A Peek Into The Future: Sound Engineering Beyond 2015
Ask a sound engineer (or musician) what the biggest hassle is with gear and they will probably say cables. Connecting amplifiers to speakers, running electricity cables – sometimes the stage looks like a snake pit! Imagine a world where signals are transmitted wholly by wireless; where electricity itself is transmitted through the air. There are already experimental systems where infra-red is used to stimulate cells that produce electricity over distance. Could wireless electricity be the future? Here’s a look at some advancing technologies.
Sound engineers already have access to the world of wireless technology. Wireless powered speakers cut out the need for cables between a mixer or a laptop and the speakers themselves. Because the speakers are powered, there’s no need for a separate amp that also requires cabling and speaker cables. Portable, flexible, wireless powered speakers are an example of how sound reproduction has become streamlined and affordable.
USB midi controllers
The Universal Serial Bus, or USB, is the handiest invention of the last 20 years. There was a time when each midi keyboard, mixer or other peripheral device had its own specific cable. Now you can connect your midi controller keyboard to your laptop by USB and it’s good to go. The controller triggers sounds on your computer or digital musical instrument using a standard midi interface. Developed in 1983, Musical Instrument Digital Interface (midi) is a communication system that allows digital instruments to share information and to record, for example. Midi cables are still needed for pre-USB gear – old synths and drum machines – but the future is USB. Check out the M-Audio Oxygen 61 MK4 as an example of a USB midi controller.
Make light work of it
The future for DJ lighting lies in DMX (Digital Multiplex) controllers, a system of controlling arrays of lights through mixing software, much like a sound mixer. A good example is the stand-alone American DJ MyDMX2.0 software. With it, via a laptop, you can control not only the colours, but the movement of lights, and not just lights – fog machines can also be controlled. Lights can be synchronised into scenes – dramatic for one track, subdued for another. It seems certain that this system will be used in future for other functions too – perhaps we will see software that combines lighting and sound? This means the role of sound and lighting engineering may also become blurred.
Mix it up
The sound engineer’s most important bit of kit is going to be the mixer.
Wireless mixers are commonplace, and at a gig you often see the sound engineer standing in the audience adjusting the mix on their iPad. In the studio, USB mixers connect to recording interfaces which in turn connect via USB to the recording computer. The days of needing a multi-pin connector – one for each channel – are gone. USB has overcome the tyranny of multiple cables. The next phase will likely see the removal of sound and electricity cables completely.