Tuesday, April 24, 2018

NAB 2018 Las Vegas, (Baby)

Main Entrance of the LVCC
Nothing says "big" like Las Vegas and NAB 2018 was no exception. I hadn't been in more than a few years due to work. I could either go to NAB and spend about $1500 for three days or stay home, work and make $2000. It was an easy choice.

This year turned out differently so off I went. I picked up my press pass at the Paris Hotel, where I was staying, a new and appreciated feature, and headed for N247, the press room at the Las Vegas Convention Center. It was Monday morning and the Press Room was buzzing with about 100 people sucking down coffee, working online or on their own computers and fiddling with camera and audio gear. Any snacks put out had already been devoured, but the coffee was hot and in good supply. Thank you NAB!

Where are all the press kits?
Where were the press kits? There used to be a substantial corner of the big room set aside with a number of alphabetized bins in which you could find all of the current press releases; some paper, some CDs, DVDs and USB sticks. I was surprised to see that it was a shadow of its former self; one small table with a dish of USB sticks and a few papers.

A day or so later there were a few more, but nothing like in years past. Now, to get press kits, you had to go to the individual booths and ask. That meant more walking and finding for the press, or you just didn't bother. That meant some vendors just got lost.

My self-imposed assignment was to concentrate mostly on audio and wait for other gear to catch my eye or ear. The Exhibitor Program lists vendors alphabetically and also has a floor plan layout to help you find them. For some reason, the booth numbers never follow a linear sequence. This year, squishing the floor chart for an entire hall into a two page spread meant that I could just make out the booth numbers if I took my glasses off and used them as a magnifying glass.

I sat amidst multiple foreign language chatter (people from 160+ countries attended this show) as I  checked off the obvious vendors and keeping an eye out for new ones. Fortunately, most of the audio vendors were in the Central Hall, but that's still a very big space.

There are four halls, each larger than a football field including sidelines and end zones. This year that meant over 1700 exhibitors and just over a million of the two million square feet offered by the LVCC. After scanning the alphabetic list and jotting down booth numbers, I headed to the floor.

One of many aisles that go on forever at the LVCC
Even though the aisles I worked though were busy, I read reports that attendance was down from last year, by 5000 to 8000 people, coming in somewhere around 96,000 people. I recall one year in the past in which attendance hit 113, 000.

ATSC 3.0 and 4K video were the main technical drivers, combining to create the future Next-generation TV. Both are tweaked create a better TV experience for the consumer. Content also seemed to be important, but was it just lip service? But even as these pressures push forward, losses in spectrum for production audio continue to cause concern. One mixer I spoke with said ESPN is now heavily requesting that audio use less wireless and more hard-wired gear. A sign of the times?

From the "Expect Good Things" Department, Sound Devices' purchase of Audio Ltd. in February of this year brought a smile to many US faces. Audio Ltd. who has long been held as makers of some of the best sounding analog wireless mics in the industry, is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sound Devices and will be distributed by Sound Devices in North America.

The debut of the Audio Ltd. digital 1010 systems several years ago was good. Here's my review.  Their new offering, the Audio Ltd. A10, is expected to be even better due to the collaboration between the two companies. Having heard the Audio Ltd analog 2040 and digital 1010, I'm excited to hear the new A10, if for no other reason than to hear the 2 mS latency, new unclippable analog limiter, the time code generator and the recorder built into the A10-TX transmitter. At the moment, these last two features will not be available in the USA due to patent issues.

Sound Devices acquires Audio Ltd and distributes in North America

Sound Devices MixPre-10T

In addition, Sound Devices caught a Cinema Audio Society (C.A.S.) award for their 32-bit MixPre-10T, a ten-track mixer/recorder with stereo master mix file that can also double as a USB audio interface. Using that as a strong base, Sound Devices retooled the Mix-Pre-10T for the MI market and now offers the MixPre-10M for musicians. The MixPre-10M's eight preamps are virtually unclippable.
Sound Devices MixPre-10M right side
Sound Devices MixPre-10M left side

The MixPre-10M lets you record to an SD card, playback, mix, monitor, layer and overdub up to 12 track and includes pans, solos, reverbs, EQ and more. The unit can also be used as a very high quality 12in/4out USB audio interface. In fact, you can record to the internal USB card and simultaneously stream via USB. Battery or AC-powered, the MixPre-10T and 10M are extremely portable and have a professional feel and heft.

Sennheiser Memory Mic
Companies like Sennheiser dominate the pro sound market, even more so since AKG left the game, but they are also aware of the consumer and prosumer markets and to be truthful, many pros also use consumer gear it the situation warrants it. In white, as it is to the left here, the Sennheiser Memory Mic could be clipped onto some bride's dresses. to solve that perennial problem. Sennheiser's Memory Mic, due out later this year. Sennheiser's Tobias Von Allwoerden explains below.

Sennheiser also showed their new G4 wireless rigs, built upon the success of their ubiquitous G2 and G3 series. The EW 500P Film includes the EK 500 camera mountable or bag receiver, SK 500 bodypack transmitter, MKE 2 omni lav, SKP 500 (G4 500P) plug-on transmitter with Phantom Power, cables, camera adaptor and four AA batteries and can transmit at 10/30/50 mW. The G4 uses the Sennheiser HDX compander. I contacted Sennheiser to ask about battery life with a Phantom Powered mic at 50 mW. They figure five hours or less depending on how much current the mic requires, so YMMV. Without the drain of Phantom Power, 8-10 hours. The G4 100P series Plug-on does not provide Phantom Power.

The EK 500 receiver offers a maximum of 3520 receiving frequencies, adjustable in 25 kHz steps, 20 frequency banks, each with up to 32 factory-preset channels, no intermodulation, 6 frequency banks with up to 32 programmable channels.

Here's a list of frequency ranges for the different G4 models:
AS: 520 - 558 MHz, K+: 925 - 937.5 MHz, JB: 806 - 810 MHz,
GBw: 606 - 678 MHz, Gw: 558 - 626 MHz, Bw: 626 - 698 MHz, Cw: 718 - 790 MHz, Dw: 790 - 865 MHz, Aw+: 470 - 558 MHz, Gw1: 558 - 608 MHz

All ew 100-p and ew 500-p components are also available separately, so that users can build their best evolution camera system. For example, they can choose their favorite handheld to go with the EK 500 G4 camera receiver – or they can add the new SKP 500 G4 plug-on transmitter to their existing ew 100-p system, benefitting from the compatibility between the different Evolution wireless series.

Sennheiser EM 100 G4 receiver
The EM 100 G4 AC-powered receiver is also part of the new G4 line. It's a metal chassis, half-rack unit with up to 20 compatible channels and 1680 frequencies and is a true diversity receiver with two rod antennas, rackmount, power supply and RJ 10 linking cable.

Countryman is known for their incredibly small B6 mic, perfect for hidden mounting for film projects where mics can not be seen. While I visited their booth, I was also taken by one of their long time stock pieces, the Type 10 S Direct Box. I was struck by the self-explanatory, hard-working simplicity of this perennial problem solver. 
Countryman 10S Front Panel
Countryman 10S Rear Panel

It's a pad and an isolation box. The front panel quickly shows that this is a stereo device that accepts unbalanced 1/4", RCA or 1/8" inputs. It has 1/4" through jacks for each channel and is capable of handling -30 (mic), -15 (consumer line) or 0 dB (pro line) inputs. You can pad down a line level signal to semi-pro or to mic with the flip of a switch.

The output side on the back panel shows ground lifters for each channel. The Type 10 S runs for about 130 hours on one nine volt battery or from any Phantom Supply that's 1.5 mA or more. The Power Test Switch checks the battery power or condition of the incoming Phantom Power.

Got a nagging ground loop buzz between your computer and audio monitors? Chances are this will get rid of it. Out on a shoot and getting gnarly audio from the house mixer? The Type 10 S could make that audio quite usable and it's built like a tank.

A few years ago, KLOVER PRODUCTS redid the math and came up with new designs for Parabolic Collector Microphones. I stopped by their booth and met Paul Terpstera to get a better idea of how these discoveries may have changed the way parabolic mics sound.

On the floor of the LVCC, with the demo din coming in from all sides, there was a slightly distracting "under water" edge to the sound. Not so much on the voice, but on the background. Paul suggested that I step outside and since the doors were right across the aisle, out we went. In the Spring air outside, the bubbly underwater background went away. I don't recall which dish we had out, but KLOVER has them in 26", 16" and 9" versions; the smaller ones targeting DSLR shooters. Paul says that the range for the 26" collector is 500'-600'. That caught my attention. Keep an eye out on this blog for a more thurough, hands-on review of KLOVER parabolic collector microphones.

Steve Oakley operating his custom 26" sandwich KLOVER
Handling noise can be an issue with parabolic collectors. the KLOVER collectors are designed with isolation bushings to damp that noise. I ran into long time audio recordist/mixer Steve Oakley at the show and he mentioned that he made a custom collector to deal with the relatively loud ambient sounds at an airshow; specifically getting rid of the sounds of some of the planes that he did not want to record and the sound of the announcer over the PA. Steve found that using two dishes and putting a layer of foam between them reduced the sound originating behind the collector from exciting the main collector. Brilliant!

Stand by, I'm trying to set up a sound person's get together to see how well these collectors do against long-time , long shotgun mics like the Sennheiser MKH 70, Neumann KM82 and Sennheiser 816.

The Audio-Technica booth is always worth a visit. And with AKG sadly gone, Audio-Technica has more than filled the spot. They span the market, offering entry, mid level and high end audio mics and headphones. Their AT 5000 series mics are amazing microphones. I reviewed the AT5040 when it first came out. Here's that review. The cardioid-only AT5047 came out last year. it was as mind-altering as the AT5040.

Audio-Technica bayonnette mount headphone plug
Audio-Technica ATH-M60x on-ear headphones
One of the things I like about Audio-Technica is that they listen. That's led to features like three sets of cords with some headphones; (1.2 m - 3.0 m coiled, 3.0 m straight, and 1.2 m straight). They have also invented bayonnette-style locking plugs that plug into the ear cup. Snap a cable? No worries, just get another cord. 

This year Audio-Technica showed new headphones. Don't like the ear-covering ATH 50 series? How about the new on-ear ATH-M60x? They use the same 45 mm large aperture drivers as the ATH-M50, but have a lower profile and a closed back. Although they look smaller than the M50, I had no problem with them on my larger than average head. They come with the three cables, 1/8" to 1/4" adapter and storage pouch. 

Audio-Technica ATH-R70x
And for the rest of us, there's the new Audio-Technica ATH-R70x Open-Back Reference Headphones. These are the flagship headphones and they come with a two-year limited warranty. They are supported by the two pads you see in the picture instead of a headband. The earpads are covered with a breathable material to allow for longer sessions. I'm often asked what headphones to use for mixing. I normally recommend that headphones not be used except to check for how whatever effects I'm using stand out. Maybe the ATH-R70x will find a spot able be usable for "real mixing."

Audio -Technica ATW-T6001S Body-pack transmitter
Adding to their 6000 Series High-Density Wireless Systems, Audio-Technica showed its ATW-6001S body-pack transmitter with advanced intermod suppression that enables 31 simultaneous channels within a 4 MHz bandwidth, remote transmitter setup with IR sync, headphone jack (for the receiver), ethernet connection for remote monitoring and configuration, switchable 2 mW, 10 mw and 50 mW transmitter power, rugged cH-style connectors and easy to read displays. The battery fuel gauge can be set to Alkaline or NiMH batteries. 

This system runs in the 944 MHz to 952 MHz band. This band is used in the Aural Broadcast Auxiliary Service, the Fixed Microwave Service, the Low Power Auxiliary Service, and the Multiple Address Service (MAS). Operation of unlicensed Part 15 Devices is permitted between 944 and 960 MHz.

There are no bag-mount receivers for the 6000 system yet. The new ATW-R6200S full-rack, AC-powered receiver houses two receivers per unit. Each receiver has a balanced XLR male connector, Ethernet port for computer monitoring, 1/4" headphone jack with volume control for monitoring and full rack metal chassis with reinforced mounting ears. A 470-99 MHz UHF antenna distribution system is optional. There are Two 1:4 active splitters; two 1:2 passive splitters/2:1 passive combiners; +12V DC power switch for antenna input jacks.

The ATW-T6002xS handheld transmitter supports six different capsules.
ATW-C510 cardioid dynamic microphone capsule (ATM510 equivalent)
ATW-C710 cardioid condenser microphone capsule (ATM710 equivalent)
ATW-C4100 cardioid dynamic microphone capsule (AE4100 equivalent)
ATW-C6100 hypercardioid dynamic microphone capsule (AE6100 equivalent)
ATW-C3300 cardioid condenser microphone capsule (AE3300 equivalent)
ATW-C5400 cardioid condenser microphone capsule (AE5400 equivalent)

This is one of the reasons I like going to NAB. Seeing a company respond to the market like this is quite a charge. You can pick something up and ask questions. It's hard to do that from home. It's also about the people you meet. While strolling the aisles, I encountered Marty Pietz and Randy Strong of CNK Engineering in Mesa, AZ. With spectrum issues mounting, they have created a nationwide company that offers an RF scanning service and a lot of FCC Part 74 help.

Are RF and wireless mic management not in your wheelhouse? CNK Engineering provide spectrum survey and frequency planning, licensing your frequencies, identifying and avoiding interfering signal sources, properly maintaining and servicing your equipment and help with upgrading antennas, cables, filters and distribution equipment for better performance. Once set up, they can monitor your area remotely and provide assistance. Check them out on Facebook.

Q5X Wireless Mics for sports
I first heard of Q5X out of London, Ontario, Canada about eight years ago. Wireless mics used by the NBA. The word was that the transmitters could take a beating and still work. They were slightly off the beaten path at NAB this year. By dumb luck I turned a corner and there they were. 

Here's a quick look at some of their products, by Nathan Schurmans, one of their engineers and co-worker Nancy Mathis.

Looking to work for the CIA or some other organization whose members talk up their sleeves and wander around taking orders from earplugs? The N-ear  STEALTH360
promises the "most covert earpiece on the market." Direct from Denmark, you too can play spy for real or for sport and look genuine while doing it.  It's also positioned for IFB users.

N-ear is going after an earpiece you can wear all day and not suffer ear rash or any other downside. Maybe you're a shooter who also has to pay attention to audio. Headphones are clumsy and bang into your camera body when you've got your camera on your shoulder. I have not heard this device yet, so I can't really say how linear the sound is. if you're using one, why not pop on the web and let me know.

Last year I met Andrew Jones from Aputure. A lighting company that was also putting out  a shotgun mic aimed pretty squarely at the Sennheiser MKH 416, the Aputure Deity One. He sent me one, I listened. We talked. Yes, it was priced substantially less than an MKH 416, but there were issues; higher selfnoise, lacking low frequency response and DC polarization rather than RF polarization.

The Aputure Audio booth at NAB 2018
I didn't expect to hear from Aputure after that. I thought they'd realize that making great mics was a bit more involved than a lighting company wanted to pursue. I expected them to fade and die. Not only did this not happen, Aputure brought in more audio gear designers and not only corrected the problems, but thought outside the box to do so. They epoxy-coated the circuit boards and wrapped the parts internally allowing the Deity 2 to be completely submerged without killing it, as Andrew Jones explains below. (side note: check out the young men who walked through the background. It's a whole new world of film makers.)

For DSLR shooters, Aputure has an interesting mic with (again) out of the box features. One of the big problems with feeding audio to DSLR cameras, is getting the levels right. It's just impossible with some small format cameras. The manufacturer simply didn't design a proper audio section. Others can be worked with, but only if you can figure out the gain staging to give the camera what it wants. The last thing a shooter wants is to add another piece of gear (a mixer) to his or her package. Andrew explains. Check it out.

Aputure A.Lyra Digital Lavasliere Mic

Aputure also showed lavs or personal and semi pro applications. I forgot to ask if they were as smart, connectivity-wise as their smart mic. The A.Lyra Digital lavalier mic for Apple devices, capable of 24-bit 96 kHz capturing.

Aputure A.lav

The Aputure A.lav, with an omni condenser element. The A.lav comes with a rechargeable lithium battery, power status indicator, separate mic out and headphone out features. This mic supports IOS and records to FourTrack, Multi Track Song Recorder, StudioMini® Recording Studio, StudioTrack, Multi Track Song Recorder Pro, AV for Digital Performer 8 101. For android users, the Aputure A.lav supports the All That Recorder. Included are the mic with 10 foot cable, a small roll of duct tape to aid in mounting, a fuzz ball wind shield and a hard zippered storage case.

Aputure A.lav ez

The Aputure A.lav ez is a broadcast quality omni lav with a condenser capsule for Apple or Android phones. It comes with a fuzzy windshield, mountable carrying case and cord clip. 

Saramonic also had an impressive booth in the South Hall. I spoke with Sales person Sheila Gou, and though her English was better than my Chinese, communication was difficult. 

Saaramonic Booth at NAB 2018

A quick trip to their web site confirms the rumors I have been hearing that they are an audio company to be watched, especially for their RX9, TX9 digital series with two channel receiver.

Saramonic audio offerings

It's hard to ignore Sony, but they never quite put themselves out there as an audio leader and they could so easily if they turned and shined just a little more light on their audio capabilities. 

Sony digital wireless

The Sony DWT-B01/n digital body mic runs at 1, 10 or 50 mW in the 566 to 607 & 615 to 638 MHz ranges. The DWT-P01N  plug on transmitter runs in the 556 MHz to 607 MHz and 615 MHz to 638 mHz ranges. It has Phantom Power and supports mic or line input and provides 188 usable frequencies. The Sony Hand-held DWM-02N digital wireless come in three frequency ranges. One model supports two frequency ranges; 566 MHz to 607 MHz and 615 MHz to 638 MHz. The other two models each support 470 MHz to 542 MHz or 638MHz to 698 MHz.

The Sony DWT-B03R is the third generation of Sony's digital DWX series for live sound applications including theater and concerts, as well as studio based TV production and ENG/EFP. 27% smaller than its DWT-B01N predecessor, the DWT-B03R features a tough magnesium body that's resistant to rain, spray and sweat.

Sony's digital audio processing, encryption and RF transmission technologies have latency ranging from 2.8 to 3.7 mSec, depending on which of the three modes it's operating in. It can transmit at 2 mW, 10 mW or 25 mW. The DWT-B03R supports up to 21 simultaneous channels per 8MHz TV band and is compatible with Sony Wireless Studio control software for PC (Ver 5.0 or later), allowing flexible remote operation of up to 82 transmitters using the Cross Remote™ function combined with the RMU-01 remote control unit (available separately).

There was more that I just didn't have time to get around to. If I find more, I'll amend this post or fire up another one. Hope you got something out of it. Please subscribe to my Blog and YouTube channel.


Ty Ford

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