2017 NAMM Show Tidbits – Day 2

From the introduction of the cassette-based Portastudio, TASCAM has maintained a strong product line of integrated recording and mixing systems. This show they introduced Track Factory, which could be the next generation after the digital Portastudios. a complete system-engineered and turnkey computer-based music production system. The package includes a TASCAM US-2×2 interface, along with an Intel NUC (Next Unit Computing) tiny computer , plus a TASCAM TM-80 mic and TH-02 headphones. The computer, with a 2.7 GHz i5 CPU with 4 GM of RAM and a 256 GB solid state disk drive. Cakewalk’s Sonar Professional is pre-installed and the operating system is optimized for audio by PC Audio Labs, a well respected supplier of turnkey music computers. It includes a keyboard and mouse, but you’ll need monitor speakers and a video monitor in order to complete the system. Target price is $1300, which, when adding up street prices of all the pieces, means that you’re paying about $250 for the integration and packaging, but for that you don’t just get a ready-to-play recording system, but one that’s expandable as your needs grow.

TASCAM also introduced a couple of new rack mounted 2-track solid state recoreders, the SS-CDR250N and SS-R250N. The CDR250N includes a CDR transport for transferring audio files to audio CD or vice versa. Both have balanced line level analog I/O and both offer an optional Dante card. There’s also an optional remote.

MikMe showed a different approach to portable recording. Its form factor is block about 2-1/2” square and a bit under 1” thick that records to 16 GB of internal memory. Their bragging point is that it contains a 1” condenser mic capsule, but there’s only one, so it’s a mono recorder.

Aapen Pittman, the father of Groove Tubes, long ago developed a single box stereo speaker that uses the M-S principle. It didn’t get a lot of traction but Fender made an amplifier using the technology and Pittman himself brought out the Spacestation, a compact version. At this show, he introduced the Spacestation XL and Super XL, a larger version which includes a minimal mixer.

Big Bear Audio takes a creative approach with their new 500-series mic preamp. It’s a clean and flat preamp with hardware plug-in modules to add “color.” There’s a DIY electronics group of forum folks who have evolved a common circuit board form factor and connector for swapping out various processing modules and that’s where the “color” board for the Big Bear MP1 are (at least for now) coming from. There’s an 1176-style compressor, a couple of equalizers, a tape saturation emulator, a pentode tube stage, and a transformer.

Schertler’s Arthur Format 48 system is a mixer frame and a series of channel and summing modules that allow you to custom-assemble your own console. There are two mic input modules, one “ultra low noise,” a DI input module, a stereo line input module, a talkback module, and a stereo output module. It’s a “flat” mixer with all the connections on the top of the panel, and the modules look and feel very good. I’m going to try to spend a little more time with this one and see what kind of configurations are possible.

PreSonus has a new version of their StudioLive console. Series III follows the same theme of their original and 2nd generation mixers, but this one replacing a row of mult-purpose knobs with a large color touch screen with a set of master hardware controls. Another new feature is the inclusion of several component-modeled signal processing plug-ins to supplement the perfectly functional EQ and dynamics that they’ve had since the initial version. Also new from PreSonus is the Faserport 8, a control surface with eight motorized faders, a transport controller, channel mute, solo, and track arming.

Following the introduction of the Red 8 preamp at AES, Focusrite showed two 8-channel 2nd generation Scarlett series mic preamps with analog and ADAT optical outputs for expanding the input capability of smaller Scarlett (or other) audio interfaces with ADAT digital inputs. One is a straight preamp, the other adds a compressor on each of the eight input channels and eight direct analog line outputs.

Zvex makes a bunch of effect pedals, but this year they showed the Vibrophase, a Rube Goldberg contraption that’s candle powered and provides phase-based effect. The candle heats air in a chamber which drives a Sterling cycle piston engine that rotates a disk with an optical mask that interrupts a light sounce (also powered by candle light on a photocell) that modulates the audio signal. It’s a beautiful piece of mechanics, something that might have been built by a metalworking hobbyist, but the darn thing actually works. Don’t wait for the final version of my report. You gotta see the video:

There’s a new source for audio transformers from an old US-based transformer manufacturer, Hammond. Not necessarily better or worse that the standards like Jensen and Lindhal, Hammond offers mic input, mic splitter, line input, line output, and a direct box transformer with Mu metal shielding and common form factors.

Off to Day 3. At least it’s not raining today.

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NAMM Show 2017 Tidbits – Day 1

This is going to be really sketchy. Seems like the days get longer every year and I’m staying in a hotel with an odd desk that doesn’t let me really spread things out very well, so mostly what I’m doing here is sharing notes to myself about things I see that I want to spend more time describing than I have now. Be sure to check out the full report in a week or so.

As usual, I spent a fair amount of my first day in Hall E. This is where they put all of the new exhibitors with new products that may or may not be back another year. Many of the new products are Kickstarter (or another one like it) projects that are still in the prototype/idea phase. Some are pretty neat, some are pretty wacky.

Ponz Guitars showed a line of sort-of modular guitars. The neck, body, bridge, pickups and controls are all in one unit. There are two headstock styles, Gibson and Fender,. This drops into a slot in your choice of bodies in an assortment of styles and colors, or you can customize one yourself. You can play a different color guitar for every song in your set and never have to change your sound.

Half One is a loudspeaker cut in half through the cone and frame, but with the voice coil left intact. At first I thought it was a loudspeaker manufacturer showing the insides, but no, it’s supposed to play like that. It comes out of an Onkyo engineering study with the goal in mind to make a loudspeaker that has a radiation pattern like that of a musical instrument (but they don’t say what instrument, Their 3D polar plot shows several lobes an nulls. They sounded horrid, and are priced at $3,000 each, $5,000 for a pair. You gotta see this, and you will, in the final report.

Sonicsmith showed two analog synthesizers that take their input from an audio source rather than a keyboard or sequencer. Play a guitar into it and get all sorts of weird sounds out. It’s not an effect pedal. It doesn’t modify the sound of the instrument, it extracts the pitch, makes a new waveform of that frequency, then applies filters and modulation to it, just like an analog synth.

Moon Amplification showed a rotary speaker system (think “Leslie”) with no moving parts except for the voice coils of the four loudspeakers inside the box that face outward from each edge. The action of the rotating speaker inside a real Leslie is simulated by shifting the phase relationships among the speakers. It’s a pretty cool idea, and as far as I could tell in the noisy hall, it works.

Mod Duo is a software-based build-it-yourself pedal board in a compact box with two foot pedal type buttons, two knobs with integrated pushbuttons, and two small LCDs. You connect it to a computer via USB, pick the processing modules you want to use, hook them up in any order, series or parallel or both, and control the devices in the chain from the box.

Mobile Catch is a guitar capo with a holder for a smart phone or tablet attached. Clever, but, I think, clumsy.

Sensel Morph is a set of interchangeable pads that lay on a base about the size of a mouse pad. The pads are laid out for different functions – there was a drum pad, a sample player, a piano keyboard, a mixer, a blank drawing tablet, and a QWERTY keyboard. A strip on the back of each pad identifies its function and sets up the USB output appropriately.

The Zylia microphone is a ball a bit larger than a softball that contains 19 microphone elements. Their thing is that you can have your band members sit in a circle around the mic, their software will sort out each player by position, and record each as an individual track. I listened to their demo on line a while back and I wasn’t terribly impressed. It did a pretty good job of separating the parts, which is good trick in itself, but most of them didn’t sound very good. Then maybe they didn’t sound very good originally. It’s an idea that needs a better reason for being, I think.

In the department of Woe and Intrigue, Roland introduced a new stage piano that can be a plain old MIDI controller, but when connected to a computer, provides more resolution of performance parameters including multiple polyphonic expression. In order to make use of this feature, you need sounds that understand it, so they took to The Cloud. You can play something with conventional sounds, then send your high resolution track out and get it back rendered as an audio file in all its glory. The Intrigue part is that a few years ago, a few of the MIDI manufacturers, including Roland, wanted to explore this possibility. The MIDI Manufacturers Association encouraged them to develop a standard to adopt and publish, but Roland didn’t want to do it – then they went out and did it on their own. Maybe they’ll get it as a standard, maybe not. MMA was expecting to have something published later this year.

Day 2 is starting out with a 2/3 mile walk to the convention center in the rain. Time to crank up my umbrella and pick up a garbage bang as an emergency poncho in case it gets serious.

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CES2017 Show Report Added

I had a short visit to CES (formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show) last week. I didn’t see a lot of audio stuff, but here’s a short report of some things I found interesting. You can read or download it by clicking here, or get it from the Trade Show Reports page.

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New Mackie Hard Disk Recorder Tip Posted

I recently got an inquiry from a HDR user about how to get around the Error 50 message he was seeing when importing a file into a project. That prompted me to check out the old remedy, verify that it still worked, write it up, and post it here so I don’t have to explain it again.

You can download it directly here, or check the Mackie Hard Disk Recorder page for more tips.

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Book Review Posted – Sylvia Massy “Recording Unhinged”

Recording engineer, producer, musician, author, artist, lecturer, and lover of vintage gear and coffee has written a book. It’s not a “how to” book. There are no secret settings or techniques here, but it’s a deep view into the working life of an experienced producer emphasizing what she does to make her productions unique. About half the book is her own writing and illustrating, the rest being short articles contributed by other engineers and producers who she knows and has worked with over the years.

It’s a really fun read, a great coffee table book, and you can get a copy just in time for Christmas.  $29.95 in hardback. And before you ask, I don’t see it available as an e-Book, at least not yet.

Find it on the Book Reviews page or click here to download the PDF directly.

or order it direct from your favorite on-line book store or Hal Leonard Books

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Webinar – Wireless Guitar Tips from Shure

Monday, November 14, at 10 AM or 2 PM CST, Shure will present a free 60-minute webinar with  engineer and guitar player Jon Halverson. He’ll talk about guitar wireless system technology, the analog-vs-digital question, and how to tweak your wireless system for the best sound with a guitar. The session will be presented twice, so register for the time that’s most convenient for you.

Monday, November 14, 2016; 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM CDT

Monday, November 14, 2016; 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM CDT

If you miss the live session, check the Shure Webinars web page after a few days and it will be archived along with a bunch of other useful webinars that you can watch at your convenience.

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2016 AES Show Report Posted

My annual AES show report is now posted. Visit the Trade Show Reports page for this one and reports from other shows, or jump straight to it here.


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