This party is a highlight of Grammy week and a hot ticket in the music-production business. Here's an inside look.
As it has for the last eight years, the Producers and Engineers Wing of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS)—which hands out the Grammy Awards—hosted a pre-Grammy wingding Tuesday night at The Village recording studios in Santa Monica, CA.
The entrance to The Village recording studios was decked out with giant Grammy statuettes for the big party.
At this year's event, legendary performer, composer, arranger, and producer Nile Rodgers was honored with the Recording Academy President's Merit Award.
Rodgers recounted stories from his 40-year career, first from a podium as seen here, then with a guitar as he played licks from some of his most famous songs, such as "Le Freak" and "I'm Coming Out."
Rodgers started out as a guitarist with the Sesame Street traveling stage show in 1970, where he met his long-time collaborator, bassist Bernard Edwards. They later formed the band known as Chic, which had many disco hits, such as "Le Freak," "Everybody Dance," and "Good Times." Rodgers and Edwards went on to produce and write for lots of high-profile recording musicians, including Sister Sledge (for whom they wrote "We Are Family"), Diana Ross ("I'm Coming Out," which was inspired by a chance encounter with six Diana Ross impersonators at a gay club), David Bowie, Madonna, Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and many others. Last year, Rodgers won three Grammys for his work on Daft Punk's Random Access Memories, for which he co-wrote and played on "Give Life Back to Music," "Lose Yourself to Dance," and the megahit "Get Lucky."
Elsewhere in the facility, there were demos from a variety of companies in just about every room. I found it particularly interesting that there were demos of Dolby Atmos, Auro 3D, and DTS:X immersive-audio systems; the Atmos and DTS:X systems were set up in control rooms around the mixing desk, while the Auro system was standalone.
In Studio D, the Dolby Atmos system used JBL's new 2-way 7-series speakers in a 7.1.4 configuration, with pairs of left and right side surrounds playing the same signal. The front LCRs (which I've circled in this photo because they're hard to see) are 708s with an 8" woofer and waveguide-loaded compression tweeter derived from the flagship M2, while the surrounds and overheads were 705s with a 5" woofer and the same tweeter. Two 8-channel amps were driving the speakers. Aside from the usual Atmos trailers, which sounded great, I heard a clip from The Expendables 3 that was so harsh and loud that I had to leave; I suspect that's a characteristic of the soundtrack, not the sound system. Before that, we also heard 2-channel clips played by two 705 speakers with no subwoofer, which sounded wonderful with a surprising amount of bass. They are rated flat to 50 Hz (-10 dB at 39 Hz) thanks to a new woofer design, and they can pump out 101 dB from 50 Hz to 20 kHz all day long.
The Auro demo used a 9.1 system (5.1 plus four height speakers) with PMC 2-way powered monitors. The LCRs were TwoTwo8s (8" woofers, 1" silk-dome tweeter), while the surrounds and heights were TwoTwo6s (6" woofers, same tweeter); the sub was a TwoTwoSub2 with a 10" driver. Sources were an Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player and MacBook Pro feeding an Auro Mensa pre/pro. The demo content consisted of 5.1 material upmixed to 9.1 as well as native Auro content; I heard the native Auro recording of Kim Andre Arnesen's Magnificat, and surprisingly, the soprano soloist's voice was not as distinct and clear as I have heard before.
DTS set up an 11.1 DTS:X system (7.1 plus four height speakers) using seven self-powered JBL LSR308s (8" woofer, 1" waveguide-loaded soft-dome tweeter), four LSR305s (5" woofer, same tweeter) for the heights, and two LSR310S subs (10" driver). I heard an 11.1 mix by Elliot Scheiner of Mary J. Blige, and it sounded wonderful, with a seamless soundstage and effective use of the height speakers.
Here's a shot of the DTS:X system rear speakers.
In an adjoining room, DTS and Oculus had set up a virtual-reality demo with Oculus Rift VR headsets and Audeze headphones playing DTS Headphone:X with a camera on the computer that was supposed to track head movement and adjust the sound and image accordingly. The content was images of floating in space with the words of a song appearing in front of you. As I moved my head around, the image shifted perspective as it should, but I couldn't hear any change in the aural perspective. The images were pretty low-res (we were told they were 720p) and appeared out of focus much of the time.
The Village was crowded with members of the P&E Wing and their guests, and a good time was had by all. However, it was quite loud; in the room seen here, I measured an average level of 104.7 dBC just from the crowd's hubbub; good thing I had my earplugs!
Audeze was demonstrating some of its headphones, including the new EL-8 ($699, shipping in about a month) being driven by an Astell & Kern AK240 high-res audio player. The combo sounded great, and the headphones are super comfortable. Even better, they were serving shots of absinthe—which, at 120 proof, is mighty potent!
All in all, it was a wonderful night, and I think the Producers and Engineers Wing of NARAS for inviting me. The 57th Grammy Awards show is this Sunday, Feb. 8, on CBS and streamed to subscribers at CBS.com. I don't know about you, but I'll be watching "music's biggest night" for sure.
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