Squeezing through the record-setting crowd of 105,046 at this year's NAB, the term on most people's minds was probably “compression.” However, the real watchword of this NAB was “integration,” with manufacturers looking for ways to improve workflow and users looking for means to move more channels of audio around faster, with greater efficiency. HD production is here to stay, and digital television is a reality, so there was a sense that the time to get serious about sound has arrived, which is great news for the entire audio community. We scoured NAB's gargantuan exhibit halls looking for audio excitement, and there was plenty to be had. Here are a few highlights.
Fairlight’s HD Dream Factory combines mixing, audio editing and nonlinear video
In earlier years, big boards at NAB snagged most of the headlines. This year the push was bigger feature sets and increased power from smaller console packages. Calrec's (www.calrec.com) new Bluefin technology lets existing Alpha owners upgrade from 226 to 480 (mono equivalent) channels by installing a couple DSP cards. Bluefin puts full EQ and dynamics on all channels, and can provide 78 full 5.1 surround sound channels, eight 5.1 groups, four main outs, 48 multitrack outs and 20 aux outs. Who wants to buy a new console just to get more power and speed?
Fairlight (www.fairlightau.com) introduced a comprehensive HD production/encoding suite for audio finishing for HDTV and film. The HD DREAM Factory comprises a dual-bay Constellation-XT large-format mixing console and Fairlight's Pyxis HD nonlinear video system — an integrated platform for recording, editing and mixing to picture. The Constellation-XT multiformat mixing system is expandable up to 240 channels into 72 buses, with scalable DSP, integrated disk recording/editing and more than 80 third-party plug-ins. Pricing is $99,950.
Under new ownership, SSL (www.solid-state-logic.com) has made a huge turnaround, with many new products, including the second generation of its popular AWS 900 — the AWS 900+ shown at Musikmesse 2006. MORSE (Modular Resource Sharing Engine) expands SSL's C100 broadcast mixer with modular I/O, stageboxes and router hardware, concentrating audio I/O and router matrices for simple to large-scale applications. Its expandable and optional PC control software provides smooth workflow.
Three banks of 10 faders on Studer's (www.studer.ch) compact Vista 5 console can access up to 1,700 channels. The one-knob-per-job surface and integration of the rotaries into the TFT screen make it intuitive and easy on the eyes. Meanwhile, fellow Harman company Soundcraft (www.soundcraft.com) showed its Vi6 large-format digital board, which we saw at NSCA the month before.
Euphonix (www.euphonix.com) demoed new features of its System 5. Now with Apple as part of the EuCon protocol, Logic Pro 7 can be controlled along with Pro Tools and other third-party DAWs, DSP hardware and plug-ins. Other big news? Euphonix's MC Controller is now available as an “insert” for existing System 5 boards. Essentially, it's a EuCon Hybrid that allows DAW integration to existing System 5 users through a pop-in MC controller. Nice indeed!
Placing more than 1,000 Digidesign (www.digidesign.com) ICONs in the past two years makes a serious statement. Digi previewed Pro Tools 7.2, adding significant power to its mix platform, including VCA-style grouping, pan groups, plug-in parameter linking, support of third-party paddle controllers, SignalTools level and phase metering (up to 7.1) and more. Also new? A JLCooper-designed Surround Panner Option for ICON D-Command and Pro Tools HD systems has a touch-sensitive joystick and knobs for individual parameter control. It's $1,695, and ships in Q3 2006.
Studer Vista 5 can access up to 1,700 channels from a compact frame.
Not all console news involved big-money designs. The new IF-SM/DM card for Tascam's (www.tascam.com) DM-3200 essentially brings the power of its DSM-7.1 surround monitor controller to this affordable digital console. And the new Universal Binary drivers bring Intel-based Mac compatibility to Tascam's USB and FireWire interfaces, including the FW-1082. This combo audio interface and control surface can function as a fader/edit controller for Final Cut Pro and as a MIDI control surface in Motion for real-time effect control and color correction. It is also compatible with most DAWs.
NAB just wouldn't be NAB without some interesting new mics. Beyerdynamic's (www.beyerdynamic-usa.com) MC 840 large diaphragm mic features a double-diaphragm capsule, five polar patterns and low-noise electronics. Retail: $1,695. DPA (www.dpamicrophones.com) introduced an ingenious little rubber pad that turns its great-sounding, 4061 mini-capsule mic into a boundary mic. Invented for boardroom, stage and low-profile applications, the little pad should also be perfect for tucking into a kick drum.
New mics from Holophone (www.holophone.com) make surround recording more affordable than ever. The 5.1 H3-D mic looks much like its higher-end H2-Pro, but uses proprietary capsules (instead of DPA) and is $1,695. Holophone also debuted its H4 SuperMINI, a camera-mount unit about the size of a tennis ball that comes with a real-time encoder, letting the user record an encoded feed directly to any 2-channel device.
Zaxcom's (www.zaxcom.com) big emphasis on digital wireless has paid off again this year with the release of the TRX910 series transceiver (combo bodypack transmitter/IFB receiver) with timecode. Besides a TC feature, the TRX901 records .WAV format files simultaneously to a built-in SD memory card, so if the wireless gets stomped, you still have audio. Meanwhile, the ZFR100 recorder will record broadcast-quality .WAV or MP3 directly to a 2-gig Flash card. It includes a full-featured timecode reader/generator. The mono version is about $1,000, and the stereo version is about $1,500.
Sound Devices (www.sounddevices.com) announced two additions to its 7 Series line of portable digital recorders: the 702 and 702T. These 2-channel recorders share the sound quality of the successful 722 and 744T digital recorders. The 702 and 702T (with timecode) are Compact Flash-only recorders. The 702 and 702T retail at $2,175 and $2,650, respectively.
DAWS, SOFTWARE AND BEYOND
Besides improved automation and ICON support, Digidesign's Pro Tools 7.2 includes enhanced capabilities for editing video (working with multiple video clips, tracks and playlists), a destructive record mode for punching into mix tracks without creating additional files, streamlined Avid-to-PT workflows and support for seven different field recorders. Slated for release in the second half of 2006, the $199 upgrade is bundled with a lite version of Virtual Katy 2 conforming software. In other news, Pro Tools LE 7.1.1 starts shipping next month with Intel-Mac compatibility.
Virtual Katy (www.virtualkaty.com) audio post software integrates Pro Tools and Avid editing systems, greatly accelerating the post process. A quantum leap forward in processing speed, tracing and comparison engine techniques, the new VK2 version automates painstaking conform sessions for Pro Tools editors.
A new member of the Pro Tools control family is Aphex (www.aphex.com). Its popular 1788A 8-channel mic preamp is now directly controllable from within Pro Tools, or with the use of a hardwired remote or Mac/PC software.
Previously available only on SADiE and Pyramix, CEDAR Tools 3.2 — a new plug-in suite for Pro Tools PC from CEDAR (www.cedaraudio.com) — introduces the high-end capabilities of CEDAR Cambridge and CEDAR Retouch v3 to the Pro Tools world. The restoration modules for the Pro Tools HD and LE (PC) platforms — Auto Declick, Manual Declick, Decrackle and Dethump — join Auto Dehiss, Delip and Retouch, all available as AudioSuite plug-ins.
SRS' (www.srslabs.com) Circle Surround TDM Pro 2.0 plug-in for Pro Tools 7.0 (and above) includes CS encoding/decoding along with Xtract up-mixing, creating realistic 6.1 surround mixes from mono and stereo material. The SRS CSE-06P Portable Circle Surround Encoder is a belt-pack encoder for preparing 5.1 or 6.0 audio stored to 2-channel recorders/cameras, and has an SRS Headphone PRO surround monitoring mode, for listening to 5.1 mixes over conventional headphones.
SADiE's (www.sadie.com) Version 5.5 software features a radical user-interface improvement, with a coloring scheme to ease identification of individual streams and groups. SADiE also debuted its PCM-H16, a beefy and affordable DSP engine with I/O. Features include 16 channels of AES and high-quality A/D and D/A inputs and outputs, 64 streams of 24-bit/48kHz audio with real-time crossfades and punch-ins, and DSP processing power that's similar to its flagship PCM-H64.
Supporting Windows and Macs, SmartSound's (www.smartsound.com) Sonicfire Pro 4 software helps users create soundtracks that are custom-fit to videos in just minutes and introduces Mood Mapping. From a Mood Map track, changes in the score's mix are selected, each having individual instrument layers set to different levels, depending on the desired feel. The software includes thousands of royalty-free tracks.
Dolby's (www.dolby.com) DP600 Program Optimizer offers intelligent audio analysis and automated loudness correction for most common broadcast media file/audio formats. Targeted for cable/satellite/IPTV/terrestrial TV broadcasters using a file-based infrastructure and workflow, the DP600 provides a consistent audio experience across all programming.
Obviously, there was more at NAB; visit www.mixonline.com for expanded coverage of product hits, and watch for ongoing coverage in our gear columns. Meanwhile, NAB returns to everybody's favorite desert paradise next year, April 14-19, 2007. See you there!
NAB'S TOP 10 AUDIO PRODUCTS
Digidesign Pro Tools 7.2
Fairlight HD DREAM Factory
Holophone H4 Mini
SmartSound SonicFire Pro 4
SRS CSE-06P Portable Circle Surround Encoder
Studer Vista 5
Tascam DM-3200/IF-SM/DM card