Given the state of the global economy, perhaps the real miracle about the 127th convention of the Audio Engineering Society (held October 9 to 12, 2009) was that it happened at all. Sure, this show was scaled down from past years, with no demo rooms and most exhibitors taking much smaller booth spaces. But the spirit of innovation was alive and well at AES. The aisles were packed with showgoers serious about the art, science — and business — of audio.
And for at least 3,000 lucky ticketholders, the place to be on Saturday night was at API's (www.apiaudio.com) awesome 40th-anniversary bash at the Roseland Ballroom, featuring the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir and New Orleans' Sonny Landreth. Congratulations API on four decades of continuing excellence!
In many ways, this convention seemed much like the delayed post-9/11 AES back in 2001, which sprung back from adversity with a smaller show but with the great vibe of AES shows of old that were held at the Waldorf or Hilton hotels in Midtown. In fact, a common topic of conversation was whether the cavernous Javits Center was perhaps a bit too large for the show, and returning to a hotel venue might not be such a bad idea. Someday, maybe — but for now, the crew of the 127th AES should be congratulated for a great show. Without their hard work and dedication, this miracle on 35th Street may never have happened.
500 Series Mania
Speaking of API, the company's 500 Series modules have always been popular, but we weren't ready for the avalanche of new products in this format at AES. In fact, we counted nearly 25 new modules, including the API 527 comp; Chandler's Little Devil EQ and compressor; Foote Control Systems P3500 comp; Geoff Daking's mic pre 500; Electrodyne 511 EQ and 501 preamp; Grace Design's m501 preamp; Great River's 32 EQ; Inward Connection's discrete VC500 comp, MPD preamp and EQ P2 equalizer; John Hardy's Twin Servo 500; Pete's Place BAC (Brad Avenson Compressor); Pendulum Audio's OCL500 comp; Shadow Hills' double-wide stereo compressor; and Radial Engineering, with seven new modules — PowerPre preamp, JDV-LB instrument pre/DI, JDX-LB guitar amp emulator, X-Amp-LB reamping distro, PHZ-LB phase-adjustment tool, EXTC balanced line-to guitar effects level loop and an upgraded version of the popular Komit comp/limiter.
And the 500-module housing race is heating up. Empirical Labs' (www.empiricallabs.com) ultrahigh-quality EL 500 holds two modules in a horizontal 1U rack; SPL's (www.spl-usa.com) RackPack holds four of its high-current-draw SPL modules and four standard API-format modules in one convenient unit; and Radial Engineering's (www.radialeng.com) booth was mobbed with people chaeking out its Workhorse 5000, a combo 8-module 500 Series rack and summing mixer that's packed with I/O and extra features for optimizing signal flow.
Mics Gone Wild!
New mics were everywhere. We counted at least seven new ribbon models alone! AEA's (www.ribbonmics.com) A840 ribbon mic promises less proximity boost than other AEA ribbons and handles a blistering 141dB SPL. The phantom-powered active mic features a 4.7mm pure aluminum ribbon and a captive 9-foot, cloth-covered cable. Audio-Technica (www.audio-technica.com) unveiled its first ribbon mics, the AT4080 and AT4081, with onboard phantom-powered electronics bringing their output to near-condenser levels. Cloud Microphones' (www.cloudmicrophones.com) $1,299 JRS-34 is designed by Stephen Sank and named for his father, legendary RCA designer Jon R. Sank who created the classic BK-11 ribbon mic. Independent Audio (www.independentau dio.com) showed the Coles model 4050 stereo mic, which adjusts for a variety of stereo miking angles and can physically separate the capsules for spaced-pair placements. Shure (www.shure.com) generated a lot of interest with its Crowley and Tripp-rebranded El Diablo and Naked Eye ribbon mics, now offered as the $2,695 KSM353 and the $1,295 KSM313.
In other mic news, Neumann (wwww.neu mannusa.com) previewed its TLM 102 large-diaphragm condenser with 143dB SPL handling and small form-factor body for tight placements; street pricing is around $700. Also new are the KMR 81 D digital shotgun and the KK 120 figure-8 capsule — perfect for M/S stereo recording.
AKG's (www.akg.com) C 414 line just keeps getting better. The new C 414 XLS offers the sonic imprint of the C 414 B-ULS, while the C 414 XL II has the presence boost and the spatial reproduction similar to that of the C 12. Both have nine polar patterns, three HP filters and three pads.
Bock Audio's (www.bockaudiode signs.com) AM 50 omni tube mic updates the vintage M50 design, with a half-inch diaphragm mounted in a sphere offering unique frequency-dependent directional characteristics.
CAD Audio (www.cadmics.com) is now shipping its U.S.-built E100S 1-inch diaphragm condenser with a Quadra-FET™ front end delivering a whisper-quiet 3.7dBA noise floor.
Another large-diaphragm entry, the Josephson C715 (www.josephson.com) offers a range of polar patterns achieved through a mechanical adjustment. A discrete cascode front-end circuit and Lundahl nickel-core output transformer complete the package.
The David Royer-designed MA-101fet mic from Mojave Audio (www.mojaveaudio.com) has interchangeable, 3-micron small-diameter cardioid and omni capsules; low-noise FET electronics; and a full-sized Jensen output transformer.
Wunder Audio's (www.vintageking.com) CM7 FET microphone is a multipattern — cardioid, omni, figure-8 — version of the classic, but single-pattern U47 FET. The CM7 FET has a new K47 dual-membrane capsule; retail is $2,495.
Eigenmike em32 from MH Acoustics (www.mhacoustics.com) is a scalable mic array with 32 capsules embedded into a rigid sphere, with directivity pattern (shape, steering and direction) controllable in real time or stored for post-soundfield processing over FireWire.
JZ Microphones (www.jzmics.com) BT-201 is a small-diaphragm condenser with a variety of interchangeable capsules that were both visually arresting and sonically impressive.
With all those mics in your collection, you may need the Manley (www.manleylabs.com) MicMAID, which lets you connect up to four mics and preamps, match their levels and silently switch between any combination for instant, simple auditioning of mic/preamp combos — no patching or replugging. Every studio needs one! Shipping begins Q1, 2010.
ADAM Audio (www.adamaudio.de) demoed its new SX Series. The new triamped S3X-H updates the popular S3A with dual 7-inch woofers, a 4-inch HexaCone midrange and the new X-ART ribbon tweeter for a 32 to 50k Hz bandwidth.
Genelec (www.genelecusa.com) expands its DSP-driven monitor line with the 8260A, a three-way design incorporating a coaxial mid-high-driver offering smooth on/off-axis response. Loudspeaker Manager software manages crossover filters, driver EQ, driver alignment, room-response correction and distance-compensating delay, and Genelec's AutoCal automated room calibration/system alignment provides accurate response in varying environments.
Legendary speaker designer Harvey Gerst worked with noted amp designer Russ Allee to create the new HG3 powered close-field monitors for Trident Audio Developments (www.pmiaudio.com). The HG3 speakers combine a mid and HF driver in a separate swiveling enclosure set into a ported subwoofer cabinet, with the swiveling action greatly reducing diffraction distortion, while letting you adjust directionality for improved imaging.
Consoles, Large and Small
Last month, Mackie Designs (mackie.com) created a stir by “leaking” its Onyx 820i mixers with a prototype driver that allows interfacing with Pro Tools M-Powered 8 software. At AES, Mackie announced shipping its entire line of Onyx-i mixers (820i/1220i/1620i/1640i) and that its $49.95 driver for PT M-Powered 8 is downloadable at the company's site. In addition to a high-quality 24-bit/96kHz FireWire recording interface for use with all major DAWs, Onyx-i mixers offer pro analog features.
Audient's (www.audient.com) Zen analog mixing console combines DAW I/O integration with moving-fader automation, transport control and a sonically pure signal path. Designed in a compact frame, Zen features two inputs per channel, DAW record output on each channel, L/R mix bus, two stereo buses, two mono buses, four aux, two cue sends and a stereo compressor.
SSL (www.solid-state-logic.com) bowed the improved Duality SE console featuring an Ethernet connection between the mixer and DAW host computer. A dual-layer DAW control lets Duality control two DAWs simultaneously with seamless hardware control surface switching. The channel strips' Solo/Cut tiles have been replaced with LCD screens, providing a greater level of information. The analog side of Duality also received 25 individual feature additions.
Calrec's (www.calrecaudio.com) new Artemis console uses the same advanced FPGA core technologies as Bluefin2 and Hydra2, with up to 640-channel processing paths, 128 program buses, 64 IFB/track outputs and 32 auxes, and up to 8,192x8,192 crosspoint routing. Using a combination of OLED displays, touchscreens and light-emitting knobs, the Artemis control surface provides instant visual feedback while enabling you to reconfigure the desk.
Designed to meet the increased demand for slimmed-down user interfaces, the StageTec (www.stagetec.com) Crescendo digital mixing system has a compact footprint, but provides full 40-bit floating-point processing with up to 300 channel paths, 128 summing paths and 96 auxes.
Lawo's (www.lawo.ca) MC266 console features a completely redundant signal path and support for 500-plus DSP channels and 8,192x8,192 routing crosspoints. The system supports hot-swapping of the router board and supports configurations from 8x8x8 to 48x8x48 faders. Extender frames range from eight to 16 to 24 faders, while stand-alone extenders are available from 16 to 24 faders.
It's been awhile since analog signal processing hardware was a big deal at AES, but hardware is back, big time! Here are just a few. The new m103 channel strip from Grace Design (www.gracede sign.com) offers a preamp, 3-band EQ and optical compressor in a single-rackspace chassis.
Elysia's (www.elysia.com) museq discrete Class-A analog EQ offers optimally matched parameters so you can get the desired results fast and precisely. Each of the two channels has three parametric bands with switchable Q.
Dangerous Music (www.dangerousmusic.com) expands its rackmount mastering suite with the BAX EQ, offering stepped controls for repeatability and identical stereo tracking; broad-Q shelving with a Baxandall character; and high/lowpass 12dB/octave Butterworth filters.
Charter Oak's (www.charteroakacoustics.com) new PEQ-1 stereo program EQ has a range of cool features for putting those finishing touches on a mix, including a 50kHz shelving EQ and other interesting nonsurgical frequency tweakers.
The 2A3 tube EQ from Retro (www.vintageking.com) duplicates the Pultec EQ curves and additional high-boost frequency selections chosen to provide seamless control. Other features include a subsonic filter, four LF cut/boost settings, 10 HF boost settings and three HF cut settings.
It just wouldn't be AES without DAWs. Cakewalk's (cakewalk.com) SONAR Producer Version 8.5 offers new beat-creation and arrangement tools, a new drum instrument, enhanced audio quantizing and new multistage effect plug-ins for vocals and percussion. Among its VST plug-in compatibility improvements is BitBridgeXR that lets you run 32-bit plugs in 64-bit environments.
This Mac-based restoration suite just keeps getting better. SoundSoap Pro 2, from BIAS (www.bias-inc.com), adds super-intelligent adaptive noise reduction, with four comprehensive restoration tools in a single plug-in.
Sonnox (www.sonnoxplugins.com) new Restore plug-ins (Oxford DeBuzzer, Oxford DeClicker and Oxford DeNoiser) feature advanced algorithms for fast, effective removal of pops, clicks, crackles, scratches, hum, buzzes and extraneous background noise. Supported formats include Pro Tools (RTAS), AU and VST platforms.
After analyzing vintage and modern classics from Neve, API, Ampex, EMI, Thermionic Culture and more to create accurate models of high-end studio gear, SoundToys (www.soundtoys.com) created its Decapitator plug-in, which models the saturation or distortion created when driving professional analog studio equipment. SoundToys also released its PanMan plug, which features random, ping-pong, and triggered- and LFO-styled panning.
Alloy from iZotope (www.izotope.com) is a completely configurable and self-contained plug-in suite with six essential sound-shaping effects: Equalizer, Exciter, Transient, Dynamics, De-Esser, Exciter and Limiter. More than 150 macro-presets handle specific mix situations.
Waves (www.waves.com) showed a number of new plug-ins, but we were intrigued by Vocal Rider, which automatically matches your vocal level with the rest of the song by busing an instrumental mix into the sidechain. As a plus, it also writes and editable automation track, but definitely had the feel of a veteran studio engineer providing a little gentle “finger-limiting” as the vocal plays.
And In the End
If there was a word that described this AES, it was optimism.
Some exhibitors were saying “what downturn?” Others shook their heads at the current state of sales. But no matter what side vendors fell on, the general feel was upbeat about attendance and the future of audio. Hopefully, next year's AES in San Francisco (November 2010) brings more exhibitors and support for this great show that raises the bar for everyone and builds on this sense of community.
Meanwhile, we'll be presenting more products from AES 2009 in Mix and at www.mixonline.com, with dozens of videos and highlights just a click away. Also, Euro AES makes a long-awaited return to London, May 20 to 23, 2010, after a 23-year absence. Mark your calendar now! For more, go to www.mixonline.com/ms/aes.
Mix Certified Hits
Top 20 Products From AES
Choosing a few from hundreds of great debuts was tough, but here are our selections for the Top 20 products from AES.
ADAM SX Series Monitors
AKG C 414 XLS/XL II Microphones
Audient Zen Console
Audio-Technica AT4080/4081 Ribbon Mics
BIAS SoundSoap 2
Cakewalk SONAR Version 8.5
Dangerous Music BAX Equalizer
Elysia Museq Equalizer
Genelec 8260A Monitors
Grace Design m103 Channel Strip
Mackie Onyx-i Series Consoles
Neumann TLM 102 Microphone
Radial Workhorse 5000
Solid State Logic Duality SE Console
Trident HG3 Monitors
Waves Vocal Rider Plug-In