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AES 2006 Show Awards
Best Product Series In Show
API has manufactured modular rack devices since the early seventies, which allow you to mix and match various gain and processing modules in a single cabinet. A few manufacturers have in the past made modules to go into the API racks, some of which caused power supply problems. In the past year or so, API has made the 300-series and 500-series modules an open standard and this year a dozen or so manufacturers were selling various processing devices that dropped into the old API racks. Very cool.
Best New Product In Show
This one is always a real tossup, but I kind of liked the Core Sound tetrahedral microphone array, the AmbiMic. This is an inexpensive and compact Ambisonic microphone which can produce B-format output for surround. While I am not a huge fan of the Ambisonic system, one of the things that has always turned me off is that the one thing it is very good for, namely surround recording in the field for film and other location work, is very difficult because of the size of the Soundfield and other microphones. The Core Sound array makes for much more convenient field use; it's built with inexpensive electret capsules that are quite reasonable for the application and allow for a very small microphone body.
Best Comeback In Show
MADI, one of the first standard digital audio interfaces, pretty much died in the early nineties when T-DIF and the ADAT Lightpipe interfaces came out. They were cheap and convenient. But in the last year, lots and lots of manufacturers have been introducing new MADI gear. I'm not sure why it has suddenly made a comeback, but I am very pleased to see it since it is a well-designed standard with great care taken to prevent clock corruption.
Worst Product In Show
The Supacam tapeless digital movie camera. This is a consumer product, totally out place at the show. Did these people think they had booked a booth at CES? This was not the show for that.
Best Paper In Show
Pole-Zero Analysis of the Soundfield in Small Rooms at Low Frequencies, by Jack Ocklee-Brown of KEH. This presentation discussed modeling low frequency reflections in small rooms, and showed some sample attempts to correct for these problems using DSP. The author then goes to show that the locations of the peaks and dips in the room are independent of the source and listener locations. This paper is not anything innovative; it's not an exciting development that will change the world. But it is still an excellent overview of low frequency issues in small rooms, as well as a good demonstration of what can and cannot be done with DSP "bass correction," and that's important. Preprint 6986.
Worst Paper In Show
Solving the Sticky-Shed Problem in Magnetic Tapes, by Charles Richardson was a thinly-veiled marketing talk. Not only did it display a complete lack of understanding of the binder chemistry and breakdown problems, but the backcoating-removal process was described with no detail whatsoever. Every other sentence seemed to be an attempt to convince people to purchase his services. He did not mention any of the issues that caused backcoating to be added in the first place, or how playback changes when backcoating is altered. But what is most offensive is that after he used half an hour of our time to try and sell us services, he then started to co-opt the question and answer period of the next paper in the most rude way. It's possible that this process may actually be worthwhile, but the presentation did more to offend its listeners than it did to improve their understanding. Preprint 6969.
Best Free Stuff
For some reason yet unknown to me, Udo Wagner from Microtech Gefell was giving out souvenir booklets published in 1993 for the 70th anniversary of the Schleizer racetrack in the former East Germany. They were just plain neat, and I say that not only because I am personally fascinated by the Trabant, but also because it was very interesting to talk to Udo about motorcycle and car racing and get a background on some of the races there.
Best Technical Presentation
Bob Pease talked about analogue circuit design. What he said wasn't new or innovative: it was all old stuff that longtime designers should know, but that lots of newcomers aren't getting a chance to learn today. His talk was clear and refreshing, with actual demonstrations with an actual oscilloscope up on the platform, and hand-drawn viewgraphs. He showed differences between capacitor types, op-amp types, and chained examples of how coloration builds up with many identical circuit stages. Absolutely the best show anywhere.
Best Historical Presentation
At the nearby Metreon movie theatre, Ioan Allen from Dolby Labs gave a wonderful talk on the history of optical sound, from the Case AEOlight to modern Dolby Digital EX systems. What made it wonderful was the fact that he had actual film clips in dozens of different formats, so the audience not only got to compare typical Academy mono tracks with Dolby A tracks and Dolby A tracks with Dolby SR, but also got to see experimental films made in stereo by Alan Blumlein, magsound tracks, and, amazingly enough, actual Perspecta. In the course of a two-hour talk they probably went through a dozen different sound formats, which had the folks in the booth really hopping...changing out decoder cards and swapping patch cables around. There was the occasional goof; one of the early stereo demonstration films was shown with the channels reversed. But the fact that they brought it off at all was pretty amazing. I would love to have been watching in the booth while they did this one. Seeing modern transfers of some of these formats is really not much at all like seeing the originals which is part of why doing demonstrations like this is so important.
Best Quote In Show
"They're painful and they're out of phase" - David Josephson, referring to a speaker demonstration.
The Friday of the show was the 80th anniversary of the release of the film The Jazz Singer.
Worst Demo In Show
APT-X had a demonstration where you could listen to a CD in mono, processed through an APT-X encode/decode chain, through a single ear of a headphone. The problem is that whatever they were doing totally eliminated all midrange detail from the recording. I'm not sure what APT-X sounds like in a typical implementation but the demo did not make me feel good about the process.
Worst Sound In Show
In the API booth, they had an excellent little Swedish bluegrass band, playing through a set of microphones with very wide and sloppy patterns, into an API preamp, and then into Mackie speakers with no equalization. Now, remember, this is on a trade show floor, with very poor acoustics and a very high ambient noise level. Not a good situation for any PA work. What could they have been thinking? The system was ringing like mad, constantly on the edge of feedback, and even listening through the headphones they provided as an option you could hear how harsh and screechy the top end on the microphones were. I won't mention the microphone manufacturer here, but API, which makes great products, should have been ashamed. The band was great, though.
Most Dated Sound In Show
ATC and Telarc combined to make a surround sound demonstration that was reminiscent of the ping-pong mixes that killed quad in the seventies. Panning a drum kit across all 5.1 channels is not the route to making an accurate reproduction of the band. People keep telling me that surround for music is a useless gimmick, and mixes like these do nothing to convince anyone otherwise.
Loudest Sound In Show
The show took place during Fleet Week, with the Blue Angels doing demonstration flights over the hotel. It wasn't quite as loud as the Elvis impersonator from a decade ago, but it was close.
Best Butt In Show
Gamma from Manley labs (boy butt) and Rachel Sass from Cogswell Polytechnic (girl butt). No relation to the Crown SASS.