The Audio Engineering Society (AES) held its annual conference in the beautiful city of San Francisco a couple of weekends ago. It was the 133rd conference! That’s a lot of shows. I had the opportunity to visit the show room floor where manufacturers where hocking their wares. It’s always a fun atmosphere in which to see, touch, and learn about the newest and coolest music production gear.
As a rule, when I hit the show room floor I’m keeping my eyes open for specific products, as well as anything groundbreaking that might make my job easier and inspire my music production work. This year I was looking out for studio monitor control devices, mid-sized studio monitors with great bass response, MIDI controllers with finger pads, and innovative work surfaces.
The monitor controller that caught my eye was the Oculus by Shadow Hills. Its fat, ergonomic level knob felt great, and its toggle switches for selecting input and monitor sources were a pleasant change from the usual push buttons. Most impressive of all, it was wireless! The company’s demo guy handed me the Oculus controller, sat me in front of an array of Barefoot Sound monitors, and asked me what I wanted to hear. Of course I asked, “Got some dance music with good bass?” He happily obliged my musical preference and the next thing you know I’m banging an EDM track while fluidly switching between three sets of speakers. Selecting speakers with the Oculus was a real pleasure, and the Barefoot Monitors sounded amazing. I was especially impressed by their smooth, consistent mid and high frequency response across three different sized speakers: MicroMain35, MicroMain27, and MiniMain12. The large MiniMain12 and mid-sized MicroMain27 speakers both had excellent, tight bass response. I was impressed.
While fantasizing that I could somehow fit the MiniMain12 speakers into my home studio, much less afford them ($19,950 a pair, ouch!) I heard two people behind me say, “We’ve got these speakers in a room at Berklee.” I turn around to see Mark Wessel and Leanne Ungar, both Berklee College of Music Associate Professors in the Music Production and Engineering department. Pretty cool! It’s always a lot of fun to meet people at these shows, especially fellow Berklee folk.
Akai also had a booth at which the new Akai MPC Renaissance and its little brother, the Akai MPC Studio were on display. Of course I had to try out some finger drumming on the pads to see if they felt at all similar to the classic MPC pads. I was not disappointed. The MPC Renaissance felt especially good, with a solid feel, responsive pads that are velocity and after touch sensitive, and a bank of sixteen very grab-and-turn friendly rotary knobs. The Renaissance is a surefire hit for folks wanting that classic MPC feel in a fully integrated MIDI controller and beat making platform. The MPC Studio’s pads felt identical to the Renaissance, but its dials felt decidedly inferior to the Renaissance’s rotary knobs. I found myself wondering why you would design a controller with dials that feel like mini plastic plates rather than knobs you can grab between your thumb and forefinger? Maybe they’re for spinning rather than turning and I’m missing the point? In any case, some knobs on the Studio would be nice.
One booth that always had a crowd was Slate Pro Audio, where they were demonstrating the Raven Multitouch Audio Production Console. It appears to be a truly innovative work surface, a giant touch screen from which to control your DAW program. I’m always wanting a bigger screen and this definitely fits the bill! But wait, didn’t I just say I like knobs to turn? This is more like a really giant iPad. In any case, it’s a truly innovative concept and it will be interesting to see how the platform develops. Really amazing technology.