AES 105th LogoSweetwater Sound's Special 105th Show Report

By David Stewart - Director of Creative Marketing

    Just when we recovered from the Summer NAMM show it's time to jump back on a jet and go to San Francisco for the AES show. For the uninitiated, the AES show differs from NAMM in two fundamental ways: 1) It is open to the general public, and 2) the equipment is almost entirely high technology studio equipment. At AES there are no drums, flutes, banjo's, saxophones, guitar strings, dijeredu's, or bongos being sold. Instead you will find 96 input SSL desks, Fairlight editing systems, Studer tape machines and mixers, all manner of hard disk recording technology, and a variety of other high-tech products. Plus, because AES is an Engineering Society, there is a whole wing devoted to papers, seminars and standards. This is where the engineers come together to decide and disseminate how the equipment we're going to see for the next few years is going to work together. So not only are there equipment manufacturers showing at AES, but there are a variety of semiconductor companies and all manner of start-ups with new technology.

    There are a few trends that could be observed at the show. One of the most obvious is the shift towards 24-bit, 96kHz recording and converters and 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound technologies. Much of this is a symptom of the DVD standard which is to be announced at this show and is a big buzz. The proliferation of mid priced studio microphones continues with new offerings from Shure, Alesis, Audio Technica, Audix, Rode, and Neumann. I used to think that microphones were something there could never be too many of — that one could always use a new flavor. I think I was wrong. We have now reached a point where we have more than enough $400 to $1200 microphones. The same thing can be said of powered studio monitors. Another trend is that many of the high end mixer manufacturers are putting screens into their boards. This used to be the trademark of SSL and later Euphonix consoles, but now there appears to be a race to have more screens than the other guy. Some desks have as many of six or seven screens now. Soft knobs are the other trend. Knobs that may (or may not) control more than one function and can be automated. These usually have a row of little LED's around them to show their position. And finally, most prolific of all, are the digital audio workstations. You can't walk 15 feet without running into a company selling their idea of how to record and edit audio on some sort of tapeless system.

    We've just spent Saturday and Sunday at the show. This report is now showing up on our Web site while the show is happening Monday and Tuesday. We'll continue coverage with follow up Wednesday, Thursday and possibly Friday. We'll be organizing it as we go so if you check in daily you will notice that things have moved around some. Our usual disclaimers apply. Prices and all the facts and figures are subject to change. Some of the manufacturers aren't even sure yet how some of the prototypes they are showing will actually work when they become production models. Further, since some of the products were just shipped in from overseas the night before the show, the people in the States may not even know what all they really do. That's just a glimpse behind he scenes in this industry.

    One of the most entertaining parts of the show takes place before the show starts. Since Sweetwater is an exhibitor we are able to get in before any public or press are allowed (for setup). The day before it starts the floor is filled with giant shipping crates, booth pieces, and occasionally you'll see a technician hovering over some new thing with a scope and soldering iron. One never knows if the problem was shipping related, the product had a failure, or if it just wasn't finished yet. The morning of the show is equally entertaining. I was able to walk around and observe the pre-show meetings of a lot of the manufacturers. This is where they brief their sales staff on what they have and what they want to accomplish here, while in some cases tech guys were behind them frantically trying to get the equipment that they were about to sell working. You would be amazed if you really knew the time, energy, money, and effort these people have to spend to make a product successful.

    At 12:00 the doors opened and the anxiously awaiting crowd rushed in as if they were trying to get that front seat at a festival seating concert. It was an almost civilized stampede. This is a smattering of what they saw.

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