The Audio Engineering Society Show – AES 2016

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4th quarter show season is upon us. We thought a great way to kick off the circuit would be to start with a little pit stop in Los Angeles for a look at audio from the pro side. The AES (audio engineering society) convention kicked off this Thursday in at the LA convention center and a surprisingly large amount of overlapping hifi manufacturers made an appearance.

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Upon entering the main hall of the convention center, it quickly becomes apparent that the AES show is like the little kid brother to NAMM. Only filling a portion of one hall, the booth center takes up quite a bit less space than the Anaheim counterpart and certainly much less than the booming E3 video game conference held at the same location in spring. The crowd that gathers is distinctly more “engineer” in character and peppered with far less performers than NAMM. This subtly equates to more suits and less “look at me” outfits, which I personally find to be the absolute pinnacle of people-watching. We all have to make our sacrifices in life don’t we? In any case, the audiophile gear was hot, and while there weren’t a grip of new product releases to speak of, there were many a refresher course to be had from the cache of boundary busters from pro to audiophile.

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Many of the big headphone manufacturers naturally also make microphones, and the emphasis of the show leaned heavily on that pro bread-and-butter revenue stream. Still, a few brought a modest selection of their “neutral” studio cans to sample from.

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Taking in a step even further, Shure brought along their long-lived and popular IEM line. The newest revision includes an inline remote and mic for mobile applications called “M+”. The interface works with both Apple products and Android and brings the entry SE215 piece up to $119 retail with a new color.

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Pro legend Rupert Neve has been the inspiration of many collaborations including a Dave Grohl documentary and even appearances holding down preamp duties in Zu Audio show rig.

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More recently the engineer has released his own take on headphone amplification in the form of the RNHP. The design is based on the output circuit from his 5060 Centerpiece Desktop Mixer and is enclosed in a VESA-mountable steel case. The simple SE or balanced input and SE output headphone amplifier retails for $500 and is currently on the market.

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Manley Laboratories may be known for their tube-based amplifiers in hifi but they also make a significant portion of rack-mounted equipment from mic pre amps to equalizers.

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I have heard impressive results from the company’s Stingray amplifier, especially in its SE headphone settings. Based on the display above, it is clear that Manley sticks to its purple-on-black-with-big-knobs look across the product line.

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Naturally Astell and Kern brought along the new Direct-to-DSD recorder that plugs into their AK3## digital player. The device can be used at line level, with the mic setup you see above or digitally from studio consoles via AES3.

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The other big news coming out of the AK camp is the upcoming compatibility to internally stream the CD-quality music service Tidal from select players within the product lineup. Each of the players above will eventually be enabled, including the new (blue) AK70 on the far left. Partnered with each player was a pair of universal-fit JH Audio in-ears, also distributed in the US by Astell and Kern.

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We were first introduced with ADAM audio at last year’s AXPONA show and were mightily impresses with their courage for live A/B demos in their show room. The AES show was no different and allowed attendees a chance to compare for themselves with a switching panel located front and center. The studio gear doesn’t hit some of the same form factor that much of hifi has adopted, but don’t be fooled. I have heard some simply amazing sonic retrievals from similar setups in the studio setting.

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Adam Audio made the very most of their space with another impressive demo running a gaming setup in 5.1. The manufacturer’s speakers feature an accordion-like ribbon technology they call X-ART for the tweeter assembly. The company touts the tech makes good on use of the increased real-estate of the folded diaphragm with better dynamic range than a typical soft dome.

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Apogee offers a few digital solutions that wander over to personal audio from time to time. The computer-centric company is known for their digital interfaces for recording, and by proxy, make some pretty good digital to analog converters.

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Perhaps most popular among the personal audio crowd is the Apogee Duet ($595). It utilizes an ESS Sabre DAC chipset and allows for 1/4″ SE headphone output in addition to the  4 in/2 out from its breakout cable located on the rear panel of the small enclosure. The top panel features an oversized knob for control, as well as an OLED display that acts a touchpad for more options.

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Benchmark had their wide range of lookalike DACs cranked up on a corner booth at the show. The DAC2 rack-mountable line has seem many arrangements over the past few years. The current offers have been filtered down to DX, L, and HGC. The DX replacing the original D we reviewed [here].

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The biggest change to the DX compared to the D is the addition of an AES digital XLR connection that fills in the extra open space on the back panel. The Benchmark DAC2  DX retails for $1,895 and supports native DSD conversion from all digital inputs.

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Audeze had a their usual closed and open back planar magnetic headphone samples from the reference LCD line, intended here for studio monitoring with an ultra flat response. The group was also touting it new iSine planar magnetic in-ears, a first of its kind. You can check out all the details on the new (and mature) products from our Twitter live stream embed below.

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In addition to reintroducing the mod-favorite classic T50RP headphone, Fostex had a whole lineup of TR headphones including the TR-70 (open), TR-80 (closed) and TR-90 (semi-open).

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Each of the TR line of headphone retails for $200 and comes in either 80 or 250 ohm variations similar to what Beyerdynamic has done with some of its pro-oriented cans. The headphone package even includes two detachable cables as well as two pairs of ear pads (“normal” and “extra thick”) to customize to preference. The TR series utilizes a 40mm dynamic driver in contrast to the planar magnetic technology of the T50RP.

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Seminars were hosted right in the thick of things. Set up on the far end of the room, panels were configured so a crowd of attendees could hear mic’d Q and A’s through a system of Sennheiser wireless headphones – just like AXPONA’s silent disco from a few years back. If someone in the crowd had a question, a microphone was passed over so everyone could clearly hear what that person was saying, very engin-eerie.

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The setup works amazingly well for keeping people engaged without disrupting passersby or intent listeners of product samples. Overall the show was fairly respectful on a noise level. There were a few loudspeaker setups that got a bit feisty at one point or another, but for the most part anyone visiting the show could get a good listen in weather the setup was headphone, speaker or demo. As with NAMM a few makeshift recording studio’s popped up abuzz with live feeds and interviews with people who have worked with so-and-so and what’s-her-name. For the audio enthusiast in the Los Angeles area who isn’t accustomed with the crossover brands, it would be great show to attend to avoid the complete madhouse that NAMM can become. Parking was simple and there is quite a bit to hear and explore. The single room size is somewhat dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of other shows, but appropriate material is still quite easy to pick out and enjoy first-hand.

More info: http://www.aes.org/