Best Sound in Show
Pro Audio LA took some folks offsite to a studio called The Realm to audition some gear, most notably the new Guzauski-Swist monitors. These are three-way triamplified speakers with outboard amplifier and dsp boxes sold along with them, and the sound was excellent. There were a few issues with room asymmetry and reflections off the console, but it was by far the best sounding demo I have heard at a show in many years.
Worst Sound in Show
TC Electronic was showing off a very ingenious and impressive multichannel reverb system, probably intended for multichannel film effects work. They took existing stereo tracks, ran them through their reverb box, and produced a synthesized hall on an array of 16 speakers plus a sub. The problem was, the original tracks already were reasonably wet and had some sense of space, but when processed the whole thing was exaggerated and dripping with very artificial-sounding reverb. I know it's tempting to use very exaggerated effects so that people can hear something obvious on the noisy show floor with the Digidesign booth pumping out loud music nearby, but I think in the end that does disservice to your product. The clipping on peaks sure didn't help matters either.
Loudest Sound in Show
The Focusrite/GC Pro Audio demo room. I don't know what it sounded like because I stuck my head in briefly and had to leave because it was just too loud.
Best Demo in Show
Pulse Techniques makes a recreated Pultec equalizer. But then, everyone and his brother make a Pultec-like equalizer today. How can you tell the difference if you've never used the original? First you need the right source material, and secondly you need someone who can explain to you some of the odd side-effects of the Pultec sound and how they can be useful. Pulse Techniques actually did this, and they did it as well as anyone could under show conditions.
Worst Demo in Show
Genelec was showing their new 8351 single point monitor, except they were doing it in a room with a strange bass build up and a slap echo from the rear. They couldn't play my recording samples, so I asked if they had any classical music. They looked kind of doubtfully through their collection. "Well, we have some jazz" they said, and put on some synthesized fuzak. Once again, I know this is a great product; I want to hear it under good conditions and find out what it's really like, because a bad demo is not doing justice to good design. This is as close to a single point source speaker as I have ever seen.
Best New Product
Geoff Daking is making a large-format console, and it's beautiful. It's designed around his existing modules which people already know the sound of, it's designed to integrate with digital workstations, and it has to take a hell of a lot of guts to come out with a new large-format console in this day and age. The thing is a work of art.
Worst New Product
American Express Credit Cards had a booth on the show floor. This is the first time in ages that we have had a credit card company out there; you used to see this kind of thing in the nineties, but not since then. As far as the quality of the product goes, I won't even mention the rate they were offering, but I'll just say cheap credit in general is not a good thing.
Best Paper in Show
In Auditory compensation for spectral coloration, Cleopatra Pike and others from the University of Surrey make a good attempt to quantify the degree to which people get used to spectral changes in inaccurate loudspeakers with musical signals. This sort of information is very important to help us conduct accurate listening tests in the future. Preprint 9138
Worst Paper in Show
In Making Audio Sound Better One Square Wave at a Time, Leif Claesson from Omni Audio gave a good description of the history of the loudness wars and the issues resulting when clipped recordings are put through the broadcast air chain. He then gave a very good demonstration of the "undo" function incorporated in the Omnia9 broadcast processor, and how it basically interpolates data and fills in the missing information on clipped peaks with educated guesses.
Sadly, although the paper was subtitled how an algorithm called "Undo" fixes audio, the author never actually talks about any of the details of the actual algorithm and how it works inside the box. Great product, great sales presentation, but just because I am in favor of the trade show and papers sessions getting some cross-pollination does not mean it's okay to pass a sales presentation off as a paper. Preprint 9202.
"21st Century Vinyl" was a panel with some of the great vinyl mastering engineers of our time, just sitting and talking about their approach to cutting records and how the modern digital age has changed the standard cutting practices. There was nothing tremendously innovative or unexpected here; it was just like having Doug Sax, JJ Golden, Peter Lyman, Robert Hadley and Jonathan Wyner sitting in your living room talking about mastering.
Top Gun for Product Designers. It was a great idea, but there was one person on the panel who pretty much talked for the entire half hour allotted to the program, not allowing any of the other people to get a word in edgewise. Then, after the half-hour was up, he kept talking and talking while the people coming in for the next panel sat there trying to figure out how to get him off of the podium.
Best Free Thing in Show
18-year old Laphroaig. I won't mention who was handing this out under the table for fear that they will be swamped at next year's show, but suffice it to say that it was greatly appreciated at the end of a long day on the show floor.
Best Butt in Show
Charlene at AEA.