The AES Convention, which alternates between the West and East Coasts, took place this year at New York’s Javits Center. The products shown were pretty diverse, ranging from inexpensive plug-ins to pricey microphones and processors, but a few mini-trends were in evidence. Most notable 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, among others. It also seemed like the new software offerings were smarter than ever, with artificial intelligence finding its way into more and more products. 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 selective list of notable new products 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 actually 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 1st, 2nd and 3rd order Ambisonics.
The Empirical Labs Arousor 2.0 ($349) is the update to the company’s plug-in version of its legendary Distressor hardware compressor. New features include support for AAX-DSP, a preset sharing function that offers email sharing capabilities, 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 soon.
EventideElevate is a mastering limiter, developed in conjunction with Newfangled Audio, offering 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, un-squashed sound. A spectral clipper at the end of the signal chain gives you the option to overdrive the output to create a more aggressive sound. It’s priced at $99 until October 31, then goes up to $199.
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 snazzy 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.
iZotope showed its newly released Ozone 8 (Advanced version $499, Standard version $249) mastering software, which incorporates similar artificial intelligence features as those debuted in iZotope Neutron, which was just updated to version 2. Ozone 8’s Master Assistant analyzes your audio and intelligently suggests appropriate settings. Other new features include the ability to balance the tonal profile of your mix against other songs, and an A/B comparison function.
Sound Radix, makers of Drum Leveler and SurferEQ, among other unique processors, debuted a new dynamics processor plug-in called Powair ($TBA). Designed for transparency, it offers both a leveler and a compressor. The latter features 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 a song’s tempo.
Waves showed its B360 Ambisonics Encoder Plug-In ($299), which 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.
Krotos Reformer Pro ($449/year by subscription) is a plug-in that opens up a wide range of sonic possibilities. Using input from a mic or other source, Reformer Pro exactly matches (and replaces) that audio with sounds from up to four different libraries, which you blend with an X/Y pad in the software. Four libraries come with your purchase, but you can buy additional ones from Krotos, as well as can create your own. Reformer, a free version, with fewer sounds and features is also available.
Along similar lines was Transformizer Pro ($499), by a new developer called Transformizer. This plug-in, which is currently for AAX only (VST and AU versions are on the way) lets you mimic the behavioral characteristics—pitch, amplitude and formant—of one sound with those of another. For example, you could take a drum loop and replace its sounds with a lion roaring, and the output would retain all the time and amplitude characteristics of the drum part. A 30-day free trial is available at transformizer.com.
Eventide is releasing its first Eurorack device, the EuroDDL ($399). Based on the company's DDL-500, a 500-series digital delay, it allows for external control of all of its delay parameters through control voltage or trigger/gate signals. It's expected to ship in the first quarter of 2018. The company also showed its yet-to-be-released 16-DSP hardware effects-processing heavyweight, the H9000 (price TBA), which gives you access to virtually all of the company’s effects algorithm’s and offers optional I/O for virtually any format.
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-land is the Rupert Neve Design535 Diode Bridge Compressor ($995), the first such compressor Rupert Neve has designed since the 22554E and 33609. The 535’s sound and its compression characteristics are both non-linear and weighted toward the sub-400Hz range, so it adds noticeable girth to the source material. Unlike most diode bridge compressors, which tend to have slow attack times, the 535's attack is adjustable to under one millisecond.
Serpent Audio showed the SA76-500 MKII ($999), a 500-series version of its vaunted SA76 Splice MKII, an FET compressor that offers two different flavors of 1176-style processing (classic Blackface and vintage Bluestripe). Feature-wise, the 500-series version is identical, except for a fixed 150Hz frequency setting on the sidechain, rather than a variable one.
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
Antelope Audio displayed its two latest audio interfaces, Discrete 4 ($899) and Discrete 8 ($1,295). Each comes with Antelope’s complete collection of hardware-based FPGA audio effects.
Black Lion Audio’s Auteur Quad ($799) is a four-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 very cool Meter Zooming feature that allows you 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 RedNet X2P ($899.99) is a new two-channel Dante interface with a pair of mic pres, 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, 3-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 EarthworksSV33 ($2,399), a large-diaphragm cardioid condenser model that will be shipping later this year. Its 14mm diaphragm is the biggest one that 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. This single-polar-pattern cardioid mic, which is not yet shipping at the time of this writing, has the same capsule as the previous LCT 540 but is otherwise completely redesigned.
Although it’s not a mic you’ll probably see in many home studios, the Neumann 50th Anniversary U87 Rhodium Edition ($5,000) was so unusual that it’s worth a mention. The internal circuitry and capsule are the same as a standard U87, but the body is made of an ultra-rare and shiny metal called Rhodium, which is so susceptible to fingerprints that Neumann includes a pair of special black gloves to handle it with. Only 500 of these mics will be manufactured.
The Sony C-100 (price TBD) 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 (price TBD) and the omnidirectional ECM-100N (price TBD).
BAE Audio debuted a new two-channel DI called the PDIS ($200) which offers high-impedance 1/4” inputs and low-impedance XLR outputs, as well as two 1/4” thrus per channel and ground lift switches.
Radial’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 TascamTM-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.