A Look At Top New Gear At 2015 NAMM—Part 2

Continuing the focus on noteworthy products making their debut at this year's show...

Yesterday I presented the first portion of a list of noteworthy products making their debut at this year’s 2015 NAMM show in Anaheim, which concluded on Sunday. (Go here for part 1.) I’m continuing the report here with part 2.

As I noted, the NAMM convention brings announcement after announcement of new products, from pro audio gear to percussion pieces—and the 2015 edition of the show proved no exception.

For the lucky few of us who were there, we got to see the new gear up close, and even put our hands on it. Wading through the sea of press releases, amazing new devices—and a few eyebrow raisers—I’ve culled a list of gear that caught my eye. (In a couple of cases, the products had been previously introduced, but this was their first show appearance.)

So here’s part 2. I’ve called out the facets that are the most interesting to me, but be sure to click on the link for each to get additional information.

VUE Audiotechnik Ultra-Compact h-5 Loudspeaker. A problem-solver for stage lips and underbalcony locations that require loudspeaker coverage. The h-5 provides that coverage with the same audio quality seen in the larger h-8, h-12 and h-15 loudspeakers. It offers 120- x 40-degree coverage, a neodymium HF compression driver with proprietary Truextent beryllium diaphragm, and dual channel high-efficiency amplifiers devoid of cooling fans. 

The enclosure includes M10 hanging points with the option of additional rigging hardware for those stage lip and under-balcony locations. The surprising feature is the transparent candy-apple red grill finish which adds a nice splash of subtle color. Call me superficial but it’s nice to pair functionality with appearance.

Pro Tools 12 and Pro Tools | First. Avid is making a significant change in how it sells Pro Tools with the release of version 12 and Pro Tools | First. Pro Tools 12 can be purchased outright or can be licensed per month for as low as $29.99 with all software updates provided immediately via the cloud. Pro Tools | First is a new free version of Pro Tools that includes limited cloud storage and a subset of Pro Tools effects, sound processors, and plug-ins. 

In addition, Avid’s Cloud Collaboration provides cloud-based storage for working from anywhere and working with others on the same project. The software-as-a-service model is perfect if you only use Pro Tools a few times a year.

dbx DriveRack VENU360 Loudspeaker Management System. Places loudspeaker optimization in the palm of your hand – pardon the cliché.  Successor to the dbx DriveRack 260, it adds mobile device control, additional input channels, improved DSP and includes dbx’s useful Advanced Feedback Suppression. 

It can be accessed via any iOS, Android, Windows or Macintosh device via an easy-to-use app and a standard Wi-Fi router connected to the rear-panel Ethernet port. Loudspeaker optimization is a science and having the mobility to make changes at any location in the venue makes that job a bit easier.

Blue Microphones Hummingbird. A cardioid condenser mic based on the Blue Bottle B1 capsule that places the capsule on a 180-degree swivel mount making it a great low-visibility snare microphone. The Hummingbird is rated at a maximum SPL of 130 dB with a frequency response from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. 

According to Blue, it offers plenty of sparkling high end for use with drum overheads, acoustic guitars, and other stringed instruments. At first glance, the pivot head seemed a novelty since the NAMM display had it hanging over a tambourine. However, it does provide the ability for sound amplification with a cleaner-looking stage.

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PreSonus StudioLive 48AI & 64AI Mix Systems. There was previously some connectivity between StudioLive consoles, but PreSonus has taken that to the next level with the 48AI and 64AI. Using two StudioLive 24.4.2AI mixers or 32.4.2AI mixers and a joining adapter creates an expansive mix system with the centrality of master setting controls through the primary mixer. 

Both mixers can be operated wirelessly and controlled through PreSonus’s StudioOne software. The 64AI system runs just under $7,000 and both systems include a PRM1 reference microphone for use with integrated Smaart software. If you’re StudioLive console lover, this should make you even happier.

Rane DR6 Touchscreen Remote Control. A new interface for the company’s HAL system with a simplified LCD wall-mounted interface for conference halls, schools, and churches. The 7-inch LCD display is easy to use and Rane recognized the need for limiting controls based on the logged in user.

Therefore, with User Access secure management control, people renting a conference hall can use only the components they’d need to use. Having worked with novice users on auto mixing systems, the DR6 is something they could easily use with limited-to-no instruction.

AKG DMS800 Digital Wireless Microphone System. The next step up from the DMS700 V2, is taking the word digital to a new level with audio outputs for both Dante and AES EBU as well as existing HiQnet support for remote control and monitoring.

The handheld microphone is built with interchangeable heads with the AKG D5 WL1, D7 WL1 and C5 WL1. The DMS800 isn’t for everyone with a base price of $1,899 but considering the flexibility and Dante integration, it might be exactly what you need. 

Behringer X AIR Portable Mixers. Available with 12, 16, and 18 channel inputs, they’re the portable baby brother(s) of the X32. Allowing for all types of inputs, from hi-Z to MIDI to the standard array of input connectors, the brick-shaped I/O box also includes an Ethernet jack and wi-fi for remote access via the X AIR for iPad app. 

Tack on the Ultranet port for connecting to Behringer’s P-16 personal monitoring system and you get a small-form factor, high-ability piece of hardware. The X AIR portable unit can even perform multi-track recording via the USB jack. Considering the 12-channel X AIR runs around $299, it’s more than worth considering.

Shure PG ALTA Microphones. The company has replaced the black and silver entry-level PG microphones with this new all-black series. An addition is the PGA181, a side-address condenser microphone great for acoustic instruments, as well as the PGA98D, a gooseneck condenser microphone for drums.

Shure also made a simple yet-brilliant change to the PG56 drum mic (now the PGA56) clamp by replacing the hard-to-use wing nut-style handle with a quick-release clamp common to bicycle seats and wheels. Using the new clamp enabled me to set the microphone angle and keep it after closing the clamp. No more of the set, twist, reset, twist. Sometimes it’s the little things…

Allen & Heath ZED Power 1000 Mixer. An 8-input, 2 x 500-watt powered mixer with USB stereo recording and playback, onboard effects, and 9-band EQ. It can route outputs to L+R speakers, mono LR and foldback, or even mono LR and sub.

Though I usually shudder at the thought of a powered mixers based on my experiences with cheap models in the past, the Power 1000 is built on the ZED platform with Neutrik jacks and secured controls, so it’s a unit that I would confidently use. 

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Soundcraft Ui Virtual Mixers. The Ui12 and Ui16 provide the ultimate in “plug-and-play.” Not only can up to 10 remote controls (tablets and smartphone) be used for mixing in ear monitors, but the rack-based system includes its own wi-fi router.  They also include signal processing from dbx, DigiTech and Lexicon as well as recallable and remote controllable mic gains.

Another feature is the real-time frequency analyzer (RTA) on inputs and outputs. Either of these mixers would be a welcome addition for any roving band. Soundcraft even includes a virtual demo of the remote control via the company website.

Midas PRO X Console. Built around the new Neutron Audio System Engine, it’s capable of processing 800 audio channels. The Neutron system also allows for channel routing on a point-to-point basis and changeable even on individual automation scenes.

The PRO X offers 99 mix buses that can be simultaneously displayed as 24 mono or stereo mixes on the console surface. Each displayed mix has its own LCD select switch with color coding and scribble strips, plus LED metering.

Mackie FreePlay. The perfect gift for the singer/songwriter in your life. This 300-watt personal PA system with an 8-inch woofer can take in two inputs (mic or line) and an auxiliary stereo signal, feed a monitor, and run for 10 hours on the rechargeable battery.

The real beauty of FreePlay is in the remote mixing capability. Users can perform a sound check or just start performing while another person remotely controls the mix, including the effects, and they can also stream music directly to the unit via Bluetooth for adding loops and backing tracks. 

Go here for part 1 of this report.

Chris Huff writes about church audio at Behind The Mixer, covering everything from audio fundamentals to dealing with musicians.