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Education Guide

Mix is gearing up to present its longstanding annual Audio Education Guide in its November 2014 issue. Want to have your school listed in the directory, or do you need to update your current directory listing? Add an image, program description, or a logo to your listing! Get your school in the Mix Education Guide 2014.

I'm coming to you live from beautiful Lost Wages, that city of silliness in the great, pointy state of Nevada. Nothing typifies excess like the faux grandeur of the midline hotels here, unless, of course, you're into gadgets, and what engineer isn't? No, I'm not going to tell you about the NAB show. That's for the high end, and you can find that report on page 62. I'm going back in time to the annual Winter Consumer Electronics Show, the place to go for binging on electronic gewgaws. This month, we'll take a look at fun gear that sounds good and may just impact your thang in days to come.

Let's start with USB Flash drives, which have matured considerably since our last visit to USB Land. Features have proliferated, with capacities up to 1 GB, biometric security, waterproof packaging, Bluetooth and USB2 connectivity, and multimedia capabilities such as onboard still/video cameras and MP3 players. But will they do the dishes? Home networking is also maturing, with vendors offering all sorts of solutions to the nightmare of wiring the crib. These products will, in turn, drive the demand for home consumption of rich media, a good trend for us audio folks.

Lots of spendy DVD-Audio, SACD and universal players were out on the floor from Kenwood, Meridian, MSB Technology and TEAC, while Denon showed its universal player tentatively priced at $999. But, it was Pioneer that finally delivered the olive branch to both sides in the War of the Formats with its DV-563A. This player, with a MSRP of $270, handles MP3 and WMA files on CD-ROM and CD-RW, along with DVD-V, DVD-A and multichannel SACD. It even includes a JPEG playback function for those slide shows of the wee ones. Now that's value!

One of the standout trends at this year's show was the wide range of quality choices in the Home-Theater-in-a-Box category. DVD chieftain Toshiba even announced its first HTIB, the SD-43HT, a $300 package with a 50-watts-per-channel receiver/DVD player combo, a wide range of I/O and DTS decoding. Another example is Mission's fs1 system. This 5.1 loudspeaker product combines high-fidelity reproduction with modern good looks and an incredibly small footprint. At a suggested retail price of $1,000, this is a good example of the many manufacturers providing multichannel speaker packages in the $600 to $1,500 range, well under the pain threshold for many households. This means that, with the introduction of very inexpensive DVD and SACD players, many more families will be settling in for some surround audio thrills in the near future.

Tannoy showed a more innovative HTIB design, its FX5.1 model. The two-way satellites provide extended high-frequency response via titanium tweeters. The shielded sats have provisions for wall mounting and are spec'd as -3 dB at 71 kHz. Way out there, baby! Another Brit stalwart, KEF, also preached the wideband gospel. Its new XQ Series of down-market loudspeakers have additional hyper-tweeters for extended ultrasonic response. While most engineers pooh-pooh the concept of playback above 20 kHz, I have not done any tests with ultrawideband speakers. I'll just say that some folks I know like having that extended upper-frequency response. A more concrete advantage, applicable to most complex systems, is that extending the bandwidth provides better linearity and less phase shift within the passband.

At the fidelity scale's other end, Ellula showed its latest inflatable loudspeaker, the HotAir. Yup, I said inflatable, as in way portable. This $99, battery-powered, active 2.1 system shares something with Mission's fs1: They're both based on NXT's flat-panel transducer technology.

In other consumer-electronic news, JVC has something wonderful for all you vidiots out there. The company's new GR-HD1 is the first high-definition consumer camcorder. “By utilizing a newly developed ⅓-inch-type 1.18 million pixel progressive scan CCD and JVC proprietary processing, the new camera records and plays back 750/30p (1280ࡍ720/30p viewable) digital high-definition and 525p progressive wide images to mini DV tape.” What this press release means to me is that for video-graphers, the quality of a work is no longer tied to the cost of production, just like we've seen in audio.

As in years past, Sharp showed the latest generation of its DX-SX1 high-end SACD transport and SM-SX1 amplifier ($3,000 and $4,500, respectively) with a proprietary DSD link. This year at least, they got the styling right. More important is the company's trend of manufacturing a line of inexpensive hi-fi packages and components using “64-fs 1-bit switching” technology. Sound familiar? It should, because this is DSD data. Sharp is doing for hardware what ABKCO is doing for reissues: sneaking quality in under the radar, while not scaring consumers with more jargon and obfuscation. I hope we'll see some end-to-end DSD hardware at commodity prices from these folks in the near future.

Score one for Windows XP; ignore the hype over Tablet PCs. Instead, check out one of the most compelling new features: support for “Smart Displays.” I spent some time with the ViewSonic folks while beating on one of their air panel V150 wireless displays. Imagine not having some honking big CRT, which creates a bogus acoustic shadow, or a traditional LCD at the mix position, with its accompanying acoustic reflections. Instead, your display hangs out away from the sweet spot, and you can pick it off its charging cradle, hold it or lay it down, and interact with your CPU as if the darn thing was hard-wired. Wi-Fi-connected Smart Displays support stylus input, great for non-Roman alphabets like Farsi or Korean, but a major PITA for the rest of us. The ViewSonic critter also has USB ports if you'd rather go with an ordinary hard keyboard instead of a virtual “soft keyboard.”

Speaking of which, another useful but overpriced Windows technology is a new keyboard with electroluminescent backlighting. Auravision's $100 EluminX full-size keyboard lets you type even by a Lava Lamp's feeble illumination.

For those of you who spend a generous portion of your waking hours in a vehicle, you may have noticed how car interiors force you into a compromised listening position: too left or too right. The folks at Alpine noticed and took matters, or possibly power tools, into their own hands. They started with a Honda Civic Si, gutted the interior and moved the steering column to the center of the vehicle, creating a single-seat, center-drive car! They then stuffed it to the gills with the latest mobile audio and video madness. In addition, “each door panel…holds three nitrous-oxide bottles, which are artfully incorporated into the design scheme.” Humm, is that for the engine or the driver?

With a Lava Lamp and a can of nitrous, I think I could be happy mixing the next *NSync record. Okay, maybe not. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this month's peek into the world of consumer gear, the products that ultimately drive our pro audio industry. Until next time, keep on tweakin'!

This column was written while under the influence of DJ Jonah Jone, whose first birthday arrived while I finished writing up this madness. Drop by www.seneschal.net for more new, wild techy stuff.

Bonus pics! Get up close and personal with these slick gadgets...

Pioneer's DV-563A handles every format from MP3 to WMA to JPEG.

A keyboard that doubles as mood lighting: the Auravision Eluminux.

The Mission fs1 delivers surround fidelity with style.

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