NAMM 2013 Wrap-Up: The Future of Live Sound

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As Digital Signal Processors (DSP) and wireless technology continue to advance independently, manufacturers are striving to design products integrating a symbiosis of both. This was a clear theme among live-sound products being introduced this year at NAMM.  Go Digital or Go Home!

Live Sound Mixers

New mixers from Mackie, Soundcraft, PreSonus, Alesis and Behringer were all premiered. The Mackie DL806 digital mixer is a slimmed down, 8-channel version of their recently released DL1608. Like its big brother, the real features of the DL806 are all controlled by an Apple iPad. Offering a 4-band EQ, gate and compressor on each of the 8 Onyx preamplifier-equipped input channels, it’s easy to get the sound you want. Additionally, the DL806 has Cirrus Logic 24-bit converters as well as recording and security features. And, if connected to a wireless router, remote iOS mixing is available through free apps.

The new Si Expression mixers from Soundcraft come in 16-, 24- and 32-channel models. In addition to the main outputs, each model features 14 mono submixes, each with an independent XLR output on the rear panel. The digital ACS (Assignable Channel Strip) provides gain, high-pass filter, polarity, gate, compressor and EQ functions on each channel as well as routing for submixes and onboard Lexicon effects. Each bus within the Si Expression has a digital 31-band EQ available. Soundcraft has integrated Harman’s HiQnet protocol to allow wireless control via the ViSi Remote app. It also includes MIDI, word clock and AES connectivity.

PreSonus announced their new StudioLive 34.4.2AI mixer, which includes a staggering array of both hardware and DSP features. Each of its 32 channels has a dedicated 100mm long-throw fader, as do the 4 subgroups and main outputs. Powered by an OMAP 5 Multicore 2 GHz Cortex-A CPU, the heart of the DSP functions is the “Fat” channel strip, which can apply high-pass filter, gate, compressor, limiter and 4-band parametric equalizer to each channel. At the press of a button, the Fat channel allows you to A/B your settings with the flat signal or another group of settings. The StudioLive also has a built-in 48-input/34-output FireWire 800 interface and includes live-recording software. Additionally, it comes with a USB LAN adapter, providing an ad hoc wireless network for remote iPad mixing.

A modest offering from Alesis, The MultiMix 10 Wireless features 4 mono mic/line channels with XLR/TRS combo inputs and 2 stereo channels with 1/4” TRS inputs. It can also stream sound from any Bluetooth device (i.e. smartphone) with single-button pairing. Each channel includes gain, 2-band EQ, Aux sends and a pan control. Much of the connectivity is doubled on the front panel for convenience.

In a surprising turn, Behringer’s latest mixers—the X32 series—don’t look vaguely familiar. Ranging from a single rack space digital mixer with dual AES50 snakes to an intensely colorful 25-fader motorized digital console, the X32 series showcases the innovative side of Behringer. The flagship model of the series, the X32 itself, boasts 32 programmable MIDAS preamplifiers as well as 40-bit floating point audio resolution and 100mm faders. It also hosts a 32-input/32-output FireWire/USB interface complete with expansion ports. With tons of connectivity, onboard effects and absolute ingenuity—the X32 series begs the question, “where has this Behringer company been all our lives?”

Powered Loudspeakers

Electro-Voice, a respected name in live sound reinforcement, has introduced their new ZLX series of portable powered loudspeakers. In a word, they are formidable. Rated at 1,000W each, these two-way enclosures have either a 12” or 15” woofer and a 1.5” titanium high-frequency driver in them. Additionally, an LCD screen and single-knob DSP presets optimize performance to suit you and whatever venue in which you find yourself. With a 127 dB max SPL per speaker, a 90° x 60° coverage range and a polypropylene/steel exterior that also lies perfectly as a wedge, these speakers demand to be taken seriously.

PreSonus, new to the world of powered speakers, has clearly put a lot of thought into how they wanted approach this market. With an OMAP 5 Multicore 2 GHz Cortex-A CPU in each enclosure, the StudioLive AI loudspeakers tackle the tricky nature of coaxial speakers, room correction and array timing. Each model includes a low-frequency woofer (or two) and a coaxial 8” midrange driver with a 1.75” horn-loaded, high-frequency driver. Like the latest StudioLive mixer, the associated speakers include a USB LAN adapter, allowing sound optimization via the Apple iPad and free SL Room Control software.

Wireless Microphones

The latest innovations in wireless microphone technology are being handed down by no one other than Shure. The new GLX-D wireless system will be available with a variety of lavalier, headworn or instrument microphones as well as a guitar connector. It operates in the 2.4 GHz frequency band, which is available worldwide. Best of all, the GLX-D receiver automatically picks the clearest available frequency at startup and switches the transmitter to that signal as well, offering instant pairing, with no buttons to press. Additionally, if the channel in use starts incurring interference, the GLX-D receiver and transmitter will both automatically jump to a clear channel. To save you money and frustration, the transmitter runs on a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, allowing up to 16 hours of use per charge.

MXL also introduced a new wireless system, the FR-500WK, designed for videographers utilizing lavalier mics. Operating on 64 possible channel selections from 566.25 – 589.75 MHz, the transmitter and receiver both last up to 10 hours on two AA batteries. The transmitter features a line input, a 1/8” microphone input and a built-in mic. The receiver features a line out, a 1/8” headphone output and a built-in speaker. A hot-shoe adapter is available for the receiver, allowing it to mount to DSLR cameras for audio capture. Additionally, the FR-500WK features a 40 Hz to 18 kHz frequency response and a long line-of-sight transmission range of 918’ (280 m.)

In Conclusion

The advancements in DSP, iOS and wireless technology presented at NAMM 2013 are nothing short of impressive. The entire live sound market seems to be trending toward virtual processing, and why wouldn’t it? If racks of graphic EQs, compressors, gates and speaker-management systems can be replaced by effective and easy-access onboard processing, the only thing we have to fear is the learning curve.