Gear of the Year: Presenting our 2015 tech highlights
The following new products have stood out for their innovation, functionality, looks, value, or a combination of these factors.
Thanks to another busy year of trade shows, product launches, studio visits, live events and kit demos, the Audio Media International team has been lucky enough to get hands-on with a wide range of gear in the past 12 months.
That experience, along with the continued advice and support of our highly experienced reviewers, has enabled us to come up with a list of 15 products that we believe are worthy of the prestigious AMI Gear of the Year 2015 accolade.
These are products that have stood out for their innovation, functionality, looks, value, or even a combination of all of these factors...
Easy on the ear
The KLANG:fabrik 3D in-ear monitoring interface is designed to deliver a sound as natural as hearing without in ears. KLANG:fabrik is at the core of the monitoring solution. It combines the latest HD audio algorithms with a multitude of flexible audio interfaces (i.e. Dante, compatible to ADAT) in order to work with professional mixing desks and stage boxes of any kind. Up to eight musicians receive their individual 3D mixes with one KLANG:fabrik, but for those working with bigger bands there is the option to daisy-chain multiple KLANG:fabriks. The 3D monitoring mixes are sent from KLANG:fabrik to radio transmitters or headphone amps via XLR, back to the ears of the musicians. Thanks to high-performance processors, this can happen without any noticeable latency. KLANG:fabric can be controlled via app on any device (iOS, Android, WindowsPhone, PC and Mac), or the faders of your mixing desk.
The bottom line: “Praised for providing clarity and a more natural sound, could KLANG:fabrik turn out to represent the next stage of evolution for the IEM market?” – Audio Media International
‘The next generation’
Allen & Heath
The dLive digital mixing system provides an ultra-flexible architecture, FPGA processing core, a comprehensive array of expansion, control and networking options, plus the Harmony user interface with gesture control. It is geared to applications from rigorous touring and festivals to installation in live venues.
The bottom line: “Not only does this system look great, its intuitive workflow, capacitive touchscreen that supports gestures, and backwards compatibility with 48k ACE will satisfy the most demanding engineers.” – Audio Media International
The SA-2 dialogue processor from McDSP – reviewed in our November Issue – is based on hardware originally conceived by three-time Academy Award-winning re-recording mixer Mike Minkler and used on over 100 major motion pictures. The new plug-in is designed to improve the overall sound of recorded speech. But the SA-2 is not just for dialogue. It’s equally useful for vocals, and is a great tool for adjusting the timbre of any track, with its reliable de-esser, and fine multi-frequency compressor.
The bottom line: “A simple idea (that quite frankly we didn’t know we needed so much). It’s a five-band dynamic HF EQ to tame dialogue sibilance. It’s a brilliantly executed plug-in model of a great hardware box. With a brutal simplicity, strapped across your bus, it can make your dialogue sound smoother, and indeed more filmic with a minimum of fuss. It is also great on smoothing HF excess in Foley stems and music too. A simple but powerful giant.” – Mike Aiton, Mikerophonics Post owner
With centre channel management, including switchable dialogue extraction, Halo – reviewed in our October Issue – is suitable for all types of production from archive restoration and TV through to the full 7.1 feature film experience. Features include Surroundscope to give users a visual indication of where the audio is in the surround field, and a downmix option built into the plug-in.
The bottom line: “Nugen Audio has released a very professional product with Halo Upmix. The parameters are surprisingly flexible, offering many different effects and solutions for a single stereo file. The quality of the processing competes very highly against other solutions.” – Simon Allen, freelance mix and FOH engineer
Good things come in small packages
Debuted at Prolight + Sound, the Leopard – reviewed in our September Issue – is a compact active loudspeaker designed to be used in an array of at least six boxes. It’s the smallest member of the Leo family and can operate alone in small to medium-sized venues or integrate with Lyon as down or out fills. The self-contained amplifiers are Class D which means less distortion, less power consumption and less heat generated. The output power-to-weight ratio of these boxes is particularly impressive.
The bottom line: “A clear concise and crisp sound in an incredibly compact box. It shows the way forward for compact line arrays.” – Andy Coules, sound engineer/tour manager
The Curv 500 is designed to combine mobility, ‘sound perfection’ and user-friendliness. The mid/high speaker unit can be equipped with up to four modular, curved arranged array satellites. The result is clear, three-dimensional sound – similar to the sound produced by big line arrays.
The bottom line: “An ultra-compact curved array that delivers clarity and precision in a portable modular system.” – Audio Media International
The Evolution Series boasts two dispersion options – the Evo 6E with 50° and the Evo 7E with 40° horizontal dispersion. Both products are fully horn-loaded with 15in mid-bass, 10in Funktion-One signature midrange and a 1.4in compression driver solely for high frequencies above 4kHz. The range boasts skeletal options, as well as grouped configurations, such as two-wide and three-wide.
The bottom line: “This system offers very high output, which results in fewer cabinets used. This is beneficial for better sound, less truck space and stage space. My opinion is that the sound quality performance is effortless and natural sounding. Most importantly mid and vocal ranges are very clear and present.” – Dave Millard, Full Fat Audio
L-Acoustics’ new line of coaxial speakers for the rental and installation market consists of the X8 live monitor, the multipurpose X12 and the X15 reference stage monitor. The enclosures feature high-excursion neodymium drivers, ellipsoid directivity, laminar vented ports and up to 30% weight reduction. Look out for our detailed review of the new series in the new year.
The bottom line: “Benefitting from the R&D effort that went into the launch of the K2, the slender, low-profile X Series delivers on both power and form.” – Audio Media International
Bang for your buck
The broadcast-oriented BP40 features the largest diaphragm of any Audio-Technica dynamic microphone ever made – at 37mm – and patented ‘floating edge’ construction to maximise diaphragm surface area and boost performance. The mic delivers full, condenser-like sound for broadcasters – even at a comfortable distance – and excellent off-axis rejection, ideal for busy working studios. Look out for a review of the BP40 in our January 2016 Issue.
The bottom line: “This nifty new broadcast mic delivers natural condenser-like sound with clear and articulate reproduction, and all at an attractive price point.” – Audio Media International
The Drawmer 1978 is a bus compressor with an array of controls to give complete mastering over your mix, and all in a deceptively simple 1U frame. In addition to the usual Ratio, Threshold, Attack and Release controls, the 1978 features four character switches offering a wide range of compression flavours, as well as a variable saturation control to add harmonic distortion to the signal. Side chain functionality is also included with side chain insert points on both channels and a very comprehensive and flexible Side Chain EQ section which offers LF and HF controls with a choice of specific shapes and frequencies for precise frequency-conscious compression such as de-essing.
The bottom line: “The 1978 promises a sound that’s ‘less digital more analogue’ and at less than €1,000 it’s one for even the smallest studio.” – Audio Media International
The Babyface Pro is a 24-channel 192kHz bus-powered professional USB audio interface. It features new standalone operations and rock solid stability, making it suitable for mobile recording. It seamlessly integrates specially engineered main I/O XLR sockets into the aluminium housing, along with two headphone outputs on TRS and mini-jack.
The bottom line: “The clever user interface is informative and clearly laid out, making access to every feature and configuration mode of the Babyface Pro intuitive and easy to use. It also offers versatile connectivity for any application.” – Audio Media International
The bus-powered iD14 offers two channels of Audient’s classic console mic pres delivering 10-in/4-out with Burr-Brown A-D converters, all in a compact desktop package. Key features include a discrete JFET DI input, console-style monitor control, intuitive software and ScrollControl mode, which turns iD14’s volume encoder into a virtual scroll wheel, giving complete hands-on control.
The bottom line: “The iD14 brings high-quality preamp and converter technology to an all new price point. Its aim to provide best-in-class sonic performance on a functional form is certainly one to be commended.” – Audio Media International
This JDV Mk5 features dual switchable inputs with level controls, Drag control load correction for magnetic pickups and a 10 meg-Ohm option to maximise the tone with piezos. A balanced input with 48V phantom power has been added to channel one to allow a mic to be combined with the second channel (and adjustable phase control) to produce an incredibly natural sound. It is rack-mountable for touring plus has a line level drive option for direct recording.
The bottom line: “The JDV has been a staple in many professional touring musicians’ rigs since its first incarnation in the early 1980s. The latest incarnation boasts new technologies and improvements, while remaining true to the original design.” – Audio Media International
Some significant new additions were introduced in Version 7 of Steinberg’s Nuendo, which was reviewed in our September Issue. Key among these was the arrival of VCA faders – “something you wonder how you lived without when you start using them”, our reviewer stated earlier this year. There were also some useful ergonomic changes – the VST instrument rack is now displayed in a ‘Rack Zone’ in the Project space, while MediaBay assets can be dragged directly into the Project window. Other changes include an improved Track list and Inspector and the addition of tempo detection; a Plug-in manager to sort your VSTs; and VST Connect version 3.
The bottom line: “Steinberg keep their finger on the Digital Audio Workstation tiller, expanding on what is great about Nuendo – its ease of use and stability – while improving the program’s feature set in both post production and compositional areas.” – Stephen Bennett, musician, engineer, writer
DNS One with LEARN
At first glance, the latest incarnation of DNS One appears to be similar to previous versions, but its secret is revealed by the LEARN button that has appeared to the left of the control panel. LEARN allows DNS One to calculate an adapting estimate of the background noise level and determine suitable noise attenuations at each frequency for optimum suppression.
LEARN can be used to take a snapshot of existing conditions and then fine-tune the parameters, but its real power lies in leaving it switched on so that it can adapt to changes in the background and surroundings. LEARN adapts in a fraction of a second to changes and differentiates between the wanted signal and the noise for superb noise suppression at all times.
The bottom line: “A huge step forward in dialogue noise suppression thanks to the LEARN button – and crucially the software retains its zero latency.” – Audio Media International