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AES: Basics, Boutiques and Business

I'm still trying to catch my breath from the 121st AES convention in San Francisco (see our show coverage on page 42) and must say that this was one of

I’m still trying to catch my breath from the 121st AES convention in San Francisco (see our show coverage on page 42) and must say that this was one of the best AES shows in years. Convention chair John Strawn and his entire hardworking committee put on a brilliant event, with a perfect balance of papers, workshops, tutorials, master classes, technical tours and special events.

Always a show highlight, the AES exhibits featured hot new technologies such as Fairlight’s remarkable Crystal Core DAW engine and Yamaha’s DSP5D, which puts the power of its PM5D digital board into a rack unit. And the huge line for autographs wasn’t for some guitar hero, but engineer Geoff Emerick, who was signing his new book Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles.

The show floor also seemed mostly free of the cutthroat, price-is-everything mentality that lords over shows like NAMM and Musikmesse. Of course, AES is an end-user show and not a dealer or selling expo, but it’s refreshing to hear attendees seriously talking about quality rather than quantity, or how-cheap-can-you-make-these economics. And when new technologies do emerge — such as 64-bit processing or Intel’s new quad-core CPUs — the emphasis is on using these breakthroughs to advance the state of the art. AES also had a strong showing by boutique manufacturers whose customers appreciate that a few extra bucks invested in decent parts will pay off in years of trouble-free operation. Innovations, from large and small companies alike, drive the industry and lead to better products.

Another welcome sign at AES was a well-rounded slate of tutorial programs, ranging from digital audio basics, mic techniques and digital interconnects and room acoustics. We aren’t all experts in every field, and AES is an excellent platform for learning from the industry’s best and brightest. And master classes on analog circuit design and PCB layout aren’t usually found on your local PBS channel. Local pro audio dealer Cutting Edge presented a packed forum on equalizer design featuring Geoff Daking, Doug Fearn, Greg Gualtieri, George Massenburg, Rupert Neve, Malcolm Toft, Saul Walker and Paul Wolff. But interacting with other pros is hardly limited to the formal confines of workshops and tutorials — where else but during AES could you overhear two multi-Platinum engineers in the hotel lounge, debating preferences in kick drum mics?

Keynote speaker Robert Scovill set the right tone when he talked about opportunities in the live sound industry, a theme reflected in the seminar on the Business of Touring Sound. I’m sure there are some who would have preferred a two-hour lecture on phase-plug geometry, but occasionally bringing a bit more business savvy into this world of audio engineering isn’t a bad idea at all.

Especially in our annual audio education issue, it’s important to remember that audio engineering — whether designing circuits on the EE side, writing code or mixing a 5.1 track — requires a life of learning that doesn’t stop when you leave your alma mater. Thanks, AES, for a great show.