Cool Interconnectivity Tools

Though not as sexy as gleaming microphones, boutique preamplifiers or the latest studio monitors, our industry boasts a massive wave of new components in the pro audio category of Interconnects, which includes cables, connectors and DI products.

From high-end cables and new connectivity devices from manufacturers like Neutrik; to A/D dongle-type products from Switchcraft; to solid core, world-class Swiss cables from VOVOX; savvy audio professionals know that when it comes to signal flow, it can sometimes be the little things that matter.

PART I: CONNECTORS

Perhaps Amphenol is a less-recognized brand in connectivity for sound engineers, especially compared to pro audio industry stalwart Neutrik. Yet Amphenol connectors are found across the board in pro audio products, including, for example, within the two superb bus-powered USB 2-channel preamplifiers currently sitting on my desktop; both the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 and Tascam iXR boast dual-Amphenol combo XLR/ TRS on their front panels.

Neutrik is our industrys de facto leader in connectivity, whether by sheer number of patented high-quality audio connector types, proliferation in the field or both. That said, Neutriks most exciting XLR audio product is arguably its low-latency Xirium Pro line, built upon the companys DiWA (Digital Wireless Audio) technology. Offering compression-free and FCC license-free wireless transmission of audio within the 5GHz band, Xirium Pro’s 20 to 20k Hz audio transmission system provides latency equal to 3 milliseconds, regardless of number of devices used. A variety of analog/XLR and digital AES/EBU and Dante input and output models are available.

Since 1989, Utah-based Rolls Corporation has offered a wide range of pro and consumer audio interconnects, as well as processors, amps, mixers and more. Most notably, the large number of products in its Accessory line allows customers to pair almost any sound source to another input. The products are affordably priced and well made, too.

Best know fo it connector lines, Switchcraft offers other mod- ern connectivity solutions such as its AudioStix DI product line, ideal for audio environments that need new signal distribution forms on a budget. Specifically, Switchcrafts 318BT is the world’s first phantom-powered Bluetooth 4.0 audio receiver DI. Featuring a Switchcraft balanced XLR connector and powered via standard 48V phantom power, the 318BT wirelessly transmits any  Bluetooth audio source (via 2,402-2,480 MHz frequencies) up to 50 feet away (obstructed indoor) or 100 feet (unobstructed line of sight).

With available bulk and prewired cable and connectors of almost every kind, plus tons of black box” interconnect products, New York-based Whirlwind has been in business for more than 40 years, providing U.S.- built networking solutions for a wide range of end-users. Most recently, Whirlwind has launched a fiber-optic department and builds custom signal and power systems for major clients worldwide.

PART II: CABLES

Based in Buena Park, Calif., Hosa Technology specializes in interconnects between musical instruments and pro audio devices, yet offers a bevy of new and useful tools that blur the lines between consumer and pro audio applications. Case in point is Hosa’s new Drive, a Bluetooth 3.0 audio receiver easily paired with any audio source, and featuring built-in track buttons for control at the playback system and 3.5 mm TRS audio output and a USB Mini-B charging port.

According to Mogami promotional materials, every foot of Mogami cable is made in Nagano, Japan, under the direct supervision of the company founder, who continues to work every day.” Its no wonder that virtually all pro-grade analog signal infrastructures have walls filled with Mogami, available in single-channel cables and 2- to 48-channel snakes, and more. The company offers cabling in Silver, Gold and Platinum delineations (in name, not materials).

First known in consumer audio markets, Monster Cable was founded by Noel Lee in 1979, making and successfully marketing multiwire speaker cable to audiophile-types. Years down the road, Monster dropped the cable from its moniker and ventured into headphone, speaker, power conditioning, portable audio, and home theater, among other markets. Today, pro audio types enjoy high-quality Monster interconnects under its Pro Musician category, featuring instrument, microphone and speaker cables, as well as various splitters and adapters.

Michigan-based Pro Co specializes in building audio interface products from cables to high channel-count analog and digital snakes, IEM controllers and various distribution systems. Bulk connectors, wire and other component-level tools are offered, too. Notably, Pro Co builds custom I/O panels to fit a wide range of needs, from broadcasting to studio and live sound, to comprehensive A/V systems.

Van Damme cable, manufactured by the UKs VDC Trading, is now distributed in the U.S. by Fingerprint Audio, which will carry the entire Van Damme line featuring audio, fiber, data and video cables in bulk, manufactured and packaged cable packages. Using its Van Damme products, VDC Trading has created comprehensive cabling infrastructures for such varied clients as Abbey Road Studios, Coldplay, Muse, X-Factor, Wimbledon, Westfield Shopping Centers, Sky Network, CNN and others.

I first heard of VOVOX several years ago when the companys distributor, Audio Plus, sent over a few microphone and instrument cables for evaluation from both their sonorous and “link” product lines. (Over)built to last, these VOVOX cables are the best and most durable I’ve ever used. Hand-assembled in Switzerland, the sonorus direct S non-shielded balanced cable, for example, boasts a single solid-core pure copper conductor, a natural fiber netting surround per conductor wire and much more.

PART III: CONNECTIVITY AND PREMIUM DI

Alto Professionals Stealth Wireless eliminates the need for cable between any traditional sound source and powered speaker, opening an affordable array of placement options in varied live sound environments. A simple UHF-based way to bypass cables between a mixer and loudspeakers, the Stealth Wireless package consists of one transmitter and two receivers, with three power adapters (12V DC, 300 mA) for each, plus mounting accessories: two M10 screws (for mounting Receivers to fly points on powered speakers) or “hook and loop Velcro-style strips (for mounting receivers on virtually any surface). The Stealth’s transmitter is switchable between mono and stereo, sending one or two channels of audio to every receiver in range (reportedly up to 200 feet away) and on the same channel (one of 16 UHF channels).

Several years ago, I organized a multiproduct evaluation focused on direct input boxes with the help of recording engineer Rob Tavaglione and technical assistance from former Pro Sound News editor Frank Wells. The following two DIs were standouts for several good reasons:

According to Rob, the AR-133 from BSS, a Harman company, provides fantastic bass response char- acteristics that were “bigger than life, and a fullness that would be helpful with troublesome [sound sources] like ply-top acoustic guitars and lightweight, anemic bass guitars.” Meanwhile, the legendary Type 85 DI from Countryman justified itself with itstime-proven rugged design, wide frequency response and good headroom…with slightly forward midrange response and comparably lean bottom.”

Eventides MixingLink is a clever little (4.8x3.95x2.15-inch) creative audio production tool in the form of a stompbox. It features a high-quality microphone preamp with phantom power and 65 dB of gain, plus an effects loop, headphone output, and various signal combination parameters.

Grace Designs Felix is a 2-channel acoustic instrumentpreamp/ blender” housed in a floor unit with primary controls located on the top, and I/O on the rear panel. Each Felix channel includes an independent EQ section and three footswitches for mix, boost and mute/tune functions. Felixs rear panel includes a Grace m101 style mic preamp input on an XLR female connector, and two instrument inputs on 1/4-inch jacks. Four 1/4-inch jacks provide access to a tuner output, aux footswitch input, dedicated amp output and effects insert.

Along with all kinds of creative tools for recording  production, Jonathan Little of Little Labs makes some of the most flexible DI and connectivity devices in the biz. A great example of Little Labs ingenuity is the PCP Instrument Distro, a 1-in/3-out guitar splitter featuring transformer-isolated, guitar level/impedance outputs with phase reverse, ground lift and level adjust on each output, designed for guitar re-amping. Includes anaudiophile”-grade DI and guitar cable line driver.

Radial Engineering arguably has more pro-grade I/O, analog connectivity and routing/snake options than any manufacturer in the market, seemingly offering the precise tool for any need, environment or venue. An ideal example of their I/O tools is the relatively new Di-NET DAN-TX stereo direct box, with 1/4-inch, RCA and stereo 3.5mm input jacks, allowing connectivity between instruments or line level sources, and networked audio systems using the Dante protocol. DAN-TX operates with a 24-bit/96 kHz A-D converter; its local 3.5mm headphone output allows for simple signal monitoring.

RapcoHorizon builds a variety of useful interfacing tools, including its neat little iBLOX Series, which allows musicians to use their favorite iOS device-based instrument amplifier emulation easily during performances. Features include a 2-foot lead with 1/4-inch right angle plugs for instrument input, belt/instrument strap clip, 6-foot iPhone interface cable, black powder-coated aluminum chassis for durability, and high-quality, hand-soldered connectors. Headphones or IEMs plug directly into iBLOX.

According to my frequent review collaborator, Nashville-based recording engineer Russ Long, Rupert Neve Designs RNDI is a fabulous modern active DI, fea- turing a Class A discrete FET amp circuit that notably adds flattering harmonic content. “It really shines on bass guitar,” he explains, where it complements the bass midrange tone, making it practically jump out of the mix while the bottom-end retains the smooth, rich fullness of a completely transparent DI.” The RNDI also features an LED current consumption meter with ground lift and speaker/instrument switches.

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