The new releases at this year’s AES Convention ranged from inexpensive plug-ins to pricey microphones and processors. Among the trends in evidence was a focus on products for immersive audio, especially the Ambisonics 360-degree multi-channel format used by Facebook 360 Videos and Google Spatial Audio. And, the new software offerings were smarter than ever, with artificial intelligence finding its way into more and more of them. Finally, based on the number of hardware units I saw that support the Dante protocol, it appears that format is being more widely adopted.
Here is a select list of notable news from the show, alphabetized within each category by company name.
DAW AND PROCESSING SOFTWARE
At the bustling Avid booth, Pro Tools 12.8.2 ($599 or by subscription) was the big news. Its version number might sound like a maintenance release, but it offers quite a few additions, including note-scrolling in the MIDI editor, a MIDI input display, and batch renaming and scroll-to-track features that will help users running large sessions. Pro Tools HD users also get support for first-, second-and third-order Ambisonics.
The Empirical Labs Arousor 2.0 ($349) is the update to the company’s plug-in version of its Distressor hardware compressor. It now supports AAX-DSP and adds a preset sharing function, improvements to the GUI, new presets from well-known engineers, and better control-surface support. At the time of this writing, version 2.0 is Mac only, but Windows support is coming.
Eventide Elevate ($199) is a mastering limiter, developed in conjunction with Newfangled Audio. I has an adaptive limiter stage that uses artificial intelligence to analyze 26 frequencies key to human hearing, and automatically adjusts transients, gain and other parameters to preserve a natural sound. A spectral clipper at the end of the signal chain gives you the option to overdrive the output.
T-Racks 5 (standard $149, Deluxe $299, Max $499) is the latest version of IK Multimedia’s flagship mixing and mastering software suite. In addition to a new GUI, it adds four new processors: Master Match, a matching EQ; Dyna-Mu, based on the Manley Variable MU compressor; E-Qual, a 10-band parametric EQ; and ONE, a self-contained mastering processor featuring an EQ, a limiter, an exciter, an enhancer and more.
Sound Radix, makers of Drum Leveler and SurferEQ, debuted a new dynamics processor plug-in called Powair ($TBA). Designed for transparency, it offers both a leveler and a compressor. The latter features an Adaptive mode, which allows you to apply the same relative amount of compression throughout the audio you’re processing, even if it has a drastic change of level between sections. You also have the option to set release times based on song tempo.
The Waves B360 Ambisonics Encoder plug-in ($299) converts mono, stereo and even surround mixes into 3D Ambisonics B-Format audio. The company also updated the Nx Virtual Mix Room ($99) plug-in with a new Ambisonics component that “binaularizes” your audio (through your headphones only) allowing you to monitor Ambisonics mixes. Waves is also offering the 360° Ambisonics Tools ($399) bundle, which includes the aforementioned software titles plus the Waves Nx Head Tracker hardware.
Pultec introduced the EQP-500X EQ ($1,295), which combines the best features of its EQP-500A and EQP-500S EQs. Also on display was the MEQ-500 Jack Douglas Edition ($1,295), a 500-series version of the Pultec MEQ-5 midrange equalizer, with a couple of extra frequency-band options included.
Also new in 500-series is Rupert Neve Designs’ 535 Diode Bridge Compressor ($995). The 535’s sound and its compression characteristics are nonlinear and weighted toward the sub-400Hz range, so it adds noticeable girth to the source material. The attack is adjustable to under one millisecond.
At the Useful Arts booth was the intriguing new BF-1 ($745), an active DI and tube preamp for instruments, which offers a Class A signal path and dual outputs.
INTERFACES, PREAMPS, AND MONITORS
Black Lion Audio’s Auteur Quad ($799) is a 4-channel mic preamp and DI based on the company’s Auteur MKII preamp. It offers a combination of vintage and modern tone, with a fast front-end to capture detail and a transformer for a little bit of saturation at 250Hz and below.
Dangerous Music premiered CONVERT-AD+ ($2,599), a high-quality analog-to-digital converter. It has two stereo inputs that are selectable from the front panel, optional transformers you can switch into the circuit, a shelving EQ/Compressor and a Meter Zooming feature that allows you to change the view on the bar graph meters to show only the top 10 dB of activity.
Focusrite showed two new Red-series interfaces. The Red16 Line ($2,999.99) is a 64x64 audio interface that can be expanded via Dante. It offers 16 channels of analog I/O on DSub connectors, as well as two digitally controlled preamps. The Red-Net X2P ($899.99) is a new 2-channel Dante interface with a pair of mic pre’s, two XLR line outs and headphone output.
Genelec added two new monitors, the 8331 ($2,500 each) and the 8341 ($3,500 each), which are similar in design to its previously released 8351. The three monitors now make up a new series called The Ones. All are compact, coaxial, three-way point-source monitors with smart-calibration features.
Audio-Technica displayed its latest 50-Series mic, the AT5047 ($3,499), a premium large-diaphragm studio condenser with the widest dynamic range of any A-T mic to date. It uses the same capsule as the AT5040 but in a dual-diaphragm design that creates a surface area that is double the size of a standard circular diaphragm.
One of the most impressive new mics at the show was the Earthworks SV33 ($2,399), a large-diaphragm cardioid condenser. Its 14mm diaphragm is the biggest one Earthworks has ever used. The SV33 is designed primarily for vocals and has a reduced proximity effect, which adds beefiness without being boomy. It also has excellent off-axis pickup and a high-resolution frequency response of 30Hz to 33kHz.
Lewitt debuted an ultra-quiet large diaphragm condenser called the LCT 540 SubZero ($699), which has an electrical self-noise spec of -1dB and a dynamic range of 132dB. The cardioid mic has the same capsule as the previous LCT 540 but is otherwise completely redesigned.
The Sony C-100 ($TBA) was one of the most intriguing products at the show. It’s a selectable-pattern (omni, uni-directional, bi-directional) mic with a twin-capsule, side-address design and a high-resolution frequency response of 20Hz to 50kHz. While the upper part of that is well beyond the range of human hearing, having all that frequency headroom allows for a very open-sounding top end. Sony also introduced two pencil condenser versions, the uni-directional ECM-100U and the omnidirectional ECM-100N.
BAE Audio debuted a new two-channel DI called the PDIS ($200), with high-impedance 1/4" inputs and low-impedance XLR outputs, as well as two 1/4" thru's per channel and ground lift switches.
Radial Engineering’s new Sat-2 ($99) is a product that, once again, shows the company’s talent for producing high-quality, problem-solving hardware. The unit is a passive 2-channel attenuator that you place between your interface’s outputs and your monitor inputs, giving you a speaker-level controller, a mono-sum switch, a mute button and a dim control.
Anyone who’s ever had their mic stand tip over will appreciate the Tascam TM-AM3 ($89.99), which has something you rarely see these days: a portable boomstand with a counterweight. It also features a speaker-stand-style tripod bass that doesn’t eat up as much floor space as your typical tripod stand.