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Team HC, October 26, 2015 in 2015 AES
It was back to New York, but before we get into the report, let’s set the stage. New York is in the middle of a construction boom that looks like Shanghai did a decade ago. High rises are going up all over the place; one of them is selling apartments that take up an entire floor for $148 million (!) each. Developers are trying to get rid of artists who’ve spent their lives in places like Tribeca by changing zoning laws so the construction crews can move in and build more skyscrapers, and few artists have the money to get into a protracted legal fight.
And in the middle of all this, I arrived at an AES where, with very few exceptions, the music industry as we knew it is officially no more. More money than ever is changing hands around music, but it’s not getting to the artists. Welcome to the 21st century—where music has been devalued to the point where people expect music to be free.
Will this change? Actually it already is changing, but in so many directions that there’s no longer a “music industry”—there are industries that need music. If you can create videos that attract millions of subscribers, you can make serious money from YouTube. Musicians who are disenchanted with streaming services are pulling their music; if there’s nothing for streaming companies to stream, they’ll be in trouble and have to raise their payouts. Top-level DJs can pull in big bucks (although putting on a live spectacle definitely cuts into the profit margin). I don’t think Apple will be content to serve as just another version of Sirius, so maybe they’ll start developing acts. Get your music placed in a movie, and it’s a nice chunk of change that can be ongoing.
Meanwhile, the industry has drifted more toward live performance (you can’t stream a concert experience), hardware (you can’t download an audio interface over BitTorrent), and booths from distributors that carry multiple brands because the individual brands can’t support the costs of a booth. And AES has, in some ways, gone back to its roots—the core revolves around the papers and technical sessions. The exhibits are the very delicious icing on the cake.
The Jacob Javits center, home to the AES convention.
And, attendance set records. Part of that is due to a more relaxed admission policy where students and others could get in free, and part because regardless of the state of the industry, people have a need and desire to make music. The Project Studio Expos were packed with people hungry for knowledge, which is great—but it’s also necessary in a world where there aren’t enough studios to allow people to start at the bottom, learn, work their way up, and interact with other working musicians and engineers.
That little blob off in the distance at the podium is me, talking about mastering within your DAW—always a popular subject.
Change is good, and even when it isn’t, eventually situations right themselves. We may be seeing the seeds of that now, where music returns to the hands of the people, and becomes more about self-expression than “making it.” Ultimately, when you talk to most musicians, they have to make music. In any event, the resilience of AES makes a strong statement that regardless of what happens to the music business, the desire to create music is, if anything, stronger than ever—and there are more tools than even for all of us to implement our dreams.
I attended all three days the exhibits were open, taking the train in each day from New Jersey. Public transportation in the Northeast part of the US is pretty hassle-free and used by lots of people, which is a good thing—only someone with a strong masochistic streak, and a willingness to pay parking rates that would qualify as rent for a pretty decent place in some cities, would dare brave the traffic.
So much for the introduction. And now, products—in no particular order.
iZotope was showing Ozone 7, which has a lighter interface but also includes some vintage mastering tools, including a limiter based around the Fairchild 610, tape emulation, and vintage EQ, as well as dynamic EQ. www.izotope.com
Latencies just keep getting lower and lower. Lynx tweaked their E44 and E22 PCI Express cards to—well, you can see the figures. Even at 44.1 kHz, round-trip latency is under 2 ms. www.lynxstudio.com
Speaking of low latency, Focusrite was putting a major push on their Thunderbolt interfaces, including the smaller members of the Clarett line. www.focusrite.com
AES is also a great place to run into friends. On the left is Hannah Bliss from Focusrite, with Jason Miles, a Grammy award-winning keyboard player who’s played with Miles Davis, George Benson, the Crusaders, Chaka Khan, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, and many (many) others. www.jasonmilesmusic.com
And you can’t check out high-end interfaces without seeing what’s up at RME. They didn’t really have anything new, so their big push was on the Babyface Pro - a 24-channel, 192 kHz bus-powered USB 2.0 interface. www.rme-audio.com
The Slate booth was always packed, as it had a non-stop stream of demos and artists showing off their various plug-ins and mic modeling mic. Here’s Steven Slate with Chris Lord-Alge. www.slatedigital.com
When a booth looks like this, I had to see what was up: really pricey (5 significant figures) tube limiters that are vintage down to the hand-wiring. This wasn’t the only hardware where big knobs are back… http://www.analoguetube.com
These look like Fairchild 670 clones to me...
More Hardware with Big Knobs and Tubes: Pulse Techniques showed the return of the Pultec EQP-1S Program Equalizer. This model includes two additional high-frequency shelf boost curves and two additional peak boost frequencies. All tubes, of course, and if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it. This joins their EQP-1A3 ($3,695), which is built to the original Pultec specs, and the EQP-1S3 ($4,095), a variant of the EQP-1A3. http://www.pultec.com
Eventide’s Anthology is a suite of 15 plug-ins that basically virtualizes everything they ever made.—including their mastering/mixing hardware, the legendary H3000 multi-FX, various Multi-FX, and the Clockworks Legacy line—and yes, it has the H949 Harmonizer and that wild and crazy Omnipressor compressor. For plug-in fans, this is major gear lust time. (P.S. No Phil, you can't do the review. I assigned myself. ) http://www.eventide.com
Well, it was Halloween, and you could hear two vaguely animatronic devices sing “Another One Bites the Dust.” Frankly, I can’t remember which booth this was at, I was laughing too hard. I also think at one point, I may have played with the guy on the left.
TASCAM, a Gibson brand, showed their DA-8400 – a 64-track, solid-state recorder that’s built for ruggedness. They also highlighted their USB interfaces, including the new US-20x20 USB interface for those who need a lot more I/O than the smaller US-2x2 and US-4x4 interfaces but want to retain the same level of preamp quality. And of course, they also showed their more industrial stuff, like the heavy duty CD recorders and players, field recorders, and the like.
FWIW I also did a presentation for TASCAM at the Gibson New York showroom with audio demo files that showed under the right conditions, recording at 96 kHz can make for audibly more accurate sound, even when sample-rate-converted back to 44.1 kHz. Yes, people were surprised but the difference was obvious. http://www.tascam.com
Neutrik had a couple interesting tricks up their sleeve. First up, smaller XLR connectors that have received AES approval. It will be a while before you see them showing up in gear, but when they do, you’ll be able to make a lot more connections in a much smaller space.
As to the second photo, first we replaced wires, but now Neutrik is gunning for fiber-optic: the Xirium system can transmit audio over 5 kilometers line of sight, and longer (and around corners) with a repeater. The photo above was not taken in the AES convention center (I’m sure you figured that out), but is worthy of note because the signal is being sent to – get this – a receiver on the mountain you see in the upper right corner. It’s slated to reach full production before the end of the year.
It’s always good to run into Phillippe Reynaud, the driving force behind http://www.audiofanzine.com. When I took the picture, someone commented about why I would promote our “competitors.” I dunno…maybe because we’re friends and both involved in doing the same kind of thing? Yeah, that’s the ticket.
Speaking of friends, here’s Chris Halaby who was with Opcode, then started Muse Research (makers of the Receptor), and is now doing http://www.kvr.com. Interestingly my father consulted to his father…not only do apples not fall far from the trees, the trees apparently can live in the same orchard.
Now let’s turn our attention to Pricey Personal Stuff. Shure showed the KSE1500 electrostatic earphone system and its companion SHA900 portable listening amplifier with a Micro-B digital input, so you can use it with a lot of different gear. And the price for the transient response of an electrostatic? A mere $2,999. www.shure.com
Apogee had their Groove ($595) USB DAC/headphone amp for Mac, Windows, and Galaxy S6, which goes up to 24-bit operation at 192 kHz. Hey Neil Young – look what you started! www.apogeedigital.com
And now, for a super-exclusive Harmony Central preview. I was over at Laurie Spiegel’s place (she’s a true electronic music pioneer dating back to the days of Bell Labs and the McLeyvier who, among other things, recently had music in The Hunger Games) with a bunch of friends. Denis Labrecque, formerly with Passport Designs and Analog Devices, is now working with Jordan Rudess on a very, very cool iPad app called Geo Shred. In one way, it’s what you’d expect – guitar sounds – but what you can do with the wicked controlled feedback and gestural goodies was pretty mind-boggling. Look for it "soon" in the app store.
In software world, things that replace things are becoming pretty popular. I’ve been using SONAR’s Drum Replacer a lot, but Zynatiq put an interesting twist on the concept with Unmix Drums. This software lets you raise and lower the levels of drums in a mix. Things get a little dicey if there are lots and lots of cymbals, but otherwise, it’s impressive. I remain convinced that Synaptiq is reverse-engineering alien technology. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen anyone from the company eat or go to the restroom. Just sayin.’ www.zynaptiq.com
Speaking of replacing things, Audionamix was doing convincing demos of their vocal isolation/removal software. This shows Trax Pro 2.5, which lets you import MIDI as a pitch guide, works with stereo and mono sources, and includes various advanced spectral editing features. The lady doing the demo was pretty pleased with the software for being able to isolate Aretha Franklin’s vocals…it really did a good job. www.audionamix.com
Had a chance to chat with Tony Visconti, probably best known for his work with David Bowie. Aside from talking shop, he said there’s a new Bowie album coming out soon. He didn’t say I couldn’t mention it…
Dante, the networking protocol, was everywhere. I started to think that maybe this was an extension of Dante’s Inferno and I’d entered the 8th circle of hell or something…remember, it was Halloween. I did hear some grousing about “I wish something else had been chosen, don’t like the licensing fees” but Dante is here to stay.
Attention broadcasters! Need a stereo profanity delay? Or maybe a silence detector? Well, then you want to speak to the folks at Sonifex. www.sonifex.com
And just in case you were getting nostalgic for NAMM, here’s your comfort zone: the Electro-Harmonix booth, with its usual glass case loaded with pedal upon pedal upon pedal upon… http://www.ehx.com
Remember RADAR? Well, it never really went away, and with more people apparently yearning for a simpler recording experience, it got a lot of attention at the show. You can run any DAW (except Logic) inside what is basically a thoroughly optimized, stripped-down Windows computer—almost like an embedded system. (How did I know? It booted really fast J). But also, there were some rumblings from people about not really wanting to keep re-investing in Pro Tools hardware, and as you can see on the back, there’s plenty of I/O and the audio quality is excellent. The company is fond of pointing out that RADAR is “faster, runs more plug-ins, and is less expensive than a Mac Pro.” And it’s good enough for Nine Inch Nails, Daniel Lanois, U2, and the Black Keys. Hmmm…BTW prices start at around $6K. www.iztechnology.com
Not, of course, that Avid would take that thing lying down. They had a major presence in terms of booth size, and also, a separate area for developers who make Pro Tools-compatible goodies. In fact the only software DAW exhibitors I saw at the show were for Pro Tools and the powerful, but often underrated, Magix Samplitude. www.avid.com, www.samplitude.com
Here’s AES Executive Director Bob Moses, who worked closely with Sound on Sound regarding the Project Studio Expo element of the show. And a tip o’ the hat to Margaret Sekelsky, formerly with Pro Sound News, who thought that something like the PSE would be a good addition to show…so it wouldn’t just be middle-aged white guys arguing about “my slew rate can beat your slew rate.” Well, it isn't any more. www.aes.org
Every show has its “outliers” and AES is no exception. These people represent Hear Now: The Audio Fiction and Arts Festival, which is held in Kansas City, MO for those who do audio books, story telling and performance, and other spoken-word-type endeavors. They’re looking for submissions to the live performance events at the June 2016 festival. I think I need to go…why? Because it’s there. And they need to know about Neat’s Microphones J www.hearnowfestival.org
You gotta love the Telefunken VW bus. I was pleased to hear that Telefunken’s microphones were checked over by the AES police just in case they had devious software that caused them to have a much better frequency response when being tested, but they passed with flying colors. In other news, there is no truth to the rumor that Telefunken’s VW bus has challenged Chuck Surack’s VW bus, which gave birth to Sweetwater, to a drag race. However, I did offer to adjust the valve clearance if they needed it….0.006”, if I recall correctly.
Time for another "person picture": this is David Rosenthal, who’s played keyboards with Rainbow, Bruce Springsteen, Robert Palmer, Steve Vai, Cyndi Lauper, Happy the Man, Little Steven, and Yngwie Malmsteen among others. But I think the main reason why he’s smiling is that he’s the keyboardist and musical director for Billy Joel’s residency at Madison Square Garden. Then again, he’s usually smiling…I guess being part of “Happy the Man” makes complete sense, now that I think about it.
Radial Engineering is almost like a little AES show all in itself. The company always comes to AES and NAMM with around 1,552 new products, all of which are useful, high-quality boxes which are sufficiently rugged to be used as personal defense devices if needed. Their president, Peter Janis, is also the person who uttered the immortal line on a Harmony Central video when describing the Recoil Stabilizer: “It’s a dumbass idea…but it works.” Here are a few of the 1,552 products they brought this time around. www.radialeng.com
Radial bought Hafler, and brought several products under the Hafler name. The Hafler HA75 is a 100% discrete, class-A tube headphone amp with a 12AX7 tube. It has a “Variable Focus” control to simulate listening in a room, adjustable negative feedback to tailor the signal path, and both unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR inputs. Also on display: the HA15 Solid State headphone amp, and four different phono preamps (PH34, PH44, PH50, and PH60). www.hafler.com
This made me want to run out and get a soldering iron: a DIY kit of their Jensen-based Direct Box. The plan is to sell it to schools so they can learn how to make cool boxes, but hey, you can buy one too. Just remember – never solder with your shorts on.
The Catapult series of boxes are basically extenders for audio over CAT-5 – they’re basically Snakes 2.0, and take advantage of the fact that a lot of places have CAT-5 built-in. Why not use it for something audio-related?
McBoost is not a box intended to assist MacDonald’s with their flagging sales, but instead, provide the extra “oomph” needed for ribbon mics. Given that many audio interfaces top out at 50-60 dB of gain, but ribbon mics tend to want more, this is the box that makes ribbon mics happy.
Radial bought Jensen transformers quite a while ago, and they like mentioning that their boxes like to include Jensen transformers.
Here’s another “dumbass idea, but it works”: a suspension cable for acoustic clouds that makes it super-easy to adjust the height. It’s like those cable ties that you pull around cables in the sense that you can lock the wire into position, but is more easily adjustable. This is made by their Primacoustic division, which you can find at www.primacoustic.com
The “Space Heater” is a warming-type 500-series signal processor. I get the feeling that there’s someone on Radial’s payroll whose job is to do nothing but sit around all day and come up with names.
Here’s Peter holding the BT-PRO, a Bluetooth receiver. So you have something on your iPhone and you want to pump it into the mixing board…
Apparently some law was passed in New York City that anyone exhibiting at AES had to have a Dante-compatible product. This is Radial’s contribution: a two-channel Dante audio receiver that’s basically a Dante network DI.
The JDX Direct Drive is an amp simulator and direct box. It’s designed for someone who just wants to plug in to the PA and not have to hassle with carrying around a small guitar amp. But because it’s analog, there’s no latency.
And finally, a 500-series version of the Jensen Twin-Servo preamp, which has two discrete 990 op amps, input and output transformers, and a frequency response from 1 Hz to 150 kHz. It's a pretty legendary little box, so it's cool to have a 500-series model
Here’s Larry Fast, arguably best-known for being the keyboard player with Peter Gabriel during the band’s heyday. However the Synergy albums that helped define the early days of synthesized music were his as well, and you’ve also heard him doing things like cues for XM radio. Right now he’s very involved with film production and has some highly interesting projects up his sleeve. He’s with his wife Phyllis, and (trivia alert) I introduced the two of them many years ago...so I suppose I should add matchmaker to my resume. Or not. www.synergy-emusic.com
And since Larry is another geek solderhead, I’m sure he was as mesmerized as I was by the Electroswitch display of cool rotary switches, footswitches, lever switches, pushbuttons, and Other Things that Make Electrical Contact. However, as the lower picture shows, panic ensued briefly when a whole bunch of wild switches escaped from their display, but fortunately, were rounded up before they could mount themselves inside of the various mixers scattered around AES. www.electroswitch.com
Speaking of big mixers, I like taking photos of them. If I was rich, I’d put one in my living room and leave all the blinky lights on, just because they look so cool. But until then, I’ll just have to drool at AES shows…like about this Rivage PM10 from Yamaha on the top, and their CL5 at the bottom. www.yamaha.com/proaudio
Here’s DigiCo’s S21. It’s not only cute and has tons of blinky lights, but the price is pretty sweet…IIRC around $7K without I/O boards, and not much more with them. www.digico.com
Or maybe you want something more analog? Purple Audio was glad to oblige. Of course, they also had their 500-series modules and limiting amplifiers on display. www.purpleaudio.com
Lectrosonics gets my “size does matter” award for their incredibly small SSM (Super Slight Micro) wireless bodypack transmitter. (I know some people who could hide this in their hair, but I think calling it a “hairpack” might lead to confusion.) Despite the small size, though, it’s the real deal. And no, that’s not a fake oversized quarter.
We all know the magazine, but do we know the people? The top shot is Sound on Sound’s Dave Lockwood on the last day of the show, and as you can see, he has mastered the art of being able to sleep standing up and smiling. It’s really quite remarkable. Below is Paul White, who is rumored to eat only curry-based Indian food. Fortunately I was able to capture some compromising pictures of him, so he agreed to let Harmony Central run one of his many clever editorials as a future “Beyond 11.”
Grace Designs is known for making clean, high-quality hardware. Their M108 is an 8-channel mic amplifier with A/D conversion and two instrument inputs. It’s compatible with existing m802 systems, and there’s an optional Dante network audio interface because…well, if you don’t have Dante, you don’t have Dante. It also offers local or remote control via m802 hardware remote or from Pro Tools, and can even be used as a simple 8x2 USB interface. www.gracedesign.com
We all know Microtech Gefell makes good mics, so even though they didn’t have anything all that new, I just couldn’t pass up this display as a photo op. www.microtechgefell.com
Calling all guitar players (you know who you are): if you’re looking for tube amplifier transformers, Lundahl does have the droids you’re looking for. They also have stereo unbalanced to balanced units. www.lundahl.se
Mogami doesn’t just make audio cables. These USB cable caught my eye, because the concept of testing for sliding fatigue is something that hadn’t entered my frame of reference. It’s apparently good for one million slides, which I presume they tested by attaching it to a cat and giving someone a laser pointer. www.mogamicable.com
MXL was showing off their Heritage series. The mics are pretty much the same, but they’ve been dressed up in a more conservative look. Despite all the pretense of rebellion, the recording industry does tend to be somewhat on the conservative side. www.mxlmics.com
The P331 Tube Loading Amplifier from Whitestone Audio Instruments is designed for mastering, and runs a signal through a 6SN7-based tube circuit (with 320 V DC plate voltage) at unity gain without any “processing” applied. The object is to exploit the sound of analog input and output gain circuits to bring a subtle amount of life and depth to the signal. www.whitestoneaudio.com
Luke Audio makes high-end, large condenser mics in Nashville that run around $2,000. Each is designed to emulate different vintage mics. From left to right, the AL-X747 takes as its inspiration the Neumann U47, the AL-X712 emulates the AKG C12, and the AL-X751 aims for the sound of the Telefunken ELAM 251. The lower blue mic, the AL-X767, goes for emulating the Neumann U67. www.lukeaudiollc.com
NYRV Agent is a configurable virtual control surface for combinations of effects that create a sort of super effects chain. There are two pages, Channel Strip and Effects Rack, that work together the way a rack of outboard effects would interact with a large format console channel strip. You can also customize the look, as well as do efficient mapping to control surfaces. www.nyrvsystems.com
Hear Back Pro is a 16-channel personal monitoring system with two main components: the Hub and the Mixer. The modular Hub has four card slots, which can be populated with any configuration of input and/or output cards. Each Hub can supply signal and power to as many as 32 Mixers (8 per Network Card), each over a single standard CAT5e/6 cable. Daisy-chaining allows for system expansion. www.heartechnologies.com
Here’s something that’s so secret I had to take a shot on a table at a local restaurant, surrounded by bodyguards. Or maybe they were waitresses. Whatever, this will probably show up around NAMM, and is essentially a framework for building cool digital effects. Imagine one of these in one of those boutique effects boxes with the weird artwork, and you’re getting close. But this isn’t as secret as the other secret software thing I can’t tell you about, but I can tell you this: You’ll see it first on Harmony Central.
Guitarists love to mic their amps with the Royer 121 ribbon mic. In fact they might love it just a little too much when they turn up the volume, so Royer now has a Mark II model with a built-in 15 dB pad and a bass cut switch. Sometimes it’s the little things that make a difference. www.royerlabs.com
Sknote was showing their new RawPro hardware line—RP6 FET compressor (with an “all buttons off” switch), RP2A opto compressor, and RP165A VCA compressor. These are all analog units with line and mic inputs, so you can either mix or track through them. An external optional transformer powers up to eight units. www.sknote.it
Mojave had two new products, the MA-1000 large-diaphragm, multi-pattern tube condenser microphone, and the MA-50 transformerless solid-state condenser microphones. Mojave calls the MA-50 “my first Mojave” because it’s slated to sell for around $500. www.mojaveaudio.com
Arturia makes tasty virtual instruments, but also, hardware with a French flair. Their Audiofuse breaks the mold for audio interfaces with a USB hub, inserts, talkback, phono input, and other convenience features. There’s definitely some original thinking going on here. www.arturia.com
Although my first love is guitar, I’ve had a torrid affair with keyboards for years and was starting to get antsy to run my fingers along some keys. And of course, you can’t go wrong by hitting the Moog booth—either with the modular synth (but where’s the ribbon controller on the keyboard?) or the rich-sounding Sub 37.
And for our last personality picture, meet someone who you have no doubt heard before but didn’t know it: Tony Daniels. His gig goes like this…big star is off on vacation somewhere, or passed out drunk in a hotel room. Film company needs to loop some dialog, but they can’t use the big star, so…they call Tony and he nails the voice perfectly. I did a voiceover workshop with him once at the Gibson Showroom in New York, and he really is one of those “man of a thousand voices” types. I’d love to tell you where you’ve heard him, but he has to sign NDAs because the movie companies don’t want you to know that the Famous Line in the Famous Movie spoken by the Famous Actor was actually spoken by some Canadian guy in his underwear, and sent over an ISDN line to the studio. Oh, and it case you’re wondering why he’s smiling, the show was over and we decided to celebrate with some decidedly non-virtual margaritas.
Also, in case you wondering what a convention looks like when there's no convention, here you go:
And after three days in the heart of the world of audio, it was time to stumble back to Penn Station, head back to New Jersey, reflect on the show, post some pictures, write some captions…and here we are. I hope you enjoyed our virtual trip to the insides of the Jacob Javits convention center as the 139th AES Convention goes into the books!
See you at NAMM...and beyond.
Drats! But hey, that's okay - I already own and regularly use Eventide's Anthology II. I think you're really going to dig Anthology.
Great show report - thanks Craig!
great report -- would read again
Thanks for a very enjoyable read!
Wow - talk about comprehensive coverage! Looks like Craig left no stone unturned in his reporting. Great pics too. I also found the intro quite interesting about the music industry as well as what's happening in NYC. I haven't been back for quite a while since leaving the east coast for SF.
Fantastic write-up Craig, the next best thing to being there. The only down side is that it makes me realize how outdated some of my studio equipment is quickly becoming!
Unfortunately I could not make it last weekend but your coverage filled in the gap. Nice job!
The Moog 37 sure looks tasty.
One HELLUVA report!