ins, extend the network to handy little gadgets. There’s a headphone amplifier (there were a couple of those at the recent AES show that used the Dante protocol), a two small recording interfaces, one with 2 inputs and 2 outputs, the other with 4 inputs and 6 outputs, and a PoE switch.

Allen & Heath, following in the steps of a the shrinking breed of analog mixer manufacturers, added several new downsized versions of their ZED series, from 2 up to 8 inputs, with or without effects. They also have a new color scheme.

Last year I reported a flood of Eurorack format analog synthesizer modules. This year I’m sure there will be many more. Roland has a couple of new ones as well as a portable 4-module rack  and a complete package of their 500-series (that’s Roland’s 500 series analog synth modules, not the audio “500 series” modules). Roland also introduced a line of accessories, mostly cables. Also interesting is a set of ear-worn binaural microphones designed primarily to be used with a head-worn GoPro video camera. 40 years ago, collecting village folk music in Eastern Europe with head-worn binaural mics produced a series of well respected records. Maybe it’s time to re-visit that project.

HK Audio introduced the Lucas Nano 608i compact PA system, a bass speaker, a mid-high speaker on a pole projecting from it, and a small mixer. The shtick is that the mixer has hardware controls, but it’s also controllable via Bluetooth from an iPad app. It’s about the right size for a soloist or duo, but not a full band.

The Vinylrecorder T580 is actually a family of vinyl (not lacquer) disk cutting products, starting with a stereo cutter head and lathe, RIAA equalizer, groove pitch (spacing between grooves) controller, heated diamond stylus, vacuum chip remover, and vinyl blanks from 7 to 14 inches in diameter, including a thin flexible one like the EvaTone Soundsheets. It’s not cheap, about $3600 for the starter kit, and you have to provide the turntable. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few independent mastering engineers and small batch replicators picking up on it to offer custom vinyl phonograph records within the next couple of years if the vinyl craze keeps up.

More later

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Book Review – Self on Audio (3rd Edition)

Happy New Year, folks. I’ve had this interesting book festering on the coffee table for a few months now, picking it up and reading a chapter now and then, and saying to myself, “Self (me, not the book’s author) make sure you get a review of this book out before the end of the year. Well, I wanted to make sure I got it out before the end of this year.

Self on Audio is a collection of articles on the design of small signal and power amplifiers written by designer Douglas Self. The articles are well written, well illustrated where appropriate, and give the reader both technical information about how things work, but equally important, how a designer approaches making a circuit that does what he wants it to do. The bonus material in this book is an extensive preface to each article that provides background on why the author designed it the way he did, and how he improved a common device like a phono preamp or power amplifier.

You can read my full review here.

It’s a little late for a stocking stuffer, but if you’re interested in solid state audio design, and maybe want a couple of DIY projects, you might want to put that Amazon gift card you got for Christmas to work.

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Attending The 2016 Winter NAMM Show – Anaheim, California – January 21-24

The NAMM show is coming up, so it’s the season when people start asking if anyone knows how to get a  NAMM Show “ticket.” It’s always been pretty much of a closed thing – industry only – though members, which probably include your friendly local music store, usually have a few extra badge slots available. You can ask. The deadline for free member registration is January 6, so check out your possibilities soon.

Last  year they had an “Industry Professional” category for non-members which included studio owners, free lance engineers, those working with school or church music groups and such. That seems to have gone away, but they have a Generation Next program targeted to students and college faculty. I have received some some slightly confusing information on registering for this (and maybe a related) program, but here’s what I know:

Here’s a link to the Generation Next NAMM web page   Note the promo code NS16GN. If you qualify as a “Generation Next” the promo code gets you a badge for $25. Otherwise, general non-member registration is $50.

Here’s the link to get started with the non-member registration:

The registration is a little clumsy to navigate. If you click on the wrong button, it will tell you to sign in to register, and you probably haven’t done that yet. If the general non-member link or the Generation Next link doesn’t take you directly to the registration form, start at Step 1 below. If you’re at the registration form, then jump ahead to Step 5.

(Step 1:  Go to NAMM.Org)

(Step 2: Under the NAMM Show tab at the top of the page (Don’t click the REGISTER NOW button), you will see ATTEND, click on ATTEND)

(Step 3: Below the words the Musical Tribes, you will see 5 circles for
BUSINESS, CAMPUS, EDUCATION, TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNITY)

(Step 4: SCROLL DOWN. You will see a rectangular box in which it says APPLY TO ATTEND
THE NAMM SHOW, Click on this box)

Step 5: You now see the Registration Application page, Click the BLUE
box which says Begin Application on the left side where it says Need to
Apply?

Step 6: This page will ask you if you are a NAMM member?  Click NO

Step 7: A drop down box will appear asking you if you would like to
become a member, Click NO, begin application.  You are applying for our
NEXT GENERATION Program. Don’t forget the Promo Code above.

Step 8: Finally, the last step…you will see your application page.
Don’t forget to create and remember your PASSWORD

I didn’t go through the full application myself but I did notice that it asks for a web site and a business card. Be prepared.

I’ll be there and will almost certainly be publishing my show report here a few days after the show.

 

 

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Mackie Hard Disk Recorder Section Updated

Today I went on what I figured was a wild goose chase for the Mackie Hard Disk Recorder FAQ and actually found a capture of it in the Internet Archive web.archive.org. I’ve updated the Mackie HDR page here with a link to that useful document as well as to what’s left of Mackie’s web support for the HDR and MDR recorders. Everything for the SDR seems to have evaporated. Anyway, if you’ve looked here and found non-working links for Mackie info, you’ll probably find something useful there now.

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Compact Mixer Reference Guide

Since Mackie reworked their support web page, one of the things that disappeared was the Compact Mixer Reference Guide that I wrote for them in 2001. I’ve taken the liberty (I’ll eventually ask for permission) to post it here since I’ve been getting “Where is it?” requests. You’ll find a link to it on the Technical Articles page.

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More Plug-In Bargains

Black Friday must have been good to the plug-in vendors. Seems like about every other day I’m getting an e-mail announcing a hefty short term discount on a Waves plug-in. Click on the link for this week’s specials.

Throughout December, Sound Toys is offering one of their “Little” series plug-ins each week at a pay-what-you-want price, with 100% of your payment going to a charity that they support. This week’s special is the Little Radiator a “warming” processor modeled after a vintage Altec tube preamp.

If you’re a plug-in collector, keep these links handy and check back weekly for whatever’s on special. Something will be, for sure.

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