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Positive Feedback ISSUE 58
november/december 2011


AES 2011 Awards
by Scott Dorsey


Best Sound of Show 

Renkus-Heinz had a demo of their I2C digitally-steerable speaker systems, a very small line array set up in a small room, but with really shockingly good sound, especially for PA speakers. Very clean top end, not super detailed but not spitty, and the pattern control was excellent with very good control over reflections from the poor room. These things use internal Class D amps with no feedback around the amps at all, which is a very peculiar design but one that seemed to sound good.

Worst Sound of Show 

I know that a couple years ago this award went to Digidesign for their demo, but this year the Avid folks who have taken over Digidesign's software products seem to warrant it again. Not so much feedback and clipping this time, but lots of p-popping, and halfway-unintelligible narration from the presenter.

Loudest Sound of Show

The Vintage King booth first of all had a demo of the Barefoot monitors, very good sounding mid-field monitors that were being played way too loud.

Next to that was a demo of drum compressors, with people adjusting the various controls while listening to a soloed drum track way too loud. A battle seemed to rage between these two halves of the same booth with levels slowly escalating as the day went on.

Best Demo of Show

Focal was showing off their line of small monitor speakers, and they actually managed to build a little cave inside their booth to make a quiet space for auditioning. It wasn't "really" quiet but considering it was under show floor conditions, it was great. Certainly the best arrangement for auditioning on the floor that I've seen (and better than Focal's previous tent).

Worst Demo of Show

MicW from China was showing some nickel-diaphragm mikes which appeared to be adaptations of the original B&K line intended for recording applications.

However, they didn't have any for audition, and when I opened some of the display units, they all appeared to be completely empty inside with no capsule or electronics.

Best New Product of Show

Oliver Archut from Tab Funkenwerk was showing a replacement CK-12 capsule made by Tim Campbell which really looked to be a work of art and a very good attempt to duplicate a classic AKG design which has proven to be very difficult to duplicate. "It doesn't sound exactly like a CK-12 but it's close" he says, and that's both more honest and much closer than anyone else has managed including AKG themselves.

Best New Product Runner-Up was selling a really ingenious gadget for testing video and film system synchronization and finding out what the video and audio coding latency really is. In a world where synchronization seems all to have gone wrong and nobody gets clean lipsync any more, this is a thing whose time has definitely come.

Best Educational Session

The talk given by a panel of folks who worked on remastering the Grateful Dead '72 tour material. If you haven't heard about this, the Dead folks have gone back to the original '72 tour tapes, remixed ALL of them from the original 16-track masters, and issued them on a set of 73 CDs in a huge steamer trunk. Just the workflow needed in order to mix 73 discs worth of material in a reasonable time was interesting, let alone the discussion of the original recording, was worth the price of admission.

Worst Educational Session

One of the fellows from ESP, an audiophile power cable manufacturer, gave a tutorial on cable design, downstairs as part of the sessions. I do have to give him credit for not making outrageous claims about his cables, but the claims he did make, he didn't support. He spent half of the presentation giving degreed engineers a third-grade lecture about power supply loads being nonlinear, and at the point where he started confusing load impedance and characteristic impedance (which are two totally different concepts that shouldn't have the same name), it became too painful for me to sit there.

Presentations like this do not actually help the audiophile cause; if anything they dissuade engineers from investigating possible effects. I'd feel much better if people would just sit down and say "some people hear a difference and we don't know why, so you should try it" rather than doing a lot of hand waving.

Best Paper

Probably the most interesting paper I have seen in years was "Distortions in Audio Op-Amps and Their Effect on Listener Perception of Character and Quality" by Robert-Eric Gaskell, Peter E. Gaskell, and George Massenburg.

In this test, a number of similar op-amps were tested in a two-stage moderate gain circuit, and in a blind listening test, listeners were able to tell the difference between them. Good correlation existed between the subjective preferences and the distortion spectra, but in a complex way that actually favored higher distortion op-amps. Well worth checking out for anyone interested in listening tests. Preprint 8503.

Worst Paper

I was really disappointed in the seemingly-promising "Why do tube amplifiers have fat sound while solid-state amplifiers don't" by Shengchao Li. The author makes some odd assumptions about amplifier design, lumping a lot of different designs together, making the invalid assumption that hi-fi designs can be evaluated by the same standards as guitar amplifiers, and suddenly jumping from push-pull designs to triode designs without pointing out that they have totally different sound. His math model of the single ended triode amplifier is nicely done and worth reading but bears little connection to the presumed subject of the paper or the conclusions.

This could have been such a good paper, but it missed the mark. Preprint 8536.

Best Butt in Show

Erica McDaniel of Universal Audio