Getting Back To The Music At NAMM

  • Community Professional Loudspeakers provided sound reinforcement for performers including Damon Johnson (pictured) at the Wanna Play stage on John Lennon Plaza, adjacent to the Anaheim Convention Center.

by Kirsten Nelson

NAMM, the annual gathering of the National Association of Music Merchants, doesn't seem like a likely place to discover news relevant to the commercial AV space, but every year I return to the office with a notebook full of news. Audio manufacturers at the show are always eager to talk about the installation market because it's a relatively bright and shining star in any economy.

While there was plenty of installation product on display, this year there were a couple of touring and live sound announcements that I felt would be particularly interesting to our market -- particularly for theaters and houses of worship.

At a press event the day before the show opened, Shure unveiled its massive new Axient wireless management network. Promising to provide clear wireless in an increasingly crowded and threatening spectrum, the technology is actually pretty amazing. Designing the new system with top-tier touring acts, corporate events, and theatrical venues in mind, Shure may be able to provide some job security for those working in mission-critical wireless situations.

Several "show-saving features" were built into Axient. It's spectrum management monitors backup frequencies and if it detects interference makes a switch in a matter of milliseconds. For those situation where even a few milliseconds of dropout is a total disaster, there's frequency diversity, which enables transmission on two frequencies simultaneously. Furthermore Shure's Show Link technology provides remote control of transmitters over WiFi. There are several "firsts" in this product introduction, including the AXT 200 wireless microphone, which transmits full-bandwidth audio on two redundant carrier frequencies. Also cool is the AXT 900, which Shure is calling the first touring-grade recharge station. Axient will be available by the middle of this year.

Lectrosonics director of business development Karl Winkler
introduced the Quadra digital IEM system.

In the Swiss Army Knife department, Roland Systems Group was showing its new VR-5, a fully integrated audio mixer, video switcher with built-in recorder/player for live production and web streaming. This thing actually does it all, but I don't think it makes coffee. Still, I can think of a lot of schools, churches, city councils, and who knows what else that would take this easy-to-use thing and use it to maximum effect.

EV public relations manager Guy Low introduced the Live X Series
outside the new soundproof demo room in the booth.

So, what type of market will greet these new innovations? It looks like the recent spate of optimism is warranted, which I was happy to hear because it confirms what I've been hearing from consultants integrators in the field. It's always nice to have your hunches validated.

Specifically, Ray van Straten at QSC said that "the optimism was there a year ago, but it was a wait and see kind of thing. Now people are spending again." Now, with budgets suddenly opening up again, the question is now "what's your value equation?" Customers are asking QSC how they can streamline work in the field, and QSC is responding with its AED design assistance offerings and margin-building products like its KLA active line array system. The Single-Operator Logistics (SOLO) rigging system on KLA boxes enables installers to make a connection in less than ten seconds -- so get out your stopwatches. Further streamlining the hang, KLA's power module allows installers to simply dial in (literally) the number of boxes in the array to configure it via DSP. Jumper cables are integrated inside the boxes, which is another value-add for integrators.

On the time-saving front, SLS Loudspeakers just released its CDA300, which can be flown, used a front fill, or used on a pole either indoors or outdoors (the cabinet is a single piece of extruded aluminum). A companion SP15 sub can be used for portable applications.

Another time-saving install speaker is the line of HK Audio products now distributed in the U.S. by Korg. I watched the assembly of these lego-like column array segments at the Korg booth, and it was pretty darn quick. These might be a good add-on to your restaurant/cafe sales, houses of worship, education, or corporate projects. The uses for a kit of this style are pretty boundless.

NAMM abounds with portable speaker offerings and there's one more I need to mention. D.A.S.' Avant self-powered series is both rugged and elegant, so it won't be making anyone look bad out there in the field.

In terms of value-add, Peavey Architectural Acoustics' Digitool series now has three new models: The MX16, MX32, and the LIVE. They've got a new DSP engine and there's a USB port on the front and ethernet port in the back for easy programming. Also extending the possibility of using advanced DSP for mid-market applications, Peavey MediaMatrix was showing the NION nE.

From what I've heard out there, customer service, reliability, and support are definitely major factors in vendor selection these days. It also helps when a product sells itself. Atlas Technologies reports that its ControlKom IP paging solution is making waves in the education market, and some major projects have been completed at both the K-12 and higher-ed level. You can read more about these projects in SCN's special sales tool edition in March, where the focus will be on education.

As for the wiring and interconnect side of the business, Jonathan Pusey at Hosa Technology told me that demand is still high for these very necessary components. More than just "accessories," these are the stuff that makes a sale more complete, in so many ways.

Neutrik USA raised a toast to the importance of connectors at the show, celebrating the opening of their new U.S. headquarters facility in Charlotte, NC. The expanded facility reflects the company's expansion into new markets in recent years.

There were plenty of other new labor-saving devices from lots of other companies. Check out our NAMM products page for more details, but here's a quick summary. Audio-Technica is offering a new recharging station, BSS has added AEC to London, Midas has a crazy new FireWire version of Venice, Aphex is doing its best to clean up sound in a world gone mad for iPods, Crown has some new iPad apps, and Soundcraft has added the new Si Compact 16 to its lineup of digital consoles.

NAMM wouldn't be NAMM without the music. The concert stages -- including the Community-sponsored Wanna Play stage adjacent to the convention center -- along with those in the lobbies of the nearby Hilton and Marriott hotels, featured great music day and night. And then there are the off-site events which highlight some of the biggest names in the music industry. Among those, there was one particular event where I heard some bands that were just plain stunning. Renkus-Heinz featured Allensworth (Link) and Unit 287, wrapping up the night with Jeremy Popoff of LIT and his "Rockers in the Round" band, which featured Chris Shiflett of the Foo Fighters. All these bands totally rocked the new Renkus-Heinz CF101LA system. And I should point out that I liked Allensworth so much, I went to see them again at the Commonwealth in Newport Beach later that weekend.

So that's just about everything I can list in just one blog post. There was much to see, and I expect there will be even more in store for us as the year progresses. Manufacturers are investing heavily in R&D, which can only be a good thing for AV.

That's me, hanging out with some rock 'n' roll people at NAMM -- Grace Paoli of Community and Greg DeTogne of DeTogne Public Relations.

The AVNetwork staff are storytellers focused on the professional audiovisual and technology industry. Their mission is to keep readers up-to-date on the latest AV/IT industry and product news, emerging trends, and inspiring installations.