- Written by John E. Johnson, Jr. and Ross Jones
- Published on 06 October 2008
The Audio Engineering Society (AES) 125th Convention met in San Francisco, California, October 2-5, 2008, at the Moscone Convention Center.
Unlike CES, which is oriented towards the display of consumer electronics products, the AES meeting is a scientific one, where the goal is to present papers on audio topics.
The subjects included Audio Coding, Analysis and Synthesis of Sound, Loudspeaker Design, Spatial Perception, Psychoacoustics, Audio DSP, and other things.
This is the first AES I have attended (Ross Jones joined me for the day), and although we did not attend any paper presentations, we did get a chance to browse the exhibits.
Exhibits for AES focus on the Pro market, which includes such things as mixing boards, professional microphones, and speakers that are designed primarily for monitoring during music production or for use on stage at concerts.
For example, here are some "active" speakers (amplifier built in), where the tweeter was in the center of the subwoofer.
Here is a relatively small mixing board by Roland, interfaced with Cakewalk software, one of the more popular music editing suites.
This Bluefin mixing board, by Denon, is much more extensive in its capabilities. Whereas old style analog recordings might have a dozen tracks to mix, digital recordings have unlimited numbers of tracks that can be mixed.
Many of us may have thought that was defunct, but that is not the case. A company in Denmark is bringing this world renown brand back to life with new models and improving old ones. Various soundstages across the world are now purchasing, and in large numbers, such as 50 pairs at a time.
Here is the backside of one of M&K's new active speakers. Although active speakers are not so popular in the consumer world, the Pro market loves them. Instead of cables going from preamp to power amp to speakers, there is just one XLR cable going from the preamp to the speaker with its built-in power amplifiers.
As I mentioned, microphones are part of the Pro market, and there were lots of companies exhibiting them, such as these from Wunder.
Just because microphones are a professional product, and you might think they would look utilitarian, this one is gold plated. The rubber bands at the bottom isolate the microphone from mechanical vibrations in the studio.
Microphone preamplifiers, compressors, and other circuits are standard fare in production studios. Here are some by Shadow Hills.
And some by Manley Laboratories. These are all analog components.
Believe it or not, this is a subwoofer. It has two 21.5" drivers, 2 ohms nominal, and will deliver 142 dB SPL. They are used at concerts, and sometimes there are eight of them in the auditorium. The price is $15,000 without amplifiers.
These in-wall speakers are for mixing studios. Built-in class D amplifiers supply 800 watts to each of the 15" subwoofer drivers, 400 watts to the midrange, and 200 watts to the tweeter.
Because I'm (Ross Jones) a musician in one of my parallel lives, I was familiar with a fair amount of the equipment displayed at AES. The main focus was on the recording environment, with booths dedicated to gear found in pro studios. The major digital-audio-workstation vendors were there (ProTools, Sonar, Cubase), along with tons of plug-in specialists, and channel strips of every variety (compressors, EQ, preamps). I pointed out to JJ a particularly expensive, high-end tube-based vocal preamp that is used in many studios; he wondered why they obsessed with such quality at the recording stage since it was going to be compressed beyond recognition at mastering. Touch©.
In fact, I wished I'd allocated more time to attend some of the workshops, one of which was entitled "Revolt of the Mastering Engineers." On the other hand, most of the sessions had titles such as "An Improved Distortion Measure for Audio Coding and a Corresponding Two-Layered Trellis Approach for its Optimization." This was an engineering convention, after all.
There were also lots of exhibits dedicated to live sound reinforcement, including speaker vendors for large venues. We chatted with the folks at Adamson Systems Engineering in front of one of their arena-sized subwoofers, contained two 21" drivers in an enormous ported cabinet, capable of 146 dB SPL down to 30 Hz. JJ, no doubt wondering how he could fit one into his house, asked about pricing.
The other interesting part of the pro audio world is that most of the music and soundtracks that we listen to on passive speakers in our homes were mixed and mastered on active monitors. Companies like JBL and Focal had displays, along with unfamiliar ones such as FAR-Audio. These are active, tri-amped studio monitors with software-based internal EQ.