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Innovation v Hype

All about the tools and techniques involved in capturing sound, in the studio or on location.

Innovation v Hype

Postby Howdy Doody Time » Fri Jan 17, 2020 4:25 am

I just downloaded my weekly quota of back issues from Tape-Op Magazine and have spent the morning reading old but interesting interviews, and of course adverts for innovative new gear (new in 2010), and digital reproductions of analogue swag as well - Manley Massive Passive by UAD for example.

It's interesting to check out web pages from the period to see if the vendors are still operational, and it highlights the changes in recording gear over the past decade, but it makes one wonder how much of this is Hype and Gear-lust, and how much is genuinely welcome innovation. I suppose the former probably finances the latter. One interesting reviewer of another Pultec EQ plugin said boldly that no emulation will sound like the real thing, and no two real things will sound alike anyway, due to the age and condition of the various components, the amount of iron in the transformers etc.

This seems obvious when one thinks about it, but it also focuses ones attention on the veracity of the quest in the first place, and of course that of other impulse buying triggers for goodies such as compressor/limiters that might sound marginally different (if at all) to the ones you already own.

Reading back issues certainly made me think anyway.
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Re: Innovation v Hype

Postby Bob Bickerton » Fri Jan 17, 2020 4:45 am

It’s a really good point.

There’s a lot of hype around say, the UAD analogue emulations, but, as it turns out, they are plug-ins I enjoy to use, not only because they sound good to my (cloth) ears, but also because I enjoy the workflow of using GUIs which emulate analogue gear.

The same applies to physical gear. As an example there’s a lot of hype around a U87, but actually it’s a very good and flexible microphone. Other manufacturers may say their mic is like a U87, and their claim may or may not be born out in usage.

At the end of the day it’s how something’s sounds and how easy it is to use that counts. When you’re considering something that you can’t trial, SOS reviews and comments from respected posters here become indispensable.

Bob
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Re: Innovation v Hype

Postby Zukan » Fri Jan 17, 2020 9:31 am

TBH, I think there's always been an uncomfortable balance between innovation and 'big it to sell it'. However, some companies are truly innovative but that in itself can create problems. If the buyer cannot see or embrace the new tech or process then product development is rarely pursued, and that ends up being a 'loss' for us users.

The hype has been there since day 1 and will never go away. It's the nature of our industry and all retail falls into the hype moniker.

If you take a look at Roland you will see that a lot of their products have been both innovative and powerful and yet they have a habit of not following through with product development. I remember when they commissioned me to create the library for the VP9000. I spent the best part of six months on that project only to be told they were dropping the product. I got paid but we lost another really good product. This has been pretty much the norm for Roland. Emu was another company that was innovative and I was one of their main sound designers and platform builders for years and yet when they amalgamated with Ensoniq to benefit from their hardware Creative closed both companies down and sent us home. We lost some amazing tech there.

Yamaha is another company that has created some innovative products but because their main income comes from other sectors (motorbikes, electric pianos etc) they rarely follow up with interesting concepts. They are very good at updating and improving certain features of their hardware but they rarely explore the really innovative tech.

I love innovative boutique outfits and this is why, for me, Synthfest is always a breath of fresh air. I get to demo some wonderful concept products and hang with mad creators. I just wish brand companies would take a risk and create products that inspire as opposed to 'fill a gap'.
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Re: Innovation v Hype

Postby blinddrew » Fri Jan 17, 2020 9:42 am

Over in the HiFi world Philips seem to have a similar problem (maybe 'had', i'm a couple of decades out of it now), they were frequently accused of being great innovators but terrible marketers. And they often seemed to get confused about how to use their Marantz brand effectively.
Still, it does create an opportunity for the small guys to get a foot in the door. :thumbup:
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Re: Innovation v Hype

Postby Folderol » Fri Jan 17, 2020 11:05 am

Philips were prolific innovators, but they weren't good ones. They never did sufficient 'what if' type research.

My first memory of this, was on 405 line (valve) TVs where they fitted front panel control knobs that were all plastic with molded very long thin shafts. They were nowhere near strong enough to handle the stress of ham-fisted average users and soon broke. To compound the problem the shaft would break deep inside the set where it was impossible to reach from outside, requiring considerable dismantling of the set. At the same time, the bracket that supported the controls was fitted with push-on plastic 'nuts', these had been there just long enough that the heat from the valves made them go hard and brittle, so they were a devil to get off, and then broke up so had to be replaced with ordinary nuts. That in itself required unusually long nut spinners (no chance of getting your fingers or a spanner in there).

In the 1970s they also produced a very expensive ghetto blaster that was just about 100% plastic with all the mechanical parts, including hinges. radio switches and levers. A friend asked me to fix one that had strangely locked itself solid. It didn't take long to find out why. The entire frame had slightly distorted, as had all the levers. It was quite un-repairable. In their infinite wisdom, Philips had used a thermoplastic, and my friend had kept the unit on a window sill - it wasn't until late spring the problem showed up!

I avoided Philips like the plague after that one, and refused to even look at repairing any of their kit.
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Re: Innovation v Hype

Postby blinddrew » Fri Jan 17, 2020 1:20 pm

Yep, that figures! :)
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Re: Innovation v Hype

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Jan 17, 2020 1:53 pm

Folderol wrote:In their infinite wisdom, Philips had used a thermoplastic, and my friend had kept the unit on a window sill

Oops! :lol: I can just imagine that conversation in the product development meeting!
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Re: Innovation v Hype

Postby CS70 » Sat Jan 18, 2020 9:49 pm

Really I think most of the hype is due to us - buyers and users - rather than the manufacturers. Surely, they sometimes sugar coat thing is a bit (UAD's last "it's not a DAW" from the other thread made me chuckle) but the main reason is self-delusion: attributing properties to kit that are actually properties of the user - ourselves.

Given a supposedly innovative item, the key question to me is: can I do something with it that I couldn't before? Or - given a modicum of learning - can I do something that I could do before, but much faster and/or at a much lower cost?

It's usually easy to answer to these questions and find to which degree a specific product is innovative or not, regardless of the marketing.
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Re: Innovation v Hype

Postby Howdy Doody Time » Thu Jan 23, 2020 5:49 am

I suppose the reasonable question might be what can be innovative about a product that is essentially backward looking. Recently though, I have read here that UAD's approach to emulation is more sophisticated than the norm, so that's clearly innovation applied to emulation, but it still leaves the other question "Why bother" if no two Pultec MEQ's ever sounded alike in the first place, which one do you want to emulate.

Maybe back in the day, studio staff worked with fairly unsophisticated gear by todays standards, but they were highly skilled and/or experienced, and the performers really could perform, singers could really sing as well as work a microphone properly, and songwriters had mastered their art. I suppose while innovation can replicate the sound of the equipment of the day, no amount of innovation can replicate those skills.
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Re: Innovation v Hype

Postby Bob Bickerton » Thu Jan 23, 2020 6:01 am

Howdy Doody Time wrote:I suppose the reasonable question might be what can be innovative about a product that is essentially backward looking. Recently though, I have read here that UAD's approach to emulation is more sophisticated than the norm, so that's clearly innovation applied to emulation, but it still leaves the other question "Why bother" if no two Pultec MEQ's ever sounded alike in the first place, which one do you want to emulate.

Maybe back in the day, studio staff worked with fairly unsophisticated gear by todays standards, but they were highly skilled and/or experienced, and the performers really could perform, singers could really sing as well as work a microphone properly, and songwriters had mastered their art. I suppose while innovation can replicate the sound of the equipment of the day, no amount of innovation can replicate those skills.

I’m sure the musicians, singers and songwriters of today might have a different view ;)

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Re: Innovation v Hype

Postby The Red Bladder » Thu Jan 23, 2020 2:32 pm

The last time anybody produced a genuine innovation in audio technology, it was Melodyne. That was 12 years ago!

Just look at the lack of innovation in audio and music technology in general - the electronic synthesizer was invented about 85 years ago with the creation of the Hammond Novachord, but it took until 1964 before Moog used semiconductors.

Korg, for example, has produced three new synths in their entire history - everything else was just repackaging those three or copying (licensing) designs from others. (1) the MS20 with it's pitch-to-CV. (2) The Prophecy and stable-mate the Z1 (3) the Triton. Since then, all they have done is to repackage and slim down and refine those same three technology 'platforms' and sell the same stuff, but in different boxes!

Altogether the MI and audio markets have fallen into a rut of doing nothing new, creating no new technologies, exploring no new concepts, but just rearranging old stuff to look as if they have a hundred engineers beavering away, creating new features! The MI industry has found plenty of ways to make stuff cheaper but has done nothing to make anything genuinely new.

Is it all hype?

Well, it sure as hell ain't innovation!
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Re: Innovation v Hype

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Jan 23, 2020 2:37 pm

That feels a bit harsh...

The audio industry is a very mature one, so genuine innovations are inevitably going to be few and far between, just as they are in other similarly mature industries.

Cars have had a wheel in each corner and an infernal combustion engine in the front for quite a long time. The use of electric motors and batteries isn't new... it's just become more cost-effective and popular in recent times.
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Re: Innovation v Hype

Postby The Red Bladder » Thu Jan 23, 2020 3:02 pm

Yup, it's harsh. The blunt truth often is! There are dozens of ways to capture and create sound, but the MI industry sticks to four types of microphone and one type of speaker.

If you want genuine innovation, look at what is being achieved in film and video. Developments there are just racing ahead. Autosync without clocking. Match-move perfection. Object removal. Vactors are now realistic and a reality (people long-dead are now appearing on-screen!) Large Format (LF) movie cameras are going to be the standard. Cameras that move, zoom and frame the image by themselves using AI. 16-camera OB rigs that fit into a suitcase (inc. the cameras!)
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Re: Innovation v Hype

Postby Sam Inglis » Thu Jan 23, 2020 3:03 pm

Some innovations just take a long time to find their place in the market. One example would be Ambisonics, which was invented in the ’70s and is only now finding mass acceptance. Networked audio / audio over IP is another thing that had been around in one form or another for many years before it finally took off.

I suspect that AI will be the next innovation to make a big difference, but again, it'll be a while before that happens.
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Re: Innovation v Hype

Postby Berylito » Thu Jan 23, 2020 3:29 pm

> Korg, for example, has produced three new synths in their entire history - everything else was just repackaging those three or copying (licensing) designs from others. (1) the MS20 with it's pitch-to-CV. (2) The Prophecy and stable-mate the Z1 (3) the Triton.

??? The MS20 was a logical extension of the 770, the Prophecy and Z1 came from the unreleased OASYS, and the Triton was the successor to the Trinity.

And you left out the Wavestation.
And the OASYS.
And the M1.

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