NAB 2017: Best New Sound Equipment Picks

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Every year, more than 100,000 attendees—comprised of camera operators, sound mixers, directors, producers, hardware developers, and everyone in between—visit Las Vegas, Nevada for one of the most anticipated technological events of the year. These often overly enthusiastic attendees, along with over 1,800 exhibitors from companies across the world, attend the National Association of Broadcasters Show to see the most innovative and groundbreaking products coming to the market. The 2017 NAB Show was no exception, as the attendance reached a new height of 103,000. And much like many of those other thousands of attendees between April 22nd and 27th, I was exceedingly eager to gaze upon the new shiny innovations, particularly in the production and post-production sound equipment world. I’ve always pushed myself to keep up to date on the new state-of-the-art equipment coming into our world, for if we are not ready for it, there’s a good chance we will get left in the dust by our successors. Innovation and the desire to expand our knowledge is the key to a successful career in audio, or so I’ve been told by many successful mixers. I sure hope that’s true or I’ve been doing something wrong!

So, as I was determined to do just that, I stepped into the Central Hall of the 2017 NAB Show armed with my notepad, sharpened pencil, and passionate curiosity, in search of the products that looked toward the future of the sound world. I wanted to find companies that clearly researched the current trends of the production world and looked to create products that would help fill the demand for the areas audio professionals felt were rather lacking. I wanted to find products that worked to satisfy professionals from every level of experience. I journeyed throughout the show and though I found a multitude of truly innovative products coming to the market in 2017, here are five products I felt truly rose above and beyond my expectations.

Sound Devices MixPre Series
Since its inception in 1998, Sound Devices has always pushed itself to be at the forefront of product development and only releases products when they will help satisfy the direct demand of the sound and video market. And from the beginning of my career in production and post-production sound, I’ve never trusted a company more with my audio recording and mixing than Sound Devices. The company prides itself on a strong record of excellence in their line of products. Though many other companies claim to create the best intuitive and user-friendly products for the entry level, Sound Devices really seems to have outdone itself with the introduction of the MixPre Series of recorder/mixers. Somehow the MixPre-6 and MixPre-3 have outstanding-sounding microphone preamps and include professional features that many other companies only provide in their high-end product lines while maintaining a very low price point. Oftentimes sound mixers must choose between one or two of these important factors when buying, especially when they are first entering the sound world. What makes you credible around the production world is your quality work, your set etiquette and people skills, and your dependable equipment. You need your products to represent you well. The MixPre Series seems to be up to the task.

At only $899, a sound mixer can get their hands on a MixPre-6 model and have a device with ergonomic gain controls, a USB interface that allows simultaneous recording and streaming via a computer, and an easily navigable touch screen interface that can record up to 6 channels of professional grade audio. Not only that, but the device can be wirelessly controlled via its integrated Bluetooth technology combined with the Sound Devices Wingman program. You can record iso tracks, adjust to various recording frame rates and bit rates, and customize your outputs. I personally could not ask for a better entry-level or on-the-go mixer. Now the MixPre Series is by no means intended to compete with the company’s higher-end models of mixer/recorders such as the 688, 664, or the 633, but after getting my hands on the product at NAB, I really wish these mixers had existed when I was first starting out. The MixPre-6 and MixPre-3 are exceptionally valuable tools for everyone from Youtubers to bloggers to sound effects recordists to the production sound mixer. Props to Sound Devices for providing a line of products that can be widely used by everyone in the sound world. There’s no confusion as to why it needed to be included in my Best Picks of NAB 2017.

Sound Devices MD-4 Dante Interface
This year, just as Sound Devices addressed the specific demands of the entry-level mixer, sound effects recordists, and many other audio professionals when they introduced the MixPre Series, the company has not forgotten the needs of the audio professional dealing with a high complexity of routing while recording a surplus of digital and analog channels over the patented Dante Network. Sound Devices has released a new rack-mountable analog to Dante interface called the MD-4 that I believe will become a new staple in the sound kit for mixers who operate large-scale shows such as America’s Got Talent or other high-intensity competition shows. These shows can demand audio track counts through the roof, so having the full ability to send channels over a Dante Network are crucial for an effective production and post-production workflow. The new Sound Devices MD-4 gives a mixer the valuable ability to take up to four high-gain microphone or line-level analog inputs and push them through either the Dante System or four easily accessible line-level outputs on the back of the unit for a quick and easy way to add channels without losing any time. These features make the MD-4 an obvious partner to the Sound Devices 970 audio recorder or the Video Devices PIX 270i video recorder with all three devices working effectively using the Dante Network.

The MD-4 will not necessarily be a widely-used device throughout the sound community for those who don’t have the need for this high-intensity workflow, but Sound Devices has still actively worked to address the very specific demand of cart-based mixers and audio engineers. They help satisfy the needs of all mixers. Bravo Sound Devices, for you have earned another spot in the Best Picks of NAB 2017.

Ambient NanoLockit
No matter how hard we try, the task of ensuring timecode stays consistent across all devices on set falls more and more on the sound department. Rented camera packages are not coming with timecode lockits as many camera departments and producers assume they are the job of the sound department. But even when you have a cooperative AC that will help, grabbing the lockits and slates at lunch to rejam becomes quite a tedious process indeed, especially when there are six or more cameras on set. Which is why I was delighted to feast my eyes upon the new NanoLockit from Ambient. For years, Ambient technology has been the standard in accurate timecode technology for most manufacturers of mixers and recorders. That’s why these new NanoLockits become such a timesaver on set. Once jamming any Ambient Lockit enabled with integrated wireless ACN technology and setting it as the master timecode lockit, any NanoLockit or Ambient ACN-LS Lockit Slate within the ACN network will automatically jam and set to the proper framerate as the master lockit. BAM! No need to take time grabbing those lockit boxes before lunch and redistributing them and messing with the Steadicam op’s balanced rig. This accurate wireless technology will end up saving me a lot of time and many potential headaches! Also, the interior rechargeable battery lasts up to 35 hours on one charge, so you’re really covered for at least two full production days.

An important factor to take into account, though, is the NanoLockit’s ability to jam DSLRs with audio timecode. This ability can become quite handy on multi-cam or documentary shoots when slating becomes a rare occasion. There are currently a couple lockit boxes on the market that are able to do this task, but be aware that when jamming DSLRs with the NanoLockit, the audio timecode will take up both channels of audio, negating the onboard microphone on most DSLRs. Now there may be some cabling that comes out that makes it possible to only use one channel of audio for the audio timecode. But ye be warned, when using the NanoLockit, make sure your post-production team knows how to sync footage using audio timecode as opposed to regular. Audio timecode takes another couple of steps. All in all, though, the NanoLockit makes production smoother and more efficient, and grabbing a couple of these to have in your kit is a no brainer. Not only will a production save money on batteries for the lockits, but you will make everyone throughout post and production happy campers with very consistent timecode across all your devices. Happy production + happy post-production = job security. Ambient NanoLockit, I dub thee a Best Pick of NAB 2017.

Zaxcom ZMT3-Phantom Transmitter
As someone who has worked many grueling long days in the extreme heat and cold, holding up an internally cabled boompole while pulling a breakout cable behind me, I can only describe a wireless boom setup as “heavenly.” And though, of course, no one typically hardlines the boom anymore, whatever a product developer can do to decrease the weight on a boom operator’s shoulders helps immensely in the long run. So when I walked into the Zaxcom booth at NAB this year and saw the ZMT3-Phantom Transmitter, it was as though my shoulders suddenly blew a huge sigh of relief. If you’re a dedicated Zaxcom user, this new transmitter works perfectly with the integrated Zaxnet technology, enabling you to adjust any settings such as transmitter gain or frequency selection over a 3-block wideband remotely. The ZMT3-Phantom also weighs a mere 2.02oz with the NP-50 battery inserted, and when mounted near the top of your boompole, you frankly forget it’s even there. There are a couple of companies making mounts for the transmitter, but the one that particularly stuck out to me was the low-profile Sound Guys Solutions ZMT Boom Mount, which looks to release in late June or early July 2017. Keep on the lookout!

Also, given its small size, I did not believe the transmitter could last more than a couple of hours while providing phantom power to a shotgun microphone, but surprisingly the transmitter lasts up to five hours on single NP-50 rechargeable battery. A typical boom plug-on transmitter from Lectrosonics or Wisycom can weigh up to 7.5oz with the batteries inserted, so Zaxcom definitely has the edge on the lightweight factor. The transmitter also has an external antenna for improved range and records to an internal Micro SD card for backup. Seriously, I think the only task this transmitter cannot perform is turn off cell phones on set, but I feel like Zaxcom could eventually add that feature.

Now I feel whenever you have your transmitter mounted to the top of your pole instead of the bottom and because it’s so lightweight, you really have to be completely aware of your surroundings below and up high as you would on any set. God forbid if a grip accidentally decides to move a 12×12 frame into the path of the ZMT3-Phantom, there goes a whopping $1,995.00. But, of course, if you have your boom attached to a cart or perhaps inserted into the K-Tek Boom Box in a safe location on set, you will have no need to worry. All in all, whether you are an active boomer or master mixer, the ZMT3-Phantom will lighten your load in weight but increase it in versatility! Best Pick of NAB 2017, CHECK!

Wisycom LBN2/LNN2 UHF Wideband Antenna
Ensuring I get the best possible range out of my wireless also ensures production won’t blame me for losing the best take of the day. Well, that’s not entirely true, as there are many factors that would contribute to a take going awry. Nonetheless, when I walked into the Wisycom booth at NAB 2017, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the new LBN2/LNN2 UHF Wideband Antenna. This antenna covers a whopping range of 420-1300 MHz, which leads many to believe it could one day bridge the gap between VHF, UHF, and digital 1.9 Gb. We can dream, right, but I feel Wisycom would not put so much time and effort in this direction if they did not believe it to be the natural progression of the market! As if I wasn’t already blown away by this extra coverage, when partnered with the new Wisycom Broadband Antenna Amplifier, your wireless signal can be dramatically strengthened with the use of its high OIP3 of 40 dBm! This new amplifier will become particularly useful with longer cable runs when worrying about signal loss and gives the ability to add up to 15dB of gain across your line. I was also happy to learn that the amplifier very much helps to reduce the risk of over-saturation from other RF sources around set such as walkies or wireless camera accessories. I know I’ve run into this issue a couple of times on big shows where everyone and their mother seems to be holding some piece of wireless equipment. That little extra gain really helps me GAIN more confidence on set with my wireless signals. Oh yeah. I went there.

Wisycom has not become as widely used in the States quite yet, but they are by far the hottest sellers in Europe as far as wireless is concerned. Even so, with as great as customer service and dedicated attention to detail as I observed at NAB 2017, I believe Wisycom will soon become a major player in the wireless industry in the US. Keep your eyes open because they’re coming by audio storm! I would say then that it would not be “shocking” to learn the Wisycom LBN2/LNN2 is on my Best Picks of NAB 2017.

When researching the newest innovative products and their potential future success in the sound market, I believe you need really sit down and concentrate on what the specific demands of that market really have become and what voids need to be filled. Both the production and post-production worlds are full of highly detail-oriented professionals who know exactly which tools they need to get the job done right. If they do not feel they possess the technology to do so, they will typically make it known through various online forums or to the product manufacturers directly. Thousands of brilliant products came out this year at NAB, making the process of choosing my best picks exceedingly difficult. I believe though that my Best Picks of NAB 2017 are some of the prime examples of products that companies have created to help answer the very precise demands of various mixers and sound professionals across the world. Personally, I was extremely happy to have the opportunity to have a first look at some of the most innovative upcoming products on the market today and I encourage you all to read as much as you can about the exciting new technology emerging from NAB 2017. These new products are the future of our industry and it sure is looking BRIGHT!

-S&P-

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