2014 NAMM Show – Day 2

Seems like today was interface day. Prism Sound showed the Atlas, big brother of the Titan which was introduced at the Fall AES show. They’re both based on the same basic guts, with the Atlas offering eight mic inputs to the Titan’s four. It connects to the computer via USB 2.0. In addition to the analog mic/line/instrument inputs and eight analog line outputs, it also has MIDI, TOSLink and RCA digital I/O with the TOSLink ports switchable between stereo S/PDIF and multi-channel ADAT optical. The RCA ports can be S/PDIF coax or  AES3 with an RCA-XLR adapter. Sample rates from 44.1 to 192 kHz are supported at 24-bit resolution. Price is about $7,000,

Centrance introduced the MicPort, a plug-in USB interface for a single microphone several years back, then spent a good bit of time making consumer products. At this show they introduced MixerFace, a USB recording interface with two mic inputs (the ones on the MicPort sound excellent) that’s sized so that a smart phone can be fitted on top of the case and connected directly to the A/D and D/A converters. A standard USB port is included for connection to a computer. The MixerFace is powered by an internal rechargeable battery. Interestingly, this was funded as an Indiegogo project and may still be able to be pre-ordered at a discount from the projected list price of $600 with a contribution.

Zoom introduced the TAC-2, a stereo tabletop “big knob” audio interface with  Thunderbolt (only) computer connectivity. A Mac application offers additional control via computer and includes an effects package as well as control over an internal mixer for mixing the input source with previously recorded tracks for overdubbing. Still in the mock-up stage from Zoom are 4 and 8 mic/line interfaces connecting via USB 3.0 (they didn’t know at this time about backward compatibility with 2.0). At the AES show, we were introduced to the new Zoom, who had taken over US distribution of the H6n recorder from Samson. They’ve now completed the transition and are now distributing the full Zoom line.

Crimson from SPL is a larger format tabletop USB interface that also serves as a monitor controller with a talkback channel. It has four line level analog inputs, two mic preamps, two instrument inputs and four analog outputs. Four inputs can be recorded simultaneously, as can four DAW outputs be routed to the two pairs of monitor outputs and two independently controllable headphone outputs. In addition to DAW playback, two alternate analog sources and one S/PDIF source can be switched to the monitor outputs to listen to a reference recording.

The iTrack Dock from Focusrite is a 2×2 recording interface with a docking surface for a new generation iPad Air or iPad Mini connected via Lightning. A clever sliding Lightning connector allows it to mate with and power/charge either size pad. There are two XLR Scarlett grade mic inputs, two ¼” line inputs, one instrument input, and a pair of ¼” jacks for monitor speakers. There’s also a USB port for connecting a keyboard controller when recording virtual instruments.  It comes with a simple recording app, but will also work with any recording program that will run on an iPad such as Garage Band or Auria. Resolution is 24-bit, up to 96 kHz sample rate.

Zoom had a new handheld recorder under glass, The H5n, when released, will replace the H4n, offering a pair of upgraded mics in X-Y configuration that are interchangeable with the plug-in mics offered as accessories to the H6n. Like the H4n, it can record up to four simultaneous tracks and includes a mixer which can be used for overdubs as well as mixing up to four recorded tracks to a new stereo file. Also new at this show is the Zoom Q4, a video camera targeted to musicians’ use. While it has similar applications to the Sony I saw yesterday, the Zoom has a swing-out screen that also flips over so you can see yourself when recording. For point-and-shoot recording and increased battery life, the screen assembly can be removed. It records video with up to 1080p and 24-bit audio up to 96 kHz sample rate. An X-Y stereo mic array with a bushy tail fur wind screen is supplied, and there’s a mic/line input jack to feed audio from an external source. There’s a one-step zoom, and a USB port allows transfer of files from the camera’s SDXC memory card to a computer, or to use the camera as a USB mic and/or webcam.

Lavry introduced two new products, the Quintessence Gold Reference Series D/A converter and a less fully featured (and lower cost) version of the Latency Killer LK-Solo, a monitor controller and input/DAW mixer. The Quintessence breaks one of designer Dan Lavry’s personal barriers and operates at sample rates up to 192 kHz. He’s previously written that a 192 kHz converter couldn’t be built with present components to be any better than a 96 kHz converter, but I suppose he found a way to make one that at least didn’t sound any worse, for those who insist on using the highest current standard sample rate. The LK-Solo provides truly zero latency input monitoring as an analog signal from the mic preamp output is mixed with a stereo return from the DAW for overdubbing. It includes a high grade headphone amplifier with output level adjustable in 0.5 dB steps

Audio Technica has upgraded their M-series headphones with new ear pads, some tweaks, and the addition of an “x” to the model number. The M50x is unchanged other than what minor change the new pads may introduce, retaining the sonic signature that made them immensely popular. The frequency response of the M40x has been flattened out further from the original model so it’s actually the most accurate set of the series.

QSC announced the TouchMix, a small format digital mixer in 8 and 16 input versions. As the name implies, primary control is with a touch screen, though there’s a big knob which can be used to adjust the selected parameter. This one still has some work to be done as the brochure describes more features than are presently accessible. It looks pretty good though, and well thought out. Each stage of signal processing has a simple and advanced mode that displays a minimal or full set of controls. A collection of “wizards” engage pre-set effects and (I suspect) EQ and dynamics processors for common sources. Input channels have a four band parametric equalizer, compressor, gate, high and low pass filters. All outputs have a 1/3 octave graphic equalizer, limiter, delay, and sharp notch filter. The 16 channel version offers six mono and two stereo monitor outputs with enough power to directly drive in-ear monitors without the use of an external headphone amplifier. The 8-channel version has four mono monitor outputs. There’s a USB port for connecting a disk drive for recording each input channel on a separate track, and there’s also a WiFi adapter that will connect directly to an iPad for full remote control of the mixer.

Digital Audio Labs was born in the early computer recording days and brought us the Card-D, the first really professional quality sound card, many of which are still in use today. They’ve been out of that business for quite a while, but have a new product this year, the Livemix personal monitor system. It handles up to 24 inputs and each stage box actually has two mixers and two outputs, allowing two players to share one box and reduce stage clutter. It works pretty much how you’d expect for this sort of device, with its own set of special features such as built-in stage ambience mics which can also be used to talk to other players on the system, effects, EQ, and presets for every channel, and an optional foot pedal for hands-free volume control. A remote function allows any station to control any other mix on the network. This allows a house or monitor engineer to adjust mixes (maybe wedges), and a dedicated “Me” knob to quickly adjust the volume of a previously selected input. Interconnection is via Cat5 Ethernet. Inputs to the system are analog with an optional Dante card for digital input.

Lastly, from the Gadgets department are the O-Knob and V-Knob, a replacement for the knob on an effect pedal or electric guitar that, rather than being round, has a pair of “wings” (think of an old fashioned can opener) or a single wing, that serve as a handle for quick or precise adjustment, as well as indicate the knob’s position. Simple, and could be very useful.

That’s all for Day 2.

Posted in Trade Show Reports

2014 NAMM Show Day 1

As usual, my first day was pretty scattered with little accomplished. Several press conferences with little information (when will I ever learn?) kept me running from one end of the convention center to the other all day. I tried to get through Hall E but only made it about half way. Hall E is the hall in the convention center where, traditionally, they put the new exhibitors, so it’s often the place where I see some interesting though often whacky products. Those that survive a couple of years usually get “promoted” to the upstairs main halls, but things have been a bit different the past couple of years. There are now a good number of established vendors there, some like it because it’s a bit quieter than in the main halls, other get “banished” there and grumble a little, and this year it seemed like about half the square footage was occupied by Asian manufacturs, both of parts and complete products. I tend to cruse by them with just a glance since they’re mostly targeted toward the smaller music stores (mics, stands, mixers, amplifiers, guitars and such) or are sources for parts (tuners, tailpieces, strings, cables) for builders. It’s impressive how many copies there are. Some are probably OK, some aren’t, but there’s no way to tell and not a lot of technical information available at the show.

So much for excuses. I did see a few interesting things today.

The Softube Console 1 was probably my favorite product of the day. As the name suggests (at least 2/3 of the name – no tubes or tube emulations here) it’s a software plug-in that models an SSL E series console strip – input section with input gain and low and high pass filters, compressor, gate, and equalizer, combined with a hardware control surface for that part of the console. Note that it has no analog signal path so you need an outboard preamp (which is likely in your audio interface), nor is it an analog summing box. In addition to the standard channel strip, it includes a transient shaper that’s similar to the one from SPL, and adjustable analog distortion in the output stage. The hardware part isn’t a DAW controller – it only operates ome channel at a time with a row of 20 buttons and a shift to select up to 40 channels, with one knob per function within each section. The idea is that even though it’s software, you get “the console experience” of dialing in a sound with all the controls in one place rather than having a bunch of open windows for each function, that you control with a mouse. While the sound closely models the sound of an SSL console, you don’t have to use it on every track in your DAW, and you can add other plug-ins to it just as you’d do with a real analog console. The plug-in supports VST, VST3, AAX, and AU formats and sells for about a grand including the hardware controller, which connects to the computer via USB, from which it’s powered.

Universal Audio introduced the Apollo Twin, a 2-channel version of their popular multi-channel Apollo audio interface. It’s a solid aluminum desktop sized box with a sloping front panel, a big knob, and several buttons, one of which quickly switches the monitor outputs between source and playback. It has two mic/line input channels with a high impedance instrument DI input on the front panel. There are six outputs, a main and an auxiliary pair on the rear and a headpone jack in front. Its 24-bit A/D and D/A converters operate at all common sample rates up to 192 kHz, and it’s designed to interface to a Mac via Thunderbolt. There are two models, SOLO and DUO, differing in the amount of on-board DSP hardware available for running Universal’s UAD Powered Plug-ins. New with this unit is Unison technology, an integration of the internal mic preamps and a UAD powered plug-in that models a number of different mic preamps. The preamp modeling isn’t limited just to what they can do in software, it also controls the input impedance and gain structure via analog hardware components. The Unison mic preamp plug-in is included with the Twin. The SOLO is $700, with the DUO adding another $200, which might be a smart buy if you plan to add more UAD plug-ins.

Yamaha introduced the third generation of their popular MG mixer series that incorporates a number of upgrades which add features, improve the sound, and make it more roadworthy. The chassis is now all steel, the circuit board has been beefed up, the controls are more solidly supported (they feel very good) and it’s now using the same discrete Class A mic preamp circuit as is incorporated in the Steinberg recording interfaces. The models have been juggled a bit with all but the smallest ones now incorporating a USB port for recording the main mix to a computer as well as a one-knob compressor optimized for vocals on 2 channels. There are both FX (with a built-in effect processor) and non-FX versions in most sizes. There’s a new MGP series that includes DSP effrects based on their SPX series of studio signal processors, a “leveler” designed to even out a set of pre-recorded tracks with uneven levels, eight of the compressors, and a “blend” channel which offers either a mono sum or a panned-in (by a fixed amount) stereo output for situations where you don’t want a full stereo spread.

TC Electronic introduced the Helicon VoiceLive 3, the next generation of their popular voice processing system. The new version, in addition to some upgrades to the vocal effects including new harmony modes and a vocoder, adds a guitar processor using effects from their TonePrint pedals, and also a phrase looper. The Helicon division has decided that singers are their primary target, so to support this, they’ve published a heft book entitled “The Ultimate Guide to Singing,” a collection of articles and frequently asked questions by singers,  with answers supplied by over 100 different singers. TC’s Tannoy brand of speakers hasn’t had much exposure in the US market recently (well, really, since TC took over the brand) but they’ve introduced a couple of new studio monitors tht are reminiscent of the popular Reveal series from the mid-1990s. There’s also a new powered speaker that’s designed as a singer’s monitor. It clamps directly to a mic stand and has a built-in reverb processor.

A few clever guitar notes: When I visited the Musical Instruments Museum in Phoenix a couple of years ago, I saw a video of an African street musician playing a home made guitar with the body made from a rectangular oil can. Bohemian Guitars, started by a player who comes from South Africa, recreated this novel instrument for commrecial sale. Although they have to manufacture cans since they can’t find enough used ones in good shape, they apply the principles of the makers in Africa in that they recycle discarded guitar parts such as tuners and pickups. They’re really cool looking and sound pretty decent.

The Roadie tuner is a variaton on the self-tuning guitar that’s starting to show up. this one is a hand-held motorized unit that slips of the tuning pegs, tuning one string at a time. It communicates with an iPhone app via Bluetooth. The phone’s microphone or external audio input jack detects the pitch of the string and the app tells the tuning motor which direction to turn and when to stop It suupports multiple tunings, and even keeps track of the elasticity of the string, reminding you when it’s time to change strings (as if you didn’t know). It only costs $99.

The Add String adds a seventh string to an acoustic guitar. It’s not an extra low string as with the typical 7 string guitar, but rather, doubles the 3rd string an octave higher, giving a strummed sound much like the “Nashville high strung” guitar that became popular in country music 20-some years ago. The kit includes a sort of one string tailpiece that fits around the bridge pins for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strings, plus a little clip that fits in the sound hole and lets you pull the high string out of the way when you don’t want it. Clever.

Sony showed a new Music Video Recorder, a hand-held fixed lens video camera with a crossed stereo pair of mics that’s designed for making music videos. It’s a high resolution format, 1920×1080 pixels and records in MP4 format. While it works fine as a stand-alone camera, it can connect to an NFC compatible (not all of them are) mobile device to provide remote control and remote display of the video, as well as the ability to transmit the recorded file to the phone for uploading directly to a web site or YouTube. About $300. In other Sony news, they now have an app for remote control of their professional wireless mic systems. The transmitter has always been controllable from the receiver, and the receiver has always had an Ethernet port, so with this app, the mix engineer can, for example, lower the transmitter’s mic gain if he hears the mic clipping.

Well, it’s long past my bed time, so that’s it for Day 1. More details to follow in the final report.


Posted in Trade Show Reports

NAMM Show Preview Day

This is a pretty dinky report because it was, at least from the perspective of pro audio gear, a pretty dinky preview, but fear not, there will be cooler stuff for me to see in the next few days, and hopefully my reporting will be better. As is becoming the norm these days, few of the exhibitors had printed literature, and I couldn’t get my Android tablet recording setup to work when I wanted to record my chats with a couple of the exhibitors, so you’ll just have to rely on my memory for sketchy details which I’ll fill in when I get around to the real booths.

M-Audio has been set free from Avid and is now part of the Akai Pro Audio/Alesis group. They’re enthusiastic about getting M-Audio back in gear with some new studio products. Most of what they were showing at the preview was MIDI controllers but they promised more at the booth. I remember the company from its origin as Midiman, and they’ve always had pretty solid technology. Hopefully that will continue.

Fender is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Stratocaster with three new models. There’s a re-creation of the original model, a fancy 60th anniversary model, and a preview of a new model with an interesting concept. The company recognizes that there are a lot of customized Strats out there, many coming directly from Fender. The new model is designed with customization in mind. The pickups (maybe controls, too) are connected with plugs and sockets so that parts can be changed out without knowing how to solder. That’s the dangerous part, in my humble opinion, but there’s a cool feature that allows for simple plug-in customization. There’s a slot in the back of the guitar that accommodates a plug-in card that, depending on which card you insert (the guitar comes with three), rewires the pickup switch for different combinations of pickups, modifies the tone controls to a treble cut and bass cut, and does the “treble bleed” modification which, if you’re into Strats (I’m not) you’ll know what that means. They plan to have some pictures of the insides at the booth. I’m curious as to what kind of solderless connectors they’re using. It’s gonig to be one more thing that will require some maintenance, particularly if these guitars last another 60 years.

David Smith was showing a tabletop module version of the Prophet 12 keyboard that they introduced last year. This is a mostly analog synth – the oscillators are digital for stability but all the filters and modulators are analog.

IK Multimedia showed a new version of their iRig Mic. The original mic (I have one of these) connected to the analog TRRS mic/headset jack on a mobile device, replacing the built-in mic with the IK mic and providing a jack for headphones for monitoring and playback. The new mic incorporates a 24-bit 96 kHz A/D converter and comes with three cables for connecting to a recording device. There’s one that connects to the digital audio input of the iPod docking connector, a Thunderbolt cable, and for those of us with just plain ol’ computers, a standard class-compliant USB connector. Unfortunately there’s no analog cable so I’ll have to keep my old one to use with my Android tablet (or do what I wish I had done and brought the TASCAM DR-40 recorder and an EV
635 mic. The new iRig mic has an upgraded capsule for which they claim flat frequency response. The original one has a pretty steep low frequency roll-off which I find to be very useful for interviews in noisy surroundings (like NAMM shows). The closest they com to that with the new mic is that it includes an app (which I didn’t see) that includes EQ.

IK was also showing a curious new gadget/app called the iRing. This is a ring-like gizmo with a pattern of dots that you wear between two fingers and put it in sight of the camera on your iPad. The camera picks up which “controller” it’s seeing (it can look at one on each hand) and sends control data to a hippy-hoppy music app. It’s one of those “now anyone can make music without knowing about music” things. I’ll have to admit that it wasn’t my flavor of music so I’ll reserve judgment on its value to the world. In the mean time I’ll just have to say it isn’t going to replace the Theremin.

I wish I had remembered the name (I’ll get it in the next couple of days) of a new optical piano key sensor that claims better dynamic resolution than anything else out there. I dou’t think it’s in a gig-ready snap-on format quite yet, but Steinway is installing them in their reproducing pianos. What struck me was this factoid that the sales guy told me: Most people who buy expensive Steinways buy the reproducing (player piano) version and don’t play piano themselves. I was trying to sort out the story that went something like this – you can (if you’re a pianist) play along with a recording, then the company makes up a file for the player piano that has an MP3 file of the audio (your backing track) and a MIDI file that drives the keys on the piano. I dunno. I think it has better applications in the performance world (Lady Gaga’s keyboard player was going to demo it later on in the day but I didn’t stick around).

One more tidbit here – someone’s idea of a better idea. Touchmark is a modification kit for an electric guitar that replaces the tone, volume, and pickup switching controls with two programmable touch pads. My first question was “How do you know what it’s set at?” They answer was “You don’t have to, you just play it.” I’m a bug about user interfaces and frankly I find this one to be kind of useless. But he says they did their due diligence and asked a couple of hundred people how they liked the idea and got positive responses. When I asked how many people were actually using it, well, it’s about 20 or 30. Maybe it’ll be a hit, maybe everyone who it works for already has his or hers and then they can move on to something for the other 5 million guitarists.

I’ll hit the deck at the real show tomorrow, probably starting in Hall E and checking out all the rest of the new ideas and concepts.


Posted in Trade Show Reports

NAMM Show This Week

I’ll be heading to Anaheim for the Winter NAMM show this week and will be reporting on what I see that I think will be of interest to you (because it’s interesting to me!). I’m not expecting a lot of new studio gear since the AES show just a few months ago but I’ll keep you posted with daily quick notes and a full report after I get home.

If there’s anything you’d like me to be sure I see, drop me a note.

Posted in Info, Trade Show Reports

Webinar (OK, a video) about the recently adopted AES67 Standard for Audio over IP

You may or may not have an interest yet in sending audio over IP, but it’s been a hot spot in the broadcast field for 10 years, and it’s going to be a hot spot in live sound within the next couple of years. There are several unique protocols out there, Dante probably being the one readers here are most likely to encounter, and over the last several years, several manufacturers have been working together in an AES Standards committee to develop a standard that gives a good shot at having gear from one company work with gear from another company.

This webinar isn’t highly technical – anyone with a bit of IT knowledge will be able to follow it. What makes it worth watching, though, it that it’s a frank discussion with one of the members of the AES committee that developed the standard, who is also a chief techie at one of the companies that’s been in the audio-over-IP business for a while. He goes through a lot of the details that they had to hammer out, explaining why and how decisions were made as to what would be included in the standard and what would be left for the developers to work on individually. Often, standards like this evolve from a single manufacturer, but this wasn’t the case here – everyone has some work to do in order to get their system to comply. It would be nice if all standards were developed in such an organized manner.

Follow this link to watch the talk. It’s about an hour long, so save it for a Sunday when the football game on TV is going to be a snoozer.

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Sony Wireless Sale Extended

If you’re kicking yourself for not taking advantage of Sony’s Black Friday sale on wireless stage systems, it’s back on, or maybe it was never off. Scroll down a few posts for details, or just visit the Sony Store.

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Choosing A Loudspeaker By Practical Listening – a useful article from Dynaudio Professional

The Dynaudio Professional group of TC Electronic has published an informative article with suggestions on how to listen and what to listen for when evaluating a loudspeaker. There are some pretty good tips here, as well as some tests for setting up and calibrating speakers. The test and setup articles are based on the Dynaudio Air DSP speaker series, but it’s good reading for any speaker.

Check it out here

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