A First Look At Three Innovative Audio Products

There were several new audio products that were introduced this fall at IBC 2019, a media, entertainment and technology trade show.

For this edition of Audio Assist, I’ll focus on a few innovative audio products that premiered at IBC 2019, which is an annual media, entertainment and technology show that takes place each year in Amsterdam.

For me, it’s a welcome change to see audio gear getting some attention since it sometimes feels as if audio gets lost in the never-ending tsunami of video technology and all the new cameras, lenses and lighting that are introduced into the market. It’s probably the reason why it appears that audio lags behind video in new product introductions and new innovation. But I think these three new products prove that there are some exciting innovations taking place in the world of audio-for-video category. In fact, I think all three include cutting-edge features while still remaining relatively low cost and accessible for production out in the field.

Zoom F6 Multitrack Field Recorder

The new Zoom F6 is an ultra-compact, multitasking field recorder, with a powerful new feature: 32-bit float technology for distortion-free dynamic range.

The F6 allows for up to 14 tracks of simultaneous recording, at a very reasonable $649 price tag. Like many other pieces of new audio gear, this Zoom recorder is a great value. But it’s in a very competitive space: High-quality audio recorders keep improving just as prices on those new models continue to drop. So it’s a very good time to be looking for new sound gear.

Zoom F6 Multitrack Field Recorder
The Zoom F6 is the first of a newer generation of mixers: It’s a recorder that offers an incredible feature set for an incredibly low price while retaining great quality.

No matter how you need to use it—for sound, for picture applications, recording live music or even when recording ambient sound for VR and AR applications—the F6 has the modes, resolutions and media support to handle your audio workflow in an efficient and relatively easy way.

But as I just noted, the headline feature on the F6 is its 32-bit float resolution and dual-path A/D converters. This relatively new technology on this product, especially at this relatively low price point, means that the F6 has immense dynamic range to cover the audible spectrum with ease. In short, that means digital clipping is no longer the challenge that it was with older, 24-bit or 16-bit audio recording technology.

Higher bit-depth recording means a lower-noise floor, with lower levels of distortion. Practically speaking, the increased DR means that needing to be very careful when you’re riding gain is pretty much a thing of the past. (We’ll be sure to test this when we get this model in to review it.)

Recording Media And Multitrack Modes: The F6 allows you to use SDXC memory cards for recording up to 512 GB of storage space. Use the MP3 format if recording just a stereo mix and extended recoding time and minimal file sizes are important. Use the BWF-compliant WAV format for uncompressed audio quality and industry-standard file compatibility; you can run the F6 in six-track mode (six inputs recorded in 24-bit or 32-bit float) or 14-track mode (six inputs recorded in 24-bit and 32-bit float, plus a stereo mix). Or you can select the Ambisonics mode to capture four channels of Ambisonics-compatible audio and have two channels to spare for traditional mics.

Zoom F6 Multitrack Field Recorder
The Zoom F6 right-side panel offers a dedicated 3.5mm TC input/output, headphone jack with volume knob, power switch and three XLR inputs.

Ambisonic Recording Capability: The F6’s Ambisonics mode offers precision A-to-B decoding and balanced gain linking, enabling you to capture professional, spatial audio for VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality) and more. Even while using the first four channels for Ambisonics recording, you can utilize channels 5-6 for other signals, such as boom and lav mics. You can download the free Zoom Ambisonics Player software to access easy-to-use decoding and editing functions for 360-audio.

Full-Time Code Capability: The F6 can be powered on all day or shut down during shooting breaks, and it will maintain reliable sync with video cameras, master time-code clocks or additional audio recorders. Accurate synchronization is made possible with the F6’s high-end time-code features. A 3.5mm TRS mini-jack is dedicated for time code I/O and a Temperature Compensated Crystal Oscillator (TCXO) boasts super-stable time-code accuracy to ±0.2 ppm.

What Makes It A Game Changer?: While the F6 undoubtedly has a lot of interesting new features, what makes it significant is that it’s the first multi-track recorder in its price range to offer 32-point float-point audio. In real-world, day-to-day situations, the huge dynamic range capability means that you don’t have to work so hard to ride gain, and if you accidentally let your levels record too hot or too low, the audio will still be usable and will still sound good. Plus, add in the robust internal time-code capability and Ambisonic recording capability, all for under $700, and you have a product that redefines what a lower-end mixer/recorder is capable of.

Shure TwinPlex TL46 Microphone

Designed for broadcast, theater and speech applications, Shure’s new TwinPlex TL46 omnidirectional lavalier microphone features an interesting twist: The lavalier, which has an invisible super hydrophobic nanoscopic coating, includes an interchangeable sweat and moisture-resistant frequency cap to prevent “sweat-outs.” What does this mean? In plain terms, this lavalier will be very useful in sports, reality TV, documentary or any situation where microphones on talent are subjected to lots of perspiration, which with normal lavaliers can result in the microphone shorting out or the diaphragm being clogged with moisture, resulting in a loss of high-end frequencies and a reduction in overall audio quality.

In addition to its rugged construction and moisture resistance, the TL46 offers user-selectable frequency response caps.

The TwinPlex TL46 features a paintable 1.6mm diameter cable that resists memory effect and kinks, while the dual-redundant ground in the microphone’s cable serves as a secondary shield for longevity. The TwinPlex TL46 lavalier also includes three flat-response frequency caps and two presence-response frequency caps, allowing the user to tailor the microphone’s overall frequency response to their taste.

Shure’s dual-diaphragm design yields twice the surface area of other subminiature microphones for a pristine, natural response and robust low frequencies.

Shure makes great microphones, but it has generally not made many inroads into television and film with its lavalier microphones, unlike Sanken, DPA, Countryman and other popular lavalier microphone brands. The TwinPlex TL46 might be the start. It’s available now for around $400.

Tentacle Sync Track E 32-Bit Float Point Audio Recorder 

The Zoom F6 is certainly an exciting new 32-bit floating-point audio multitrack recorder. But what about a 32-bit float-point single-track portable recorder that’s smaller than most wireless lavalier transmitters?

Tentacle Sync, the company that makes the Sync E Bluetooth time-code boxes, has developed the Track E, which uses powerful 32-bit floating-point technology to maximize the dynamic range in recordings. So, what’s important about this is that if your audio was recorded at too low of a level, it can be raised in volume without raising the noise floor. Also, 32-bit floating point means that no digital clipping will occur.

Tentacle Sync Track E 32-Bit Float Point Audio Recorder
The Track E marks Tentacle’s entry into the portable recorder market space with the smallest, lightest 32-bit float point recorder available.

In terms of size, it’s almost as small as the Sync E. That means it can easily fit just about anywhere, even on the tiny hot-shoe on most mirrorless cameras. The Tentacle Sync Track E also allows mobile operation as a recorder for a clip-on microphone, eliminating the need for a radio link.

Bluetooth Sync: The Tentacle Sync Track E offers synchronization over Bluetooth based on Tentacle Sync’s already-proven wireless TC sync technology. After the initial syncing process, the Track E devices will run independently with less than one frame of drift in 24 hours. This means that the Tentacle Sync Track E will be very useful for recording sound in environments where regular wireless transmitters might not work very well, areas with a lot of UHF or RF noise in the air, for instance. I own three of the Tentacle Sync E boxes and have found them to be simple, reliable and easy to use. Hopefully, the Tentacle Sync Track E will follow suit and be as easy to use.

Pricing hasn’t been released yet, but if the Track E is anything like the Sync E, which it should be, then it should cost around $300 per unit or less.