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TechTalk: Time to Gear Up?

The gear bug is infectious: Once bitten, you’re always looking for the next and newest thing that will improve your workflow and inspire you to do your job in a better, fresher and more exciting way. So, the continuous burning question is: Is it time to gear up?

At NAMM, I met with Xander Soren and Bob Hunt from Apple, and they took me through Logic Pro 10.3. The impressive list of features includes a 64-bit summing engine, true stereo panning (Yes!), and support for the TouchBar on the MacBook Pro. Since last year I’ve been toying with the idea of getting the latest high-end laptop but was put off by Consumer Reports’ findings where they had mixed results with battery tests (the problem is fixed, and Consumer Reports now recommends the laptop). This is also confirmed by my tests after Apple set me up with an editorial loaner system.

Once I got the laptop, which is top-of-the-line in every respect (2.7GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, 16GB of RAM, 1TB Flash drive), I loaded Pro Tools 12.6 to see how it fared. It was stellar. The processor is quick, making Commit and Freeze lightning fast; the graphics look great and it runs well on Sierra macOS. Unlike Logic Pro, Avid’s DAW is not integrated into the TouchBar and it isn’t clear if it ever will be. The computer itself is lighter and thinner than ever, offering a larger mouse pad, stunning display, the addictively useful TouchBar, and improved stereo speakers with a sub that ports out the bottom of the unit. The downside? I’m not sure I’m ready for a USB-C/Thunderbolt 3–only world. Yes, the four ports on the MacBook Pro provide power, support for video, and compatibility with Thunderbolt 1, 2 and 3, USB, and more, but only through separate conversion cables or a dock.

The best all-in-one converter I found is OWC’s USB-C Dock ($148.75), which offers five USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports (including 1x USB Type-C), Gigabit Ethernet, an SD card reader, HDMI with 4K support, and audio in/out port. But it’s not small, being easily three times as tall as the laptop and much larger than any hard drive I carry in my backpack. It also uses a wall wart. Another deal-breaker for me is the MacBook Pro’s keyboard—it is LOUD when you type. I love the short throw of the keys, but even with my light touch, typing is annoyingly audible. So the MacBook Pro disappointingly gets a “not now” answer to the burning question.

New and in my ears are the three-way ADAM S3-H monitors ($3,499.99). I’ve always liked ADAMs and listen on the original S3s at Blackbird from time to time. A ribbon tweeter is an acquired taste for some, but I find it easy and pleasant on the ears. Mix editor Tom Kenny and I had a NAMM evening meet-up with ADAM’s Davids—Hetrick and Angress—who told us about the new monitor’s design history. It’s an all-new box inside and out, with two 7-inch bass drivers powered by separate 500W Class-D amplifiers, a dome midrange reminiscent of an ATC mid-driver, improved ribbon, new waveguides, and DSP executed in a better way than I’ve ever seen on a monitor.

I just unboxed a pair last week and they offer a spectacular listening experience—these are not your father’s ADAMs. They are a mid-field, but I had them comfortably atop an SSL console’s meter bridge and I couldn’t help being impressed. The DSP is on the back (the Davids say there will be a remote option) with parameters accessed via a push-rotary knob for changing the parameters on the input (analog or digital), to go with six (yes SIX) parametric EQ bands plus high-and low-shelf options. There is a small and brightly lit OLED display giving you feedback on your choices (no dip switches here!). Watch soon for my full review in Mix. These are a “buy.”

How about wireless gear? Not my usual purchase but this is an ongoing stress for houses of worship, venues, live sound companies and others who are waiting for the FCC to complete the ongoing Incentive Auction. I met with Mark Brunner, VP of Corporate and Government Relations at Shure, who gave me the latest news on the soon-to-close auction.

The FCC said they would attempt to make available at least one locally unused TV channel for shared use by wireless microphones and white space devices in the 470-608 MHz band, but until the final TV channel assignments are issued, the feasibility of this plan is yet to be determined. The 614-616 MHz range will be available for use by licensed and unlicensed wireless microphones, exclusively. No white space devices will be allowed to operate in 614-617. Licensed wireless microphones will be able to operate in 653-663 MHz. Unlicensed wireless microphones and white space devices will be able to operate in 657-663 MHz. So it’s a mixed bag that is the same waiting game as always. Maybe NAB in April will shed more light?