AES: LOOKING FORWARD, LOOKING BACKAES is here, and thousands of audio pros from around the world will pack into the L.A. Convention Center to pay homage at the temple of technology. There is no doubt that new products drive pro audio, but there's also something very comforting about an industry where classic gear is not merely appreciated, but also put into everyday use alongside the techno-widgets of today. As an example of this approach, one needn't look much farther than this month's cover, showing a glimpse of hitmaker Jack Joseph Puig's private retreat, which combines cutting-edge new technology with the best tools from the past.
This trend is also well represented on the AES convention floor, where what appears to be a record-setting number of new retro products will be unveiled. In the microphone department, Neumann's M150 is a reworking of its vintage M50 omnidirectional tube condenser, while the revered Telefunken 251 will be brought back in the form of the Lawson L251 and the Soundelux ELUX 251. On the mixer front, Trident is back, Neve will debut its 88R (profiled in this issue) analog desk and TL Audio is now shipping its VTC large-format Vacuum Tube Console. Universal Audio - which wowed us with its LA-2A and 1176 reissues last year - follows it up with the UA 2610 dual tube mic preamp. And anyone looking for that classic sound should check out Demeter's Real Reverb, which features dual Hammond/Accutronics spring (!) tanks.
An alarming trend that's emerged in recent years is a over-dependence on technology in studio production. These days, it's all too easy to reach for a rack, when in an earlier era, engineers relied on inspiration - and occasionally perspiration - to create new textures, whether running two tape transports in close sync and pushing a thumb against one tape flange for phasing/flanging effects, using tape echo, singing through a cardboard tube or whatever. A young engineer friend recently lamented that he didn't have enough reverbs for a mix project. When I asked why he didn't route a send into the studio speakers and mike the space to create an acoustic chamber, he said that had never occurred to him, although he was intrigued by the idea.
I'm not sure all of us would like to return to the "good old days" of 3-channel Ampex multitracks and 8-input consoles with huge Bakelite rotary faders. However, in this age of unlimited virtual tracking, it's fun to occasionally do a little direct-to-2-track work, or at least do a project requiring fewer than 72 tracks. The Beatles cut their first album in a day, and as I recall, it charted pretty well - maybe there's a lesson there for all of us.
In keeping with this issue's AES theme, our annual New Products Guide features nearly 400 pieces of audio gear, including both retro and neo flavors. Speaking of the latter, the availability of affordable, high-quality tools opens up opportunities for audio producers at all levels, and perhaps the next Jack Joseph Puig, Rick Rubin or TEC Hall of Fame inductee Sam Phillips (all interviewed in this issue) will emerge as a result of accessible technology stemming from this AES.
That's what this business should be about.