Immersive music was the talk of 2022 in both pro audio production and consumer distribution, which led to a wealth of new creative tools, both studio and live sound, and a renewed focus on playback systems, both speakers and headphones. There is no sign of that slowing down in 2023.
The past 12 months also saw the release of plenty of new, affordable microphones, high-end outboard gear, AI-infused plug-ins and advanced means of control. With all that in mind, we present the second half of Mix’s 23 pro audio companies to keep an eye on in 2023; don’t forget to check out Part 1!
It would be hard not to include Meyer Sound on any Companies to Watch list, in any year, even a year following the introduction of a new flagship, large-format, linear line array loudspeaker called Panther, where the mandate was to provide the power of Leo in a package closer to the size of Lyon.
That would seem like enough to sit back and take it easy, and sell a few systems, but that’s not going to happen. There’s too much knowledge at the company to sit still, and with a well-deserved position at the high end of post-production, live sound and control systems, it’s a safe bet that 2023 will be another banner year. Don’t count out Constellation, where the possibilities for immersive playback are endless.
On that same trip to Nashville this past fall, just a half-block from Jeff Balding’s studio, Mix stopped in at Ryan Hewitt’s new 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos mix room, Stratmosphere, featuring a crazy-good-sounding PMC monitor system built around PMC 6-2 Active Monitors with 8-2 subs in an XBD array up front and PMC ci45 and ci90 speakers hidden in the walls. A few blocks away, two flagship PMC immersive systems fill out the two immersive studios at UMG/Capitol’s Berry Hill facility. PMC was a founding member of the immersive music club, and with the introduction in late 2021 of the new, more affordable PMC6, PMC6-2 and PMC8-2, along with associated subwoofers, the company’s name will only spread wider.
Mix reviewer Michael Cooper has long been a fan of PSP Audioware’s plug-ins, most recently diving in to take a look at Impressor and Saturator. “It’s these two guys from Poland,” he said in pitching the review to a Mix editor, “and they make fantastic products. I would like to play with these two.”
In the same month, at the Mix immersive music event in NYC, noted mixer Ronald Prent casually remarked about “this little company in Poland, PSP,” that was about to come out with a new, simple immersive plug-in that was going to have a huge impact on immersive workflow. That product, we now know, is PSP auralControl, and it just came out to rave reviews. We’re keeping an eye on those two guys from Poland.
Sennheiser and Neumann have been so deeply involved in pioneering research involving immersive audio capture and playback, most notably through its AMBEO development team, that it can become easy to look past the fact that they had released new products. Not so in 2022, when Neumann released its new NDH 30 open-back, reference-class headphone for mixing and mastering, in both stereo and immersive formats, along with the KH 150 DSP-powered studio monitor. Both received instant acclaim.
Meanwhile, at the Mix immersive music event in NYC, Sennheiser showed off the latest iteration of its Dear Reality dearVR immersive headphone mixing plug-in and its AMBEO 2-channel renderer. Headphones and binaural matter. This is very cool stuff. Very cutting-edge. Stay tuned.
Shure pretty much exploded out of the gate at the start of 2022 and didn’t let up all year, unveiling product after product aimed at every corner of pro audio. January saw the company release the second generation of its SRH440A and SRH840A headphones, while the long-awaited Shure KSM11 wireless vocal mic capsule came out in April, having already hit the road as Dua Lipa’s live mic capsule of choice. For integrators, MXA920 ceiling array microphones arrived in May, while content creators got a limited edition of the MV7 broadcast mic in August. October saw the company unleash a one-two punch: its UniPlex cardioid subminiature lavalier mic for AV conference pros, and the AD600 Axient Digital Spectrum Manager for the touring, broadcast, location sound, theater and HOW markets. It’s a safe bet that Shure has another round of must-have tools in its back pocket, just waiting to be unleashed at the right moment in 2023, so keep an eye on those pros from Chicago.
The number and range of new products coming out of SSL over the past few years have been staggering, with everything from audio interfaces and plug-ins to brand-new and updated consoles, big and small. There’s no sign of slowing down following the fall release of Origin 16 at AES 2022.
What grabs our attention, however, is the fact that Phil Wagner, head of U.S. operations, spent much of the past year touting the capabilities of the SSL System T console for immersive music production, despite the fact that it was originally designed for broadcast. That means the technology behind the immersive audio control package is in place, and we’re likely to see much more of it in the year to come, spread across a multitude of products. Can’t wait!
SONY PRO/SONY RA360
Where the heck did Sony come from? Sure, through its various pro and consumer divisions, the company has put a lot of backing behind the development of the RA360 format, and it’s making inroads in both gaming and music. Elsewhere, behind the scenes, the company has done extensive research into the binaural simulation of immersive spaces and released a few creative tools for high-end mixers. Then in the past couple of years, Sony Professional started releasing some pretty nice microphones (the C-100 and C-80), and most recently, a high-end wireless transmitter. We didn’t see this coming from a company that had largely disappeared from pro audio over the past decade, but it’s sure nice to see. Bring on more!
You can read much more about this relatively recent Portuguese plug-in startup in this month’s View From the Top, interviewing company founder Nuno Fonseca. Just a few years back, Fonseca was an academic, teaching CGI, coding and software-based technologies when he saw that what he was teaching in visuals could be applied to audio. He named his first product, a randomization plug-in that created rich and full soundscapes, Sound Particles. The timing was right, and he found instant acceptance from high-end studios and engineers in sound for film and television. A flurry of new products emerged, and now the company has set its sights on immersive music production. Good things are happening here, where high technology delivers easy-to-use tools.
Who could have predicted that a small online and phone-based audio retailer from Fort Wayne, Ind., would emerge over the course of the past decade as one of the audio industry’s most prominent success stories, with annual revenues topping $1 billion a year?
Those inside the company likely saw it coming, because the way Sweetwater does business— fairly and with a personal touch—provides a throwback model for the modern age that should be taught in MBA programs across the country. Provide a reliable resource, treat your employees and customers right, and deliver what you say you will. It sounds simple, we know, but founder Chuck Surack and his team have turned it into an art form— and it’s only getting bigger and better.
The much-beloved Universal Audio, founded by one of the music industry’s original engineer’s engineers, Bill Putnam, and still in the family, has been on a tear lately, releasing a flood of new products, both hardware and software. From the introduction of its Spark subscription plan, to the launch of its first native audio interface, the new Volt 476P, to the recently released Hitsville Reverb Chambers emulation plug-in, there’s been no breaks. It’s easy to forget how central UA was to the introduction and acceptance of realistic emulations and models of vintage gear in software so many years ago. That’s because the company has remained the leader, and there’s no sign that it’s giving up the title.
If there is any company that has a right to challenge the claim of UA’s market-leading plug-ins, it would be Waves, as we could make the same claim for the longtime Isreal-based software developer. Heck, it was Waves that led the way to its celebrity engineer and producer signature plug-ins, dating back to Jack Joseph Puig and many others. However, Waves does so much more, extending its reach successfully into live sound through its hardware stage racks, integrated plug-ins and mixing/control surfaces. It’s hard to fathom that one company has such a solid footprint in both worlds. But Waves does. Now let’s see what the company does when it seriously dives into immersive music. It should be fun!