Tuesday, January 20, 2015
The Votes Are In And The Readers Have Spoken!
The votes have been tallied and the results are in for the Sixth Annual ProSoundWeb Readers Choice Product Awards.
The participation of both manufacturers as well as our audience proved exceptional, with thousands of ballots cast.
The races in each category were close and competitive, owing to the overall strength of every product entered combined with the distinct yet varied preferences of the pro audio industry’s largest online community. In fact, many races were so tight, separated by just a few votes, that multiple winners were awarded.
The Readers’ Choice Awards is unique for a number of reasons, chief among them (and as the name says), all voting is the exclusive domain of the readers of ProSoundWeb.
Our sincerest thanks to everyone who entered and voted in this highly successful sixth run of the PSW Readers Choice Awards.
Consoles & Mixers—Large Format
DiGiCo SD9 Rack Pack
Consoles & Mixers—Small Format
Yamaha Commercial QL Series
Line Arrays—Large Format
Meyer Sound LYON
Line Arrays—Small Format
NEXO GEO M620 (Yamaha Commercial)
dB Technologies DVA-MINI M2M + M2S
Loudspeakers—Column and Line Source
Meyer Sound CAL
Loudspeakers—Drivers and Transducers
Eighteen Sound 18TLW3000
Acustica Beyma 10MC500
JBL Professional EON615
Tannoy VQ SERIES
EAW QX Series
EAW MicroWedge MW12
Adamson Systems Energia E219
Martin Audio DD12
Microphones—Condenser Type, Performance
Shure QLX-D Digital
In-Ear Monitoring Systems
Sennheiser EW 300-2 IEM G3
Yamaha Commercial Dante-MY16
Audinate Dante Ultimo
Powersoft X Series
Lab.gruppen PLM Series
Power Amplifiers—Control & Monitoring
Lake LM 44
System Engineer/Tech Tools
Rational Acoustics Smaart v.7 Di
Digiflex D-UX PowerCon Hybrid Cables
Live Recording Hardware & Software
Audinate Dante Virtual Soundcard
Audient Names Sonic Sales As Its New Distributor For Germany, Austria & Switzerland
Bielefeld, Germany-based firm to handle sales, service and marketing for the entire Audient product range
Audient has appointed Sonic Sales as its exclusive distributor in Germany, Austria and Switzerland to handle sales, service and marketing for the entire Audient product range.
Located in Bielefeld, Germany, the newly appointed distribution company is headed up by Matthias Herbst, who says, “The people behind Sonic Sales are well known as successful sales and marketers of big names in the pro audio business. The team has been instrumental in the growth of brands like Native Instruments and Ableton in Germany, with sales cooperation right from the beginning.
“In order to be a successful sales team,” he continues, “we need to have outstanding products and with Audient; we see great products with huge potential for the future.”
Audient’s Simon Blackwood adds, “2014 saw our business grow significantly, with further development planned for the next 12 months,” he says. “We need to ensure the distribution channels are ready for this—especially in these territories, the biggest in Europe. Sonic Sales is a young, dynamic company, and with its perfectly complementary portfolio of products, it is ideally positioned to take Audient forward.”
Monday, January 19, 2015
Multichannel Power Amplifiers: The Evolution Of “Heavy Metal”
Using our Stephen Hawking approved design for a real time machine, we journey to the dawn of the last century.
It’s the summer of 1905 and in under a year the mechanical age will give way to the dawning of the electrical age. At this time the world is dominated by giant machines that can truly be called “heavy iron.” Machines like this:
These 200-plus-ton behemoths are the quintessential embodiment of the leading edge of engineering and technology, and have already dramatically changed the world by making it possible to go to far away destinations in a few days, not a few weeks or months by sea.
But like all great machines, they were also doomed to extinction by the need for more speed, more pulling power, more efficiency, and… just plain more!
What there was of an audio industry or sound business was based around the mechanical phonograph and other mechanical apparatuses for recording and reproducing sound – none of which would have worked at all if it weren’t for horn-gain in recording and playback. (Horn gain would surface in early PA systems as well, as we’ll discuss later.)
Somewhere in the quiet suburbs near Chicago, Lee DeForest was experimenting with the then brand-new technology of radio, seeking to invent a solution to improving the power and distance over which “wireless telegraphy” – as radio was usually called in those days – could be sent.
The calendar’s pages turn and it’s now 1906. DeForest has succeeded (at least partially) in creating the key invention that would lead to the “electrical age” and many of the technologies we consider commonplace today. He’s created the first amplifier (a triode vacuum tube) called the Audion. As a historical note, his vacuum tube would not have been feasible if Edison had not invented the light bulb a few years earlier, because the Audion’s glass vacuum tube was largely a derivation of Edison’s bulb designs.
The invention of the Audion triode is crucial to this story because it created and introduced a new idea to the world: the concept of amplification, or the ability to make electrical signals more powerful. Until the Audion, this wasn’t part of the knowledge base of the whole electrical, wireless telegraphy and sound industries.
The fuse had been lit! DeForest’s creation would explode into the early 20th Century.
But just as massive steam-powered engines would be replaced in less than a quarter century by faster, quicker, super-streamlined diesel electric engines from the U.K., and less than four decades later by the astonishing 200 mph Japanese Shinkansen (bullet train), DeForest’s original triode would, within just a few decades, evolve beyond recognition.
In the beginning, or for about the first decade (1905-1915) of the newly birthed age of electrical amplification, even the era’s best engineers were profoundly puzzled by the new, complex, and truly non-intuitive mathematics of vacuum tube amplifiers and oscillators.
Remember that what we call electronic engineering today was, at that point in actuality, electrical engineering. Any development or improvement had to be focused on the only two things that had commercial backing – keeping AC power transmission systems in phase, and the monopolistic Bell Telephone System’s desperate need to improve the quality and reliability of long-distance telephone service to prevent the (U.S.) government from allowing potential competitors to enter the fray.
There were huge profits at stake and the Bell System threw everything it had into the fray, and by about 1910, the company’s engineers had improved the unreliable and short-lived Audion by increasing the vacuum, removing manufacturing impurities, establishing the requirement for negative bias, and creating the first viable mathematical models of diode rectification and triode amplification.
In 1919, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) was created as a U.S. government designated monopoly to improve and rapidly deploy the triode vacuum tube for improved radio reception.
The direct result of this decision was that RCA ended up controlling most of the patents for advancements and enhancements to the basic triode design vacuum-tube technology for the next two decades.
These patents allowed the development of ever-more-powerful audio amplifiers based on better triodes, eventually reaching what was considered an astonishing 20-plus watts of output capability. (It was noted in several learned journals of the late ‘20s when these amplifiers were becoming common, especially in high-end radio consoles and “commercial” public address applications, that it was inconceivable that anyone would ever need more power than these technological marvels could produce.)
It’s important to recognize that while the Bell System, RCA, and DeForest were hard at work, others were also making major contributions to the new world of electronics and electrical technologies, including Major Edwin Armstrong (inventor of FM radio), Guglielmo Marconi, and dozens of others hidden by the passage of time. For those who may be interested, a web search under any of these names will quickly produce a wealth of information.
Moore’s Law On Steroids
So, in less than two decades we went from the crude, fragile and unreliable Audion to being able to effectively design and produce audio and radio-frequency (RF) amplifiers of considerable complexity and sophistication. Many of those early triode designs are still being used with little change today in the esoteric world of hi-fi aficionados.
In less than 15 years we went from the simple Audion to a recognizable amplifier-driven PA system.
It’s worth remembering, when we congratulate ourselves on the rapid progress of the Internet and its technologies, that the entire field of electronics went from a strange laboratory curiosity in 1906 to the first AM radio broadcasts by KDKA (Pittsburgh) in 1920 to a mature, fast-growing field (dominated by enormously profitable monopolies) at the beginning of the ‘30s – a span of less than a quarter of a century.
The next round of development was driven by the motion picture industry, which quickly discovered that improved fidelity (from optical sound, more powerful amplifiers, and better loudspeakers) deepened the emotional effect of the soundtrack. For the first time in the history of the movie industry, sound quality – even if it wasn’t consciously noticed by the audience or the critics – became a powerful and profitable box-office draw.
Both Western Electric (the manufacturing and R&D arm of the Bell System) and RCA (and its NBC radio network) competed to produce the highest-quality sound possible. In the ‘30s, movie sound was the leading edge of the entire electronics industry. In a decade, between 1929 and 1939, the entire foundation of the modern high-fidelity sound industry was created and the world experienced:
• 2- and 3-channel stereo sound demonstrations by RCA, Western Electric, and Alan Blumlein, and the first full-length movie to use a multichannel soundtrack, Walt Disney’s Fantasia, released in 1940.
• Low-distortion, full-frequency-range microphones, phono pickups, amplifiers, and loudspeaker systems from Western Electric, RCA, Decca, EMI, and others. The most advanced equipment was used for transcriptions of radio shows (via 16 and 33 rpm acetate masters) and in high-end radio sets.
• Electroacoustic analysis and modeling of microphones, moving-coil cutterheads, optical modulators for movie soundtracks, phono pickups, direct-radiator loudspeakers, and theater horns.
On the power amplifier front, the first widely used vacuum tube was the directly-heated (usually battery powered) RCA 01A direct-heated triode launched in 1922. This became the general-purpose tube of the ‘20s. By 1936 the first of many “watt races” began with the introduction of the 6L6 and KT66 pentode.
By 1951 tube technology was reaching its penultimate capabilities (at least for the technology, materials, and manufacturing capabilities of the day), with the appearance of the soon to be ubiquitous EL34 vacuum tube. In quick succession, audio power amplifier capabilities benefited from the EL84 in 1953, the 6550 and KT88 in 1954, and last in the power pentrode series, the 7591 in 1959 and the 8417 in 1963. (The 6L6 – a beam tetrode with a similar range of power output – has been in continuous production since 1936, a record unmatched by any other electronic device. We all owe electric guitar players a big thank you for keeping the tube factories open.)
EL34 vacuum tube.
But, as with steam engines, the end of the tube-only power amplifier was in sight.
Although almost unnoticed at the time, in 1947 John Bardeen and Walter Brattain, working at Bell Telephone Labs, were trying to understand the nature of the electrons at the interface between a metal and a semiconductor. They had realized that by making 2 point contacts very close to one another, they could make a 3-terminal device – the first “point contact” transistor.
They promptly made a few of these transistors and connected them with some other components to make an audio amplifier. It was shown to chief executives at the company, who were astonished by the fact that it was “instant on” – it didn’t need time to “warm up” (like the heaters in vacuum tube circuits).
This invention was the spark that ignited a huge research effort in solid-state electronics and created the pathways that led to today’s technologies.
It was so critical to the development of the electronics industry that Bardeen and Brattain received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1956, together with William Shockley, “for their research on semiconductors and their discovery of the transistor effect.”
Shockley had developed a so-called junction transistor, which was built on thin slices of different types of semiconductor material pressed together. The junction transistor was easier to understand theoretically and could be manufactured more reliably, eventually coming to dominate early transistor development.
Now the charge of the solid-stage brigade began in earnest. By the early to mid-1960s the professional audio world had seen the arrival of the Altec Lansing 1590 Series, Crown DC300, and within a few years, the powerful BGW 750, and the legendary Phase Linear 700 – plus many others too numerous to mention here.
All of the sudden, audio power amplifiers could produce 150, 200, 300-plus watts per channel, with the loudspeaker market racing to develop products that could utilize this “enormous power capability,” as one transducer manufacturer phrased it.
Left to right: Altec Lansing 1590 Series, Crown DC300, and BGW 750. (click to enlarge)
So in just over a half century, we went from a barely noticeable laboratory curiosity (the Audion) to devices that could produce hundreds of watts – and remember, this feat had been deemed “impossible” by the early engineers. We had reached the next chapter of the amplifier story.
The two decades from the mid ‘60s through the mid ‘80s were a time of evolution and experimentation in the professional power amplifier world. Although conventional class AB bi-polar hardware remained dominant, many innovative ideas were unveiled.
For example, both Spectra Sonics and Altec Lansing introduced what would be considered the first relatively high power (80-watt) modular card cage amplifier systems, while several companies experimented with mixed topologies such as class AB+B or various power supply configurations like class H and class G, and the first class D digital power supply units appeared (and then disappeared for many reasons).
Several companies entered the market, most of which have also since disappeared or been acquired by others, but they did accomplish one goal: pushing the power envelope ever higher while evolving and improving both reliability and stability of the whole segment, even if they did so through their failures.
However, the key factors at work during this timeframe were development of higher power solid-state devices and the maintenance of the mono or 2-channel status quo configuration. The available power per channel rose slowly towards the 500-watt mark and then exceeded it as newer high current power devices appeared, but the mono and stereo framework stayed put.
It was a situation that needed a better solution. The amount of space in fixed install, and the amount of weight and space taken up by power amplifier racks in the tour industry kept rising exponentially as bigger and larger demands were placed on sound system power requirements. Monster tour sound systems were driven by amplifiers housed in dozens of road cases, and mega stadium installs had rack room(s) full of several hundred amplifiers.
Weight also became a serious problem (especially on the live/tour side of the business) as power output increased. If you wanted higher power, you needed a bigger power supply to produce it, meaning bigger and heavier transformer(s) and larger capacitors to provide that raw current and voltage. The immutable laws of physics just wouldn’t get out of the way, yet neither would the demand for more power.
Everyone knew there had to be a better way to achieve these goals, but it wasn’t until the mid ‘80s that a set of solutions combined to answer the key questions.
Innovation & Serendipity
As is often the case with major technological leaps, it took two separate developments and the fortuitous timing of one of them to bring about the next step in power amplifiers: the move from 1 or 2 channels to 4, 6, and 8 channels in the same or just barely larger chassis, and the logarithmic jump in output power.
But the beginnings of this major shift were quietly hidden in the Swedish countryside just outside the small city of Kungsbacka. In 1979, working out of a local electronics repair shop, Kenneth Andersson and Dan Bävholm founded what would become Lab.gruppen. The first products were not amplifiers, but consoles. It wasn’t until 1986 that the first of the two breakthroughs occurred.
Twenty years after the Crown DC300 forever changed the perception of solid-state (transistorized) “high power” amps, Andersson and Bävholm developed the Regulated Switch Mode Power Supply (R.SMPS). The basic concepts behind a switched mode power supply were known at the time, but difficult engineering challenges had prevented successful implementation in high-power amps; the components required to make it work were not yet available. It would take the second and serendipitous development to make the idea feasible.
Engineers at Siemens in Germany had devised the ability to produce high-current-capable Metal Oxide on Silicon Field Effect Transistor (MOSFET) devices, although the target customers were not the small pro audio industry’s power amplifier manufacturers. Nevertheless, these devices allowed Andersson and Bävholm to implement a new amplifier topology and introduce the 2-channel SS 1300, followed by the first true high power multichannel amplifier, the 1200 Quatro, a 4-channel model capable of generating 380 to 450 watts per channel from a single 2RU chassis.
This was followed by the even higher power SS 1400, which also led to the development of more advanced finned heat sink, forced air cooling tunnel designs to enhance stability and reliability. However, this design had an inherent flaw: increasing temperature as air moved through the tunnel resulted in uneven cooling of the output devices.
The problem led to development of the Intercooler (first implemented in the SS 1300), wherein the heat-sink comprises thousands of tiny copper fins that dissipate heat far more efficiently than large aluminum fins. Also, the Intercooler – with output devices embedded – is mounted transverse to the airflow, so all devices benefit from uniform cooling. Like its automotive and aircraft engine namesakes, this technology allowed the rapid development of amps where the heat produced by 2, 3, and 4 kW worth of output devices could be effectively managed.
The 2-channel Lab.gruppen SS 1300 with Intercooler technology.
We Have Lift-Off
It didn’t take long for power amplifier manufacturers around the globe to develop and introduce their own unique variations on this theme. Within less than five years there were no less than a dozen high-power 4-channel products available, and very rapidly after that, 6- and 8-channel variations.
Suddenly it seemed as if a single amplifier chassis capable of 10 kW was no big deal. Well, actually there were some significant birthing pains, mostly centered around handling the massive current draw placed on AC mains power feeds. It took a while to develop the needed hardware and software to effectively manage that set of issues, but the upside is that it also produced “smarter” amplifiers with built-in intelligence and eventually DSP capabilities.
So in the end, the initial pain was a positive force in producing a new level of capability. But as with any new technological development, there are benefits and cautions to be aware of. To expound on those issues we asked several manufacturers to address three core topics related to multichannel amplifiers.
What are the important technical challenges of multichannel amplifiers?
Marc Kellom, senior director, engineering and marketing, Crown Audio: “Very few people consider a 2-channel amplifier to be ‘multichannel’ but it really is – and most of the considerations for choosing a 2-channel amplifier apply to a 4, 8 or higher channel-count product. The most fundamental consideration: am I trading something away for the benefit of more channels in a (presumably) smaller space? If so, what am I trading?
“Trade-offs can happen in several areas: output power, reliability, flexibility, ease of use, or audio performance. In terms of output power, most often this is a question of power supply size and capability. As channel counts go up, and rack space stays the same, the most likely place for a designer to compromise is on the power supply. The audiophile ‘brute force’ approach of an individual supply per channel is not commonly used due to size and cost.
“The alternative is a single supply shared across many channels, but can the power supply deliver 1) full rated power; 2) across all channels; 3) driving the most difficult load; 4) with all channels driving the same signal in-phase? Example applications include driving passive monitor mixes, individual MF or LF drivers, or a large number of distributed loudspeakers. Any of these common uses can present the power supply with heavy demands.
Crown Audio I-Tech 4x3500HD
“Further, when some channels are heavily taxed and others are not, does crosstalk occur? Not crosstalk in the normal audio sense, but rapid changes in the demand on a power supply can affect other channels connected to the same supply. Audio signals can change from full-amplitude to near-silence in milliseconds. If the power supply does not manage this dramatic change in load, the net result can be unusual forms of distortion.”
Matt Skogmo, director of hardware engineering, QSC: “If there’s one common trend in the install and contractor market space, it’s that installations are getting more complex, not less. One strong theme in this trend is the mix of high-performance and distributed audio. It’s very common to have portions of an install that are geared toward higher output, higher fidelity, low-impedance loudspeakers, and other portions that are geared toward ‘acres of speakers’ or 70/100-volt distributed systems.
“To deal with these requirements, we’ve come up with an interesting method of reducing the number of amplifiers needed to address a variety of power points: Flexible Amplifier Summing Technology (FAST). Effectively this technology allows amplifiers channels to be configured in both bridge mode and in parallel mode. For example, a traditional 4-channel amplifier might allow you to bridge channels 1 and 2 and/or bridge channels 3 and 4.
QSC PLD 4.5
“FAST opens up a wider range of options. For instance, you can bridge channels (doubling the available voltage), or you can also place them in parallel (doubling the available current). These options are not limited to a pair of channels. This means that amplifiers equipped with FAST can be deployed as a 4-channel, 3-channel, 2-channel, or even mono block amplifiers. Basically, no matter the load impedance – from 100 volts distributed all the way down to 1 ohm, a single amplifier can be configured to deliver maximum power.”
Klas Dalbjörn, product research manager, install & tour, Lab.gruppen/Lake: “As more amplifier channels are packed into a single product, a major challenge is just being able to fit everything inside the product. On top of this, the internal cooling solution is critical because there are so many ‘hot spots’ inside a densely packed multichannel product. In our 4- and 8-channel designs, we’ve used front-to-back parallel cooling to ensure that all channels are effectively cooled equally.
“When packing amplifier channels so the summed output power together with the internal losses exceeds what you can continuously pull from the mains outlet, it’s essential to both have good internal energy storage to avoid pulling the peak power from the mains as well as a good-sounding ‘mains current limiter concept’ that avoids the risk that the amplifier will trip the mains breaker after a few seconds/minutes of extreme program material.
Our approach is to design in different schemes to avoid the risk. These have over the years been called AFS (Automatic Fuse Saver), PAL (Power Average limiter) and BEL (Breaker Emulation Limiter).”
Mike Updaw, Eastern sales manager, Ashly Audio: “As you increase channel count you need to consider many issues, such as heat, wattage output, consumption, rack space, and options such as remote control or digital transport, to name just a few.
Ashly Audio nX 3.04
Our research has shown that utilizing class D designs, Ethernet bi-directional data transfer capabilities, and integrating selectable output impedances into an amp are effective solutions to many of the most common problems in the field.”
What are the primary technical considerations when using multichannel amplifiers compared to 2-channel amplifiers?
QSC’s Skogmo: “Based on our internal technical data, an amp with FAST could be configured such that the first three channels (A, B, C) are placed in parallel with each other and connected to a 2-ohm concert subwoofer array, and the remaining channel is connected to a distributed 100-volt line. That subwoofer will get about three quarters of the total output power, while the distributed line still has over 1,000 watts of power available.
“Although confusing at first blush, there is a method to the madness. Rather than offering dozens of power points, we only offer three power points. Now the option to configure each amplifier in the most appropriate way is accessible, with the only tradeoff being the available number of channels. The theory is that the user only has to reach for a small handful of tools and can configure each to drive whatever power/impedance combination necessary.”
Lab.gruppen’s Dalbjörn: “4- and 8-channel amps without flexibility in what they can drive increase the risk of buying ‘more than you need’ – some channels will have unused headroom and other channels may even be unused. It’s therefore often possible to save money by using more flexible multichannel amps.
Our new D Series and PLM+ have been designed with what we call RPM (Rational Power Management) in order to take the flexibility one step further with the intent to allow users to buy exactly what they need.”
Ashly Audio’s Updaw: “Increasing valuable rack space often equates to increasing profits. Possibly the most difficult hurdle is the fear that you have ‘too many eggs in one basket.’ Ashly has addressed these issues by offering segregation between power supplies. By offering line outputs on each channel, the internal DSP can feed additional external amplifiers.”
Claudio Lastrucci, R&D director, Powersoft: “All of our amplifiers implement fixed frequency (FF) switch-mode technology for both power supplies and output stages. Any stage in an FF switch-mode amp is driven and synchronized by a global fixed frequency signal; this entails a more complex electronic design with respect to a variable frequency system (where the switching frequency of each stage is independent from each other), but it guarantees lower crosstalk and perfect matching between the power supply and the output stages.”
Crown Audio’s Kellom: “As channel count increases, the number of components and interconnections increase, and the number of ‘eggs in one basket’ also increases. A failure in a common power supply will take out more of the overall audio system than in the days of 2-channel products. An 8-channel amplifier conceivably has 4 times the opportunities for a defect compared to the 2-channel version of the same product. Internal temperatures are also increasing as power density goes higher.
“Our proprietary DriveCore technology is designed to directly address this challenge through integrating hundreds of previously discrete parts onto a single device. By tapping into the expertise developed by the automotive group of Harman, we have access to extensive information and tools to help enable our reliability to dramatically improve even as multichannel amps become the norm.”
What is the upside of bridging? (Beside the obvious answer of more power…)
Dalbjörn: “There are both pros and cons. On the positive side you get twice the output voltage, which can be attractive if you have long loudspeaker cables with significant losses and/or if you have high impedance loads. You also pull power symmetrically from the power supply, which for some designs will make it more reliable. On the negative side, you will ‘lose a channel’ when you bridge it, so in practice you’ll pay for the overhead of the feature set of two channels while you’re only using one.”
Updaw: “When bridging an amplifier, you’re swapping phase on the second amp channel. The voltage swing will then be defined by the difference between the two channels. Thus, you almost double the wattage output. The thing to remember is that you’ve now ‘split’ the load impedance across the two channels, so an 8-ohm load, for example, looks like a 4-ohm load to each of the two channels.”
Kellom: “Bridging can present another possible area of compromise. If the power supply is under-sized for the task, or the amplifier is not bridgeable due to internal design considerations, has flexibility really increased? If an 8-channel amplifier can only drive 6 channels to full power and the other 2 must be lightly loaded, will that provide what you actually need for the task at hand?
“Bridging also offers the opportunity to scale the number of channels and power capability to the application, but it prevents amplifier designers from using topologies that are already bridged inside the amplifier. This becomes more of an issue when you consider that as the number of channels increase, the difficulty of configuring, connecting, and controlling the product can also increase. Getting 8 channels of I/O into 2 rack spaces while providing space for cooling and needed markings is becoming more and more of a challenge.”
He concludes by offering a suggestion for testing products for real world issues: “Here’s a simple question: how do you test crosstalk on an 8-channel amplifier? Drive 1 channel and measure the other 7? Drive 7 channels and measure the 1 that’s not being used? The former test is much easier to pass than the latter one. Which one matches your application?”
It’s A Wrap
To close, let’s review. Just over a century ago the first audio amplifier was created – the Audion. One hundred and some years later, we’ve advanced to the stage where there are 4, 6, 8, and even higher channel-count amplification devices that can generate almost limitless audio power. The real question is how to apply the technology and insure that reliability, safety and quality don’t get lost in the race for more.
It pays to remember that the original idea behind packing 4 channels into a single chassis was to save space and weight for live sound applications, and this conveniently translated into the same ability to save space and thus cost for fixed install applications.
Everything else that this revolution has given to audio amplification technology, including DSP, intelligent networkable control, and many other features too numerous to list here, came along for the ride but in the end proved to be as – if not more – useful than just having the ability to achieve higher power density.
Frederick J. Ampel has been involved in the pro A/V industry for nearly 40 years. His career has included work in live sound reinforcement, broadcast audio production, systems design and installation, systems integration, hardware design and development, and residential small room acoustics.
TELEFUNKEN Introducing New Black Diamond Tubes At 2015 Winter NAMM
All are cryogenically treated to ensure durability and subjected to an extended burn-in period to ensure superior stability
TELEFUNKEN Elektroakustik is debuting three new models in its line of Black Diamond Vacuum Tubes at the upcoming 2015 NAMM Show in Anaheim (booths 6721 and 1878).
TELEFUNKEN vacuum tubes have been utilized in audio applications, both production and reproduction, for many decades, and this history continues with the introduction of these new production tubes, in partnership with JJ Tubes from the Carpathian Mountains of Cadca in Slovakia.
Each tube is measured for all critical parameters of performance, including transconductance, gain, noise, and microphonics. In addition, all are cryogenically treated to ensure durability, and subjected to an extended burn-in period to ensure superior stability.
The tubes are then re-measured subsequent to burn-in in order to guarantee that only the best, lowest noise tubes are offered for purchase
The TELEFUNKEN 6V6-TK is newly manufactured and cryogenically treated rendition of the 6V6. Originally released in 1937 by RCA, the 6V6 is a beam-power tetrode vacuum tube for use in hi-fi audio equipment and music instrument amplifiers, utilized in popular guitar amplifiers such as the Fender Champ, Princeton Reverb, and Deluxe Reverb for decades. The Black Diamond Series 6V6-TK is a replacement for keeping the same performance and tone as the originals.
The TELEFUNKEN ECC82-TK is a newly manufactured and cryogenically treated rendition of the classic ECC82, commonly known by the American designation 12AU7. The ECC82 is a dual triode vacuum tube with medium gain and low noise characteristics, making it well-suited for hi-fi audio equipment and instrument amplification. It’s commonly used as a low-noise line amplifier, driver, and phase inverter in push-pull amplifier circuits, and can replace an ECC81/12AX7 for lower gain applications.
The TELEFUNKEN KT88-TK is a newly manufactured and cryogenically treated version of the legendary KT88. The KT88-TK is a beam-power tetrode that shares similar applications as the 6L6 and EL34, and is one of the largest tubes in its class. Originally introduced by GEC in 1956, it became competition for the American-made 6550, but with the ability to handle a much higher plate voltage of up to 800 volts, the KT88 became a common choice for power amplification design.
API 1608 Consoles Debut In South Korea For Engineers In Training
First two colleges in the country to install API consoles
South Korean distributor MI Corporation’s most recent sale for API is a landmark deal, with the two 1608s marking the first two colleges in the country to install API consoles.
The first console of this double-hitter was sold to Kwangwoon University in Seoul, where the 16-channel 1608 is used in the Practical Music department, which is designed to give students hands-on experience that will translate to important skills in the work force.
Kwangwoon was founded in 1934, during the “dawn of the electronic era” for Korea, at which time the school was called the “Joseon Radio Training Center,” with that heritage continuing today.
The second 16-channel 1608 went to Doowon Technical College, installed in the intitution’s own Practical Music department practice studio. Based in Answong, Doowon is a school for engineers-in-training.
Chan Doo Kim, the founder and chairman of the Doowon Group, states, “It is my hope that young engineers who will be responsible for the future carry a formidable determination and a challenging consciousness to take the highest authority in their chosen professions.” The school was founded in 1990, and has sister relationships with engineering schools in China and Japan.
Hak Yong Shim of MI Corp says that the schools were convinced to purchase API gear not only by, “MI Corp suggestions, but also based on the opinions of professors at the schools.”
In the last few months, API has also seen new consoles installed in schools across three separate continents, from large-format Vision and Legacy units to the newest compact BOX console, which premiered at last year’s AES conference in New York.
Posted by Keith Clark on 01/19 at 05:31 AM
Monday, January 12, 2015
Producer Rob King Puts The Manley SLAM! On The Mix
Points to SLAM! as his go-to stereo limiter and mic preamp at his Sherman Oaks, CA-based Green Street Studios
Veteran producer/composer Rob King has been the force behind the sound of more than 100 hit games, including James Bond: Quantum of Solace, Scareface, Age of Conan, Call of Duty 3, and MMORPG RIFT: Planes of Telara. He’s also had a hand in numerous films, including promo trailers for I Am Legend and Watchmen.
King’s Sherman Oaks, CA-based Green Street Studios is constantly busy with projects, and while the facility has racks full of high-end outboard gear, King points to the Manley Labs SLAM! as his go-to stereo limiter and mic preamp.
“Out of all the gear in my studio, the SLAM! gets used more often than almost anything else,” he reports. “I’ve often said it’s a shame more people don’t have the opportunity to hear what it can do. I do a lot of dialog production in games, and I find that the SLAM! is really the ultimate signal path for a voice over.”
King notes that creating dialog voiceover for games is a meticulous and demanding process. “Particularly in doing dialog within a game, it’s always tricky to get things to sit right in the mix,” he explains. “Running the dialog through the SLAM!, I usually just set the input and output gains to 12 o’clock, with the heel of the limiter anywhere between 18 and 22dB, and I literally never have to touch it. Whether it’s whispering, shouting, screaming, talking—it all sits there perfectly, with no distortion, no audible compression - it’s just incredible.”
He points to the SLAM!‘s optical compressor as one of the features that sets it apart. “The SLAM! gets a real tube preamp kind of sound,” he says. “It’s got a ton of clarity, it’s super smooth, and so rich in frequency. You get all the lows, all the highs, and zero sibilance - I’ve never had to even think about a de-esser.”
Tuesday, January 06, 2015
Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing Announces 2014-2015 Steering Committee
Leadership group researches and recommends solutions for technical, creative and economic issues
The Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing has announced its 2014-2015 Steering Committee, the leadership group that researches and recommends solutions for technical, creative and economic issues facing today’s music production professionals.
The newly seated committee, consisting of an array of music engineers, producers and audio professionals, will build upon the legacy established by prior Steering Committees and work to identify and evaluate key issues confronting music production professionals, with the goal of finding meaningful solutions and suggestions for the industry moving forward.
The P&E Wing 2014–2015 Steering Committee includes the following music industry professionals: Chuck Ainlay, Carlos Alvarez, Eric Boulanger, Mike Clink, Scott Jacoby, Glenn Lorbecki, Bob Ludwig, Harvey Mason Jr., Ann Mincieli and Phil Nicolo.
In addition, Mike Clink and Chuck Ainlay will retain their positions as co-chairs, leading the committee as the P&E Wing continues to advocate for excellence in sound recording, audio technologies, education in the recording arts, and the rights of music creators overall.
“The role of the Steering Committee is to set our agenda for each year by identifying and prioritizing the initiatives that matter most to our members,” states Maureen Droney, managing director of the P&E Wing. “With this group of accomplished individuals we have a collective that encompasses the wide-ranging experience and diverse perspectives that will help us address those initiatives within the changing landscape of the recording industry.”
Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing
Monday, December 22, 2014
Northern Sky Music Among First Studios In UK To Add API BOX Console
Studio run by Grammy nominated songwriter and producer Steve Robson first smaller format console the right fit
Northern Sky Music on London, run by Grammy-nominated songwriter and music producer Steve Robson, is among the first studios in the U.K. to add an API BOX console.
The BOX made its debut at the AES show in New York in 2013, where Howard Jones of London’s Source Distribution couldn’t wait to bring it back home. “We had a call pretty much the moment the first BOX landed in the U.K., saying that Steve wanted a demo right away,” Jones says.
Robson has worked with artists such as James Blunt, One Direction, and Rascal Flatts. The BOX was the right fit for Northern Sky, as Jones explains: “Many pros here know and love the trademark API sound, but don’t always need a larger format console. The U.K. was really crying out for a product like the BOX.”
Since supplying Robson with his console, both Source and London dealer Funky Junk have placed several of API’s recording and mixing products in top studios across the country.
“We’re delighted to have a high demand for the BOX in such a wide array of studios, and are amazed to hear about the major productions in which it has already been used,” says Larry Droppa, president of API. “With the success Steve Robson has earned in his career, I know we’re bound to hear even more amazing projects recorded and mixed in the BOX.”
Posted by Keith Clark on 12/22 at 07:13 AM
Thursday, December 11, 2014
API 1608 Provides A Great Foundation At The Blackbird Academy
Students learn the basics of pro audio sound quality and signal flow using the classroom’s 1608 and then apply that knowledge in Blackbird Studio’s control rooms
The API 1608 analog console at the center of The Blackbird Academy’s 30-seat classroom has scarcely been idle since the school opened its doors in 2013.
The academy, an extension of the top-flight, multi-room Blackbird Studio in Nashville, is owned and operated by recording engineer John McBride and his wife, country music superstar Martina McBride. Students in the program learn the basics of pro audio sound quality and signal flow using the classroom’s 1608, and then apply that knowledge in Blackbird Studio’s control rooms, which include a 32-channel API 1608 and two large-format API Legacy Plus consoles.
“The API 1608 sounds great, and serves as the perfect foundation for our students to build from,” says Kevin Becka, instructor and co-director of the academy. “Before arriving at Blackbird, most of our students got into audio using their own computers with inexpensive interfaces. They’re shocked at how the act of simply plugging in an instrument to the clean signal path and transformers of the 1608 can make it sound. We’ve come to call the effect, ‘API Love’. The construction of the 1608 is well thought-out and executed – everything about it is solid.”
The classroom is designed to give students a co-pilot’s view of everything the instructor is doing. Video cameras mounted above the 1608, and display the view on 65-inch screens. Each student uses an academy-issued iPad with custom-created apps, providing descriptions of every aspect of the studio, and how those aspects connect with gear in Blackbird’s dedicated control rooms.
Outside the classroom, students disperse into the control rooms of Blackbird Studio for smaller classes, and execute independent projects. “These are the very same control rooms that are regularly attended by some of the biggest names in the music industry,” Becka explains. “It’s a unique experience for the students to go into those rooms and know that yesterday, Tim McGraw or Keith Urban were in the same room. Learning signal flow on the classroom’s API 1608 transfers directly to Blackbird’s two API Legacy Plus consoles.”
Monday, December 08, 2014
Audient Components Get EDM Producer All “Shook” Up (Video)
iD22 USB interface and ASP880 8-channel mic preamp play key role in new album
Electronic dance music producer Shook has just released his second album, “Spectrum,” recorded with the help of his Audient iD22 USB interface and ASP880 8-channel mic preamp & ADC.
“It was the most pristine sound quality that I have heard in a long time,” says the songwriter and multi-instrumentalist also known as Jasper Wijnands. “I was used to recording with other, older gear, and they did the job at the time. It opened my ears to a new world, and when I heard the difference I was blown away.”
Shook’s favorite feature of the iD22 is that ability to quickly toggle between different monitor loudspeaker set-ups.“I wasn’t used to being able to do that,” he notes. “I love that you can adjust the remote settings to your liking. Checking a mix in mono is so easy, and setting up different commands to buttons is a breeze. It allows you to focus better on what you are working on right now other than going into endless menus. You just set up, and you are ready to go. Also, the feel of the main volume knob is great!”
He definitely enjoys gear; his studio is packed with synths. “It’s a bit of an obsession,” he laughs. “I really love old synthesizers—and new ones. For my album, I used a lot of Prophet 08, Juno 60, DX7, Arturia Minibrute and some old string synthesizers like the Korg PE-1000.”
“Milestones” is the latest track to be released from the new album, a track which was borne of a jam session with his brother on guitar. “I’d just got the iD22 interface, and pressed record,” he says. “The guitar was plugged into the DI and all the synths went into the preamp. When I first heard it back, I thought: ‘Holy crap, this is good.”
So good in fact, that Milestones has been chosen by Audient for the remix competition testing the talents of remixers and producers across the globe. Describing his musical style as “...a little bit of a fusion of 70s, 80s and disco funk,” Shook’s previous album and his EPs have gained him a significant following on the EDM scene. “
Today I only hear beats, and less melody,” he continues. “I like hearing music that shows off the musicianship of a singer or instrumentalist. A funky guitar riff or a piano playing a subtle melody, I love that kind of stuff. I think I miss this a bit in music now.”
To do your own remix of Milestones for a chance to win an iD22 and ASP880, download the stems from the Audient website, work your work, and then upload it to Audient’s Soundcloud before January 5, 2015.
West London’s KORE Studios Upgrades To API 1608 Console
Artists on the KORE resume include Florence and the Machine, Joss Stone, and Amy Winehouse
West London’s KORE Studios recently installed an API 1608 , with studio owner George Apsion considering the console a natural choice in retaining his facility’s international reputation for high-quality recordings.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary, KORE typically records rock and indie bands in a 2,000 square-foot space, which includes a live recording capability with two ISO booths, as well as a Studio B and lounge on the second floor. Artists on the KORE resume include Florence and the Machine, Joss Stone, and Amy Winehouse.
In 2010, KORE was awarded “Best UK Studio” by the Music Producers Guild, with Apsion noting that the 1608 is the right direction to continue enhancing that prestigious history.
“We are known as a great tracking space and we wanted a console that would reflect and enhance that,” he states. In seeking to upgrade to the 1608, Apsion worked with Funky Junk, a leading expert in analog mixing consoles in Europe.
Mark Thompson, founder and owner of Funky Junk, explains that the process from sale to installation went beautifully.
“KORE required a few custom modifications and we suggested others to enable the power supplies to be sited in a remote machine room,” Thompson says. “API liaised with us regarding these mods and together with Source, their UK distributor, we all worked to deliver the console bang on time, ready for the first session a few weeks after order. Commissioning on-site went smoothly, and the desk was installed and ready to start churning out the hits within two days of arrival.”
Since then, the 1608 has a workout. Apsion says it’s made everything they work on “feel like a record, straight away. The features are so well thought out – the sound is deep, wide, and glues everything together. The sound is the same as other API gear we’ve used, there is just more of it.”
The biggest change, he notes, is the ability to record entire sessions on API mic amps and nothing else, which he considers “a dream come true.” The console is truly becoming a centerpiece at KORE and is featured on all of the studio’s social media profiles.
The new 1608 is getting put to the test on multiple projects: “We’ve used it as a split console, with the expander section acting as sends to tape, using the 312 mic amps +550b EQs,” he says. “We then use the first sixteen faders as tape monitors, with aux sends feeding a cue-8 mixer system in our live room. We use the aux return inputs in the center section for summing outboard mic amp signals together. The 1608 desk mic amps are always used for drums.”
All that work is paying off in an album already recorded for the Australian rock band Short Stack, as well as an indie EP for the British group House of Lions. Once these projects are complete, KORE will continue work on ” a top secret album project for an international artist.” While the artist’s identity may be a secret, Apsion’s feelings on the console are not. “It seems to bring out the best in the other gear we connect to it, as the headroom is so impressive. The 1608 is a beautifully engineered, reliable and astonishing piece of equipment.”
Posted by Keith Clark on 12/08 at 07:43 AM
Thursday, December 04, 2014
Hal Leonard Publishes “Zen and the Art of Recording”
As Mixerman writes: "The moment you start to think in musical terms, your recordings will improve a hundredfold."
Hal Leonard Books has published “Zen and the Art of Recording,” the third installment in Mixerman’s “Art Of” series of books.
The series, which also includes “Zen and the Art of Producing,” “Zen and the Art of Mixing,” and “The Daily Adventures of Mixerman,” is now available both in print and in multimedia e-book format with over an hour of bonus video content for each title.
In Zen and the Art of Recording, Mixerman distills the inescapable technical realities of recording down to understandable and practical terms. Whether musician or self-taught recordist, whether at home or in a full-blown studio complex, the book focuses on discovering a definitive blueprint for recording within the current realities of the business, without ever losing focus on the core consideration—the music itself.
As Mixerman writes: “The moment you start to think in musical terms, your recordings will improve a hundredfold.”
“Mixerman has done it again,” says Ron Saint Germain, a producer/engineer with over 300 million in sales that includes U2, Whitney Houston, 311, and more. “With his signature humorous and entertaining style, he imparts a world of invaluable information for the aspiring recordist and musician in an easy to absorb (not overly technical) common sense manner.”
“‘Zen and the Art of Recording’ describes an approach rather than a recipe,” adds Bob Olhsson, who has worked with Stevie Wonder, Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye among others. “This is important because in the real world nothing works the same way every time. This is an excellent overview of the issues to be considered along with a broad variety of proven techniques for addressing them.”
Get more information and acquire a “Zen and the Art of Recording” here.
Hal Leonard Books
Wednesday, December 03, 2014
Downtown Studios Achieves Prime Flexibility With SSL Duality & AWS Consoles
New consoles enhance recording and mixing services to both South African and international artists
Downtown Studios, a world-class facility in Johannesburg, South Africa, has recently undergone a major upgrade, incorporating Solid State Logic (SSL) Duality and AWS consoles.
Throughout its rich 36-year history, Downtown has hosted leading recording artists such as U2, Simon Lebon from Duran Duran, Manfred Mann and Mick Hucknell, among many others. The arrival of the new SSL consoles has allowed the studio to enhance its recording and mixing services to both South African and international artists.
Renamed in 1992, Downtown Studios’ story dates back to 1978 when the facility was built under the name RPM Studios. Today, the studio is an integral part of the Downtown Music Hub an entity established by the South African Department of Arts and Culture and run under the leadership of its chairperson Don Laka, a noted South African musician, and CEO Chola Makgamathe.
“The decision to upgrade Studios 1 and 3 was fueled by the board’s desire to stand out as the number one state-of-the-art recording facility in Africa,” says Darryl Heilbrunn, general manager of Downtown Studios. “While we considered other options, SSL’s international legacy and reputation lead us to Duality and AWS.”
The Duality’s 72 channels of dual SuperAnalogue and VHD microphone preamps in Studio 1 provide the flexibility to record groups of any size or genre. While the more intimate Studio 3, largely used for electronic music production, takes advantage of AWS as a hybrid console/controller, catering to clients with a variety of styles of workflow.
“SSL has allowed us to fulfill our musical mandate in a big way,” continues Heilbrunn. “The Duality studio appeals to international recording artists; and the sonic consistency between the two consoles enables us to achieve the same results for electronic music on the AWS. Additionally, the sonic quality of both consoles is superb, crisp and warm. Our clients have been blown away by the remarkable clarity and depth provided by the SSLs.”
Solid State Logic
Posted by Keith Clark on 12/03 at 04:02 PM
Monday, December 01, 2014
Church Sound: Do You Have Enough Inputs For The Holidays?
As the holiday season system approaches, I’m sure many of you are planning for big Christmas services or productions.
Facing an extremely involved production at my church a few years ago, one night I woke up in a cold sweat realizing I had forgotten two mics and didn’t have the inputs for them.
As I plotted out my strategy to free up inputs where there seemed to be none, it occurred to me that many of you may be in the same boat. Christmas and Easter seem to always stretch our audio systems.
Whereas a 32-channel board might be fine all year, at Christmas you need 40-plus inputs. Or in our case, 56 is typically more than enough; in a few weeks I need 64-plus. In previous churches, I’ve run into this issue many times, on varying scales.
There are many ways to tackle the problem of too few inputs; I’ll talk about three of them, in ascending order of cost.
Trim The Input Count
This may seem obvious, but I’m amazed at how many people don’t really look at their inputs closely. Though you may have a “pulpit mic” channel, do you really need it for the big production? If not, you just freed up an input.
The same thing for other “permanently” patched mics like those for baptismals, overhead choir, CD and DVD players, even audience mics. If you don’t need them for the show, you can unplug them and reclaim the input.
Just remember to label those ends so you know where all those unplugged XLRs go back when you’re done.
When I was at Crosswinds in NY, I had a 32-channel board that was full most weekends. When Christmas hit, I was a good 16 channels short. I solved the problem there by swiping a board from the children’s ministry room (along with all their wireless mics…). I routed all of my wireless mics into the submixer, and sent that to the main board as a single mix.
Two things to keep in mind when submixing:
First, take extra care with gain structure. It’s easy to build a smokin’ hot mix in the submixer and overload the input channel on your main mixer. So be sure to watch that. On the other hand, don’t send too low a signal either, or noise will increase dramatically.
Second, use the submixer wisely. Don’t stick the random extra guitar, banjo, keys and four additional wireless drama mics over there. Find a big chunk of similar mics and put those together into a submix. Ideal candidates for this are all your drama mics or the drum kit.
Years ago, I was part of a church that ran a 32-channel SR-32 each week. For the big Christmas concert, we had 22 channels of wireless, a band and a small orchestra. Yeah, not going to fit.
And there was no room in the booth for a second mixer (and it would have had to be at least 32 channels). So I rented a ML-5000 from a local sound company. One of the reasons I went with that board was that mute automation that it offered.
We had so many scenes, back and forth between drama, music, more drama etc., that it would have been almost impossible to manage without some level of automation. We brought it in for a long weekend and it cost us a few hundred dollars, but it was money well spent.
A few words of warning: If you’re renting a board you’re not already familiar with, make sure you get it in enough time to learn it well. Also, rentals tend to book up for Christmas early, so if you haven’t booked a desk yet, you’d better hurry.
Finally, if you currently mix on a small analog desk, resist the urge to go rent a big digital desk like a (DiGiCo) SD8 or an (Avid) VENUE series, at least unless you’re really familiar with them already. Making that jump takes some time and you’ll be under enough pressure already. Find a big enough analog desk and your life will be much easier.
In my case for that extra-busy year, I did a combination of two of those. I trimmed some unnecessary inputs (one of my four video channels as I only needed three), and made sure I had exactly what was needed for the band. I brought in another stage rack. (Another option is an 8-input card.)
The rack gave me far more extra inputs than I needed and made it easier to wire up the band, but it can complicate monitoring.
But we figured it out—that’s what we do…
Mike Sessler now works with Visioneering, where he helps churches improve their AVL systems, and encourages and trains the technical artists that run them. He has been involved in live production for over 25 years and is the author of the blog Church Tech Arts.
Friday, November 21, 2014
Black Lion Audio Introduces B12A MKII Single-Channel Microphone Preamp
Offers an upgraded input transformer, higher gain, and lower noise than the original B12A
Black Lion Audio has introduced the B12A MKII, a single-channel microphone preamp in the style of an API 312A.
The MKII version offers an upgraded input transformer, higher gain, and lower noise than the original B12A. It also includees an output transformer, a Hi-Z input, phantom power, pad, phase, and is housed in a 1U, 1/2 rack chassis.
“The original B12A was very popular, but we were continually being asked by customers to modify them for more gain,” commented Nate Bierdeman, director of marketing for Black Lion Audio. “So we created the MKII with higher gain and lower noise. This revision also gave us the opportunity to integrate a nicer input transformer, and has resulted in an incredible-sounding preamp with lots of API-style gain.”
B12A MKII Specifications
Input Impedance: 200 ohms
Pad: 10 dB
Gain (no pad): +26 dB to +70 dB
Equivalent Input Noise (noise floor): -120 dB
THD+N: .01% @ +26 dB Gain
.011% @ +40 dB Gain
.049% @ +60 dB Gain
.15% @ +70 dB Gain
Bandwidth (1 kHz, 150-ohm source, unweighted): 10 Hz to 30 kHz
Max D.I. Input Level: +18 dBu
Input Impedance: 500 kOhms
Gain: +10 dB to +53 dB
Equivalent Input Noise (noise floor): -102 dB
THD+N: .008 percent @ +10 dB gain
Bandwidth (1 kHz, 600 ohms unbalanced source, unweighted): 10 Hz to 30 kHz
Max Output Level: +28 dBu
Output Impedance: 600 ohms
Power Supply: 24 VAC, 500 mA external supply
Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.75 inches
The new B12A MKII will be available at BLA dealers worldwide on December 1, 2014, at a MAP of U.S. $549. All Black Lion Audio products are designed and manufactured in Chicago, IL.
Black Lion Audio