“AES” means a variety of distinct things to me. In one form, it’s an event: a convention of men and women that largely possess the knowledge and technical wherewithal to, for example, solder their own cables. But the Convention’s distinct blend of new gear, educational opportunities and technical papers—the craft-shaping ideas presented at each gathering—make AES The Show, in my mind, at least. If MusikMesse or NAMM-goers are the dudes, and NAB or InfoComm crowds are the suits, AES members are our scientists.
I’m lucky to have had some wise, highly influential advisers in this industry who have shown me the influence of acoustics sciences and environment in audio capture and playback. The Audio Engineering Society is the collective brain trust of most of those wise folks—those I’ve met in, at and around arguably some of the best recording studios in the world. Through knowing them, I more easily dismissed many of the superstitions and voodoos of our modern recording culture and regained a simple post-college goal of lifelong learning, getting into what I’d call an “AES headspace.”
The annual U.S. AES Convention tends to host a significant number of unique, boutique product manufacturers around its exhibition floor—another cultural perk of the event—and there are esoteric rackmount boxes everywhere. I love it. Some exhibitors began as users that fixed their own gear and eventually built a better mousetrap; some became pro audio behemoths. AES is home to truly magical makers of audio elixirs, many essential sound tools and perhaps even a carnival barker or two. In total, the exhibition is a collection of incredible inventors and innovators, showcasing their wares, skills and knowledge to peers.
139th AES Expos
This year, two popular programs return to AES: Live Sound Expo (LSE) and Project Studio Expo (PSE) on days 2, 3 and 4 of the Convention. Sponsored by Mix sister publication Pro Sound News, LSE will cover three categories per installment, “Broadway,” “House-of-Worship/Fixed Install,” and “Tour Sound,” entirely hosted by pros with decades of industry experience. One out of four Convention attendees is a live sound engineer—a significantly growing category of AES members. Manufacturer sponsors include DiGiCo, EAW, L-Acoustics, Optocore, Sennheiser, Waves Audio and Yamaha.
Seminars cover live sound topics such as upcoming changes in the wireless spectrum (“Wireless Matters, Part II”) with the auctioning of 600 MHz frequencies early next year; the continued evolution of live sound reinforcement (“Loudspeaker Developments and Use with Dave Rat”); and product development (“Almost Everything You Wanted To Know About Loudspeaker Design”).
Meanwhile, media sponsors Sound On Sound will host PSE, focusing on teaching the “mic to monitor” basics of recording at home. PSE comprises detailed discussions, seminars and workshops sponsored by Genelec, Neumann and Prism Sound, hosted by SOS editors and industry experts such as audio technologist Craig Anderton and Tape Op magazine’s Larry Crane, among others.
Papers, Tutorials & Workshops
The Technical Program at AES offers a slew of interesting topics from areas of education, forensic audio, cinema sound, sound reinforcement, spatial audio, etc., in its Papers sessions; Tutorials on interactive music, mic techniques, listening tests, and more; plus Workshops covering high-res audio, LF response in small rooms, game-changing standards such as AES67, and intellectual property issues, just to name a few.
To me, Tech Programs are where Convention attendees discover the intrinsic value of AES. With consistently more audio pros working residentially or remotely, these events are invaluable, residing somewhere between an audited college course and a really great water cooler convo with the smartest people at the best studio in town.
New Products Abound, Too
Categorically, there are more world-class microphones, preamplifiers, mixers, processors, speakers and accessories at an AES Convention than any other event you’ll find worldwide. This year, I’m expecting and keeping my eyes peeled for some particular things.
Like pro audio dwellers at NAMM, the AES set is particularly keen on vintage-style products—microphones, preamps and outboard processing, both hardware- and software-based, in particular. From BAE’s 1073—the longest running Neve-inspired preamp in production—to products like Drawmer’s new 1978 Stereo Tone Shaping FET Compressor, proven analog tones continue to thrive through AES debuted tools. Between premium-priced hardware and more affordable software emulations—think companies such as Plugin Alliance, Universal Audio and Waves—our past continues to shape our audio production futures.
AES67, the Society’s AoIP standard since late 2013, has spawned a wave of product development for comprehensive audio networking systems. Expect to see more pieces to make up your own Ethernet-based recording or live sound rig. Focusrite, for example, continues to ship more new Dante-powered RedNet audio interfaces; four are newly shipping (like the MP8R 8-channel remote controlled mic pre, pictured) with more promised for introduction soon.
Via Ethernet or wireless, remote and untethered comprehensive control continues to push pro audio R&D. Expect to see more cross-platform compatible, multi-device controlled tools accessible via one of the many touch/smart devices within the consumer tech sector. Meanwhile, new control surfaces with dedicated physical knobs will be there, too. Analog, digital or a hybrid in-between, production and mix systems have never been more uniquely customizable for the modern professional. Expect to see more built-in touch GUIs alongside chrome features and physical faders, and so on.
Top 12 Anticipated Sights
Writing a convention preview is often difficult, especially for a show known for hosting some unpredictable new technologies. That said, here are my personal top 12 “must see” spots around the Javits Center exhibition floor, in alphabetical (no particular) order.
AEA (Audio Engineering Associates), Booth 449: Wes Dooley has been refurbishing ribbons way before they were the hippest mic flavor for recording (and increasingly, live). There’s always something gorgeous and cool at the AEA booth.
Apogee Electronics, Booth 222: Privately owned and consistently cutting edge, Apogee groks modern pro audio engineers and their needs. Their products are consistently top-notch and sophisticated, yet simple to use.
Audio Plus Services, Booth 230: Distributors of premium brands Focal, SPL, Lauten, VOVOX (classy Swiss cables) and IsoAcoustics, the Audio Plus booth is a one-stop update on select, drool-worthy tools.
Audio-Technica, Booth 419: If you’ve never noticed, A-T manufacturers a stunningly broad range of microphones, which are overwhelmingly high quality at a reasonable price. I currently have their BP40 Large Diaphragm Dynamic in for review and can’t wait to see what they have up their sleeve for AES NYC.
DiGiCo, Booth 627: This company has been rocking lately, from its amazingly priced S21 truly pro digital mixer to its DiGiGrid collaboration with Waves Audio for the SoundGrid DAW/mixing platform. They do it with much concern for their high-end pro user base.
DPA Microphones, Booth 727: DPA regularly hosts phenomenal instrumentalists to demonstrate their phenomenal small-diaphragm condensers. I always love to linger there a bit for a listen.
Grace Design, Booth 351: A family-founded business, Grace Design consistently produces super-clean, distinct, sleek and overbuilt (in a good way) hardware-based signal paths that are found in many of the world’s best studios. It’s always a most graceful visit at AES, pun intended.
Harrison, Booth 442: Their world-class analog studio mixers and digital film consoles aside, Harrison is now on Version 3 of its console-like native DAW Mixbus for Mac, Windows or Linux. Users pay a one-time fee of $79 with free V. 3.x updates—awesome.
Millennia Media, Booth 739: Millennia’s award-winning preamplifiers capture a significant percentage of audiophile recordings in the field, and for good reason. Far from stodgy, the company now offers 500 Series as well as stage-friendly DI-box-shaped preamp models, serving premium end users and savvy aspiring ones, too.
Rupert Neve Designs, Booth 942: Guided by The Man, RND continues to innovate in the realm of analog processing, bringing the never-ending ideas of Mr. Rupert Neve to a grateful, salivating field of audio junkies. If you don’t drop by RND, you didn’t go to AES, in my opinion.
Slate Digital, Booth 137: Arguably the coolest booth at AES on a consistent basis, Steven Slate’s vision for what’s next in pro audio is always fun to see. Considering that Slate’s Raven multitouch mix surface was unveiled just a few years ago (and now we can’t avoid touchscreens in pro audio), I can’t wait to see what Slate Digital has whipped up for 2015.
Solid State Logic, Booth 227: Another must-see booth, SSL is nearly synonymous with the AES experience, at least to me. My most favorite year for SSL at AES was 2007, when Peter Gabriel debuted his “Shed Of Your Dreams”—a tuned, Auralex-treated creative recording space for the back 40. It was a bold, cool move—especially for a predominantly large-format console manufacturer; it foreshadowed the private studio evolution we continue to see in modern pro audio workspaces.
Strother Bullins is the Reviews Editor for NewBay Media’s AV/Pro Audio Group.
TOP 10 PRODUCTS I WANT TO SEE AT AES
By Kevin Becka, Mix technology editor
The Waves H-Reverb (reviewed in this issue) will be at the show. The FIR reverb is based on innovative Finite Impulse Response technology, offers the user the ability to alter the decay envelope in unusual ways, resulting in perfectly gated, real reverse, and dense reverb tails that don’t muddy up the mix.
Yamaha will be showing its new TF digital consoles featuring TouchFlow Operation. Features include an advanced touchscreen, mic presets, one-knob compression, wireless mixing, processing and effects.
NYRV AGENT is a virtual control surface allowing you to control up to 16 plug-ins from the AGENT virtual control surface. Changing VST or AU plug-in order, and controlling up to 96 parameters, can be achieved from one GUI.
Avid’s Pro Tools 12.2 has upped the ante on new features for non-HD users, making it now more than ever a reason to upgrade from 10 or 11. The veil between HD and now is becoming thinner, with many high-end features like VCA Masters and disk caching filtering down to the more affordable software.
DiGiCo, Allen & Heath and Calrec have joined forces promising new connectivity and future product collaboration. They’ll be showing how Calrec’s Hydra 2 and DiGiCo’s SD Racks now work together facilitated by DiGiCo’s new 2U Orange box.
Focal will be showing its Trio6 Be monitors that put a 2-way and 3-way speaker into a single enclosure. The new speakers improve upon the similarly designed SM9s by providing an input for a latching pedal that lets you quickly jump between the two systems.
BAE will unveil its hand-wired, Class-A-designed 1073MPL 500Series preamp/line driver. It features Carnhill (St. Ives) transformers, input impedance selector switch between 1,200 and 300 ohms, DI input, Elma gold plated switches, and original Marconi knobs.
Radial Engineering will unveil the Jensen Twin-Servo 500 Series preamplifier incorporating two 990 op-amps cascaded in series, two servos and two Jensen transformers. The unit delivers 60 dB of gain and features a 10-segment LED meter, polarity, highpass, pad and phantom power switches.
JoeCo will be showing the BlackBox BBR1MP Recorder targeted at broadcast and location sound recording. Features include 24 microphone preamps, operation up to 24-bit/96 kHz, plus user-optional Dante and MADI interface cards adding 24 channels to the BBR1MP unit.
Sound Devices will have its SL-6 powering and wireless system in connection with the 688 mixer/recorder. The SL-6 offers all powering and audio interconnection for standard slot-in receivers and additional control and monitoring when used with SuperSlot-compatible receivers.