AES 2013 Awards
Best Sound in Show
Fujitsu Ten was showing off some very unusual loudspeakers, full-range drivers in strange elliptical enclosures with rear venting and very long-stroke drivers.
It's hard to tell how things sound on the show floor, but these definitely had promise and they did as much as possible to get a clean demo under very bad show conditions. While I'm not a fan of full-range systems, this one is definitely worth looking into, it was their TD712ZMK2 model. Really the only time I heard anything approaching reasonable imaging at a show demo this year.
Some propaganda can be found at http://www.eclipse-td.net.
Loudest Sound In Show
Eventide was doing guitar pedal demos again, thankfully not as loudly as in previous years but they were still pretty loud.
Worst Demo In Show
I hate giving awards like these, because once again we have what promises to be the best-sounding speaker in the show, poorly demonstrated. The guys at JBL were doing offsite demos of their M2 Master Reference Monitor, which is a horn-loaded 2-way passive monitor, intended for biamplification with a BSS crossover, using a shallow horn that is like nothing you have ever seen before. The problem is that the demo was done in too small a room, with a huge slap-echo coming off the console and a flutter echo in the rear. They couldn't play a CD, only their own .wav files, and none of the sample cuts they had were unprocessed acoustic recordings so it was totally impossible to compare the sound in the room to that of an instrument. These look like they might be great speakers, but from the demo you couldn't tell and that makes me feel sad.
Best Paper In Show
Nam In Park, Kwang Myung Jeon, Seung Ho Choi, and Hong Kook Kim from the GIST and Seoul National Universities spoke on "Artificial Stereo Extension Based on Hidden Markov Model of the Incorporation of Non-Stationary Energy Trajectory". Basically, these folks constructed a fake stereo filter based on a machine learning transform. They trained the transform with various stereo recordings from a standard recording library, then when they ran a mono recording from the same library through the filter, the effect was really quite remarkable. Whereas earlier fake stereo systems like the Orban system rely on filters that only add a sense of space, this system appeared to actually place individual sound sources at discrete locations in the soundfield. No blind source separation algorithm required (and that has been something of a holy grail for many years). No, it's not perfect. No, they glossed over a lot of details about the training procedure and to this reviewer it seems that selecting the right training material is not a trivial task and it needs to be selected carefully to match the material being processed. The presenter's accent was a problem and he seemed unable to answer some critical questions. But, the test playbacks were excellent and certainly better than I would have expected, and it seemed to do no harm to tonality. This is not an immediately usable system today but it is certainly a system with more promise than I would have imagined walking into the talk. Preprint 8980.
Worst Paper In Show
In (Re)releasing the Beatles, Brett Barry proposes to give a comparative analysis of the various Beatles releases over the years. The problem is, he really doesn't. He picks one vinyl release but he doesn't say which one it is (and the Parlophone releases are tonally quite different than the first
US releases for the early albums... with the later US vinyl being still different). He misses many of the various CD releases including the notorious first CD releases of the first four albums with the annoying phase errors between channels. His subjective analyses are okay for the recordings selected, although they are based on a single listener rather than a panel. He does spectral analyses only on "Taxman" and picks only one vinyl, one CD, and one digital downloaded version, missing some of the most significant differences within the various formats and without level matching. This could have been such an interesting study if it had just been conducted with a little more completeness and a little more care. Why is there no top or bottom end on the original US release of "With the Beatles" but there is plenty on the UK release? Why does the first CD release sound a lot like the UK vinyl but the second CD release is much more open-sounding? These are important questions that need to be answered and this paper didn't answer them. Preprint 8957.
Best New Product
Mark Fouxman of Samar Audio Design has come out with two new lower-cost ribbon microphones that look to be excellent performers. Clean, extended top end, and a great null on the side that is not only deep but is physically very broad (a huge advantage for singer-songwriters and anyone else trying to keep the vocals out of the guitar mike and vice-versa). So new they don't even have names yet, they are exciting because they look to be such good performers. There is a resurgence in ribbon designs today but few of the newer microphones are new designs, and these are.
Worst New Product
Kaotica is selling a foam gadget that sits over top of your vocal microphone ostensibly to block out external noises as well as providing a pop filter.
The marketing claims it "eliminates the external environment" but in fact devices like these tend to eliminate high frequency noise and room reflections while leaving the low frequency reflections behind, causing real issues.
I see an increasing interest in small baffles for project studio vocal work and this seems the degenerate final development; a baffle that goes directly on the microphone. Close enough to actually degrade the pattern which of course defeats the whole idea.
Best Free Stuff
Sure, Ghielmetti was giving out wonderful Swiss chocolate, but Cloud was giving out free T-shirts right and left and they picked someone at random with the shirt to win a microphone and a "cloudlifter" pre-preamp. I have seen lots of free schwag over the years but never a free microphone.
Best Butt In Show
Hillary Johnson, Earthlight Room (as judged by a panel of experts)