The Year in Audio Gear – 2009 Edition

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Funny how things happen. I had this show ready to post on December 24th. Basically, our Macs are used for video and PC’s for audio. Laura and I recorded this show (and many others) on my trusty Dell XPS laptop, but didn’t post at the studio. It was time to shut down Studio1A for the Holidays, so I’d normalize, tag and post at home. As a precaution – I uploaded the raw WAV file to our off-site server. Always good to backup.

Surprise! I booted up later that evening and ‘POOF’. Well, the laptop didn’t really make any noise, but that’s part of the problem. My M1710 started displaying strange screen patterns – even at POST. It was toast. Of course, that has nothing to do with our show, except for timing …and the sad departure of a good ole’ Core 2 Duo audio partner.

Laura and I had fun talking about some of the stand-out gear of the year. I realized later that a lot of very cool field gear never made it into the categories. This really is a core, popular list of the gear that gets mentioned most in emails and on the channels.

In with the new. A very Happy 2010 from the people at Studio1A!



VOICEOVER MICROPHONES


What makes a good (or great) voiceover microphone? That’s a loaded question.

My personal picks for this, and the other categories are based on my own studio, clients and preferences. A few things I always keep in mind (besides performance) is ambient noise and how the mics will be used. A large diaphragm condenser is great if your studio is well isolated. Otherwise, a dynamic may be the only practical choice.

Surprisingly, the two mics listed below are very forgiving (compared to some) of room noise considering one is a condenser and the other is an electret (form of condenser).

Neumann TLM 102
The Incredible New Neumann TLM 102

Sennheiser MKH-416
The “LA” Mic. The Amazing Sennheiser MKH-416


BROADCAST/NETCAST MICROPHONES


These mics weren’t so much picked by me as they were/are selected by broadcast engineers all over the country. Walk into a broadcast control or production room in the US, and odds are you would see one of the mics below.

Electro-Voice RE-20 & RE27.
Electro-Voice RE-20 & RE27. Broadcast Standards.

Sennheiser MD-421II.
Sennheiser MD-421. Sennheiser Quality in a Broadcast Dynamic.

Shure SM-7B.
The Shure SM-7B. A Solid Broadcast Dynamic.

Heil PR-40
A Relative Newcomer – The Heil PR-40 Brings Rich Lows to a New Broadcast Contender.


BROADCAST VOCAL PROCESSING


Some like real time processing, while others will process in post. For me, a good vocal strip is essential for workflow. There is no right or wrong. However, if you prefer a hardware vocal strip, these are my favorites.

dbx 286a
A Workhorse Pro Processor – Budget Priced.

Symetrix 528e
The Symetrix 528e is a Trusted Mid-Level Vocal Processor.

Aphex 230
My Choice as a Premium Vocal Strip – The Aphex 230.


BROADCAST (non RF) FINAL PROCESSING


The idea of a ‘final’ processor, in broadcast radio terms, was originally to protect the transmitter from audio spikes and to stay within FCC guidelines. In addition, a final processor can act as a mechanism to master recordings, control dynamics of Podcasts, streams or any other form of aural medium.

Final processors for radio and television are prohibitively expensive and complex. Amazingly – in the last 5 years or so, much of this high-end processing power is now available to home studio owners. Typical functionality in a final processor may be multi-band compression, leveling, limiting and a myriad of other functions depending on the make and model.

Having said all that, the choices for a home studio final processor are still slim. I almost started to include others, but found only one that is currently under $1000USD and performs quite well. No doubt, prices will lower on other brands and soon there will be more competition. As it stands now, my personal pick is the Finalizer Express from TC Electronics.


Finalizer Express
Final Processing that Should Cost More! The TC Electronics Finalizer Express.


MIXERS/CONSOLES


Audio mixers and consoles. Where to begin? There are almost too many choices out there. Many people (especially in the voiceover field) get along just fine without a mixer. For me, it comes back to habit. I like the feel of a fader and controlling levels with a nice long throw or liquid smooth Gates ‘pot’. Realistically – you could mix in software, or use the input adjustments on your audio interface. Maybe you have a USB or Firewire mixer that doubles as an interface? There are so many options.

First – a mixer and console. What’s the difference? Using my own definition, an audio mixer is designed for music recording. That means you can tailor the channel(s) with a trimmer, EQ or even pan.

A radio, or broadcast console doesn’t allow you EQ or pan audio on the fly. The reason? In a commercial setting, the dynamics and spectral sound is the job of an engineer; not the talent. The on-air personality should be able to adjust levels, assign outputs and select bus assignments, but that’s about it.

In the context of a small, but professional studio, I selected my favorite budget mixer and a few excellent consoles. There is a huge difference between a budget mixer and an on-air console – both in price and functionality.


Yamaha MG-102
The 10 Channel Yamaha MG102C-CA. Yamaha Quality on a Budget.

AudioArts Air1 Console
The Standard in Broadcast Consoles. The AudioArts (by Wheatstone) AIR 1 is a True Broadcast Console.

Henry SixMix Console
A New Era. The Henry SixMix Brings Back Memories of a Miniature Gates Console.

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Heil Heritage – A Blast From the Past

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The Heil Heritage Microphone. …sounds as good as it looks.

In the spirit of the Holidays, we look at a microphone that brings to mind the past, with technology from the future. …or at least present

Bob Heil demands great sound from his microphones, but he also likes them to be eye catching. I caught a glimpse of the Heritage microphone and had to try it out.

If you have tried a Heil PR (professional) series PR-20, you’ll have a good idea of the Heritage sound. That’s because Bob didn’t settle for a cheap element in a beautiful enclosure. The Heritage is an excellent microphone to show off on video, due to its brightly polished chrome housing that shines like the bumper of a ’57 Chevy.

I could type more and tell you about its nice cardioid pattern, solid mount, integrated blast filter and shock mount – not to mention the humbucking coil for RF rejection, but let’s have a look and listen in!

Street Price at Post Time: $169

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NewMediaGear Holiday Product Roundup!

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The NewMediaGear Holiday Product Roundup is Here!

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2009 is almost history. As Laura and I look back on ’09 and fast-forward to 2010, we take a look at some of the coolest gadgets and gifts for the technically minded. Normally, we’re all audio (now video too), but we like to have fun this time of year and hope you join us.

A Holiday Season tradition at Studio1A – the Holiday Product Roundup has arrived. The gear is here…


Kodak Zi8

The Kodak Zi8 portable HD video camera is an amazing little device. The link will take you to all of the specs and hype, but it’s important to know that Kodak really thought this video cam through, maximizing performance and features in this price range. For me, here are the things Kodak got right on the Zi8:

1. Price. Most people are finding the Zi8 HD from $159 to $179.

2. Image stabilization is critical, especially for a small-mass camera. Although not perfect, it helps.

3. HD. For me, 1080p is overkill in a cam of this caliber. The sweet spot is 720p. Kodak allows 30 or 60fps options @ 720.

4. Codecs. The Zi8 creates easy to read MOV files encoded in H.264, making iMovie or even Final Cut imports a breeze, unlike DiVX.

5. An external mic input! This is amazingly useful and hard to find in this type of camera.

THE BAD?

1. Internal Lithium-Ion battery. Charge time is quick (about 2 hours), but I would have preferred AA’s, which are available almost everywhere. The worst situation is to be on-location with a dead battery. I’m getting an extra pack that should solve the problem.

Overall, Kodak hit a home run with this one. I already applied the easy-to-update firmware. The most notable change is a smoother zoom. Don’t forget to pick up a fast SDHC card!


Dremel

What can’t be repaired, created, modified or improved using a Dremel tool? Dremels have been an important part of the inner, and back lot (garage) at Studio1A for years. The folks at Dremel mentioned their new oscillating Multi-Max, and I had to try it.

The cable-feed hole under my console (don’t tell Laura) was created by a Dremel, as well as countless installs and Amateur Radio projects. Oh, there were plenty of home improvement projects too …or were there?

Anyway, the new Multi-Max from Dremel really delivers. It’s oscillating head is easier to manage and offers a lot of power in a small package. Anything that can fit in your hand and comfortably cut through 1/4″ oak is pretty cool! For cutting, sawing, sanding, grinding and many other tasks …there’s nothing like a Dremel.

Don’t take my word for it. Check out Dremels 30 Minute Miracle videos with Paul Ryan, and don’t forget to enter the 30 Minute Miracle contest*!

*The 30 Minute Miracles contest is wholly administered by Dremel


Logitech Squeezebox

I have a fascination with internet radio, which explains why I’ve watched wi-fi internet devices like the new Logitech Squeezebox very closely over the last few years. They’re getting much more refined. Overall, Logitech designed a great sounding device that opens an entire world of streaming radio. The Squeezebox connected right away to my 802.11g wi-fi and prompted me to update the radios firmware. The update went smooth.

Within minutes, I was cruising around, listening to very nice sounding streams. I experienced a few disconnects after long listens, but not one buffering problem, which was pretty impressive. The overall amp/sound from the Squeezebox is excellent for a tabletop radio. Nice rich, ported bass and a great amp. There is also a line-in that allows the Squeezebox to play your favorite portable player. Not just limited to wi-fi, there is an RJ-45 connector on the back for direct internet connection via cable (just as in the old days).

The menu is easy to navigate and the radio has a solid, even heavy feel. The crisp multi-color LCD panel keeps you informed. Applets are available, but still a bit clunky. The radio worked very well, and that’s where I spent my time. The Squeezebox can be remote controlled via the web or using a Squeezebox Server. I had issues using the server, which were caused by my laptops firewall.

Internet radio is certainly maturing from the clunky devices of the past. Keep in mind that the Squeezebox is available in several different models. My tabletop model is currently selling for about $159 street price. This line of internet radio from Logitech offers incredible listening choices, nice sound and a smooth, colorful menu. The room filling, quality amp and integrated bass port is welcome and often overlooked on internet radios. No annoying stutters or buffer problems were experienced on my end. I do have a wide bandwidth pipeline, but am still impressed with the Squeezebox compared to other ‘I’ radios that we’ve tried in Studio1A.

Street Price at time of publication – $159-$179


Chumby One

What’s a chumby? If you don’t utter those words when you first see, or hear about it, you must really be a geek! The chumby has a cult following of geeky users and developers alike. The chumby is an open platform mini-computer that encourages people to develop apps, or widgets.

The original chumby started it all with little more than a small LCD panel and open architecture. Soon chumby programmers were busy making widgets and the rest is history.

Over 1500 widgets can be found in the ‘community’, along with any type of pixie clock you could imagine. The chumby one input consists of a click wheel on the side, its touch panel display and a large button on top. If you often buy things before knowing how you’ll use them, you’ll love the chumby one. I found it very cool. Nobody needs a chumby, but I certainly wanted one!

On Sale at post time for $99.95


Otterbox

I first met the folks at Otterbox during the Podcast Expo, year one. Every year, we’re proud to have Otterbox back on the Holiday Roundup.

This is a huge year for smart phones and Otter cases offer Rambo-like protection for everything from handheld devices to small laptops. I tried out their new line of cases for the iPod Touch. The iPhone and BlackBerry is also well supported. These cases offer everything from light protection, to armor-like shielding from the elements.

Over the years, I’ve found that nothing protects my valuable little devices like an Otter. Check out the full line at Otterbox.

We hope you’ve enjoyed the show. Of course, we’ll chat again before 2010!

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Drop me a line with comments, thoughts and suggestions:
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Best,
Mark Jensen & Laura