Mics that record in “3D” ambisonics are the next big thing

Call it the virtual reality microphone … or just think of it as an evolution of microphones that capture sounds more as you hear them. But mics purporting to give you 3D recording are arriving in waves – and they could change both immersive sound and how we record music.

Let’s back up from the hype a little bit here. Once we’re talking virtual reality or you’re imagining people in goggles, Lawnmower Man style, we’re skipping ahead to the application of these mic solutions, beyond the mics themselves.

The microphone technology itself may wind up being the future of recording with or without consumers embracing VR tech.

Back in the glorious days of mono audio, a single microphone that captured an entire scene was … well, any single microphone. And in fact, to this day there are plenty of one-mic recording rigs – think voice overs, for instance.

The reason this didn’t satisfy anyone is more about human perception than it is technology. Your ears and brain are able to perceive extremely accurate spatial positioning in more or less a 360-degree sphere through a wide range of frequencies. Plus, the very things that screw up that precise spatial perception – like reflections – contribute to the impact of sound and music in other ways.

And so we have stereo. And with stereo sound delivery, a bunch of two-microphone arrangements become useful ways of capturing spatial information. Eventually, microphone makers work out ways of building integrated capsules with two microphone diaphragms instead of just one, and you get the advantages of two mics in a single housing. Those in turn are especially useful in mobile devices.

So all these buzzwords you’re seeing in mics all of a sudden – “virtual reality,” “three-dimensional” sound, “surround mics,” and “ambisonic mics” are really about extending this idea. They’re single microphones that capture spatial sound, just like those stereo mics, but in a way that gives them more than just two-channel left/right (or mid/center) information. To do that, these solutions have two components:

1. A mic capsule with multiple diaphragms for capturing full-spectrum sound from all directions
2. Software processing so you can decode that directional audio, and (generally speaking) encode it into various surround delivery formats or ambisonic sound

(“Surround” here generally means the multichannel formats beyond just stereo; ambisonics are a standard way of encoding full 360-degree sound information, so not just positioning on the same plane as your ears, but above and below, too.)

The B360 ambisonics encoder from plug-in maker WAVES.

The software encoding is part of what’s interesting here. Once you have a mic that captures 360-degree sound, you can use it in a number of ways. These sorts of mic capsules are useful in modeling different microphones, since you can adjust the capture pattern in software after the fact. So these spherical mics could model different classic mics, in different arrangements, making it seem as though you recorded with multiple mics when you only used one. Just like your computer can become a virtual studio full of gear, that single mic can – in theory, anyway – act like more than one microphone. That may prove useful for production applications other than just “stuff for VR.”

There are a bunch of these microphones showing up all at once. I’m guessing that’s for two reasons – one, a marketing push around VR recording, but two, likely some system-on-a-chip developments that make this possible. (All those Chinese-made components could get hit with hefty US tariffs soon, so we’ll see how that plays out. But I digress.)

Here is a non-comprehensive selection of examples of new or notable 360-degree mics.

8ball

Maker: HEAR360, a startup focused on this area

Cost: US$2500

The pitch: Here’s a heavy-duty, serious solution – camera-mountable, “omni-binaural” mic that gives you 8 channels of sound that comes closest to how we hear, complete with head tracking-capable recordings. PS, if you’re wondering which DAW to use – they support Pro Tools and, surprise, Reaper.

Who it’s for: High-end video productions focused on capturing spatial audio with the mic.

https://hear360.io/shop/8ball

NT-SF1

Maker: RØDE, collaborating with 40-year veteran of these sorts of mics, Soundfield (acquired by RØDE’s parent in 2016)

Cost: US$999

The pitch: Make full-360, head-trackable recordings in a single mic (records in A-format, converts to B-format) for ambisonic audio you can use across formats. Works with Dolby Atmos, works with loads of DAWs (Reaper and Pro Tools, Cubase and Nuendo, and Logic Pro). 4-channel to the 8-ball’s titular eight, but much cheaper and with more versatile software.

Who it’s for: Studios and producers wanting a moderately-priced, flexible solution right now. Plus it’s a solid mic that lets you change mic patterns at will.

Software matters as does the mic in these applications; RØDE supports DAWs like Cubase/Nuendo, Pro Tools, Reaper, and Logic.

https://en.rode.com/nt-sf1

H3-VR

Maker: ZOOM

Cost: US$350

The pitch: ZOOM is making this dead simple – like the GoPro camera of VR mics. 4-capsule ambisonic mic plus 6-axis motion sensor with automatic positioning and level detection promise to make this the set-it-and-forget-it solution. And to make this more mobile, the encoding and recording is included on the device itself. Record ambisonics, stereo inaural, or just use it like a normal stereo mic, all controlled onboard with buttons or using an iOS device as a remote. Your recording is saved on SD cards, even with slate tone and metadata. And you can monitor the 3D sound, sort of, using stereo binaural output of the ambisonic signal (not perfect, but you’ll get the idea).

Who it’s for: YouTube stars wanting to go 3D, obviously, plus one-stop live streaming and music streaming and recording. The big question mark here to me is what’s sacrificed in quality for the low price, but maybe that’s a feature, not a bug, given this area is so new and people want to play around.

https://www.zoom-na.com/products/field-video-recording/field-recording/zoom-h3-vr-handy-recorder

ZYLIA

Maker: ZYLIA, a Polish startup that IndieGogo-funded its first run last year. But the electronics inside come from Infineon, the German semiconductor giant that spun off of Siemens.

Cost: US$1199 list (Pro) / $699 for the basic model

The pitch: This futuristic football contains some 19 mic capsules to the 4-8 above. But the idea isn’t necessarily VR – instead, Zylia claims they use this technology to automatically separate sound sources from this single device. In other words, put the soccer ball in your studio, and the software separates out your drums, keys, and vocalist. Or get the Pro model and capture 3rd-order ambisonics – with more spatial precision than the other offerings here, if it works as advertised.

Who it’s for: Musicians wanting a new-fangled solution for multichannel recording from just one mic (on the basic model), useful for live recording and education, or people doing 3D recordings wanting the same plug-and-play simplicity and more spatial information.

Oh yeah, also – 69dB signal-to-noise ratio is nothing to sneeze at.

Pro Tools Expert did a review late last year, though I think we soon need a more complete review for the 3D applications.

http://www.zylia.co/

What did we miss? With this area growing fast, plenty, I suspect, so sound off. This is one big area in mics to watch, for sure – and the latest example that software processing and intelligence will continue to transform music and audio hardware, even if the fundamental hardware components remain the same.

And, uh, I guess we’ll all soon wind up like this guy?

(Photo source, without explanation, is the very useful archives of the ambisonics symposium.

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Teenage Engineering to ship their OP-Z, a handheld game-like synth

In a sea of synths that embrace retro vibes or big form factors, futurists and minimalist design lovers have eagerly awaited the Teenage Engineering OP-Z. And that wait is nearly over.

The new thing from Sweden now at last starts preorders now, with a ship date in mid October. The first batch are already gone, but at least we know these things are making their way into the world.

It’ll even come with a cute case bundle. (Cables and grippy knobs sold separately.)

There’s even an atypical apology from the Teenagers:

– let us start by apologizing for the long delay.* to develop new products can at times be quite hard and when you work on things that have never been done before,

it’s even harder. over the last year we have re-worked and re-thought in absurdum, but now when three long years of development have finally come to an end, we feel quite confident that you will actually thank us for that extra long wait. why? you might ask…– because the result is just pretty, pretty great.

Hands-on sessions at Moscow’s Synthposium – the surprise in-event this year for synth lovers – in fact confirmed the pretty-greatness of the OP-Z.

So instead of Stockholm, we got the really proper view of the OP-Z in the Russian capital, as documented here. The “Z” stands for “depth”:

And that’s also how Cuckoo, YouTube personality, suddenly shows up on Russian Music Mag’s channel and not only his own:

The jumbo candybar form factor of this synth recalls the Teenagers’ other flagship, the OP-1. But it’s safer to say that the OP-Z brings together a lot of what the design shop have been about over the years. There’s the lineage from the machinedrum and the early Elektron days, and its emphasis on design, rectangular corners, minimal controls, and grooves embedded into hardware. There’s the reduced calculator-style layout and key controls as we saw on the Pocket Operators. You have the unmistakable design aesthetics, introduced on the OP-1 but continually improved with collaborations with the likes of IKEA. So the OP-Z looks more stylish and design-conscious than anything else on the market.

But that’s not nearly as important I think as the way Teenage Engineering have increasingly mixed gaming metaphors, particularly from the Nintendo legacy, with music.

The OP-Z looks like a portable gaming console, and one that’s simultaneously both futuristic and kind of 1980s. (It’s a future for people who spent part of their past in the 80s.)

It plugs into a bigger display, in a throwback to old consoles and PCs.

And it suggests that an electronic musical instrument is a game and a tool at the same time.

The best way to follow how it works is to catch up with some of the best hands-on videos coming out of the YouTubers who were seeded beta units. Tutorial:

Jam session:

Do you speak German? Do you speak English but prefer the way synthesizer talk sounds in German? (Really, sounds way more … intelligent, somehow.)

The visual possibilities, meanwhile, are captured more clearly in Japan, and … those features sound better in Japanese, I think.

And here’s Cuckoo playing the thing live:

Check out the preorder:

https://teenage.engineering/products/op-z/pre-order

Or in person, Teenage Engineering is showing this and their other recent stuff in King’s Cross London:

https://teenage.engineering/now

https://teenage.engineering/

* Side note: once upon a time, I projected a graph of awesomeness vs. shippingness, specifically regarding the OP-1. Seems it’s still a curve you have to fight – but it can be defeated even with awesome stuff.

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Roland debuts AX-Edge Keytar and JUNO-DS76 Synthesizer

Roland AX Edge featRoland has introduced the AX-Edge Keytar, a performance synthesizer designed to be played in a standing position with a shoulder strap. Building on decades of refinement and input from artists around the world, the AX-Edge features 49 full-sized keys and a professional sound set crafted specifically for keytarists. It also offers a sleek, modern design […]

IK Multimedia launches “Supercharge Your Interface” with FREE Amplitube 4 Deluxe

IK Multimedia Supercharge Your InterfaceIK Multimedia has launched a Supercharge Your Interface promotion, offering a free copy of its AmpliTube 4 Deluxe with a purchase of select iRig digital guitar interfaces. From September 4 through September 30 2018, take advantage of this great offer to reach a totally new level of mobile playability with intuitive new features with our […]

Cute little €99 NES, acid music toys: coming soon, totally connected

Twisted Electrons’ small, fun-looking boards with acid and Nintendo chip sounds are one of the sound toys we’re most eagerly anticipating this year. And now they’re adding some connectivity: clock, USB MIDI, and an editor.

Here’s the story so far: Twisted Electrons have already been making some pretty powerful desktop synths and sequencers. But then they were inspired by Teenage Engineering’s dirt-cheap, impulse-buy tiny boards, the Pocket Operators. (It’s okay to say that; they’re open about the inspiration and it sounds like those crazy kids up in Sweden are more than happy about it.) So, they took the 8-bit acid bass wavetable sounds and step sequencer out of their acid8 synth, and added a new synth inspired by the chip from the classic Nintendo Entertainment System console.

We saw these boards first at Superbooth in Berlin. They look like fun little gadgets, especially if you’re after some chip sounds.

And oh wow does the NES board sound great. Plus, I like that this takes a hands-on approach to sound and step sequencing – nothing against trackers and the program-the-sound approach, but it’s nice to have the same sound set with a different approach:

The “acid” uacid8 instrument is sexy, too – love child of a TB-303’s squelch and the grittier sounds of chip music:

If you were already waiting for them, there was a manufacturing delay as they moved manufacturing into Europe. But now we get extra features:

1. MIDI clock compatibility

2. USB MIDI support

3. VST editor for desktop

Ah-ha! So now, instead of having some fun toys you play around with for an evening that then collect dust, you can be sure you’ll be able to wire these into your existing setup, sync them up, and be productive actually adding them to projects and make some finished songs.

DAW integration looks like so:

The soundtrack for that video game you dreamed of as a kid can now be a reality. Get making and become the chip composer legend you never were.

Or, at least, get ready to do that around October when these ship. We’ll be waiting. That’s €99 for the world that isn’t in the Eurozone, plus a little more with VAT if you’re on the inside of the Fortress Europe walls.

Preorder product pages:

https://twisted-electrons.com/product/hapines-pre-order/

https://twisted-electrons.com/product/uacid8-pre-order/

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TASCAM intros Model 24 Digital Multitrack Recorder

TASCAM Model 24TASCAM has announced a new versatile digital multitrack recorder for studio and live applications. Model 24 offers 24 tracks of 24-bit, 48 kHz audio capture (22 channels and a stereo main mix) and 22 playback tracks via either USB 2.0 or to the unit’s onboard SD Card recorder. The SD Card recorder offers quick, easy […]

Apple killing app affiliates is about more than just the affiliate program

Apple is terminating its affiliate program for iOS and Mac apps, effective October 1. That move is seeing a backlash from developers – and could discourage press outlets from covering apps.

Full disclosure: CDM added affiliate links for apps in our Apps section, which is helmed by Ashley Elsdon. In fact, this is at the moment how CDM supports Ashley’s contributions to CDM; we simply migrated his affiliate program from his former site Palm Sounds to CDM, and had planned to further develop this in the future.

But it’s not just media who are concerned about the change. I’ve heard from several developers who have emphasized that the move will cost them, too. Those developers often include affiliate links on their own sites, thus taking a portion of Apple’s own royalties. The logic is simple: if you go get an app through the developer’s site itself, it’s really their site, not the Apple App Store, that is helping you find that app. By eliminating the affiliate program, the argument goes, Apple is essentially claiming marketing services as part of their 30% royalty share without doing anything.

Some examples from public comments on Twitter:

(Intermorphic is the ground-breaking developer of interactive music tools that has worked with the likes of Brian Eno; David Lublin is a Mac developer and founder of Vidvox, creators of VDMX.)

This saga began effectively in 2017; Apple pledged to drop the commission rate from 7% to 2.5%, then, following a backlash, limited that change to In-App Purchases only.

The announcement from Apple is itself revealing:

With the launch of the new App Store on both iOS and macOS and their increased methods of app discovery, we will be removing apps from the affiliate program. … All other content types (music, movies, books, and TV) remain in the affiliate program.

[emphasis mine]

Forget 7% or 2.5% or 0%. The real story here is not just about affiliates, but about Apple’s intended avenue of discovery. That is, they want you to discover, learn about, and consume apps entirely on their platform. They’ve made moves to hire their own editorial staff. Effectively, they’re keeping resources inside Apple.

And that itself should be chilling. The Internet has transformed quickly in the face of dominance of a handful of corporations. And those corporations are all tightening their grip. In the phone market, two companies – Apple and Google – have an effective duopoly. In search, one company – Google. (One exception is the search recommendations provided by … Apple.) Online advertising is dominated by Google. Retail is dominated by Amazon. Social media is effectively now just Facebook (via Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp).

Long-time independent Apple publisher TidBITS has some tough words on the situation, from industry veteran Adam Engst. And you should listen to him, as Adam is very much in that “last man standing” category as we’ve watched independent technology media collapse.

Apple’s Termination of App Store Affiliate Payments Is Unnecessary, Mean-Spirited, and Harmful

I was going to say, it isn’t necessarily Apple’s obligation to keep us alive except … well, it absolutely is. Independent media contributed to the growth of Apple’s platforms, and now with iPhone device sales flattening, the massively wealthy corporation may actually be making a strategic error even as far as its own self interest.

But that aside, I think Adam says something here that’s bigger than app affiliate revenue or even Apple, rather reflecting on the state of the Internet:

Any media-savvy organization, whether it’s a multinational corporation or full-fledged government, can increasingly control public perception not just by manipulating social media but also by bringing content creation and dissemination in-house. It’s all about control in a media world that no longer has gatekeepers. Apple pulled out of Macworld Expo years ago because it could just as easily hold its own product release events, and now we’re seeing Apple do the same to industry publications by competing with them via App Store editorial.

And that’s really the issue. Whether Apple’s affiliate program makes sense either for Apple or for publishers, the message killing the program spells it out: Apple wants to be the editorial. And the companies I’ve mentioned (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) in various ways want to be the Internet. Those of us not working for those companies are free to criticize. And we may have to face the reality that this changes the practicality of our businesses. That may or may not be an existential crisis, but it isn’t something to ignore and wish away.

Developers will have to consider this in their business plans, particularly as Apple charges them for advertising on top of the share of revenue they take as a royalty. (This is one reason, among others, pro audio developers have almost universally rejected the desktop App Store.)

And publishers face a choice about whether we can compete with Apple, or whether we should exit the business entirely.

That said, even if this sounds bleak for us on the independent side, consider: Apple can only be Apple. They can only be in the business of selling their devices and apps. But we can easily switch business in a way that ceases to contribute to their business. In the long run, that may be more Apple’s problem than our own.

I hope that Apple will still reconsider the decision in the face of feedback from developers and press. I certainly don’t consider this to be typical of the treatment of media relations, who in my experience do still value the media (ahem) as part of their job role. And whatever Apple decides, my personal bias remains: businesses work better together than they do apart.

Addendum: the competition

I realize I focused entirely in this story on Apple, which isn’t entirely fair.

It’s worth noting that Google has not ever had an affiliate program.

Who does? Microsoft does, with a 7% commission rate. That is available with generous rewards for apps, in-app purchases, and – crucially, given that they’re much bigger ticket items – Microsoft hardware.

Using the Microsoft Affiliate Program to earn additional 7% on Windows Store sales [2016 Microsoft developer post, but still relevant and a good overview of how this works]

Now, does that make the Microsoft platform better for the user or developer? That’s arguable, clearly. But what I think it may demonstrate is a difference in philosophy and strategic positioning. Google, for all their claims of “openness,” are first and foremost an advertising – and by extension, content – platform. Microsoft built value around an ecosystem and interoperability of businesses inside that ecosystem. What’s interesting about the Apple affiliate decision is, since there wasn’t any particular urgency to making the change, it suggests Apple is shifting their strategy to take more control over content around their platform and not just what gets delivered through the store.

When the affiliate decision is long since forgotten, that strategic shift may prove to have been meaningful.

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Yep, you can go virtuoso with ROLI – DiViNCi, Alluxe show you how

You may have met ROLI’s Seaboard and Lightpad Blocks – the squishy performance controllers for computers and mobile. But all these promises about futuristic instruments aside, can you really wail on them? Computer says yes.

Finger drummer virtuoso DiViNCi is an absolute monster on these things. It reminds me of a couple of hyperactive drummer friends I grew up with, rapping on tables, only this actually works as a live performance. And whatever genre you’re into, this proves that if your ideas happen to be, you know – fast ideas – you can make them happen. Watch:

There’s actually a lot going on there, so even more useful than drooling over this performance demo is watching step-by-step as he pulls apart his live setup. He came to the jam without a plan, but … then that means some planning in setup, to make this function well as an all-in-one, one-man-band rig. This involves setting up some keys in advance, and configuring sounds, so that the setup is out of the way and he can lose himself and jam – even literally with his eyes closed.

ROLI’s hardware – for the moment, at least – doesn’t make any sound on its own, so it’s necessary to dig into the ROLI Dashboard to connect the hardware with software. That software in turn got some updates, recently, if you haven’t checked in on it lately.

It’s important to DiViNCi’s set that he combines the talkbox and the Blocks-controlled software instrument. Let’s check in, too, with Laura Escude aka Alluxe, and her “future classical” setup. Laura is someone special, in that she’s not only built a career as a solo musician and electronic instrumentalist, but also as a high-powered teacher and consultant, setting up live shows on the biggest imaginable scale for the likes of Kanye West and others. (She was also just added to the lineup at the next Ableton Loop in her home city LA in the fall, so see you all in California, hopefully!)

That said, it’s really Laura’s own performances that are the most personal. Instead of the ultra-compact Blocks, here she uses the Seaboard RISE keyboard controller – still my personal favorite. (Just squishy enough, more room to play on, but not so big that you can’t tote it around… and unlike the very first Seaboard, not too squishy. Squishy – technical term, hope you’re keeping up.)

She works with Ableton Live to set up sounds so the instrument can work through her setlist and stay expressive as she focuses on other stuff – like singing, for example.

That’s an interesting way of doing it, by the way – so it’s program changes in Live, triggered inside clips, triggered by follow actions. (I’ve been procrastinating doing a story just on how to manage different sounds in Live sets … it’s time.)

Some more resources:

Use Seaboard RISE with Kontakt

Use RISE with Apple Logic Pro and Equator

My Seaboard artist stories

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MOTU audio interfaces gain Touch Console for mobile mixing

MOTU Touch ConsoleMOTU has announced it is now shipping Touch Console, a new mixing environment in its Pro Audio Control web app software specifically designed for mobile mixing on the touchscreen of a tablet or smartphone. Users launch the Pro Audio Control web app on their tablet or smartphone (iOS or Android) to access Touch Console, giving […]

The mixing powers in MOTU audio interfaces are now on iOS, Android

High-end audio interfaces often have the equivalent of virtual mixing desks packed inside. But most of us fail to take advantage of that, because it means switching to a software window. MOTU just put its console on iOS and Android – and that makes life way easier.

MOTU’s interfaces are popular for their I/O configurations and reliability in common use cases. And they’ve always been one of the leaders when it comes to packing mixing functionality inside.

But… having to access mixing features from desktop software is frankly a pain. You know the drill: you’re in your DAW. Now you switch over to some mixing app. Then you fumble around with your mouse trying to find what you need. You can’t adjust more than one fader at a time, because you can only mouse around to one at a time. Then you need to switch back to your DAW.

In fact, half the time, it seems this ritual takes place because you’ve accidentally set some setting wrong in said mixing app and need to go back and fix it.

So that’s why MOTU’s Touch Console is a very big deal. It isn’t the first remote-control touch app for music gear. But it fits a very popular set of audio interfaces in a very crucial set of use cases.

Touch Console runs on iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, so you’ve likely already got gear it can use. And it gives you access to the full 4-channel mixer in your interface. That means you effectively have a full mixing desk on the go wherever you can bring your MOTU box.

And apart from basic mixing, you get:
12 buses, with 7 stereo aux buses
Effects (4-band parameteric EQ, dynamics processing, reverb
A model of the vintage LA-2A – the legendary tube compressor or “Leveling Amplifier” as Teletronix called it

Compatible MOTU boxes: 1248, 16A, 8M, 112D, 828es, UltraLite-mk4, UltraLite AVB, Monitor-8 and Stage-B16, plus the 8pre-es. (8pre-es already has that pre-installed; everyone else will get a free firmware update, which you can install online or offline.)

Here’s an overview:

And here’s a look at how the effects work. You might want to mute the cheesy hold music, but … the interface looks fluid and slick:

By the way, if you’re on RME, they have a wireless app for their TotalMix app, plus an app with FX support. RME’s offering is crude by comparison, though; MOTU deserves credit for building something from the ground up that feels touch native. (Also, RME is iOS-only – it’s nice to see MOTU support Android.)

Touch Console [MOTU.com]

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