Every time AES rolls around, I start thinking about new gear, and 2015 has been a banner year so far. For example, the new Coil CA-286 preamp sets a new standard for NOS tube gear—read all about it in my review in this issue on page 82. Also be sure to check out our picks for all the great gear to see at the show. But since everything, and everyone, won’t make it to at AES, I like to use a column to talk about the standouts that have been under my hands, and in my ears for the past six months.
As audio pros, hearing preservation is something always on our minds. I’ve owned a number of protection products through the years, moving from custom-fit earplugs, to foamies, wax plugs, and now to my new favorites, EarPeace and Dubs earplugs. EarPeace is not just an excellent name for a product; the company dedicates part of its Website (www.earpeace.com) to hearing loss education, and offers excellent tech specs on each of its plugs. My favorites (I own three pairs) are the very affordable and comfortable EarPeace HD plugs ($14.35). You get three plugs with swappable filters. The tan filters attenuate between 8 dB and 23 dB while the red filters cut between 14 dB and 24 dB. The Performance tab on the EarPeace Website lists the effectiveness of the plugs across seven frequencies between 125 Hz and 8 kHz with attenuation climbing the higher you go. They are so comfortable you forget you’re wearing them. Besides being very good at what they do, they come in a tiny metal cylinder with screw on caps at either end for storing plugs and filters. It clips neatly into a backpack or keychain, and I can say, for the first time, after six months of use, I’ve not lost an earplug.
Along those lines, Dubs from Doppler Labs came out of the gate with a single product, a passive earplug that comes in a range of colors and promises to “reduce volume without sacrificing the clarity of sound.” I bought a pair ($25), and they are very comfortable and while they do alter the sonic experience, they feel more “open” than other plugs. What’s most interesting about Doppler is their recent, and successful Kickstarter campaign where they reached their goal of $250k in 48 hours and ended up with 2,855 backers pledging more than $600k for Here, an active, wireless ear bud and associated smartphone app for tuning your human listening experience. Calling it an ear bud is deceiving, as the product has created its own category, which is both practical and a kind of virtual audio reality. Here combines an EQ, noise cancellation and effects processor for your head. Since it’s not a real product yet, it’s hard to say how well it will work, with price, effective operation, and battery life being keys to its success. It’s one to watch.
Synchro Arts has rocketed Vocalign into the future with ReVoice Pro 3.1 ($599) adding pitch editing, background processing, track groups and other improvements. I’ve always been impressed by Vocalign with its Guide and Dub architecture, which musically aligns spoken word, background vocals and other tracks. The new software carries this forward and more, using AudioSuite plug-ins to easily send audio to the freestanding application and spot it back. Once in the application, you can apply the process, then tweak the parameters, which updates the processed copy nearly instantly. The best part is, once you get a preset established from their deep list of parameters you can do the whole operation without leaving Pro Tools. Once you experience this you’ll wonder why anyone kludges along with ReWire or other applications forcing the audio to live in segregation.
The Ultimate Ears Line Drive ($149) is a product that improves the dynamic range and sound quality of IEMs. It’s a small, and simple, battery powered add-on box plugged between the source and IEM cable. There are no settings; just plug it in, turn it on and go. What I noticed most is no small improvement in the stereo image. The literature claims a more even and full-range frequency response at the low and high end, which would offer more cues for separation between left and right. I can say that it’s a definite get if you use IEMs for critical listening. If you’re onstage, it gets even better with UE SoundGuard ($199), which is exactly the same form factor as Line Drive but adds spike protection.
At the recent Mix Nashville event at Clair Global and The Blackbird Academy Live, I got an excellent tour of the EuCon powered Avid Pro Tools | S3 control surface and Avid Artist Transport. Avid’s Collyer Spreen showed his ninja-like skills using the two controllers and the new, and free, iPad Pro Tools Control app. Collyer was instancing plug-ins, navigating tabs, mixing with the 16 excellent faders and button controls, and using the Transport’s soft keys and keypad to move between markers and more. Over the years, I’ve used the Control 24, C-24, and Artist Series Control and felt they all did too much poorly, or delivered too little. Finally, The S3 ($4,999), Transport ($299), and App are the trifecta that makes the experience more like a console than ever. I’ve got a feeling there will be more scalable iterations of these products bringing them into range of those who can’t foot the bill, but the feel, look and operation of these are really something.
Whether you can make it to AES or not, there are plenty of new products out to get your attention. Keep your eyes on this column and Mix where we’ll keep you in the loop.