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A Flavor of New York: From the AES Show

At the Javits Center, it was another year of great gear

Swinging back through New York City as it does every two years, the Audio Engineering Society International Convention returned to the Jacob Javits Center at the foot of 34th Street and the Hudson River, hosting another large and enthusiastic crowd of audio professionals from all disciplines over Halloween weekend.

Get onboard the Telefunken bus! Crowds have been steadily increasing following a major dip in attendance a few years ago due to Hurricane Sandy. In spite of the rejuvenated crowds, product exhibitors were again at the north end of the Javits Center, in a smaller exhibition hall than what we’ve experienced in the past. While somewhat “intimate” in feel compared to earlier years, this did not deter the crowds nor take away from attendees’ enthusiasm.

Even though the conference catered to audio pros in fields ranging from gaming audio to music recording and multimedia, there was plenty to be had for the radio broadcasting professional. The show also didn’t skimp on the technical workshops nor the very cool products in the exhibition hall.

Admittedly, I went to see the new products. And there are a lot to talk about.

For the pro broadcaster, the show has to start with microphones. Without them, well, you just wouldn’t have radio.

Audio-Technica BP40 Audio-Technica was particularly vocal (get it?) about its BP40 large-diaphragm dynamic mic, seemingly aimed at the E-V RE20 crowd. With a bright but nonsibilant peak around 3.8 kHz, the BP40 has a bit more clarity than an RE20, while still looking like it really belongs in a radio studio. And at $489 MSRP, it is a contender in price as well as function. A-T also took the opportunity to display its premiere 5040 vocal condenser mic.

An attractive offering from Shure was the PGA181, a side-fire condenser mic popularly priced at $99. According to Shure reps on the floor, the mic was drawing some interest from academia, where a balance between audio quality and cost is important.

Shure also brought out the “ainnit cute?” factor with the MV51, a USB condenser mic with built-in DSP function and headphone jack for live webcasting and recording, all dressed in a retro-styled case reminiscent of the company’s classic Model 55 microphone.

By the way, if you have $3,000 to burn through, Shure is rolling out the KSE1500 electrostatic earphone system in January 2016. Looking to all the world like a set of earbuds, the KSE1500 boasts some pretty remarkable specs.

Telefunken’s microphone display was shown out of the back of a classic VW Bus and included the M82 Broadcast Dynamic Mic, in addition to its line of condenser mics.

Shure MV51 Recording mics don’t get much more precise than the offerings from Earthworks. The familiar SR40 went through some design tweaks, including a new capsule and electronics that bring noise levels down another -16 dB, along with its unprecedented response out to 40 kHz.

Boutique microphones — those other than the bread-and-butter units in daily use in the studios — include the transparent (literally) LCT 940 from Lewitt, with a crystal-clear cover over the dual-triode tube in the mic body; the transformerless Mojave MA-50; the ADK Z-67, available in retro colors reminiscent of 1950s appliances; and the “Lollipops and Lipstick” convertible mics from 3 Zigma Audio.

Audio recording via smartphones and tablets is now firmly part of life. So Apogee got together with Sennheiser to present the ClipMic digital microphone for Apple iPod, iPad and iPhone use. When teamed up with the Apogee MetaRecorder app, the result is a fast, simple and accurate audio solution for field recording.

In fact, with smartphones and tablets increasingly becoming pressed into service as audio acquisition devices, it is necessary to be able to diagnose and measure them as effectively as any other audio component. Enter the APX line of audio analyzers from Audio Precision. The APx555 can be ordered with modules for testing Bluetooth, HDMI, ASIO and other standards.

Two familiar names to broadcasters are Tascam and Denon. Both were well represented in New York this year.

Tascam displayed the DA-6400 solid-state rackmount recorder, with a stunning 64-track recording capability. Intended not as a workstation, but more as a backup recorder for DAW sessions and live capture or touring recordings, I’ve got a feeling this technology won’t stay in that domain very long and may trickle down to other aspects of audio recording.

Tascam also included a look at the DR-10X, a portable mic-attached recorder for field recording and radio ENG, recently reviewed in Radio World (Nov. 4, 2015).

While Denon has been moving away from broadcast products in favor of A/V and corporate audio, one item stood out: the DN-300Z. On the outside, a conventional-looking CD player, but this 1RU baby plays audio CDs, MP3s, WAV and AAC files; has a slot for SD cards and a USB port for thumbdrives and external HDs. When things get really dull in the studio, there is an AM/FM tuner as well to listen to the competition.

Studios require complete control over noise, both outside and in. But visibility between performers and engineers is a must. Soundproof Windows of Reno, Nev., met the challenge with a line of studio doors, windows and glass sliders. A great advantage over older design windows is the ability to disassemble the elements and clean the interior side of the glass — something that cannot be done with gas-filled sealed systems.

GK Acoustics touted its line of “green” sound control products, consisting of bass traps, panels and diffusers made without formaldehyde, and emphasizing eco-friendly components and manufacture processes.

Jocavi Acoustic Panels of Portugal proved panels don’t have to be dull. The company’s line of acoustic products are a bold departure from standard design, including the oddly knobby Two FX diffuser and wonderfully artsy Cosmos absorber.

It is always good to see WhisperRoom at the AES show. The flagship vocal booth design has not changed much from the company’s initial offering in 1990, but why mess with it? We need isolation when recording those critical narrations, and even the single-walled S models come through every time.

Lawo crystalCONSOLES
An attractive offering from Yamaha was the TF1 TouchFlow console, with 40 inputs, plenty of DSP power and motorized faders. While earmarked for live sound, there are plenty of opportunities to use this mixer in audio production situations. Recall that the company’s 02R and 01V consoles started out for pro audio applications but found a home in off-line radio production.

The Lawo radio broadcast mixing system was last seen in New York in 2013, and has returned in the form of the crystal and sapphire consoles. With the industry moving totally towards networked AoIP systems, it will be interesting seeing what inroads this German company will make.

And then there was the “Roots” audio console from Tree Audio in Los Angeles. In the middle of all that is sparkly and new, seeing a retro all-tube audio console with real analog meters and chicken-head knobs was a refreshing breeze through the hall.

On the digital front, iZotope teased its new Ozone 7 mastering software and the RX Post Production Suite — high-end products to be certain, but essential for rescuing old recordings and making new production sound its best.

Other than the obligatory Avid Pro Tools booth (just as spectacular as ever, naturally), DAW manufacturers again stayed away. Magix made a good stand with its Samplitude Pro X2 and Sequoia 13 offerings, but there are many other manufacturers who I believe would benefit from the visibility.

By the way, a stroll by the Avid display would have let you see the Sonnox line of plug-ins, including the entire Oxford series. This line, along with Waves plug-ins, is probably the most powerful and popular ones in everyone’s tool box.

Retro fans, rejoice! Eventide went back in time and created 17 plug-ins from 40+ years of rackmount products. Called “Anthology X,” this collection pulled together the best of the Harmonizer line, the Omnipressor, the Instant Flanger and Instant Phaser, and a few modern products as well. Word from the booth is that the software authors actually went back and bought used units from auction sites and analyzed them inside and out to get both the great old sounds and the sonic quirks of the aged boxes today.

Tree Audio Roots Another old favorite, Electro-Harmonix, hit New York with a giant assortment of “stomp box” processors — lots new, and some based on 1970s designs. For many of us who couldn’t afford rackmount processors back in the day, we would plug mics into these guitar effect boxes to get the sound we wanted. They still sound great.

The conference included an acknowledgement to a historic technical development for radio broadcast, as the 50th anniversary of the Alford antenna was observed Thursday, Oct. 29. The development of the Alford allowed multiple FM radio stations to broadcast through a single combined antenna array, rather than one antenna per signal.

Without this ability, it can be argued that putting FM signals up in major cities would have been a lot more difficult and expensive.

The AES and the Society of Broadcast Engineers combined forces to present this session on the 67th floor of the Empire State Building, where the original Alford still exists as a backup antenna.

Mugging for AttentionAND NOW, THE EXTRAS
Among the better “swag” giveaways on the show floor were the oversized mugs being given out by the Soundproof Windows people. As you can see, it towers over my own classic 1989-vintage Radio World mug, and holds four times the volume. When my doctor asks me how many cups of coffee I drink in a day, I can semi-honestly tell him, “One.”

It was a treat to see Moog Music back in New York, if only to touch the massive modular patchable synthesizer the company brought as a backdrop to its exhibit. I trained on one of these in the late 1970s and used a MiniMoog in 1988 at WHEN(AM) in Syracuse, N.Y. For radio zaps-and-bleeps, there was nothing better.

Finally, I had wondered why, in recent times, I had not seen Sound Ideas and the Hollywood Edge at the same shows. This time, they were in the same booth, as the two sound effects titans had combined forces. Among this year’s offerings is The Voice Kit, with human sounds ranging from laughs and growls to burps, and beyond.

The next U.S. convention will be in Los Angeles in late September 2016 and will cycle back to New York in fall 2017. I hope to catch you at one or the other.

Alan Peterson is production director for the Radio America Network in Arlington, Va., and a longtime RW contributor. He has been attending and writing about AES conventions since 1997. Contact him at [email protected].