Field Test: Dangerous Music Monitor, MQ, 2-Bus and Mixer

Dangerous Music is leading the way to a brave new world with a line of professional recording studio interfacing tools that facilitate the highest-quality sound of music recorded and mixed inside any

Dangerous Music is leading the way to a brave new world with a line
of professional recording studio interfacing tools that facilitate the
highest-quality sound of music recorded and mixed inside any digital
audio workstation.

The product line began as a simple quest for better-sounding music
mixes made “inside the DAW box” at Dangerous Music's
recording studios, located in the East Village of Manhattan. Chris
Muth, designer of the mastering gear for Sterling Sound, set out to
design a full line of stand-alone units that would mimic specific
functions of high-end analog mixing boards.

DANGEROUS MUSIC PRODUCT LINE

During a month-long album mix project, and the subsequent month's
sessions, I was able to test-drive four Dangerous units in various
situations, using both Pro Tools MIXPlus and PT|HD systems. I
rackmounted and kept all of the Dangerous gear powered up 24/7, and
connected to either an Apogee AD8000 or Digidesign 192 HD I/Os.

Dangerous currently makes five products: the Dangerous Monitor, an
analog and digital source switcher; the MQ, a combination
analog/digital metering, talkback and dual-stereo cue system
controller; the 2-Bus, an analog stereo stem summing unit with 16
analog inputs (the company also makes the 2-Bus LT, a lower-price
version with fewer features); and the Mixer, a stand-alone, 8-channel
stereo line mixer.

All of these units (except for the 2-Bus LT, which is one-space) are
packaged in steel, two-rackspace cabinets that are fitted with
anodized-aluminum front panels and cast-aluminum knobs. Construction
features external power supplies, thick PC boards, hole-through, as
well as surface-mount components and hand-wiring. I placed the
Dangerous stack at my side, about two feet off the floor, right at my
mixing position in front of the speakers. If you get all four units,
you'll have four power supplies to connect; Dangerous should come up
with a single master power supply to run them all at once.

The internal amplifier circuits in all the Dangerous products use
Burr-Brown op amps: BB INA134 and 137 (instrumentation amps), OPA 134
(op amps) and DRV 134 (output drivers). Only relays are used to switch
audio in the Dangerous units; hermetically sealed Aromats with silver
contacts are used to switch phase (polarity), mute and ground-out
unused inputs. All audio resistors are surface-mounted and 0.1%
tolerance with low temperature coefficients. Solen capacitors are used
in the Mixer and MQ units in critical audio paths that accommodate a
wide range of input devices, from D/A outputs to mic pre's to stomp
boxes. The lighted switches are made by EAO with internal multichip LED
lights; they'll never burn out. Audio cable is Mogami OFC, with ribbon
cable used only for DC control voltages to the relays.

DANGEROUS MONITOR TOUR

The stepped attenuators used for volume and bus master faders are
custom-made by NASA-supplier Janco Corp. There is a shield layer
between the two wafers of the switch to further isolate and prevent
crosstalk between the left and right channels.

The monitor comes configured to handle +4dBm balanced sources, but
there are internal jumpers to reset it for unbalanced operation.
Because you can select between seven different stereo audio sources to
monitor (three analog and four digital), all rear-panel connections use
XLR connectors for both analog and digital (AES/EBU). Each AES/EBU
input is buffered and fed through to a male XLR digital-out jack to
connect to digital recorders or to your D/A converter(s). The unit
comes with an internal, custom Troisi D/A converter that
“sees” the selected digital input source and clocks to the
incoming sample rate, up to 96 kHz. This common D/A converter resolves
level differences and the “different-sounding D/A converter
issue” due to sources resulting from DAT, CD or sound card D/A
outputs. I found that the converter worked well and sounded fine,
although I didn't spend any time doing an A/B. Indeed, it's a nice
feature, but I feel that it should be offered as an option. Dangerous
offers a custom modification to allow substitution of the Troisi board
with your favorite external D/A converter.

The back panel finishes out with XLR line-level output connectors
for both small speakers and main monitors. For monitoring, I connected
a pair of powered Genelec 1031As and a Bryston 3B power amp to drive a
pair of NS-10Ms for small monitors. Finally, there is a special 6-pin
analog VU meter output jack and digital meter output jack that connect
to the MQ unit. The meter outputs follow whatever source you have
selected.

On the front panel, Monitor has the smoothest master volume control;
it's actually a 21-step attenuator for recallable volume-level control.
I liked the large aluminum knob and knowing that this control will
never get scratchy. Unlike a volume potentiometer, an attenuator
ensures that the sound quality remains constant: The left and right
imaging doesn't shift with different volume settings. There's loads of
gain here, and I like being able to return to the exact same volume
easily. I just counted clicks or used the panel markings.

Other features on Monitor are represented by well-lighted,
large-sized buttons, including a monitor speaker Dim button with an
internally adjustable level control that also activates when the MQ's
Talkback button is pushed; an alternate speaker switch; a very handy
L+R Mono check switch; individual L/R mutes and 180∞ polarity
flip buttons for both left and right channels; and a -6dB offset meter
scaling switch that saves the MQ's VU meters when monitoring at hot
levels. This feature came in handy when monitoring playbacks from my
Alesis MasterLink's hot analog output. I also like using the L/R
polarity flip buttons with mono summing to check the side or difference
component of my stereo mixes.

THE “MUST-HAVE” MQ

Using the Monitor was completely transparent to my mixing process.
The source buttons work without effort and without clicks, the volume
control is easy to grab and precisely set, and, like the whole
Dangerous line, the unit has a solid and rugged feel. I wasn't hurting
anything even with my usual rough treatment during the heat of a
session.

The natural companion piece for the Monitor, the MQ has two large
Sifam R-22 lighted analog VU meters and a high-resolution (32kHz to
96kHz) LED ladder digital meter made by Prime LED. The digital meter
has a three-successive-word-over indicator and a Peak Hold button. Both
of these meters get their signals from Monitor via the included cables.
I tried connecting the digital meter to the AES/EBU digital output of
my MasterLink and the digital out of the Apogee and all worked
fine.

There are master level controls for the A and B stereo cue systems
and each come with their own power amps. I used my 55-ohm AKG K 271
headphones in one of the two front-panel jacks and had more than enough
volume. The manual explains that each amp will drive down to 4-ohm
total load impedances, equal to about eight pairs of medium-impedance
phones like the Sony MDR line, for a total of 16 headphones. The cue
output XLR connector is ready for any standard headphone box, like
Redco's Little Red Cue Box or a Simon Systems box.

The MQ has complete talkback facilities with a shock-mounted
microphone and TB button on an included 12-foot “producer
leash” (cable); the TB jack will let you connect a Brainstorm
wireless remote, if you prefer. TB worked well: It dimmed the monitor
speakers, provided good audio and added no button clunks or pops. There
should also be a front-panel TB button for the engineer.

2-BUS INSIDE AND OUT

Other features include a Dim command jack to remotely dim the
loudspeakers; a Slate out jack for routing the talkback mic's audio to
a separately recorded track and/or to a powered speaker to talk to the
orchestra conductor's podium or live room; and two auxiliary mono
inputs with pan pots assignable to either cue A or B for injecting
external audio feeds such as production soundtracks when doing ADR,
metronome click tracks for drummers or “two pops” for the
conductor when leading a live scoring session. The MQ is a necessity
for professional engineers to fully control and monitor a DAW recording
or mixing session. A unit like the MQ will separate your system from
the typical home studio rig.

2-Bus is a 16×2 summing amplifier where high-quality analog
circuits sum to a stereo bus from the analog outputs of your DAW's I/O
unit. Digital mixing and summing inside your DAW to stereo outputs
require that you do not overload the internal digital mixing bus by
lowering all mixer faders. When any track fader's level is internally
reduced, its digital resolution is also reduced. Spreading out a mix
over many stems and direct outputs lets you maintain hotter digital
levels for higher resolution, resulting in a better-sounding mix with
increased depth, image width and headroom, and less distortion.

Having mixed a lot of music inside of DAWs and also using separate
outputs into a large analog console, I prefer the sound of my mixes
done on the console. I find the same mix, when summed in analog (on the
console) rather than digitally (inside a DAW) was bigger-sounding,
clearer and much more “alive,” one reason why many record
producers and engineers (for the most part and with budgets permitting)
still prefer mixing songs recorded in DAWs on large analog
consoles.

With the Dangerous gear, you can keep using your
“inside-the-box” mixing process (I love using Pro
Tools' automation and all of the plug-ins) and gain the advantages of
analog summing.

All eight stereo stem inputs of 2-Bus are fixed gain. There are no
track faders on the unit, as you'll want to make level changes in your
DAW's automated mixer. Additional 2-Bus units (as well as 2-Bus LT
units and mixers) can be linked by way of a 25-pin D-connector
expansion port, where the stereo summing bus of each additional 2-Bus
are joined together for as many inputs as you'd like. (For each 2-Bus
added, there will be a 3dB increase in the noise floor.) Because the
2-Bus is a simple summing amp without the additional circuitry found in
a big analog console (such as pan pots, mute buttons, buses, faders or
auxiliary sends that can add noise and degrade the signal), the sonics
and specifications are better.

Hook up is simple: Just connect a standard XLR mic cable from each
balanced output of any 8-channel D/A converter — like Apogee's
AD8000, Prism Dream ADA-8, Nuendo 8-I/O 96k, Digidesign's 888 or the
16-channel 192 I/O — to the 2-Bus' 16 balanced XLR input
connectors. There is an extensive tutorial in the manual about
unbalanced setup and operation of the 2-Bus if needed. The 2-Bus will
accept hot levels with an input clip point at +26 dBu.

The 2-Bus has two sets of balanced outputs: main for connection to
your stereo master analog or digital recorder and/or A/D converter, and
Mon to connect to the Monitor. The stereo master output fader is
actually a trim control and has a range of 10 dB in 0.5dB steps, with
the straight-up 12 o'clock position as the optimal operating point.
Using precision and temperature-compensated resistors, this control is
left/right-matched to within hundredths of a dB. But this is not an
appropriate fader to use for “board fades.” You'll have to
do those inside of your DAW by grouping all stem submasters
together.

2-BUS IN ACTION

2-Bus' front-panel controls are few and simple. The eight +6dB boost
switches jump the analog level of any stereo stem input up to 6 dB. If
you need to do this, as I did for each mix, it's sonically better to
boost using good analog amplifiers than opting to do it digitally
inside your DAW. Each stereo pair input has a Mono button for summing
the left and right channels to mono. Any tracks you desire in the
center of your mix are routed (inside your DAW) to direct outputs.
Direct outs sound better and save DSP resources, bypassing pan pots and
additional digital mixer nodes. When you push Mono on one of the eight
stereo pairs of the 2-Bus, the two mono sources routed to that pair are
sent straight up the middle of the stereo field.

Applications of the 2-Bus might include using the Mono button
feature for kick, snare, bass and lead vocal tracks that you want in
the center of your mix. You would route them each to separate DAW
direct outputs: 1, 2, 3 and 4, respectively. The rest of your tracks
could be mixed to stereo stems like this: Use outputs 5/6 for
keyboards, 7/8 for backing vocals, 9/10 for guitars, 11/12 for drums,
13/14 for remaining percussion and 15/16 for stereo effect returns.
Push the Mono button on the first two stereo pairs and the kick/snare
will come in on 1/2 and bass/lead vocal 3/4 because you want them in
the center of the mix.

I would say my only adjustment to using this system is the process
of stem mixing itself, but once basic levels are set, it's the same as
mixing down a stereo pair inside Pro Tools except you'll have more
headroom and dynamic range, a wider stereo spread and clearer sound
— just like I find when mixing PT track outputs on an analog
desk. And just like on an analog board, I found myself having to work a
little harder on plug-in settings, effects, mix moves and minutia
because of the increased clarity and transparency.

If you like mixing separate outputs of your DAW on a large analog
mixing console, but owning one or paying for studio time is out of the
question, the 2-Bus with its minimal signal path electronics
accomplishes the same summing process.

I followed this example exactly and set up an A/B comparison between
the Dangerous units and a large '70s vintage API console. I carefully
matched levels (using an oscillator) coming from a Pro Tools|HD system
so that the console's fader levels (the PT outputs were already
normaled to the board) were all electrically equal on the board's mix
meters even though their actual fader positions were not. The same set
of outputs was also routed to the 2-Bus. I toggled the same Genelec
1031A monitors back and forth between the monitor output section of the
board and the Mon jacks of the Dangerous Monitor. After matching
volume, the mix out of the Dangerous rig and the API ended up
essentially sounding the same. A very subtle difference does exist: The
Dangerous 2-Bus produces a slightly cleaner sound in the bottom end
with a more open top end.

MIXER

My only request would be to add an insert path and an in/out switch
in the master fader section to use a stereo compressor and/or EQ. But
like analog processing of the individual stereo stems, this could
easily be done by connecting your outboard gear externally in front of
2-Bus' inputs and/or the output sockets by way of a patchbay.

ANALOG ANSWER

Mixer is a simple 8×2 companion line mixer to the 2-Bus, but
with level fader knobs, pan pots, lighted phase flip and mute buttons.
With eight XLR mono inputs, Mixer has the same expansion port as 2-Bus,
used to enable stacking other Mixer units for even more inputs. You can
also connect it to the expansion input of the 2-Bus for eight more mono
inputs to your final mix. Mixer will run stand-alone for any number of
applications, from mixing the outputs of many vintage mic pre's you
have on a drum kit to a cue mixer or for external effect returns. One
very good use is for summing MIDI keyboards running in virtual mode
into the mix. You can set an internal jumper for unbalanced operation
to match synth outputs. Like 2-Bus and Monitor, Mixer has the same
high-quality stepped attenuator for the stereo output bus level.

Dangerous Music makes elegant, easy-to-use systems for analog bus
summing, mixing, metering and monitoring of any DAW system. These units
are of high build-quality and offer superb sound, are strictly
professional and are built to mastering studio standards to maximize
the sound of your DAW. Prices: Monitor, $4,999; 2-Bus, $2,999; 2-Bus
LT, $1,499; MQ, $2,999; and Mixer, $2,599.

Dangerous Music, 212/533-4197, www.dangerousmusic.com.


Barry Rudolph is an L.A.-based recording engineer. Visit his
Website at
www.barryrudolph.com.



The Spec Sheet

Frequency Response

1 Hz to 100 kHz, within 0.2 dB

Total Harmonic Distortion

0.003% in audio band

Intermodulation Distortion

0.002% IMD60 4:1

Converter Lock Range

32 kHz to 96 kHz

Converter THD+Noise

0.002%

Crosstalk @ 1 kHz

-113 dB

Crosstalk @ 10 kHz

-102 dB

Noise Floor

-91 dBu total energy in audio band

Max. Level

+26 dBu

Nominal Operating Level

+4 dBu

Input Impedance

25k-ohm balanced

Output Impedance

50 ohms balanced (600-ohm-drive-capable)

Gain Accuracy

better than 0.05 dB @ 1 kHz

Power Consumption

40 watts

Want to read more stories like this?
Get our Free Newsletter Here!
February