Tech Talk

TechTalk: Top Gear From 2013

The last 12 months have been an interesting ride for our business. Dealers I questioned at Winter NAMM were lukewarm about business, but just eight weeks ago at AES, the news was more upbeat and the 12/01/2013 4:00 AM

The last 12 months have been an interesting ride for our business. Dealers I questioned at Winter NAMM were lukewarm about business, but just eight weeks ago at AES, the news was more upbeat and the show revealed a lot of great new gear. No matter how 2013 treated you or your business, it’s been a great 12 months for gawkers and buyers alike.

Slate Pro Audio, the company mostly known for its software products, wowed Winter NAMM with the Raven MTX multi-touch DAW controller. I first saw this idea more than 10 years ago at Digital Sound and Picture in Culver City. DS&P’s owner/mixer John Ross’s “glass console” was a breakthrough idea in Pro Tools control that now seems way ahead of its time. Raven MTX, and the smaller, recently bowed MTi, have taken Ross’s idea much further, taking advantage of new touchscreen technology and computer speed, and even optimizing the user’s tactile experience with the surface. Whether you buy it or not, it’s still cool.

PreSonus looked to change the conversation between its products by announcing the licensing of Audinate’s Dante networking technology into proposed network cards. Winter NAMM also brought the StudioLive 32.4.2AI 32-channel performance and recording digital mixer and StudioLive AI Series Active Integration Loudspeakers to the company’s product line.

Avid used April’s NAB show to launch Pro Tools 11, the next chapter for the 24-year-old, industry-changing software. PT 11 brings a new look and AAX to fruition, a two-year process promised at AES 2011 with the launch of Pro Tools|HDX hardware and Pro Tools 10. Although many users are waiting until their favorite plug-in manufacturers jump onboard the AAX train before they take it to 11, it’s still a big deal for DAW users.

Soundcraft’s Si Expression series of consoles looked to bring a wealth of high-end features to an affordable level. Three Si Expression versions feature 16, 24 and 32 faders and mic inputs, and can be expanded to 66 inputs via any Soundcraft stagebox, including two new Mini Stagebox 16 and 32 models.

Antelope shipped the Orion32 converters this year, which provide 32 channels of AD/DA conversion in a single rackspace. Mix reviewer Chris Grainger called it “highly competitive with units that would cost twice as much to have as many channels.” The Orion32 is iOS compatible featuring a custom-built USB chip that streams data up to 480 Mbits/192 kHz, and offers Antelope’s 64-bit AFC technology (Acoustically Focused Clocking) and Oven Controlled Oscillator. It’s good to see converter companies breaking the mold this way. For instance, Lynx Studio showed the LT-TB, two-port Thunderbolt expansion card for its Aurora and Hilo converters, along with other Thunderbolt devices. It brings Lynx’s high-end products to desktop and portable producers.

The still-wambly economy brought some sensibly priced products to market as manufacturers rethink their lines. Drawmer released the affordable MC 2.1 monitor box for controlling three pairs of speakers and a sub. It provides two headphone outs, talkback and a mini-jack for integrating portable devices into the studio. AEA, known for high-quality and high-dollar ribbon mics, showed its first sub $1k model, the N22. The phantom-powered active ribbon benefits from the company’s big engines from other mics in its line. Coles waved the affordability banner with its 4030L lollipop ribbon mic. It features a wide frequency response and ships in a sturdy case with a standard stand mount, for just under $1k.

Those envying Sonnox’s Pro Codec saw much of its functionality brought in for less than $65 via the Fraunhofer Sonnox Codec Toolbox, which just bowed at AES. Features include real-time codec auditioning; support for MP3, iTunes, AAC, HE AAC, HD AAC and more; metadata editing; batch processing; and so on. Radial Engineering’s Peter Janis, who I like to call “the guy who makes stuff you didn’t know you needed—until you see it,” showed the USB Pro DI, a high-performance 24-bit/96k stereo DI for Mac OS X, Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7. It offers a headphone amp and balanced Lo-Z outputs with switchable isolation for under $200.

The 500 Series market saw many new units this year, including Rupert Neve Designs’ Silk-enabled 511 mic preamp. Aphex showed a great new USB 500 Series interface at NAMM and many new 500 Series modules, including a single- and dual-channel preamp, EQ, and optical compressor. Mix reviewer Brandon Hickey called elysia’s xfilter 500 “a great-sounding equalizer with a personality all its own.” It features switchable high and low shelf bands, two mid-peak filters with switchable Q and a fixed LC filter producing some magic at high frequencies. I just got my hands on the Bettermaker EQ502P, a delicious-sounding doublewide 500 Series EQ with local or USB/plug-in control from your DAW.

While that’s a lot, I’ve barely scratched the surface. The drag about the end of the year and these types of roundups is that there’s just not enough room to mention all my favorites, nor enough dinero to buy them! Happy holidays everyone, and thanks for reading Mix.