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NSCA: Boring or Boutiful?

FOH Staff • New Gear • April 11, 2007

It would be easy to write NSCA off as a place for straight install guys to get the latest scoop on security systems and outdoor speakers built to look like rocks. Easy, but a mistake. While the show floor itself could have been more active (at times it seemed like green “Exhibitor” badges outnumbered all others combined by a ratio of about three-toone), the educational and training sessions were, by all reports, full, and the demo rooms were humming pretty much continuously. Let’s take a look at what was new starting — in a novel switch from how we usually do things — in the middle of the signal chain. Copper? We Don’t Need No Stinking Copper…
A side note before we begin. Some friends of mine were toying, just a few months ago, with the idea of starting a custom cable shop for the live audio industry. But at NAMM in January, they were scared off by the plethora of Asian companies selling cable at unheardof low prices. One connector manufacturer I talked to recently told me that some of these companies were selling complete cable assemblies for less than what all but the biggest of U.S. cable makers could buy the connectors for. I always have, and still do, believe that a good cable is something worth the investment, but it seems like cable is on its way to becoming a commodity — buy it cheap and when it breaks (which it will), throw it away and buy another one.

So why the digression? Because I am willing to put money on the fact that the “next big thing” in live pro audio is going to be digital snakes or, as our install friends call them, audio networking devices. (Truth is, the install guys are right. Once it’s digital you can do pretty much anything with that audio, and if you can send it from the stage to FOH and back to the racks and stacks as ones and zeros, then you can send it a bunch of other places as well.) A few of the highlights:

The Rocknet system from Media Numerics did not really have anything brand new, but they are shipping their system now and we are semi-patiently waiting to get one out to take on a gig or three. With a card that fits the MY expansion slot on a Yamaha M7CL and a combination of linkable mic and line input modules, a single Cat5 Ethernet cable becomes your snake. While Rocknet was designed specifically for audio, Audinate takes a very different approach and treats digital audio just like any other data flowing over a network. Basically, if you have a device that runs TCP/IP, then their Dante system can use it. This includes wireless routers and even the ability to plug your laptop into the network without a special interface. And you don’t have to be an IT guy to set it up. All Dante devices configure themselves automatically and discover each other over the network. This is going to be especially useful for installs in venues that already have an Ethernet network in place. You can even route audio and control over the Internet.

Also not new, but now really available, is the Anaconda 828 from Aphex. Again taking a very different approach, the Anaconda is inexpensive on its own, but is purpose-made to be used with the Aphex 1788A preamps. Anyone who has been reading FOH for any amount of time should already know that I am a very big fan of the 1788, which I will never own because, frankly, they are out of my price league. But they sound amazing and eliminate the need for a splitter. Now you can add 64 channels of bi-directional digital transport for as little as two grand. The price depends on how many 1788s you buy. Yeah, loading up a full 64-channel system will set you back the cost of a mid-line digital console, but no console out there in that price range has mic-pres that rival the 1788.

Aviom continues to expand on it’s ANet protocol with a series of devices that were very contractor-oriented, but they did mention that Western swing kings Asleep at the Wheel would be hitting the road with Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard for a series of dates and using their personal monitoring system. We’ll stay on top of that one.

 What else? Mackie is offering a low cost package that bundles their TT-24 digital mixer with a proprietary digital snake (kind of the Aphex approach but a lot less dough), and Light- Viper has some new modules that will allow you to send DMX lighting data over the same fiber optic line as the audio.

Finally, we reviewed the RSS S- 4000 system a few months back and liked it a lot, but not everyone can dive into digital transport at that level. RSS is confronting that issue with the new S-1608 system. Looking an awful lot like a traditional stage box, the 1608 offers 16 sends and eight returns over standard Cat5, and doing it 16 channels at a time is a lot less scary than popping for the full-blown system all at once. Again, we’ll get one out and try to break it soon.

Consoles, Speakers & Such
On the console end of things, wordis that the Allen & Heath iLive system is shipping, and Soundcraft intro’d a compact version of the Vi6 dubbed the Vi4. They also unveiled some processor card options from Lexicon and BSS that will go a long way in the acceptance of this system in an increasingly crowded digital console market. OK, now we are running short on space and time, so we have to rush it a bit. More on some of this in the coming months.

Finally heard the Martin W8L line array and was very impressed. Good, even coverage, stellar sound, and they even sounded good without the subs. Lab.gruppen is shipping the mondo powerful fp series. In fact, I do believe that one has landed on FOH road tester Mark Amundson’s front porch, so keep an eye out for further word on that. Also, the new Crest console that debuted quietly at Winter NAMM is shipping, and we even saw it with the meter bridge. QSC kept it in the family with the introduction of the SC28 System Controller with presets optimized exclusively for QSC speakers and amps.

Speakers: Both JBL and L-ACOUSTICS introduced new very compact line arrays. The L-ACOUSTICS KIVA takes a different approach than, I do believe, anything else out there with the KIVA top boxes and a KILO low-end extender that flies with the top boxes. The KIVA is exceptionally clear, especially for vocal-heavy applications, and the addition of the KILO extender makes it appropriate for medium-sized music apps. But the KILO is not a true sub. For bigger gigs, or ones that require more low end, add a sub for a three-way system.

Before we leave L-ACOUSTICS, they also announced a joint venture with Camco to make two models of what they are calling “amplified controllers” that integrate DSP, network control, protection and something else… what was it? Oh yeah, amplification, all in one box. The time is approaching when DSP in an amp will not be an option. The only question is if you will use what is provided. JBL also got small with upgraded compact arrays. The VT4887A offers an additional 2 dB of output and a third of an octave low-end extension when compared to the original 4887. It is also preconfigured to accept a Drive Pack amp module if you want to go powered at a later date.

Rumors and Other
On the rumor end of things, we have heard that two venues right in our new home town in the desert have purchased Midas XL-8 consoles, which we are pretty sure would be among the first non-HOW U.S. installs of this system. We’ll keep you posted as we find out more. In the “not shipping, yet, but looks very cool” category was the Avlex, with a digital handheld wireless mic that does not require companding.

The ethereal was definitely the Telex news conference, where one could have thought they had walked into a screening of An Inconvenient Truth. A little joke there, but seriously, head Telex dude Mathias Von Heydekampf very meticulously laid out the case for the recent Bosch acquisition of Telex with an extensive history of theparent corporation and how the Telex/EV/Midas/KT stuff fit into the picture. And I have to admit that a lot of what he said made sense — especially for system integrators who now have a one-stop-shop for pretty much anything they need for a commercial install from audio to security all from one company. And for us tree huggers, it is notable that Bosch is a German country and the Green Movement is very strong there; as a result, Bosch is a pretty “green” company that takes its impact on the environment seriously. And the fact that the Telex boys are now owned by a corporation that at least appears to care about what they do rather than by a group of faceless investment bankers can’t suck.

Finally, what may end up as the news of the show came from an unexpected source. Renkus-Heinz showed off its RHAON networking technology off-campus during the Winter NAMM show and introduced the Sygma SG series — the first product to incorporate RHAON’s power, DSP, networking, control and monitoring functions. Cool stuff, and we will get some out for review very soon, but here’s the kicker and the reason this may end up being seen at some point in the near future as the real news of this show. Sygma is just the beginning. Renkus intends to start adding RHAON to every product it makes until the entire Renkus-Heinz catalog — from MI speakers on a stick to fully-pro line arrays — incorporate this digital technology. It will make it tough for other speaker-makers who do the DSP thing to not follow suit. Remember what we just said about amps and digital control? Ditto the world of speakers. And likely sooner than any of us thought.

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