2013 marks the second year of the PAR Excellence Awards as a reader-voted program, presented by the Editors and Contributors of Pro Audio Review (PAR) magazine. An online balloting system allowed voting privileges to Pro Audio Review print and digital subscribers from the mail date of PAR August 2013's issue through November 15, 2013.
Nominations for the PAR Excellence Awards were developed through the brain trust of PAR Editors and Contributors. Nominations were based on the "I want to own this" principle; gear selected should have a proven field track record, performed well via PAR's "real world" review process, or — in the case of recently released products — have shown particular promise through demonstrations, beta-testing and among early adopters.
Without further ado, here are the winners.
Category 1: Studio Hardware
Focusrite Scarlett 18i20
The biggest Scarlett product, the 18i20 features 18 inputs and 20 outputs provides eight Focusrite Scarlett microphone preamps with switchable phantom power and up to 60dB of gain. Other features include USB 2.0 connectivity; iOS compatibility; 24-bit/96 kHz A-D/D-A converters with analog mic/line XLR/TRS I/O; and connections for channels 1 and 2 on the front panel with hi-Z input and switchable -10dB pad. Another eight channels of digital I/O are provided via ADAT Lightpipe; S/PDIF provides stereo digital I/O.
Competing products in this category include three 500 Series modules—the Aphex J PRE, JDK Audio V10, and Rascal Audio Two-V—and the Millennia HV-37.
The 18i20 is reviewed is the December 2013 issue of Pro Audio Review.
Channel Strip (including preamp, EQ and/or compressor/limiter):
PreSonus ADL 700
PreSonus eclipsed several impressive competitors in the channel strip category, including three 500 Series modules—the Heritage Audio 1073, Radial Engineering PreComp and Radial Engineering PreMax—and the Aphex Project Channel.
“PreSonus’ flagship ADL 700 features a Class A tube preamp (by tube-circuit designer Anthony DeMaria), variable, FET-based compressor and a four-band semi-parametric equalizer, separate balanced XLR mic, balanced XLR line, and quarter-inch TS instrument inputs and a single balanced XLR output. “I found the preamp section to be the best part,” offers PAR Contributor Rob Tavaglione in his review of the ADL 700. “It’s incredibly musical, clear and versatile. Driven hard, this preamp will lightly break up and distort mildly at first, but jump right into over-saturated valve glory when slammed. Clean and beautiful, though, is this preamp’s forte.”
Solid State Logic Stereo Bus Compressor for 500 Series
The ubiquitous center section SSL bus compressor available for 500 Series-compatible chassis swept this impressive category, also featuring the Undertone Audio UnFairchild Model 670M and three other 500 Series modules—Daking Comp 500, JDK Audio V12, and SSL’s own Dynamics module.
Though “the SSL console sound has been available in 12 different modules for SSL’s own modular X-Rack system for many years,” tells SSL promotional material, the company is further distributing its legendary bus comp within the burgeoning 500 Series module market—clearly, to great success.
Solid State Logic 611 EQ for 500 Series
The 611 gained over half of all total votes within the EQ category against all 500 Series competition, including Bettermaker’s 502P, Elysia’s xfilter, and Radial Engineering’s Q4.
The 611 EQ is the four-band EQ from the venerable SSL E Series desk, minus the filter section. Features include top (HF) and bottom (LF) peak/shelving and two mid-frequency bands with fully variable Q. The only exception to the original is an added switch to change EQ curves between the “Brown-02” and “Black-242” console versions; “brown” has HPF and LPF 12 dB/octave filter slopes while “black” features a switchable filter bypass, fully eliminating filters the circuit, if desired. PAR Contributor Randy Poole gushes, “The 611 EQ yields some of the fastest and most satisfying drums sounds of any EQ I have tried.”
Converter, DAW I/O, Interfaces or Networking Device
Universal Audio Apollo 16
The strong buzz of the Apollo line within the marketplace foreshadowed this win, though competition was still stiff, including the Apogee Quartet, Antelope Audio Orion 32, Focusrite Forte, and the Prism Sound Lyra Series.
Building on the wildly successful Apollo line, the Apollo 16 Audio Interface offers 16x16 analog I/O conversion. The FireWire/Thunderbolt-ready interface offers UAD-2 QUAD processing, DB-25 connectivity and multi-unit cascading for up to 32x32 analog I/O. With its standard UAD-2 QUAD processing onboard, Apollo 16 provides real time processing with UAD Powered Plug-Ins with as low as sub-2 ms latency. Apollo 16's onboard UAD processing is also available during mixing and mastering, so that users can employ UAD plug-ins (VST, RTAS, AU) throughout the creative process.
Genelec M Series M030
This category featured the most nominees of any other category this year, and competition was tough; ADAM F7, Emotiva Pro Stealth 8, JBL M2, Neumann KH 310 A, PMC twotwo and Sonodyne SM200AK were still eclipsed by over a quarter of votes going to Genelec’s latest, the M Series M030.
From Genelec’s innovative new Music Creation Series, the M030 features “unique aesthetics and physicality”: trademarked, Finnish-made Natural Composite Enclosure (NCE) material (50% wood fiber, 50% polymer/recycled materials), which doesn't require a lot of handling during manufacturing; Class D amps; and much more. Offers PAR Editor Strother Bullins: “I appreciate the effort of Genelec to provide, for lack of a better phrase, a ‘stripped down Gennie’ for the guys in the band that do know what ‘the good monitors’ sound like.”
See Editorial Director Frank Wells’ full review of the M Series larger model, the M040, is the December 2013 issue of PAR.
AKG K702 65th Anniversary Edition
Against stiff competition from beyerdynamic’s T90 and V-Moda’s Crossfade M-100, the AKG K702 65th Anniversary Edition came away with the win in the headphones category.
Handcrafted in Vienna, Austria, this open-back dynamic studio-grade headphone is built like the original, only updated in the right places. It features AKG’s patented Varimotion two-layer diaphragm, now with a flat wire voice coil and new soft leather headband. The K702 sounds full and open, seem to work particularly well on vocalist and mix reference applications.
Rupert Neve Designs 5059
A 16x2+2 summing mixer, the 5059 is “built around many of the topologies and custom transformers of the RND 5088 analog studio mixer and popular Portico II Series analog processors. Ideal for those tired of mixing all digital “in the box,” the 5059’s sweet circuitry and channel inserts deliver all the analog tone and quality you can inject into a modern, world-class mix.
The 5059 eclipsed some very impressive analog and digital competition for the win, including the Dangerous Music Dangerous Source, Grace Design m905, Slate Pro Audio Raven MTX and Steinberg CMC Series.
Multitrack Digital Recorders
iZ RADAR 6
iZ’s latest incarnation of its world-class multitrack emerged the winner against competitors JoeCo (BlackBox) and Roland (R-88), confirming its appeal among aspirational recording engineers in the marketplace.
Following extensive testing for his PAR review, “It is quite possibly the best sounding digital recorder in the world,” declares PAR Contributor Rob Tavaglione of the RADAR 6. Further,”it seems to me that RADAR 6 is a more reliable recording platform than any DAW or any digital recorder I've used ... Do you court classical music clients, audiophile labels, and/or producers who demand “reference quality” audio? Do you record major concerts and well-budgeted artists all live, on location? Do you record popular music, but require a rock-solid front-end and an “analog tape” approach to your sessions? Then RADAR 6, coupled with a complete software-based DAW, is a no-brainer for your level of work.”
Acoustical Treatment/Acoustic Isolation Tools/Speaker Stands
Auralex ProFusor II Fabric Wrapped Sound Diffusor
The winning product amongst IsoAcoustics’ ISO-L8R430 Speaker Stands and Primacoustic’s Paintables Acoustic Panels, the Auralex ProFusor II is a quadratic residue diffusor, battling flutter echo “without removing acoustic frequency content of the sound,” offers company promotional material.
Made of a Class A fire-rated foam core and covered in one of five color options—Ebony, Pumice, Mesa, Sand and Shadow— the three-inch deep ProFusor II is available in two sizes, 2’x2’ and 2’x4’.
Radial Engineering Gold Digger 4-Channel Mic Selector
The Gold Digger is a 4-channel mic selector that enables the engineer to easily compare the sound of four different microphones while sharing the same preamp. PAR Contributor Rob Tavaglione has employed the Gold Digger in evaluating microphones for several months in review, with great results. “Gold Digger is a very useful and illuminating tool ... in Radial’s characteristic well-built, properly featured and affordable fashion, the unit gets the job done, as promised.”
Competing products in this varied category include the Argosy Aura Sit-Stand Workstation Line, Galaxy Audio Standformer MST-C Series Microphone Stands, Line 6 Sonic Port for iOS, Radial’s own Cherry Picker 4-Channel Preamp Selector, and Triad-Orbit T1 and T2 Microphone Stands with 01 and 02 Booms.
Category 2: Studio Software
Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs)
AVID Pro Tools 11
Our industry’s most popular professional DAW, PT11 won over competitors Ableton Live 9, MOTU Digital Performer, Nuendo 6, Sony Sound Forge Pro for Mac, and Propellerhead Reason 7.
PT 11 offers features including all-new A/V engines, 64-bit functionality, the “faster than real-time” offline bounce feature, and more. Stay tuned to the pages of PAR for our feature-sized PT11 review offering insight from our most PT-prolific Contributors.
WaveMachine Labs Auria Digital Audio Workstation
A new category for PAR-X 2013, iOS Software featured two buzzed-about iOS products specifically geared toward use by audio pros: Audiobus and the winner, WaveMachine Labs Auria DAW. PAR Technical Editor Lynn Fuston found Auria to be a compelling tool. “Compared to the tools I used to make my first recordings, the Auria/iPad combination is light years ahead and incredibly inexpensive. Could I make a great sounding record using this paradigm? Without a doubt.”
Universal Audio Ocean Way Studios
Touted as “rewriting the book on what’s possible with acoustic space emulation,” UA teamed up with Ocean Way’s Allen Sides for emulations of his studio’s Studio A and Studio B spaces and sonic profiles from Sides’ world-renowned collection of vintage microphones. Combined, the signature acoustics and microphone emulations allow for eight instrument/vocal source types with unique dispersion patterns, real-time blending of vintage mic pairs from different distances, wet/dry signal combining, and more.
Other products in this hot category include Eventide H3000 Factory Native, iZotope Trash 2, Sonnox Limiter for AAX and Waves GEQ.
Plug-ins, Stereo Bus
Universal Audio Shadow Hills Compressor
UA swept both channel and stereo bus categories, the latter with their Shadow Hills Compressor, though CEDAR Studio AAX and Sonnox Oxford Pro-Codec V2 were both hot contenders.
“This is one piece of gear that I’m glad is now available in plug-in form,” states PAR Software Editor Rich Tozzoli. Originally built to serve mastering jobs, the software version retains a “sonic character best described as beefy, spongy and warm. Placed across the Master Fader of a mix, it can increase the high presence and widen the stereo image. I also use it on vocals, bass, guitars and drum loops. I’ll often place a limiter after it to prevent clips, and push the unit hard for some nasty tones.“
iZotope Ozone 5 Advanced
The “Advanced” version of iZotope’s comprehensive mastering suite won this category against a trio of strong UA-made competitors: LA2A Classic, API 500 Series EQ, and Pultec Passive EQ.
Ozone 5 Advanced integrates eight essential mastering/mixing tools including Maximizer, Equalizer, Multiband Dynamics, Multiband Stereo Imaging, Multiband Harmonic Exciter, Reverb, Dithering, and Meter Bridge, Ozone 5 Advanced also includes a meter bridge. “It’s the only full-function mastering plug-in suite that I’ve encountered that includes everything needed to transform a final mix into a final master within a single plug-in,” explains PAR Senior Contributor Russ Long. “And to top it off, it’s one of the best sounding plug-ins available today.”
Category 3: Microphones, Studio & Stage
Large Diaphragm Condenser (LDC, non-handheld)
Billed as a Studio Vocal Microphone, the flagship cardioid Audio-Technica AT5040 gleaned more than half of all votes in this category, including the MXL CR89, Nevaton MC-50 QUAD, and Sanken CU-55.
Featuring a radical, brave new design, the hand-built AT5040 side-address condenser features a proprietary element design with four ultra-thin (2 micron) rectangular diaphragms “that function together providing combined surface area unachievable in a standard round diaphragm,” explains A-T documentation. “AT5040 is a well-built, respectable mic with a proud heritage and lots of unique design features,” discovered PAR Technical Editor and Nashville engineer Lynn Fuston in his in-depth review.
Small Diaphragm Condenser (SDC, non-handheld)
AKG C451 65th Anniversary Edition
A tight race to the end of our voting period, the AKG C451 65th Anniversary Edition just edged out the DPA 2011 compact cardioid.
In attractive gun-metal grey with silver screenprinted text and subtle blue highlights, the AKG C451 works on virtually everything requiring an SDC. It provides a stunning, legendary sound, recognizable alongside other ubiquitous models we know well and love tremendously—those with names such as U87 and SM57, for example.
Dynamic Microphones (non-handheld, including ribbon mics)
TIE: AEA R88 mk2 Stereo Ribbon and Telefunken Elektroakustik M82
This category produced a tie between two very different dynamicsa, the AEA R88 mk2 ribbon and Telefunken Elektroakustik M82 kick drum microphone.
“The AEA R88 mk2 Stereo Ribbon Microphone packs two matched, pressure-gradient pure aluminum ribbon transducers into a single elongated body, making it convenient to set up and record with,” explains PAR Software Editor Rich Tozzoli. “Overall, this mic delivers in several different ways. It’s easy to setup for stereo recording; it maintains a solid center image with a wide soundstage. It provides just what you would expect out of a high-end ribbon–huge, smooth, creamy sound with a massive bottom.”
Hand-assembled and tested in the company’s Connecticut manufacturing facility, Telefunken Elektroakustik’s new M82 dynamic cardioid microphone features a 35mm diaphragm and “superb low frequency capabilities,” notes M82 promotional material. An end-address microphone, the M82 features two separate EQ switches, High Boost and Kick EQ, which operate independently of each other to provide four unique settings.
Other nominees in this category included the AKG D12VR, Lewitt Audio DTP 640 REX and Miktek R99 ribbon.
Handheld Wired Microphones
Facing competition from such top performers as DPA’s d:facto II and Holophone Super C, the Shure KSM9HS emerged victorious. This unique handheld vocal microphone offers users the detailed, smooth and balanced sound of the original KSM9, but with a different pair of polar pattern selections: hypercardioid or subcardioid.
“I really like the subcardioid pattern, which makes the KSM9HS unique in the wide range of common live condensers in the marketplace,” offers PAR Editor Strother Bullins. “Paired with a half-dozen SM57s, KSM9HS users will have a solid collection of transducers for most any gig, at any professional level.”
RØDE’s iXY is “a crossed-pair of condensers in XY configuration connected to the Apple 30-pin adapter that will plug directly into an iPhone 4/4S or iPad 3 (or earlier) with built-in ADC that is capable of 24-bit/96 kHz recording,” describes PAR
The iXY slightly edged out two USB-equipped competitors, the Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ and BLUE Spark Digital.
Wireless Microphone Systems
Sennheiser Digital 9000
Sennheiser’s Digital 9000 wireless system emerged victorious in this competitive category, winning against such products as the beyerdynamic TG 1000, Line 6 Relay V75-SC, Sony DWZ, and Shure GLX-D.
Billed as “the wireless masterpiece” by Sennheiser, the Digital 9000 series is the German manufacturer’s premium wireless system collection, featuring 470 MHz to 798 MHz reception, compatibility with the best Neumann and Sennheiser capsules available, powerful, compact transmitters, highly advanced antennas, and more.
Category 4: Live Sound Hardware
Small Live Controllers/Mixers/Worksurfaces (under $2,500 list)
Allen & Heath MixWizard4 Analog
The fourth generation MixWizard Series edged out both analog and digital competition; other contenders included Mackie DL806, Mackie VLZ4, and Yamaha MGP Series’ MGP32X and MGP24X analog mixers.
The MixWizard4 features an EQ bypass mode per channel; new effects engine with EQ, reverb and delay algorithms derived from the iLive and GLD Series; and an optional USB interface—all still available for the same price.
Live Controllers/Mixers/Worksurfaces (over $2,500 list)
Soundcraft Si Performer Series
Soundcraft has packed a historic number of features in its Si Performer Series of digital mixers—every parameter an engineer could need or name, then some that will completely surprise, such as DMX Lighting Control, available on certain models in the line. Thus, with Si Performer, an engineer can broaden his resume and add value by simultaneously providing audio and lighting services.
Worthy competition in this category included the Allen & Heath Qu-16, Behringer X32 and Roland M-200i.
QSC Audio AcousticPerformance Series
QSC won this nominee-packed category with its AcousticPerformance Series of two-way powered loudspeakers against competition including Community VERIS 2, Danley SM80, ISP Technologies HDDS SM2110, JBL JRX200 and KV2 SL Series.
All AcousticPerformance cabinets feature a 3-inch voice coil compression driver combined with high-output woofers to deliver full bandwidth reproduction. Key to the line’s performance is QSC’s DMT (Directivity Matched Transition) design approach that matches the compression driver to the natural coverage angle of the woofer in the cross-over region paired with axisymmetric waveguides which help deliver consistent coverage with smooth and accurate reproduction both on and off-axis. Woofer configurations of 10-, 12- and 15-inch are available, with one 12-inch model configured to be optionally used as a stage monitor.
Line Array Systems/Cabinets
Meyer Sound LEO
Meyer Sound’s LEO emerged the winner in this hot category, which also featured nominees Adamson Energia E12, DAS Aero 40A, Martin Audio MLA Mini, Nexo STM and Vue Audiotechnik al-4 Subcompact.
The new flagship line array for Meyer Sound, LEO is billed as a linear large-scale sound reinforcement system. Company founder and inventor John Meyer says, “In linear systems, the loudspeaker does just one thing: it faithfully reproduces every sonic element, only louder, without any change in tonality.” LEO arrays can be augmented with the 1100LFC low frequency control element, for low frequency content, and the MICA compact high power curvilinear array loudspeaker for downfill applications.
Portable PA/Powered Speakers
Expanding on E-V’s great, compact ZX loudspeaker line, the ZX1-Sub is compact, powerful, and one of the most portable sub options on the powered portable PA market, with a maximum SPL of 127 dB. It features two recessed NL4-type connectors wired in parallel, a 15 mm thick, internally braced wooden enclosure with two side handles, a structured coating and a steel grille.
Other products in this category included Bose L1 Model 1S with B2 and ToneMatch, Cerwin-Vega P Series and Mackie DLM Series.
Two top amplifiers battled within this category—Crown’s DCi Series and TC Group’s Lab.gruppen’s IPD Series, with the latter emerging victorious.
The IPD series brings Lab.gruppen performance and build quality to a broader market in a compact (1U) and moderately priced amplifier line. Analog and AES3 digital inputs are standard, alongside networked monitoring and control. The line consists of a pair of two-channel models. At 4 ohms, the IPD 1200 delivers 2 x 600 W and the IPD 2400 2 x 1200W. The onboard DSP offew up to 40 parametric EQs and long with delay, gain and sweepable high- and low- pass filters.
JH Audio JH13 Pro w/ FreqPhase
The JH13 Pro—the first six-driver earpiece—has been updated with JH Audio’s Freqphase Time | Phase Waveguide. Freqphase, says JH, “creates the world's first phase coherent earphone by delivering the low, mid and high frequencies to your ear at once.” LF, Mid and HF drivers each have their own bore through the custom-molded earpiece, designed to time align the three audio bands, with a 10 Hz to 20 kHz frequency response. The custom mold design also offers -26 dB of isolation.
The JH13 gleaned the most votes against its sole competitor, Logitech’s Ultimate Ears UE900.
Sound Reinforcement Processing/System control/Networking
TIE: Avid VenuePack 4 and Yamaha Rio Ri8-D, Ro8-D I/O Racks
The second tie within this year’s PAR Excellence Awards, Avid VenuePack 4 and Yamaha Rio Ri8-D and Ro8-D I/O Racks evenly split a winning number of votes within this category, which also included CEDAR DNS 8 Live Noise Suppressor, Drawmer SP2120 Speaker Protector, and the Electro-Voice RCM-28 DSP and Network Module.
VenuePack 4 offers 30 plug-ins and utilities from Avid and 3rd-party plug-in partners. Alongside classic hardware emulations and a range of other dynamics, EQ and delay/verb processors, VenuePack 4 introduces Flux Pure Analyzer Essential.
Yamaha’s Ri8-D and Ro8-D input and output rack units are designed to use the DANTE audio network protocol. The 1U rack mount units provide additional options for system design and implementation, while maintaining the sonics of the CL Series and Rio3224-D and Rio1608-D I/O racks. Using Dante-MY16-AUD card(s) with the new Rio units and a Yamaha PM5D will create a 96kHz system. The new Rio units can also be used with CL Series, M7CL and LS9 Digital Consoles, DME64N Digital Mix Engines, and other compatible Yamaha products such as NEXO NXAmps using an NXDT104 card.
Rational Acoustics Smaart V.1 Di Two-Channel Analysis Software
Rational Acoustics’ streamlined, two-channel version of the standard Smaart v.7 analysis software is significantly easier to configure and operate without sacrificing the measurement power of RA’s current Spectrum and Transfer Function measurement engines. Its fixed, two channel architecture provides a nimble, quickly adaptable measurement environment, with all critical configuration and control parameters accessible from a single intuitive UI (user interface).
Smaart V.1 Di edged out accessory-based competitors d&b audiotechnik ArrayCalc Version 7 Simulation Software and L-Acoustics LA4-LA8, LA Network Manager Update.
—Congratulations to all of PAR Excellence Winners in 2013!
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