The 120th AES Convention
Ah, Paris in the springtime—what could be more beautiful? The high-tech Paris Expo in Porte de Versailles, a southwestern suburb—the fourth largest complex in Europe—proved a perfect setting for a convention of the Audio Engineering Society, combining stunning architecture with easy-to-access seminar and exhibition areas. Attendance was quoted at 5,000—modest by US standards but an excellent turnout for a European gathering. Holding the event in late spring-from May 20 to 23, 2006—in one of Europe's most popular cities, was probably another factor leading to a strong attendance.
Even following the recent NAB and Pro Audio Light+Sound/Musikmesse shows, there were plenty of new technical developments and product debuts for AES attendees. AMS-Neve, Stagetec, Calrec, Euphonix and Lawo all unveiled significant console developments, while Universal Audio, RTW and Mayah were focusing on some breakthrough offerings.
Consoles, Big Consoles
The AMS Neve/SAE Group unveiled the DFC PS/1 PowerStation console, a single-operator, lower-cost version of DFC Gemini for pre-dub/pre-lay and print mastering, plus WavTrak waveform display for its 88D digital production console and a new 384 kHz sample-rate input module for its MIOS system. The high sample rate is applicable to DXD recording on attached DAWs, or for ultra-precision channels with subsequent downsampling to a more conventional 192 or 96 kHz rate.
AMS-Neve DFC PS/1 PowerStation
Calrec, manufacturer of leading-edge broadcast consoles, wowed crowds with some dazzling curvature of the space-time continuum, courtesy of its proprietary Bluefin DSP. How else can you explain the firm's ability to pack the same capabilities into 90% less physical space at no extra cost? Each Bluefin-equipped card provides 480 mono signal paths with full EQ and dynamics and 78 5.1 surround channels, plus eight 5.1 groups, 48 multitrack outputs and 20 aux sends. The magic comes from patented techniques developed in cooperation with a leading chip manufacturer; nothing unusual, apparently, just some very clever know-how and extended thinking outside the box.
Lawo unveiled its much-anticipated mc290 digital production console, which features a new user and GUI interface. Described as the world's first totally redundant console—and hence aimed at mission-critical applications such as remote, live performance and on-air applications—the new design is derived from the popular mc266 console and incorporates the firm's Star2 topology.
Stagetec continues to refine its impressive range of Nexus and Aurus digital consoles, including the new, high-density I/O frame, which accommodates submodules for analog, AES/MADI-format digital and fiber optic connections, using either the system's built-in router or an external unit under network commands generated by the control surface. The company also launched V2.5 software for the Aurus, which includes a new automation feature with extended scene-automation—ideal for live use.
Euphonix announced that Apple's Logic Pro DAW is now fully EuCon-compliant and directly controllable under the flexible command protocol from the firm's assignable control surfaces, including the MC Media Controller, while a new EuCon Hybrid Option allows multiple DAWs to be controlled from System 5. Logic Pro integration includes fader and knob control of audio and MIDI tracks, virtual instruments, AU/TDM plug-ins, plus control of Pro Tools hardware.
Neumann KM180 D Series
Neumann expanded its Solution-D digital mic line with small diaphragm models based on its successful 180 series. The new KM 183 D, KM 184 D and KM 185 D have a modular design allowing omni, cardioid and supercardioid capsules to be combined with the KM D output stage, putting the proven A/D converter used in the Neumann D-01 next to the capsule. If required, the DSP functions (gain, compressor/limiter, de-esser and peak limiter) integrated into the microphone can be controlled remotely via the DMI-2 digital mic interface and the RCS remote control software. Standard sampling frequencies from 44.1 to 192 kHz are supported. Neumann also showed simple "connection kits" for interfacing the mic directly with AES/EBU and S/PDIF inputs.
Universal Audio demonstrated the first results of its collaboration with AMS Neve to develop customized plug-ins for the UAD-1 DSP card that emulate classical Neve hardware. Operating under the newly innovated v4.3 software were Neve 1073 and 1073SE equalizers; to come are plug-in versions of 33609 bus compressors and 1081 parametric EQ. The UAD-1 PSI-compliant card runs protected DSP code that integrates fully with all popular DAWs.
RTW unveiled the new Model 10500 Digital Monitor, which provides a high-resolution audio vectorscope, peak-reading meters and status monitoring on a built-in LCD. The unit accepts AES-format digital audio inputs up to 24-bit/96 kHz sample rates.
Leading network developer Mayah Communications announced new developments to its powerful Centauri II system, which now provides direct connectivity of audio codecs to a standard VoIP topology, as well as the MERK II Portable Audio Gateway Codec that supports dual-codec mode as well as point-to-multipoint transmissions.
A number of leading companies, including Digidesign, ADAM, Studer, DAVID, Saati and VoiceAge, took advantage of a series of well-attended (and highly useful) Exhibitor Seminars offering in-depth discussions of system features and user functions. In addition, a number of tutorials addressing such subjects as Mastering for Multichannel Audio, Computational Auditory Scene Analysis and Low Bit-Rate Audio Coding provided a useful focus on specialist subjects.
Best of Show
My two "Best of Show" awards go to a French company showing a fascinating—albeit highly focused—example of technology that too few of us get to hear about, and one of the most relevant AES keynote addresses it's been my pleasure to attend.
A-Volute demonstrated a series of recording and playback arrays that offer another spin on the universal search for 3-D sound capture and playback. Based on studies by the French Ministry of Sport and Ministry of Research, plus various academic establishments, the company has developed Nahimic, a real-time spatializing engine that generates a three-dimensional space map and then places individual sources anywhere within that environment. A playback headphone unit contains six transducers that create the all-enveloping soundfield. Typical applications for Nahimic technology include flight simulators and heads-up avionics displays, where there is a need to position sounds anywhere around or above the pilot.
Keynote speakers Emile Simon and Cyrille Brissot
During their joint keynote address, composer/vocalist Emile Simon and her engineer/technologist Cyrille Brissot, a computer-music instructor at IRCAM, demonstrated a number of user interfaces that enhance a performer's ability to communicate music and visuals ideas. Simon's self-named debut offering was named "Best Electronic Album" for 2004 at Victoires de la Musique (the French equivalent of the Grammies); she also composed the soundtrack for the Oscar-winning March of the Penguins. As Brissot stated: "Digital music is missing an important element—control." The potential of computer-controlled instruments is virtually limitless, he argued; "Any object can be a computer interface."
Simon and Brissot demonstrated BRAAH, a vocal effects controller worn on the singer's arm, and CADRE, a laser controller that responds to the location of an object placed within its beams. The duo represents an important wave of the future—performers who look to harness the latest that technology can offer, and use it to augment the musical performance. We do indeed live in interesting times.
AES returns to San Francisco from October 5 to 8, 2006 and the next Euro-AES comes to Vienna May 5 to 8, 2007. Mark your calendars now!
Mel Lambert heads up Media&Marketing, a full-service consulting service for pro-audio firms and facilities. Visit him at www.mel-lambert.com.