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InfoComm 2008: Is “One Show” Better than Two?

FOH Staff • New Gear • July 17, 2008

Let’s start by getting the obvious out of the way. With NSCA folding their trade show into InfoComm there is now really only one install show of real interest to the FOH crowd (CEDIA doesn’t count). And there were a number of marketing-type references to that fact including a big sign outside touting the “One Show.”

Now I have made it pretty clear for a long time now just how much I “enjoy” trade shows. So you would think I would be doing some version of the Happy Dance that there is one less show to go to this year. But it ain’t quite that simple. It is all about timing. First, the timing sucked because Summer NAMM moved back to Nashville and had to move to June to do so, which meant that it overlapped by a day with InfoComm. That meant almost zero presence for audio companies in Nashville and, say what you may about musician-oriented events, but musicians grow up to be sound guys, and it’s important to learn ‘em right while they are still learnable.

The other timing issue is that InfoComm is in June. It always seemed like there was a lot more audio attendance at NSCA in March and that InfoComm was more of a video show. There has been an increasing amount of audio at InfoComm, but someone should have taken a look at the calendar with a production eye before scheduling this. As noted up front in the Editor’s Note, there are fewer and fewer strictly live audio companies out there, and fully 83% of the FOH audience makes at least some of their living doing installs. But 56% of the total income seen by FOH readers comes from live event audio, and June is what? Um, can you say, “The middle of the summer touring season?”

It may explain why I saw so few familiar production audio faces on the show floor and why the few locals I talked to who went to the show at all told me that they had gone for maybe an hour or two at most. There is just too much going on during the course of a Wed-Fri run during the summer.

Also notable was the slowdown in the pace of new gear introductions. A few years back, a wise live-audio guy working for a major mfg told me that the pro audio industry had adopted the product cycles of the computer industry. This was likely both a comment on the pace of technological change as well as an observation on what it takes to hold the attention of an Attention Deficit Disorder-riddled industry. But while there was new stuff to be seen, it was nowhere near the onslaught of years recently past.

Not sure what the answer is, but someone needs to take this scheduling bull by the horns. Maybe a REAL pro audio show-within-a-show at Winter NAMM in January? AES has tried to “get live’ for several years, but it is still Recording Geek Central, and if our only other choice is the audio “shootout” at LDI (which is, lest we forget, a SQUINT show!), then we’re all screwed.

Here is a look at some of the stuff from the show for those of you who missed it because you were too busy working…

Starting at the beginning of the signal chain, dbx showed some new affordable and apparently indestructible DIs with more than a passing resemblance to the ones made by another now-Harman company with a curve in the bottom that allows cables to pass underneath or lets you stack multiple boxes to keep them neat and tidy. RapcoHorizon was showing the LTI-1, a nifty little box with a stereo 1/8-inch input, ground lift switches and a -20 dB pad. It also features left and right XLR outputs, perfect for hooking that iPod up so you can play squashed MP3s through the million-dollar sound system. It’s actually very useful, and I told them I am keeping the review unit and to just send an invoice. They also make a smaller version in the Soundblox series that sums the stereo signal down to a single XLR out and fits in your back pocket. As far as actual mics, Audio-Technica had a couple of new side-address condensers that offer nice performance at a non-bank-breaking price.

The AT2035 Cardioid Condenser Microphone is intended for a wide variety of miking applications, including overheads, acoustic instruments and guitar cabinets. It features high SPL handling (148 dB, 158 dB with the 10 dB pad) and a wide dynamic range as well as a custom shock mount. The AT2050 Multi-Pattern Condenser Microphone offers similar specs with three switchable polar patterns: omni, cardioid and figure-eight. My favorite part was the price — AT2035: $249 MSRP and AT2050: $369 MSRP.

So once you have sound you need to send it somewhere. The wireless world was noticeably quiet with a couple of exceptions (digital wireless pioneer X2 was acquired by MI giant Line 6 in a very smart move, and a new company that features the involvement of former EAW honcho Ken Berger was showing a wireless snake that uses microwave spectrum making it immune to white space issues). But a couple of cool things went down in cable world. Wireworks is making the AV2000 MultiMedia Cabling System that swings all possible ways, carrying audio, data, video and anything else you can throw at them on a single snake. And up the row a bit, Neutrik caught every tech’s eye with a new XLR connector that can be either male or female by simply sliding the casing forward or back. Throw three or four shorties with these on both ends into the workbox and solve any one of 100 problems onsite without having to think twice. I LOVE these things. Although the “diva” XLR housing with the hand-placed Swarovski crystal bling was a little too gay for my tastes.

While we are on the subject of cabling, unconfirmed rumors have it that at least three big speaker makers used the Gear Box Pro to save time and cable runs in their demo rooms. The Gear Box is a kind of Speakon splitter/combiner first seen in the New Gear section of FOH just a month or two ago. Cool.

So, we have arrived at the console, and most of what was happening wasn’t REALLY new, although there was some cool stuff. Allen & Heath released new software for the iLive that should go a long way in making the desk more competitive. Yamaha unveiled a novel packaging approach called the PM5D-EX, which combines a PM5D work surface with a DSP5D Expander resulting in the I/O and processing of TWO PM5Ds on one desk. If there was a trend to be seen, it was the further lowering of the entry barrier to the digital console world with RSS continuing to develop and expand their mix/snake system and Mackie offering a package of the TT24 Digital Live Console with digital signal routing and Dolby Lake EQ and speaker processing all controllable from the desk for about what you would pay for a large-format analog mixer without a major pedigree. But mixers land was not all digital as both APB and Crest offered new rack-mountable analog mixers and A&H expanded its ZED line to include more I/O including USB for direct recording of shows.

Processing had a moment or two to shine with a new DriveRack offering from dbx aimed specifically at users of powered speakers. With presets for most major brands and configurations, and even an included RTA mic, this one looks like a winner for the local soundco and band crowd. At the same booth was a new reverb from Lexicon that had the notably hard to impress dbx tour sound guy tripping over himself to show me how cool it was. In a move that may become more common, it has Firewire I/O as well as the usual analog and digital audio connections, which means that if you are using a digital board you can treat the PCM 96 as a plug-in. Tres cool.

And just when we thought power amps had gotten all DSP on us, Crown resurrected the Macro-Tech line with a meat-and-potatoes, built-for-battle package that all but dares you to drop it off the loading dock just to see what will happen. We are betting on maybe some bent rack ears and not a lot else.

Finally, we arrive at speakers, and there was plenty to see and hear. Most of the major players introduced new or expanded lines and — remember, this is an install show — most including new offerings from EV, Martin and Renkus-Heinz that sport every mounting option you can imagine, but no handles or pole mount or any of that other stuff installers don’t care about. In the live world, JBL debuted full-size versions of the VerTec line powered by the Crown/dbx pedigreed DrivePack and fully compliant with the HiQNet control system. All cool, but the one that stood out to me was the W8LM from Martin, which had been around for a while, but I had never had the chance to actually hear. Astounding bass extension from a compact line array and the kind of clarity and presence you expect from a Martin box. Also Renkus-Heinz has extended its interesting Iconix digitally steerable array into the live world with Iconyx Live. This small system turned a lot of heads and when we found out they were only running half of the array it got really interesting. Can’t wait to get a pair of these out to try and break them.

Of course, there was some cool ancillary stuff like some great install rack options at Middle Atlantic, including a contact-mount fan that you are sure to see popping up on overheated stages keeping finicky digital gear from going into meltdown mode. But as usual, the most fun was had just finding out who was working for who and what companies had scored what installs and tours and catching up with pals in the biz. That’s what these convention things are really all about, after all. 

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