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EXCLUSIVE: Aratechlabs augments microphone placement skills

Dave Robinson 28 July 2014
EXCLUSIVE: Aratechlabs augments microphone placement skills

Aratechlabs, a Spanish technology startup, today launches its flagship product, the Arapolarmic audio tool. “I don’t want to call it an ‘app’, because it is much more serious than that,” explains Michel (Mike) Guerra, Aratechlabs COO.

However you label it, Arapolarmic is a clever piece of software for tablets that uses ‘augmented reality’ to monitor the directivity of microphones. It will be available for under 100 euros and is aimed at sound engineers, teaching establishments and home recordists.

Here’s how it works. Arapolarmic ships with a library of polar patterns for around 50 popular microphones. Let’s say an engineer wishes to record with a microphone, ‘X’. The engineer selects X from the software’s database, then, using the iPad’s camera, lines up a graphical representation of X with the real-time image of X. When the two synchronise – the team called it ‘arating’ – then POFF! A representation of the polar pattern appears on-screen, tracking the image of X as you shift your viewpoint around the sound source.

The Arapolarmic tool, then, supplies easy-to-read data on the positioning and directivity of a microphone. Colours of the graphics can be changed to best suit the viewing environment, and the mic’s response at key frequency bands across the spectrum can also be displayed. Quickly, using an iPad and a little practice, an engineer can deploy his mics for optimum use relative to a source, be it a drum head, a vocalist, a guitar amp, whatever. Workhorse mics, or, say, a regularly used combination of drum mics, can be saved in a ‘favourites’ menu.

“Monitoring the directivity allows you to enhance the decision-making process and adjust your microphones, before you start recording or playing live,” says Guerra.

IMG_4625 Francesc and Michel (right)[1]Aratechlabs’ CIO Francesc Ticó (pictured, left, with Mike Guerra) came up with the concept for Arapolarmic in 2011, but it wasn’t until 2013 when the core team (Ticó alongside CEO Lluis Ticó, CTO Daniel Seix and COO Guerra) started serious development on the project.

In order to test and satisfy the needs of different segments of the audio community, the startup signed agreements with various partners. Hence, on the website, you will see logos from the likes of the Music Lan recording studio, El Terrat TV production company, Microfusa teaching school (where PSNEurope saw the application in action) and more. Some capital from the project has been injected by ENISA, a Spanish public body investing in innovative startups.

“This is the focus of our efforts: to launch a product that represents the spirit of the company. What does that mean? We don’t sell hardware: we want to add value to the hardware that is already in the market,” explains Guerra. Arapolarmic is currently only iPad-ready, but Android and iPhone versions are coming.

The second, though more academic, function of the technology should not be underestimated: suddenly, an Arapolarmic-loaded iPad becomes a repository of all the technical data you need for the microphones supported. “You don’t need the internet to use it – the information is already built-in, ” as Guerra puts it.

Some of this data is unique to Arapolarmic, has it has not been published before. For instance, polar patterns of AEA Ribbon mics (R84 and R92) have been provided by the manufacturer solely for inclusion it in Arapolarmic.

Patterns for Violet Designs’ Amethyst and The Finger were especially measured by the team at the anechoic chamber in the University of Barcelona and in the Centro Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) in Madrid too.

4592_Pmic2 francescAratechlabs took the prototype application to Frankfurt in March this year, and, during back-to-back meetings with microphone manufacturers, says Guerra, the response was nearly always the same. First, the recognition and understanding of the need for such a tool – for home users learning to set up microphones, for experienced engineers who want to check out the polar patterns of unfamiliar kit, for teaching establishments who want a practical aid in the classroom. And the second response: the “oh, that’s cool!” moment when they saw the augmented reality of the templates and the camera image kick in. Or as Guerra put it, “when they saw the magic”. The POFF! moment, in fact.

The company has just released the first ‘how to use’ tutorial videos online, in English and Spanish. Local PA hire firms Twincam and Sounders, and broadcast specialist Magical Media Lleida have helped out in creating and producing the tutorials.

Meanwhile, user guides for the software are planned in a total of ten languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Russian and Brazilian-Portuguese (…and Catalan!).

The launch library includes microphone models from AEA, Audix, Audio-Technica, Beyerdynamic, Electro-Voice, Lewitt, Mojave Audio, Oktava, Schoeps, Royer Labs, Telefunken Elektroakustik and Violet Design.

There are of course significant omissions from that list, but the team are confident that other names will come on board with time. After all, they recently found a site (www.recordinghacks.com/microphones) listing around 1,500 microphones, discontinued and currently available, in the marketplace. Signing them all up is going to lead to a lot of pattern plotting and programming, but little time for that great Spanish tradition, the siesta…

Arapolarmic is now available to download from the Apple App Store.

www.aratechlabs.com

Photos: Louis Austin

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