FICS Congress 2004 in Piestany, Slovakia

Report of the Representative for Audio

Uwe Mehlhaff

The sound enthusiast who wants to invest can do so with confidence. There are technical solutions for each requirement in attractive and also in top end price ranges.

  • Analog Audio Cassette, MiniDisc and CD recording media will not disappear from the market. The spread is still too large. But you will not find any new developments in recorders for these formats. In future supply for these products will be limited to a few producers, so you'll get some equipment as phase-out models or for low prices or sepcial offers. The production of digtal tape recorders (DAT) is reduced to one producer (Tascam)and the production of tape machines has ceased. Hard disc recorders are replacing DAT recorders.
  • Technical expensive solutions with greater flexibility as e.g. PC- or hard disc recorder are quiete interessing for ardent technichal freaks, but the big problem will be a defect with the hard disc.
  • Let's talk about data-compressed systems, mindisc excepted. MP3 has no chance. The sets partially don't satisfy the user in sound, capability or manufacturing.
  • More and more microphones and headphones are produced using wireless technology. There are no innovations at wired microphones and headphones. The prices for phantom-powered microphones are getting lower because of cheap suppliers.
  • Mixers will increasingly become digital. Fortunately the prices for well equiped and properly manufactured mixers are getting lower. Digital will replace pure analog mixers in future.
  • Low priced accessories (e.g. mixers and CD players) are also offered to the DJ sector.

Below, you will find reports of two fairs in Germany in 2004:

  • Prolight + Sound in Frankfurt-am-Main and
  • High End in Münich, the biggest fair for video and audio systems in Europe.

Both fairs had been visited by the author. The pictures are taken from the web.

prolight+sound logo

This report was written just as the fair ended. This fair is the most important event for the professional recording scene.

Depressed consumer interest and stagnation of trade led to the fair being reduced from four to three days. There was only one day open to nonprofessionals. Well known manufacturers such as Sony and Marantz were absent while other companies had smaller exhibtion stands compared with 2003.

Nevertheless the recording enthusiast has a big choice. There's a lot of not too expensive equipment and accessories. Below you'll find some advice and trends and finally a conclusion with a view to the future.

Recorders

No new developments in analog euipment. The tape recorders from Tascam had been introduced five or more years ago. The same goes for analog multitrack recorders ("Portastudio" series).

No new developments in CD, DAT and MiniDisc recorders for home use.

The static sector uses PCs (desk- or laptops) and hard disc for making good recordings.

Notebook or laptop with special sound software are used for recording in the mobile sector.

FR-2Fostex showed a so-called "Field Memory Recorder" (Model FR-2 is pictured on the right). This recorder is able to do recordings on an integrated hard disc or alternatively on a flash card, and has varibale sampling rates from 22.05 to 192 kHz. It may be interesting but too expensive for the amateur.

PSD300Superscope showed the "PSD300", a portable CD player and recorder in one body. This model is shown below left and includes a CD-R/RW player and a separate recorder. This set has also a built-in microphone and additional inputs for external microphones and other equipment as e.g. an amplifier. This set is also very expensive and therefore not interesting for the sound amateur.

For mobile use (interviews and reports) portable analogue tape decks such as the Sony WM-D6C and Marantz CP-230/430 are still up-to-date, as are portable DAT recorders (mainly from Sony). Portable MiniDisc recorders (e.g. from Marantz) have no chance because of data-reduction.

The key phrase is "data reducution" in connection with MP3. In Frankfurt, I've seen no MP3 recorder although MP3 is prefered in the home sector.


Microphones and Headphones

AKG's motto was "The future is wireless". So innovations had been confined to wireless products.

K999AKG introduced the stereo- and surround headphone "K999 Audiosphere II" (illustrated on the right), the successor to the wireless model "K999 Audiosphere". The sound from both headphones is excellent. The successor is better manufactured. The reception quality is distinctly better in comparison to its predecessor. The sound enthusiasts who are looking for headphones for the announcer's room should buy these headphones. The quality is good and the old problem with headphone cable is now a thing of the past.

I couldn't discover any innovations in wired headphones.

I couldn't find highlights at wireless microphones. My proposal: Compare producers, quality and prices.

MonacorA lot of good looking wired microphones are offered with phantom-power (normally 48 volts). Of interest is the entry of Monacor into this gap in the market. Monacor is well known as a cut price supplier. You'll see model ECM-130 on the left.

Solid quality combined with rich choice had been shown by Røde (an Australian producer) and Audio Technica. There you'll get good and low-priced alternatives to European products (e.g. Sennheiser, Neumann, Beyerdynamic and so on).


Mixers

MPX-208Anlogue mixers are still produced, mostly for stage work with 24 or more channels. I didn't find any news for the amateur, but I saw some low-priced and interesting mixers from Monacor and Behringer. Why not? Monacor showed some good looking analogue mixers, e.g. model MPX-208 which is shown on the right.

The trend: digital mixers! The prices are going lower. But which amatuer really needs a pure digital mixer?


Accessories

The accessory field plays a secondary rôle. Here's a chance for niche suppliers. I couldn't find any sensational news.

More important is the layout of recorded sound carriers. The leading (portable) sound carrier is the CD. Thus the use of software for creating your own CD labels may not be underestimated. Often you can use this software for other purposes e.g. documents or cards.,/p>


High End 2004

This report was written three months ago, when the High End show was over. High End is, so the organizer "High End Society" says, the biggest european fair for video and audio systems. May be. The fair was organized in München-Freimann in the M.O.C. Centre (see the photo below) for the first time. For the past 20 years, the fair has taken place in Neu-Isenburg near Frankfurt/Main in the "Grevenbruch Kempinski", a first class hotel and one of the most famous in Germany.

MOC CentreSurround sound demonstrations with sound and sight, done with a lot of problems in small hotel rooms, was the most important reason to leave Frankfurt and to change to Munich.

In Munich there were presented the news from reproduction in sound and vision; sound with two or more channels for reproduction; vision only with more channels. I've seen nothing in connection with recording so I can only talk about reproduction:

The two channel or stereo-equipment is on a (very) high level, analog and digtal. This means that the client gets a lot of sound quality for little money.


Analog Record Players

The problem with copy protection on commercial CDs inspires more hi-fi producers to offer analogue record players. I've seen record-players e.g. from Arcus or T+A. These companies didn't previously produce record-players. Other producers of analogue record-players showed a lot of new types (e.g. Transrotor, Thorens and Clearaudio).

SL1212The best choice for a private sound studio is still a Technics SL1210 (photo left side).

This record-player has been produced for 30 years and has been modified several times. The current version is the best and can be improved in sound by changing the pickup cartridge. Direct drive and (extremly!) robust manufacturing predestine this record player for the private sound studio.


Amplifiers and Digital Reproduction Systems

High-grade amplifiers are offered for low prices. The reason: surround-systems, which are often sold by cheap(est) suppliers in supermarkets. It's possible to play CDs with the cheapest surround-systems. The quality of sound is doubtful.

The quarrel about high disintegrated systems as SACD (Super Audio CD) and DVD-A (Digital Versatile Disc for Audio) makes the consumer feel insecure. More and more players are offered, which can play both systems (including normal CDs). The multi-channel records (produced on SACD or DVD-A) aren't all that good! The possibilities of both systems are not exhausted.

Headphones

I tested three expensive headphones which are aimed at the private studio. I listened with two different electrostatic headphones from Stax (a Japanese producer) and another one from Ergo (a Swiss producer). The sound of the headphones from Stax didn't satisfy. Maybe the CD-player used as playback unit was bad. And Stax is one of the most well known suppliers to famous sound studios!

ErgoMy personal feeling voted to an A.M.T. from Ergo. The headphone is illustrated on the right. This headphone is working with the "Air-Motion-Transformer-system", developed by Dr. Oskar Heil, an American physicist. This system is used in several loudspeakers from different producers (e.g. Elac, Burmester, Adam and so on). Don't compare the Ergo-Headphone with a Jecklin Float. Both headphones look similar. The Jecklin Float was produced in former times and (the biggest difference) works with electrostatic drivers.


Speakers

I couldn't see any loudspeakers for the private sound studio. All speakers, which had been shown, are useful for the livingroom.

Cable

Cables had been offered in different thicknesses, colours and qualities. Don't give money for expensive cables. If you find good and robust cables at a professional dealer, it's o.k.

Maybe a good looking and a little bit expensive cabele is good for "eyecatching" in the living room.


Uwe Mehlhaff
Representative of the FICS for Sound

D-50823 Cologne, 07.11.2004
Ehrenfeldgürtel 155

Tel. +49-221 / 552486 + 0171 / 4409320
+49-221 / 5028722

E-Mail: uwe.mehlhaff@t-online.de


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