AES 'Awards' - 2009
Best Product in Show
A company called Neyrinck was showing off a de-reverberation plug-in for Pro Tools, written by a company called Tacsystem in Japan. It actually worked. It left behind some artifacts and it appears to be mostly usable only for dialogue, but it actually took out reverb below the noise floor.
This is the first someone someone has actually sold a de-reverberation system commercially before, and if it doesn't work perfectly (and it doesn't), it can be forgiven in the amazement that it works at all.
This is not only the first time I have given an award to a plug-in, this is the first time I have even mentioned a plug-in in any show review. That's how innovative and interesting this is. This is a tool that post production folks have wanted for nearly a century now.
Worst Product in Show
Ecstatic Electric was showing off a wooden horn microphone. That's right, it's a conical wooden horn, about six inches in diameter, perhaps shaped like a re-entrant paging horn speaker but with a phasing plug and a microphone capsule. Each mike comes with custom equalization curves to deal with some of the horn resonances. The thing is... the demo sounded just like listening through a paging horn, and the imaging was pretty odd because the frequency at which the pattern goes from directional to omnidirectional is very abrupt. I really wanted to like this because it's clearly very well made and it's clearly unusual, but listening to it was just too much.
Best Sound in Show
Trident Audio Developments was showing off a pair of small nearfield monitor speakers called the HG3, and they actually sounded good. It wasn't prone to any of the painfully obvious issues that most small monitor designs are. Now, I've only heard them under show floor conditions and not in a proper room, but they definitely show enough promise that I am going to go out and give them a listen.
Worst Sound in Show
Adam Audio did a demo of their monitor speakers which was just unbearable to listen to. The problem is that the Adam monitors are actually very good sounding speakers, perhaps a bit crisp on the top but entirely usable. The 5.1 demo basically showed off all the worst attributes, though, along with lots of sibilance and audible lossy compression artifacts. Also the lip sync between sound and video was off by at least two frames. I couldn't stay there for very long before I had to leave, and that's a shame because their product deserves better.
Loudest Sound in Show
Eventide was doing some kind of guitar pedal demos, I don't really know the details because I wasn't willing to come anywhere near the booth when they were going on, which was much of the time. The poor guys at Shure were trying to demonstrate microphones right across from them, too.
Second Loudest Sound in Show - Honorable Mention
Some honorable mention is deserved by the "Beats by Dr. Dre" headphone demo at the Monster Cable booth. You could put the headphones on and listen to a lot of bass and treble and not much in-between, played at deafeningly loud levels. There was also a button marked "Play It Loud" which I was afraid to press.
Best Product Name in Show
The Oxford Inflator. I don't really know what it's supposed to do other than that it's software that pumps your music up.
Best Paper in Show
Rosalfonso Bortono and Wayne Kirkwood from THAT did a short presentation called The 48 Volt Phantom Menace Returns. They went through all the various possible current paths of a typical preamp front end, showing where current travelled when the phantom power was turned on and off with various microphone loads, and showed that typical protection diodes (rail to signal line) don't actually provide much protection for the input transistors under a lot of conditions. They then went to show some various methods that would work for each of the possible conditions. The reason this gets the award is because it demonstrates that some of the things that "everybody knows" about input stage protection turn out not actually to be true, and that's a big deal. Preprint 7909.
Worst Paper in Show
In "Simple Amplifier for Single Frequency Subwoofer," Vladimir Filevski uses a low pass filter and a detector to determine the instantaneous level of low frequency information in a signal, and uses that control voltage to modulate the 50 or 60 Hz AC power line and apply it to a subwoofer. It replaces whatever bass content is in the signal with a single frequency thump. As someone who loves string bass and who thinks accurate bass is one of the most important attributes of a proper sound system, I cannot say how unspeakable I think this is, but I will say that this sort of thing is the logical extreme of the whole thumping bandpass enclosure subwoofer craze. That craze is bad because it's leading a whole generation of kids to think that this is all there is in the lower register. Preprint 7839 is available if you want to see it.
Best Free Stuff
Millennia Media was giving out nice velcro cable ties. Now, a number of companies were giving out cable ties, but these were really nice ones that will last a long time. When you give out candies, people eat them and then they are gone. When you give out little kitchy things, people break them and then they are gone. You give out a cable tie and people use them, and they keep using them, and then twenty years later they're still using them and they still think of your company when they see them. That's a big deal. I got a lot of free things at the show, but the cable ties are something that will actually make my life better. Not like the pocketknife I got a few years ago, which broke and injured me the first time I used it.
Special Award for Most Hype
For the past three weeks, people have been calling me and asking me if I know about this vapour microphone. It's been in all the popular press, and even the AP newswire has had a special on it. I don't know what publicity organization these guys hired but they sure have been effective.
The item itself is a microphone that operates by using a laser to measure the density of a column of smoke. It has a fairly high noise floor, because smoke consists of moving particles. The demonstration itself was amusing but did not make it seem practical. As an engineer from a large European microphone manufacturer said, "It looks a lot like those pipes you see in Amsterdam and you talk into an opening and distortion comes out."
Schwartz Engineering developed and patented it, and they claim falsely that it's the "first laser microphone." It's certainly the first microphone using a laser to measure aggregate particle density, though that's not really a practical sound measurement method.
Still, it was an interesting demo and would have been worthwhile down in the paper sessions, but the vast amount of hype around it just dwarfed any actual interesting technology it may have had. Even the press package that they handed out on CD contained press releases that were so over the top that they were almost laughable. (And they were also proprietary Microsoft .doc files.)
Best Butt in Show
Rose Lockwood, Belden Electronics