Because of COVID, I was unable to attend the Audio Engineering Society’s (AES) annual convention in 2022, so I was particularly stoked to go to AES New York 2023, held at the Javits Center in Manhattan on October 25 – 27.
2023 marks the 75th anniversary of AES. Some major players, like Yamaha, Sennheiser and other biggies weren't there and the booths were smaller overall. Are pro audio (and other) manufacturers now spending more on social media, videos and other types of marketing these days? I don't know. In any case, everyone’s mood was upbeat and friendly, and attendance was up by 15 percent. AES is the organization where a lot of technological innovation in audio begins, either through academic and practical research, or via new product introductions. The convention is quite simply an audio geek’s paradise.
From a personal perspective, AES New York 2023 rejuvenated me. I, like many others, have been wondering how to stop the high-end audio industry from aging out or losing relevance among a new generation, especially when some of the products on the ultrahigh-end are becoming stratospherically or even decadently priced. Well, one look at the show floor lifted my spirits. The attendees made up a diverse crowd of ages, ethnicities and backgrounds, with many people in their 20s, 30s and even teens (AES has always put a focus on education and mentoring) mingling with, yes, old timers like me.
The enthusiasm was palpable. From what I can see, the future of audio is in good hands.
Some stats: more that 8,100 people attended. AES New York 2023 featured 127 exhibitors, along with educational seminars, product demonstrations, panel discussions and more. If you add in the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) event that took place the same time as AES at an adjoining hall, there were more than 20,000 people under one roof that week.
Copper’s John Seetoo and Harris Fogel also attended the event, and we have lots to talk about. As John notes elsewhere, immersive audio was prevalent at AES.
Shure’s exhibit featured a white square thing about two feet on a side. At first I thought it was some kind of PZM mic, but was told it was their new MXA902 Integrated Conferencing Ceiling Array. It fits in a standard ceiling tile mount, has built-in mics and speakers, and is designed to capture and deliver clear audio during Zoom meetings and videoconferences, over a 20 by 20-square-foot area. It features Shure’s IntelliMix DSP, a 100-mic array and audio beamforming, and other tech for the best-possible audio quality for every seat in the room. (Why do I feel like beamforming is just getting started, relatively speaking, in home audio applications?) We’ve all had to suffer through listening to unintelligible dialog from a speakerphone or crappy computer monitor speakers, making a product like this a boon for meetings and other A/V applications. Naturally, Shure displayed a wide range of mics, including their iconic SM7B vocal mic ($399), in production in one form or another since the 1990s.
It's hip to be square: the Shure MXA902 videoconferencing solution.
Shure was just one of many microphone companies at AES. After all, when it comes to audio recording and reproduction, without a microphone, we got nothin’.
Audio-Technica (disclaimer: I do a little bit of consulting for the company) showed a number of mics for content creation such as their very popular $129 2020USBX, which has selectable noise reduction to compensate for the less-than-perfect environments many YouTubers and podcasters work in. Although, as A-T’s Gary Boss pointed out, “they don’t like to use the word ‘content’,” for whatever reason, and prefer to be known as “creators.” Well, OK. My eyes were drawn to the spiky, alien-looking BP3600 immersive audio mic ($5,140), which has a cluster of eight microphone assemblies in a near-coincident array to capture 360-degree sound. It’s designed for broadcast use, so maybe you’ll be hearing it at the next Olympics or MotoAmerica rally – and it’s being used on Iron & Wine’s upcoming orchestral recording.
Since anyone from you or I to Billie Eilish can make great-quality recordings at home these days, the line between consumer, “prosumer” and professional continues to blur. Focusrite has been a purveyor of high-quality audio interfaces – devices that go between a mic or musical instrument and a computer – for a long time now and at AES they showed their new fourth-generation Scarlett products ($139 - $299), offering a variety of mic and instrument inputs, 120 dB of dynamic range, all-new circuitry and 24-bit/192 kHz D/A converters, and other enhancements. Focusrite offers complete packages including mics and headphones – just add a computer, software, and talent.
Audio-Technica's BP3600 immersive audio mic.
Scarlett offered a host of compact recording interfaces like the Solo Studio.
I’d like to go in depth about Neumann microphones, but when I went to their demo room it was absolutely packed. Not surprising as Neumann mics (which have been around since 1928) are legendary, they’ve been used on more historic recordings than probably anyone could count, and are still highly regarded and in demand today. The company also offers studio monitors, headphones and audio interfaces.
The UK’s Aston Microphones displayed what were, for me, hands down the coolest mics at the show. As a rep pointed out, all of their mics are completely original designs and not copies of other manufacturers’ wares. Aston also offers their Halo line of portable vocal reflection filter “isolation booths” that can be set up practically anywhere, and look almost as cool as their mics.
Yes, mics can be fun as well as functional, like this Spirit Fifth Anniversary Edition from Aston Microphones.
Other mic companies exhibiting at AES included Austrian Audio, Telefunken, Cloud Microphones, Soyuz, MXL Microphones, Schoeps, Sontronics, and others.
Speaking of crossovers (of the consumer-to-pro variety), Genelec active loudspeakers have been finding increasing acceptance among audiophiles and other home listeners, as well as being one of the top names in recording studio monitoring. The company had quite a demo setup, and debuted its 8381A point-source monitor to the US market, which indeed is touted as “designed for high-end music recording, mastering and audiophile listening.” The 8381A incorporates the company’s Minimum Diffraction Coaxial (MDC) driver along with proprietary DSP, and can deliver an astounding 126 dB SPL, thanks to 6,000 watts of built-in amplification. The 8381A interfaces with Genelec’s new UNIO audio monitoring platform featuring the 9320A Reference Controller. The 9320A provides easy hands-on control and calibration of up to three Genelec speaker systems, plus headphones.
Room treatment might be little-known by the average person, and recognized by audiophiles, but in the recording studio world it’s an essential given. Room acoustics company JOCAVI Acoustic PaneIs introduced not only some room treatment, but an entire listening room concept with the debut of SOUNDSPACE PRO, prefabricated soundproofed modular rooms that can be easily assembled. They are supplied fully decorated and finished in different wood and fabric options. The company claims the rooms are ideal for immersive audio applications like Dolby Atmos.
Luis Candeias and Alexandre Grade from Jocavi Acoustic Panels proudly display a selection of their room acoustics products.
There was so much to take in at the show that John, Harris and I only caught the tail end of “Barbie Goes to AES,” a standing-room-only panel discussion about the soundtrack recording process. We did get to hear a panelist respond to an audience question about what he took away from the experience, “I always learn the most from my mistakes.” I know the feeling.
"Barbie Goes to AES" was one of the many well-attended seminars at the show.
Augspurger had a wide range of studio monitors on display, some of which are shown here. As you can gather from the photo, they were capable of delivering impressive volume while maintaining clarity.
DiGiCo is one of the top names in mixing consoles for recording, theater and live sound, and they introduced their new flagship Quantum 852 at AES, the first one ever produced. To me, it’s a thing of industrial design beauty with its colored lights and undeniable Starship Enterprise cool factor. To a mixing engineer it’s an embodiment of awesome specs: 384 (that’s not a typo) input channels, 192 aux/sub group busses, a 64 x 64 audio processing matrix, 1,030 equalizers, 1,000 LCD screens, surround mixing capability, and a dizzying amount of connection and configuration options. While I was gaping at it an engineer came walking by and asked, “when are you going to come out with the theater version?” DiGiCo distributor Group One Unlimited’s Matt Larson simply smiled, reached over, pushed a button, and the Quantum 852’s main display changed to light up and display, “Quantum 852 Theater.” The console literally completely reconfigured itself at the push of a button. The engineer was highly impressed, as was I.
Matt Larson (center) has the DiGiCo Quantum 852 console under control.
Solid State Logic, another name familiar to any recording and mixing engineer, also had a variety of new analog and digital consoles and production tools on display at the show, including the UF1 and UC1 controllers, FUSION processor, and BUS+ compressor. The company also featured its ORIGIN 16 console, and its System T for immersive music production. You can read more about everything at this link.
The JBL immersive audio room featured a 7.1.4-channel surround audio system with JBL 708i Master Reference Monitors, with the company’s 2409H high-frequency transducer feeding into an Image Control Waveguide, mated with a 728G high-excursion low-frequency driver. A JBL LSR6312SP 12-inch powered subwoofer handled the deep bass. The main speakers were driven by JBL DSi 2.0 Series amplifiers, and the entire setup was controlled by a JBL Intonato 24 Monitor Management Tuning System, which provides easy setup and automated system calibration.
It’s always a pleasure to run into Louis Manno of The Audio History Library and Museum. As you can imagine, this New York-based organization is dedicated to the preservation of audio history, and at this year’s AES they had a very cool display of old radios. Lou told me they have quite a collection of vintage mics, books, magazines and other items. I need to pay a visit; look for a feature in a future issue.
I ran into David Chesky (HDTracks, The Audiophile Society, Chesky Records) and he told me I needed to check out the Ex Machina Soundworks monitor speakers. He was right. I don’t know what models I was listening to (I went by the booth a couple of times) but I was struck by their clarity, tonal balance, openness and dynamic impact. The speakers from the Brooklyn, New York-based company have some interesting features, like environmentally-conscious construction using Valchromat cabinet material, a Rubio Monocoat plant-based finish, Hypex Ncore internal amplification, and other attributes.
The Audio History Museum displayed some very cool radios from its collection.
Designed for performance: these Ex Machina Soundworks monitors might not look flashy, but they sure sounded good.
Korg showcased one of the most interesting and possibly most important technologies at the show: their Live Extreme internet live streaming system. This platform delivers up to 10 channels of high-resolution audio and 4K video in real time, or pre-recorded. Korg claims it’s the highest level of audio quality in the industry, and their demo was extremely impressive. The proprietary technology can support Hi-Res Audio, DSD audio, Dolby Atmos, Auro-3D, FLAC, Apple Lossless and other formats up to 24-bit/384 kHz or DSD up to 5.6 MHz. It avoids the video compression found in other formats by directly encoding the video into HLS and MPEG-DASH before uploading them to the streaming server, and also allows viewers to watch content directly from a web browser without the need for specialized software. Live Extreme can be licensed for third-party use. This feels like a real breakthrough to me. Click here for a demo.
Another honest-to-goodness breakthrough is Sony’s 360 Virtual Mixing Environment (360VME). As engineer Gus Skinas told me (he also masters the Octave Records releases), it was born out of necessity – during the pandemic, the film sound mixing engineers could not go into the studio, but work still had to be done. 360VME was developed to accurately reproduce the acoustic field created by the multiple speakers of an immersive audio studio, by using headphones. 360VME employs proprietary technology to take measurements of a recording studio environment, and then reproduce it using headphones and 360VME software. This enables engineers to listen and mix in a familiar acoustic environment.
I listened to a demo and was blown away by the clarity, spaciousness and resolution of what I was hearing. But that’s only half the story. I asked Gus what the headphones I was listening to were, and he told me they were the new Sony MDR-MV1 Studio Monitor Headphones. This open-back 40 mm dynamic-driver model offers a frequency response of 5 Hz – 80 kHz and is claimed to be designed for “uncolored frequency response suitable for production, obtained through collaboration with leading industry professionals.” The price? $399 retail.
Anyone who has been around a recording studio will know of Auratone monitor speakers. Their 5C Super Sound Cube has been around seemingly forever – in fact, Auratone has been a family-owned business for more than 50 years, and president Alexander Jacobsen is the grandson of original founder Jack Wilson.
Auratones are diminutive – 6-1/2 inches on a side – go down to only 80 Hz, have a single 4.5-inch driver, and handle only 25 watts of RMS power. So why are they ubiquitous? Because engineers, artists and producers use them to hear what their mixes will sound like in real-world conditions, as opposed to big studio monitors. According to Jacobsen, they are manufactured to be as close to the originals as possible. The drivers are custom-built in the US, and the enclosures are crafted in the company’s Nashville factory. In a world of constant and often bewildering change, it was comforting to look at and listen to a speaker I first heard in the early 1980s. That said, it was exciting to see the world of audio technology moving ever-forward.
Cube roots: a pair of 2023 Auratones, looking just like their famous ancestors.
How could we not love this copper-finished mic from Telefunken? In fact, it's the TF29 Copperhead.
Header image from www.aes.org.
All images courtesy of the author except where noted.