Big show, big sound – the AV installers’ show is now the home of high-end commercial audio

We may not have reached the end of history when it comes to audio products but it was certainly an inflection point of some significance when, at the Infocomm Show 19, which concluded on 14 June in the cavernous Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, two major sound system manufacturers each introduced a new “A Series” loudspeaker line to the U.S market. L-Acoustics showed its new A-10 and A-15 components to its existing ARCS product line, while d&b audiotechnik launched its new A Series “augmented array.” We might have made it a hat trick with JBL’s own new A series cabinets, but they were introduced two years earlier. However, suffice it to say that the pro audio industry isn’t so much running out of letters as it is just getting so big that the process of naming products seems to be lagging a bit behind the R&D that develops them. The 20-plus demo rooms on one level of the event venue (mercifully adjacent to the pro audio area of the show floor this year) hosted nearly two dozen PA system brands, large enough to let the systems throttle up and show what they can do.

Peak PA?

What attendees saw this year is what might be called peak PA, with more brands than ever pouring into the world’s largest live-sound market, one saturated with touring musicians (who can no longer make any money selling records), music festivals that seem to be cropping up on every urban vacant lot and park, and corporate events that vie to outdo each other in lavishness since the end of the recession. It is a perfect storm of live sound applications, and Infocomm19 was its locus for three days in June. What one also learned shuttling between demo rooms is that live sound systems seem to have universally achieved virtual audiophile status. The Steely Dan and Norah Jones tracks that used to be the standard demonstration content for top-end studio monitors last week bellowed forth from systems intended to fill stadiums and arenas. In fact, that very sonic quality underscored the challenge now facing the sound-system sector: differentiation. There is the so-called “rider-ready” phenomenon, by which a handful of brands have collectively and largely subjectively received an unofficial industry imprimatur, dubbing them the best of the best. In reality, there have never been so many good-sounding systems on the market. Thus, at the show, differentiation sometimes took the form of outright theatricality: viz Bose Professional’s use of a comedic actor to underscore points made by the presenter (about that new A series, among other products), and Coda Audio’s starkly minimalist stage presentation that began with singer-songwriter Sonia Barcelona performing, building a song from progressive loops, a la Ed Sheeran, ahead of a completely prerecorded and disembodied audio and video presentation focused on the flexibility and potential ROI  of its Arrayable Point Source (APS) system and new N-APS ultra-compact two-way box. Other than Sonia, no human being ascended the stage during the demo, and yet we felt this was am innovative and highly effective presentation. Real people were on hand before and after we should stress to speak to existing and potential customers….

Some manufacturers focused on next-generation live-sound formats, particularly immersive sound, such as d&b audiotechnik’s Soundscape, which was vividly demoed in their large space, in which their presenters roamed around the room without ever leaving the stage.

Sound system manufacturers are also differentiating themselves via software solutions, bringing new and updated versions of acoustical modeling, predictive, and immersive systems to market, such as L-Acoustics’ Soundvision, which announced the availability of new versions of Soundvision 3D simulation software, and its amplifier real-time control and monitoring software, LA Network Manager

Speaking of software, Dante, the winner (it seems) of the networked-audio format wars, is following the path blazed by enterprise software developers and announced at the show the Dante Embedded Platform, which enables manufacturers to add full Dante functionality in software running on Linux for x86 and ARM processors, and the Dante Application Library, which allows software developers to seamlessly integrate Dante functionality directly into their PC and Apple applications. Dante as software also enables new capabilities, like Dante being deployed retroactively to products already in the field, and the ability to add new features and functions to products on the fly.

There was plenty to take note of at Infocomm19 from a larger pro audio perspective. They include Martin Audio’s new Blackline XP powered speakers and sub, Innovox Audio’s Flex Synergy Slim ADA-compliant conferencing audio platform, and Sonance’s Pro Series in-ceiling commercial grade speaker with paintable grilles.

There was plenty on show in the more conventional Infocomm product areas of signage, control, content management and lighting, although getting out of the pro audio area was difficult, given how much there was to see. But those who did manage to do so might have seen more emphasis on system control from Alcorn McBride’s WinScript Live 5, which showcased new features and functionality for Alcorn McBride’s show controllers; and digital-signage maker BrightSign’s new network and player management platform, which further underscores AV’s move to cloud-based networking.

On Wednesday evening we attended the inaugural Mondo DR Awards Americas which recognised permanent installation projects across categories including Arena, Bar & Restaurant, Concert Hall, House of Worship, Integrated Resort, Nightclub, Stadium and Theatre. Entries were open to anyone and everyone from venue operators to manufacturers, distributors and dealers, installers, integrators, lighting and visual designers, architects, acousticians and consultants. Thanks to Mondo DR and all the event sponsors for an enjoyable event and a welcome few minutes to unwind during what was otherwise a breakneck few days! Details of all nominees and winners can be found here.

Continuing on the Club theme, we had wondered before the show about the shift in positioning with the DJ at the heart of much of the Infocomm19 branding and this seemed to makes sense once we were on the ground in Orlando. If there was a single big story at this year’s show, it was about big sound, how there is now so much of it, and how good it all sounds. The hard part for all the customers and users out there will be which one to choose. Let’s see where we are next year when the Infocomm train will be rolling back into Las Vegas.

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