AES + SF = Gear

A report on the 2006 AES Convention.
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The weekend of October 6-8, 2006 was sunny and warm in San Francisco, which on its own would mean crowded streets and insane traffic. But on this particular weekend, it was a complete madhouse. Besides hosting Fleet Week, a free bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park, and a cosmetic surgery convention, Baghdad by the Bay was home to the 121st Audio Engineering Society Convention at Moscone Center.

As nerdy as the organization's name might sound, its convention is not merely a white-lab-coat affair. Running concurrently with high-level seminars, workshops, technical tours, master classes, and other events is a trade show where companies selling pro-audio gear—whatever that means these days—present their latest, greatest, and recently upgraded wears.

Although the AES show floor bears a slight resemblance to events such as NAMM, star sightings are of a different caliber. Instead of long lines of eager musicians waiting for the signature of their favorite rock star, this show features long lines of people waiting for the signature of top-notch recording engineers, who often save the butts of NAMM's rock stars. For example, Geoff Emerick, who manned the control room for the Beatles, among other musical giants, spent two afternoons at the Harman booth autographing his book Here, There, and Everywhere, co-written with Howard Massey.

A few notable musicians were also seen on the show floor, including ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons (who presented the TEC Awards Les Paul Award to fellow guitar legend Steve Miller) and producer/drummer Narada Michael Walden. But it was difficult to not bump into the likes of Al Schmitt, Elliot Scheiner, Joe Chiccarelli, Michael Wagener, Dave Martin, Chuck Ainley, and numerous other platinum producers and engineers as you wandered the show's seventeen aisles.

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Brothers of the Beard: bassist Jack Passion with guitarist Billy Gibbons.

This was also the first trade show where the editors of EM and Mix magazine combined video and podcasting efforts, and the results are archived online. The video presentations by EM's Steve Oppenheimer and Mix's Tom Kenny offer an editor's-eye-view of product demos from a number of manufacturers. EM's Mike Levine and Gino Robair teamed up with Mix's Kevin Becka to podcast interviews with leading engineers and manufacturers, to give you another perspective of the trade show experience. So check out the links at Mixonline.com to hear what the pros had to say about the AES show. In the meantime, here are a few of the new products that caught our attention over the weekend.

Hardware

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Baskery singing into Ehrlund Triangular Condenser mics.

At the API Audio booth, the Ehrlund Triangular Condenser Microphone from JJ Labs($TBA) was on display. It has a single triangular diaphragm that the company says works like four membranes at once: the center is equivalent to a traditional 1-inch diaphragm, plus the three corners. No other specs were available, but the mics sounded pretty good being demonstrated by Baskery, a trio of Swedish bluegrass singers.

Auralex displayed a new, more affordable way to purchase its AudioTile absorptive panels. It's a 24-piece pack ($159) that offers enough of the interlocking absorbers (designed by Russ Berger), to treat an 8' x 10' ceiling or wall.

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The base unit for the beyerdynamic Headzone system.

Beyerdynamic announced a new product called Headzone, which is a headphone-based 5.1 surround-mixing system. It consists of a standard set of headphones modified with a tracking device, a computer breakout box that uses DSP to produce a surround image, and an ultrasonic tracking system. When you move your head, the system follows your head movement, and passes that information to the breakout box, which adjusts the audio signal accordingly, keeping your orientation correct vis-à-vis the 5.1 soundscape. All the DSP is handled in the breakout box, and doesn't tax your computer. Headzone is due to ship in November, and is expected to sell for just under $2500.

At the Chameleon Labs booth, there were two new tube mics: the TS-2 ($799), a multipattern large-diaphragm condenser, and the TS-1 ($499), a small diaphragm condenser that features omni and cardioid capsules. The TS-1 should be available at the end of October and the TS-2 about a month later. Both come with a shockmount, a power supply, and a case.

Core Sound held the buzz of the show with its TetraMic ($TBA), a "tetrahedral" mic for ambisonic recording. The mic has four small capsules on a metal shaft and is shorter than a pencil. The company says the price will be under $1,000. Core Sound also announced the 4Mic ($750), a handheld, battery operated preamp and A/D converter, compatible with TetraMic, that will give you four discrete outputs or a matrixed 2-channel signal that can be decoded later. The preamp provides 10 mA of 48V phantom power. The company expects to ship 4Mic in November.

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Dangerous Music D-Box

Dangerous Music announced the D-Box (under $1,400), an 8-channel analog summing device with 24-bit, 96 KHz D/A converters. Other functions that make it a useful addition to the control room of a DAW environment are headphone amps, a speaker switcher, and talkback functionality.

Frontier Design, makers of the Tranzport, was displaying its newest device, the AlphaTrack ($249). It's a small USB control surface for computer-recording applications that offers a single motorized fader, three knobs, numerous buttons, transport controls, and a touch-sensitive jog-and-shuttle strip, among other features. You select one channel at a time and you can control volume, solo, mute, pan, send, EQ, plug-ins, and more. The jog-and-shuttle strip lets you scroll through your song, and, in some sequencers, even scrub audio. The AlphaTrack is scheduled to be released in January of '07.

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Holophone H3-D

One of the new products at the Holophone booth was the H3-D ($1,695), a 5.1 surround microphone. Inside it's futuristic-looking outer shell, it contains five full-bandwidth mics and a dedicated LFE mic whose outputs are available on attached male XLR connectors. The H3-D was announced previously, but is now shipping.

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Korg MR-1000

One of the most talked about product releases at the show was from Korg. The MR-1000 ($TBA) and MR-1 ($TBA) are mobile recorders that offer high-resolution 1-bit recording (as used in the SACD format), with support for resolutions up to 24-bit, 192 kHz in multi-bit PCM formats. Korg says the recorders support the currently available 1-bit formats, such as DSDIFF, DSF, and WSD. The table-top MR-1000 offers sampling rates up to 5.6 MHz, with a pair of phantom-powered XLR/1/4-inch combo jacks for inputs, XLR and RCA analog outputs, a built-in limiter, a 20 GB hard drive, and a USB 2.0 port. It can be powered by an external AC supply or AA batteries. The pocket-sized MR-1 has a maximum sampling rate of 2.8 MHz and includes a USB 2.0 port, two balanced mini-plug inputs, a mini stereo headphone jack, a stereo condenser lavalier microphone, a 20 GB hard drive, and the ability to run on AC or rechargeable batteries. The recorders also come with AudioGate software (Mac/Win), which can be used to convert 1-bit recordings to and from AIFF and WAV formats (including real-time conversion), as well as change gain, remove DC offset, and add fades.

M-Audio gave us our first peek at the NRV10 ($899.95), an 8 x 2 analog mixer (with built-in effects) that is also a 10 x 10 FireWire digital audio interface capable of 24-bit, 96 kHz resolution. The mixer offers four mono channels with mic preamps, each with a 1/4-inch insert jack, and two stereo channels (one of which has a mic input). Each channel has 3-band EQ, monitor and effects sends, and a channel/FireWire selector. You can use it as a stand-alone analog mixer or with your DAW, and the NRV10 will be compatible with Pro Tools M-Powered as well as other digital audio sequencers. The package includes the interFX software application, which lets you add real-time effects to each channel, use two real-time VST plug-ins per channel, and save and recall mixer setups.

Muse Research announced that its UniWire networking technology for the Receptor now supports the Pro Tools RTAS plug-in format. With UniWire, you can connect a Receptor hardware device directly to your computer using an Ethernet cable, and play your favorite plug-in synths without your CPU taking the hit. (Or, you can take the Receptor on the road, without your computer, and play the same instruments on stage.)

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MXL USB.006

USB mics are all the rage these days, and MXL Microphones is throwing its hat in the ring with the USB.006 ($169), a large diaphragm condenser that features a 3-position attenuation switch (0 dB, -5 dB, -10 dB). The mic, which ships in November, will come with a travel case, a desktop stand, a USB cable, and more.

With five ribbon mics already in its catalog, Nady has added the TRM-6 ($499), a powered ribbon mic with a tube preamp. Using a 12AX7A tube, and a 2-micron ribbon that is 45 mm long, the TRM-6 is designed to handle SPLs greater than 135 dB. The mic comes with a vinyl carrying bag, a padded aluminum flight case, a spider shockmount, and a 33-foot cable.

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Novation XioSynth

Novation was showing off its new XioSynth, which combines a synthesizer, USB MIDI controller, and audio interface in one device. Available in 25- ($549) and 49-key ($599) versions, the 8-voice polyphonic (but monotimbral) XioSynth has 12 knobs, 11 function buttons, a phantom-powered mic input, an unbalanced 1/4-inch input, two unbalanced 1/4-inch outputs, a USB 1.1 port, and MIDI I/O.

PMI Audio announced that Studio Projects (which it distributes) is upgrading its entire mic line. One notable aspect of the revamped line will be the company's new "Halo" mount, an innovative device that's threaded on top and bottom. It allows two mics to be connected to it for stereo miking applications, or you could connect a mic and a pop screen to the same mount.

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Presonus FireStudio and MSL

Over at the PreSonus booth, the new FireStudio ($899), an expanded version of the FirePod, was on display. The FireStudio offers 8 XLR mic preamps, MIDI ports, S/PDIF I/O, and a pair of ADAT optical ports. The total I/O of the unit is 26x26. Also included is JET PLL jitter elimination technology, which PreSonus says will give the unit "ultra-tight and robust" synchronization. FireStudio purchasers can opt to add the MSR, aka the Monitor Station Remote ($229), for additional control capabilities. The MSR is a desktop remote control unit that offers input switching; Track, Mix, and Surround modes; dim, mono, and mute switches, and more. The FireStudio is due to ship in mid October and the MSR in November.

Primacoustic announced the FullTrap ($269), a low-frequency absorber-panel kit. The large, heavy-duty absorber panel comes unassembled, allowing users to put it together themselves and save.

QuireTec is a new company that is the sole U.S. distributor of a number of important overseas product lines—including TL Audio, Waldorf, and Creamware—but promises to come out with its own products in the near future. Among the items demonstrated in its AES booth were the Creamware ASB line of synth emulations (including the Minimax, Pro-12, B4000, and Prodyssey) and TL Audio's Fatman line of tube-based processors (such as the Fat Funker) and consumer products (the FatFone headphones). The company also introduced an educational DVD by Francis Buckley called Essential Recording Concepts. The DVD is a soup-to-nuts look at recording, from setting up and tuning a personal studio to recording, mixing, and mastering.

Røde M3

Red Microphones showed the Type A microphone ($1,345), a tube-based version of the its popular bottle mic that accepts the company's interchangeable capsules, known as Redheads. The mic, which uses an ECC88 tube, has a dynamic range of 130 dB and can handle SPLs up to 139 dB. Also included is a power supply, cable, and an attractive red flight case.

Australian microphone manufacturer Rode Microphones previewed the M3 ($99), a permanently polarized cardioid condenser mic designed for use in the studio as well as in the field. The mic loosely resembles the AKG C 1000 and can run off of 48V phantom power or a 9V battery. Although only preliminary details were given, the M3 will include an onboard highpass filter and battery status LED, and it will come with a mic clip and wind screen.

SE Electronics is about to ship its USB2200a ($599) USB microphone, and the latest version was on display in its booth. Although it has the same capsule, low-cut filter, and -10 dB pad as the SE2200a, the USB version includes a mix control for zero-latency headphone monitoring. You can also simultaneously record an analog signal from the XLR jack and a digital signal from the USB connection. The company says other USB-based products are sure to follow. SE Electronics and Sonic Distribution were also showing the Ghost studio baffles. Much of the system uses a building-block paradigm, with 2'-by-2' compressed-fiberglass absorber panels that can be stacked on gobo stands. A wedge trap and a corner bass trap are also available. The products are fully flame retardant.

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Soundcraft MPM-12/2

Soundcraft unveiled two new compact mixers. The MPM 12/2 ($689) has 12 mono channels with mic preamps from the company's more expensive LX7ii and GB Series consoles, two stereo channels, two subgroups, three aux busses, and more. The MPM 20/2 ($969) is the same but with 20 mono inputs. Both units have three-band EQ; 60mm faders; and mute, PFL, and solo capabilities.

Two exciting new microphones where shown by Telefunken USA. The Ela M 260 ($TBA) is a small-diaphragm tube mic that comes with three interchangeable capsules (cardioid, hypercardioid, and omni) and uses an NOS Telefunken EF732 tube. With the included adapter, the mic can accept AKG CK-series and Blue Microphones capsules. The mic carries a 1-year warranty. Telefunken USA also showed the RM-5C ($TBA), a cardioid-pattern ribbon mic designed by Jerry Silvia and David Browning. The US-built mic feels solid and weighty, offering a frequency response of 30 Hz to 18 kHz and the ability to handle SPLs of 120 dB. Telefunken says both mics will be priced around a thousand dollars.

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TC Electronic Konnekt 24D

One of the many highlights at the TC Electronic booth was its Konnekt 24D ($625) audio interface (announced originally at MusicMesse), which features built-in DSP. The unit gives users 2 XLR/1/4-inch combo inputs, 4 analog line ins and lines outs, ADAT I/O, MIDI ports and more. You also get TCs Fabrik R reverb and Fabrik C channel strip effects, which can be used as inserts of bus effects in your digital audio sequencer. The Konnekt 24D is now shipping.

True Systems unveiled the P-Solo Ribbon ($749) a ribbon-mic-optimized version of its P-Solo mic preamp. The single-channel unit has no phantom power or capacitors, and offers higher gain and higher impedance than the P-Solo. It also has a 1/4-inch instrument input with a 2.2 MHz instrument impedance. The unit is due to be available in January.

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Universal Audio DCS Remote Preamp

There was plenty of activity over at the Universal Audio booth, where the company unveiled several new products. One of the highlights on the hardware side was the DCS Remote Preamp ($TBA). DCS is an acronym for Desktop Control System, and this new product is the first of a line of UA products aimed at the computer-recording musician or engineer. The DCS Remote Preamp's features include two trans-impedance-type mic preamps, a headphone amp with reverb and EQ (for monitoring only), and an MS decoder. It's expected to be out in early 2007. UA will be debuting additional products in this line starting at Winter NAMM. The first such device will be the Master Monitor Module, which will offer input switching and other monitor functions.

Yamaha took the wraps off of its two new powered monitors. Prices and ship dates for the MSP5 and MSP7 are not yet announced, but the prototypes demonstrated in the Steinberg booth sounded very good amid the hustle and bustle of the trade show floor.

SOFTWARE

BIAS booth was the announcement of Peak 5.2, a Universal Binary version of the company's 2-track editing software. The new version offers performance enhancements on Intel Macs and software-based authorization.

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Cakewalk Sonar 6

Cakewalk was demoing its newly released Sonar 6 Producer Edition ($619)—a very impressive upgrade to its flagship sequencer. Highlights of Sonar 6 include a host of UI customization options including a user-definable toolbar; the AudioSnap feature for time stretching and quantizing multitrack audio; the Session Drummer 2 virtual instrument; a redesigned console view; ACT technology for remapping external controllers to plug-in parameters; and plenty more.

Although there were no new products at Cycling 74, the company did announce upgrades for a number of its current offerings, including Universal Binary versions of all its plug-in collections (Hipno, Pluggo, Mode, and Upmix). It also revealed a new firmware version for its Lemur control surface that has a Mackie Control emulation feature, making it easier for the Lemur to control sequencers that support that protocol.

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Digidesign Velvet

Digidesign will release Pro Tools 7.3 for HD, LE, and M-Powered in late November. Version 7.3 will be a Universal Binary release, and will have a large number of user-interface improvements including savable window sets and upgraded looping functions. The new version will also offer integration with Sibelius notation software (recently purchased by Digidesign). That will allow Pro Tools users to automatically export MIDI tracks into Sibelius to be turned into lead sheets. Digidesign will also be releasing Velvet, a new plug-in from its Advanced Instrument Research Group. Velvet will offer emulations of Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos, and will be equipped with a large number of sound-modifying features including distortion. Velvet should be available around the same time as Pro Tools 7.3.

At the FXpansion booth, the big news was a third-party release for the BFD drum instrument. The new Andy Johns Classic Drums expansion pack from Platinum Samples features a whopping 70 GB of drum samples, recorded by legendary engineer Andy Johns (Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Van Halen, Godsmack). Johns miked seven different drum kits for this collection.

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Roger Nichols Detailer

Roger Nichols Digital debuted a couple of new plug-ins. Of particular note was the Detailer ($349), which is based on processes Nichols uses in his own mixes. It employs a combination of psychoacoustic processing and limiting, and, because it's a mastering processor, it also offers dithering. The Detailer is designed to add both dynamic widening and loudness to a mix. In demos at the booth, it seemed to focus mix elements, making them stand out more, especially around the edges of the stereo image. Also on display was the Uniquelizer LE ($69), a limited version of the Uniquelizer plug-in. It offers 7 bands of EQ instead of the unlimited set on the full version, but the algorithms are the same.

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Sonic Studio SoundBlade

Sonic Studio announced that it's now shipping SoundBlade ($1,495), its Mac-based mastering program. SoundBlade is designed to allow detailed editing (including its Smart Fade Tool), fast workflow, recording at a variety of sample rates in a wide range of formats, and more.

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Steinberg Cubase 4

Steinberg introduced Cubase 4 ($999), which offers a host of new features and improvements. Highlights include Control Room, which integrates analog monitoring setups into Cubase; SoundFrame, a universal sound manager; a new plug-in set, which offers a host of new plug-ins in the brand new VST 3 format including an Amp Simulator and three new synths; a revamped user interface; and much more.

TC Electronic had two very impressive plug-ins for PowerCore and TDM on display. UnWrap ($1,245 PowerCore, $1,595 TDM), converts stereo mixes into 5.1 surround with a range of adjustable parameters. UnWrap is scheduled to ship this month. TC Helicon's Harmony4 produces natural sounding backing vocals (up to 4 parts), and lets you adjust gender, vibrato, and volume, as well as "humanization." The PowerCore version of Harmony4 is available now, and the Pro Tools version will be out sometime this fall.

Besides its hardware offerings (described in the Hardware section) Universal Audio had some software news. It will be adding another new plug-in to its collection of Neve emulations. The 4-band Neve 1081 Classic Console Equalizer [$249] rounds out the UAD's Neve plug-in collection. Universal Audio will also be releasing a bundle of all three Neve plugs for UAD including the 1081, 1073, and 33609 for $599. The 1081 plug-in and the Neve bundle should both be available in late October or early November.