ProLight & Sound embraces the network age

Chris Fitzsimmons reports from Frankfurt and Prolight & Sound 2012, and discovers an audio industry that is optimistic and invigorated by new technological advancements.

There has been a lot of talk in the last 18 months about new audio networking technologies. Alliances have been formed, press releases issued, and column inches written by the trade press. However, there has until now been something of a lack of products. Previous shows both in Europe and America have been dominated by announcements of new members of alliances, and co-operation on standards.

However, at this year’s edition of Prolight + Sound things were markedly different. You couldn’t move in Hall 8.0 of the Frankfurt Messe without the risk of bumping into a Dante or AVB product of one sort or another.

The biggest draw of the first day was certainly Yamaha’s unveiling of its new CL series of three digital consoles. Significantly the company has chosen to build in Dante as its standard networking technology. Equally important, but probably less noticed, was Nexo’s new Dante card for the NXamp. As the company’s president, Yoshi Tsugawa noted: “This is the first technology integration between Nexo and Yamaha.”

The card itself is an OEM product from AuviTran, and the company was also at the show announcing its move into Dante territory.

AVB too, scored “real product” points in several quarters. The Harman group demonstrated its GS724T 24 port Ethernet AVB switch. Beyerdynamic made its first foray into AVB by announcing Quinta, its 5th generation wireless congress system, which complies with the 802.1 AVB standards and carries the AVnu alliance logo.

Quinta is a pretty nice looking system, incorporating triple-band wireless (2.4, 5.2 and 5.8 GHz) as well as a built in web server for the central controller. This another interesting emerging trend – there were a number of new and recent launches at Prolight + Sound taking advantage of web technologies to open up control options. Why go to the trouble of developing a complex control protocol and peripheral devices, when you can use a served up web-page and a smart phone or tablet.

This is the philosophy that the likes of Stardraw have been preaching for some time, and the audio community is embracing it. Cloud Electronics, Rane and also Audac (M2) showed server-equipped devices.

Whilst we’re talking congress systems, Audio-Technica celebrated its 50th Anniversary and also announced further additions to its IR range in the form of new antennas and microphone units.

Contrary to popular opinion, other networking technologies are available and to prove this, some of the founders of Optocore launched a new company and a new technology. BroaMan sprung into existence with the launch of DiViNe, its digital video network, which is capable of carrying 3G, HD and SD video over fibre, along with HDMI and DVI. The company reckons it can carry 80 channels of video over a single fibre, and combined with Optocore’s SANE technology can deliver audio and data as well.

Ravenna, which might not be too familiar to those outside of the broadcast and studio markets, also made an impact thanks to Merging Technology’s new Horus media matrix and controller.

However, the show wasn’t all about networks. There was also the anticipated array of new loudspeaker, microphone and desk launches. Of particular interest to the installed sound market will have been Martin Audio’s MLA Compact loudspeaker system. In shrinking the package to a form factor that will find favour in smaller venues, such as houses of worship and multipurpose venues, Martin is on to something. Indeed, you needn’t take our word for it – the company is rumoured to have taken orders into seven figures for the MLA and compact product ranges just on the first day of the show.

Another compact product that received a positive reception was d&b audiotechnik’s v-series. The company believes it has successfully bottled the sonic qualities of its j-series array and brought it to a more affordable, smaller package.

Less compact is Meyer Sound’s latest innovation, the 1100-LFC, a monster sub-bass unit the company has designed for low frequency pattern control in high powered systems.

Not to be outdone by Yamaha there was also a new desk from Digico, the SD5, firmly filling the shoes of the D5 which it succeeds a decade later. The new console features 124 input channels; 56 configurable busses, plus up to 5.1 master; a 24 x 24 fixed matrix; 24 assignable Dynamic EQ; 24 multiband compressors as well as the ability to add a Waves upgrade module.

On the microphone front both Sennheiser and Shure had new wireless systems on show. Sennheiser has dubbed its XS Wireless as a “no worries” RF wireless system. The entry level range is sturdy, and designed to be easy to use with simple frequency switching.

Shure’s ULX-D solution on the other hand is a full blooded digital wireless system. It features digital transmission, and can AES-256 encryption for sensitive installations. 17 active transmitters can simultaneously operate on a single 8 MHz channel. Ethernet control of the main unit also means it can be integrated with third party control systems.

So, lots of audio companies launched new products at a trade show. But what makes me think it was so good this time? Firstly, the exhibitors liked it, a lot. Aside from Martin Audio’s performance, there were numerous other sources of high praise for the week.

Nexo’s first outing as a solo exhibitor the company believes was an unqualified success. The company told me that it had achieved more visitors this year than ever before.

QSC’s Martin Barbour, grabbing five minutes peace on the Friday, described himself as being glad of the extra space on the booth – it had been needed throughout a packed Wednesday and Thursday.

Certainly the organisers themselves are convinced it was a success. Whilst no detailed breakdown is yet available, Messe Frankfurt says that around 110,000 visitors attended both Musikmesse and Prolight + Sound, compared to 109,002 the previous year. That figure includes a foreign contingent of nearly 41,000 attendees.

Most encouraging from my perspective is the sense of optimism that continues to pervade the industry. There was almost no negative comment on the event, the halls seemed extremely busy for the first two-and-a-half days, and the free WiFi connection actually worked. What more could an attendee want?

Remember that there is a massive collection of video footage shot by the InAVate team during the show, available from our InAVate TV section of the web site. Click the link below to view it.

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