InfoComm has quietly but steadily morphed into the leading live-sound expo in North America.
At its most recent iteration, the trade show offered attendees two-dozen demo suites — a record number — of which 19 were occupied by major PA systems manufacturers, including L-Acoustics, Meyer Sound, Harman/JBL, Renkus-Heinz, Martin Audio, Bose Professional, K-Array and EAW.
It’s become the target for overseas sound-systems manufacturers to show their live-sound wares to the U.S. audience for the first time, including German audio company CODA Audio, which launched its U.S. subsidiary, CODA Audio USA, at the show, and U.K. manufacturer Void Acoustics, which also made its maiden voyage to the States at this year’s show, bringing a heightened level of industrial design.
These demo suites were for many exhibitors an extension of some of the 250-plus booths that were gathered together in the show’s Audio Pavilion at one end of the hall, placed at the opposite end from the year before because of the need for more space. That was reflected in how a number of manufacturers lined up system components from large line-array and point-source elements through ceiling and surface-mount speakers, emphasizing a consistent sonic experience throughout an environment.
An example is Yamaha Commercial Audio, which demoed Nexo’s new GEO M10 line array in the demo room and Yamaha’s new VX1L Series’ small-but-powerful installed-audio speakers on the show floor.
“We wanted to provide consistent sound quality throughout a facility, from the field to the suites,” said Marc Lopez, YCA’s director of marketing. “The VX speakers are also designed to have very precise and predictable coverage areas, and they can be stacked on top of each other to build columnar arrays or hung together to create wider horizontal dispersion.”
Lopez also pointed out the new PoE network switches that Yamaha builds in Japan and that are now going to be distributed in the U.S. market, underscoring the rapid and pervasive uptake of audio networking in the U.S. audio industry in just the last several years.
“As digital audio networking was just getting started here, people were looking at off-the-shelf Cisco-type [network] switches for their networks,” he explained. “The industry is realizing quickly that they need to have more robust professional switches, so we’re bringing the ones we’ve developed in Japan here.”
The swiftness with which networked and immersive audio has transformed the pro-audio industry was very much on display at InfoComm, with networking deployed across entire sectors and with multiple formats used in the same products.
Harman Professional Solutions, which became as comprehensive as it gets when it added control (AMX in 2014) and lighting (Martin Professional in 2013) divisions through acquisitions to its existing AV (and before Harman itself was acquired earlier this year by Samsung), announced at the show support of the AES67 interoperability standard across all of its networked AV product lines. RevoLabs, part of Yamaha Unified Communications, showed a networked audio station with both AVB and Dante integrated.
In some cases, companies debuted entire new lines of products built around the concepts. At the show, L-Acoustics unveiled the P1, a networked digital audio processor, during twice-daily presentations and at a press event. P1 reflects another trend in live-sound, multi-functional processing: in addition to acting as an FOH processor, it also functions as bridge between analog, AES digital and AVB audio formats; and finally as a platform for L-Acoustics’ M1 measurement software used for its amplified controllers and for the P1 itself.
The Dante networking protocol was ubiquitous at the show, reflecting the marketing muscle parent company Audinate developed while aggressively promoting it over the past decade. Interfaces like Focusrite’s RedNet line were on display at InfoComm, as were solutions that incorporated the AES67 and AVB interoperability standards such as Riedel’s Tango TNG-200 network-based intercom/communications platform.
Not everyone saw AVB on the same tier as AES67 and Dante. Renkus-Heinz chose Dante over AVB because, said company founder Ralph Heinz, “Dante was simply there first. It was taking too long to get the specialized switched needed for AVB to get to market. We actually wanted AVB — it’s a great technology — but our customers were asking for Dante. The support [for AVB] just isn’t there yet.”
The increased emphasis on networked live-sound reflects AV’s growing entanglement with IT, but with the term “convergence” eliciting as much anxiety as it does anticipation in some circles. Another perspective on that was offered by Gary Boss, marketing director at Audio–Technica, who pointed out that IT professionals increasingly interacting with their AV counterparts are experiencing just as much agitation over that conjunction.
“They’re facing the dilemma of getting audio through their networks and overnight it seems they now have ten new things on their plate,” he told CI. That, notes Boss, could push audio even lower on the IT hierarchy. The response by audio systems manufacturers, he believes, should be to make those audio systems more familiar from an IT perspective. “We need to deliver audio to them in a language they understand, and that’s the language of networking,” he said. “Microphones with Dante and other formats already integrated, for instance, which is something we’ve done. Because we’ll be talking with IT for a long time to come.”
Management of live-sound systems has also taken on some new configurations. In some cases, DSP is being combined with power amplifiers, creating what L-Acoustics calls amplified controllers, creating an integrated processing system. And several high-end sound systems manufacturers, including Meyer Sound, Biamp, and d&b audiotechnik, have embraced the AVB standard, one of several intercompatibility protocols — the other open-standard is AES67 — developed in the last decade as bridges between various proprietary networking approaches.
Scott Sugden, head of applications, touring for L-Acoustics, says the growing complexity of sound systems is behind this deeper integration of amplification and control. “You’re now in a situation where the operator of these systems is not relying on one piece of high technology but many pieces of high technology, and it’s impossible to be an expert on all of them,” he explains.
“The operator needs better feedback when it comes to the status of the entire system. Networking between all of the elements in a system provides back and forth status to the operator. We have to have feedback loops for amplifiers, transducers and other elements so an operator can monitor their performance without necessarily being able to directly see or hear each element.”
Traditional Audio Concerns
Live-sound products at InfoComm 2017 also reflected the ongoing importance of existing trends, such as full-range music reproduction and speech intelligibility that are now considered de rigueur for sound in stadiums and arenas, as well as for houses of worship and retail and amusement venues.
“The audience needs to understand everything that’s being said, but they’re also familiar with the music that’s being played in the venues, so it has to sound right,” observed Guy Low, Manager, Creative & Public Relations for Electro-Voice, which was showing its X-Line line array at the show.
“But as important is the fact that the music and announcements are following them back into the inner areas of venues, to the bars and dining areas. Sound systems are now being designed to extend the bowl experience to other parts of the stadium,” Low says.
These traditional concerns also need to be addressed by more compact systems. Danley Sound Labs, known for filling mega college football venues like LSU’s Tiger Stadium, introduced at the show the “stadium-grade” J6-42, part of their Jericho Horn series.
“Music and speech are important, but video’s the moneymaker in the stadium,” Mike Hedden, President/CEO of Danley, said. “What we’re doing is developing a way to keep the sound intelligible, full-range and loud while at the same time keeping it out of the way of the video.”
Installed distributed sound also saw some innovations. Bose’s new EdgeMax in-ceiling speakers uses its waveguide technology to cover entire rooms using speakers that can be positioned on room perimeters. Audix’ new M70 is a flush-mount condenser microphone at uses a patented swivel that lets the mic element be aimed at the source and thus able to be more flexibly located.
OLED’s capabilities are light years ahead of current technology. Read more.
OLED’s capabilities are light years ahead of current technology. Read more.
What seemed unanimous was that the InfoComm has evolved into the leading installed-sound expo for the U.S. The organizers estimated attendance at over 40,000, with attendees from all 50 United States and 117 countries, and the show’s 950 exhibitors occupying more than 545,000 net square feet, making it the biggest InfoComm ever. That also included more than 250 pro audio exhibitors in 200,000 square feet, including two dozen demo rooms.
“InfoComm 2017 was another record-breaking success,” stated Jason McGraw, CTS, CAE, Senior Vice President of Expositions, InfoComm International. “No other trade show in North America offers the breadth of audio solutions and the ability to hear the leading loudspeaker brands’ systems demonstrated at full volume. InfoComm is an unparalleled shopping and information gathering opportunity for audio professionals who can experience the latest microphones, mixers, signal processing, digital audio, loudspeakers, recording and editing, conferencing and accessories needed in today’s systems.”
Click here to view a slideshow of some the many live-sound and audio products debuted at InfoComm 2017.