Technology

Field Test: Trident S40 Single-Channel Strip

Classic Console Sound in a Two-Rackspace Chassis 5/01/2004 8:00 AM Eastern

With its signature black-anodized front panel, colored aluminumknobs and small rectangular push buttons, the S40 is clearly theprogeny of Trident's Series 80 and TSM consoles. Housed in atwo-rackspace cabinet, this single-channel recording strip uses theSeries 80 4-band EQ and TSM's high/lowpass filters. A fitting tributeto Trident designer John Oram's 40th year in the business, I found theS40 to be exactly as a Series 80 console's input module. From theno-nonsense style of the smooth controls to its clear, present andupfront sonic character, the S40 has it all.

ANATOMY OF AN S40


The S40 retains the classic Trident sound with Class-A circuits andthe latest chips for lower noise and slower TL070 ICs. The front panelis divided into four sections: a mic preamp, a compressor/limiter, a4-band semi-parametric EQ with overlapping mids and an outputdriver/meter stage. The all-steel cabinet offers good construction withmany surface-mounted components, handwired pots and Elma switches. TheEnglish-made unit has an internal 110/220 VAC power supply.

The mic pre has a detented gain pot for smooth, continuous controlwith up to 60 dB of gain (plenty for any mic), switches for polarityflip and phantom on/off and a peak LED that lights at +9 dBu. Based onthe TSM, the transformerless mic preamp has a 200-ohm input sourceimpedance, -126.4dBu EIN, +28dBu max output and a dynamic range spec of154 dB. A front panel ¼-inch input jack is ready for any piezotransducer or the impedance-sensitive passive pickups of your favoriteFender P Bass.

The dynamics section is from the Oram Sonicomp range and in the newTrident Oram Series 80 5.1 console. The compressor uses a VCA but isconfigured as a feedback element of an amplifier, so the main signalpath remains untouched. The S40 has rear panel control voltage-in/outjacks for external control of gain or stereo linking. This workhorsecompressor/limiter has continuously adjustable attack times from 0.1 msto 40 ms, and threshold (-45 dB to +18 dB) and release times from 0.05to three seconds. I'd like to see even slower attack time choicesoffered. The nonlinear ratio control range is good, as the lower ratiosare spread out to easily set a 1:1 to 1.5:1 to 1.75:1 to 2:1 and 15:1for hard limiting. Gain reduction is always read on the meter, evenwhen the compressor is bypassed — great for setting up for anupcoming song in a live sound mix.

The Pre button inserts the compressor before/after the EQ section.The S40 borrows this feature from the Oram GMS Al Schmitt Pro-Channel,and it offers no excuses for lazy engineers who would patch an outboardcompressor after EQ and never bother to repatch to hear it the otherway around. I found the compressor useful and mostly transparent forlight duties: lower ratios and higher thresholds for 1 to 4 dB of RMSgain reduction. For a purposeful “squashed” sound characterwith lots of personality, the unit is capable of all the “sturmand drang” you can take. I wish the compressor section had amakeup gain control for A/B comparisons of compressed to uncompressedat the same level.

The S40's 4-band EQ is accurate and smooth. The two sweepablemidsections overlap, covering 150 Hz to 2 kHz and 1.5 kHz to 15 kHz.With broad half-octave Qs, these sections are excellent tools forsubtle touch-ups or severe carving of an individual track or programmix. The shelving LF and HF bands offer two corner frequency choices:50 or 150 Hz and 7 kHz or 12 kHz, respectively, and smooth 4dB/octavecurves. The high- and lowpass filters are tuneable: LF from 5 to 200Hz, and HF from 1 kHz to 50 kHz. Bandwidth-limiting tracks with thesefilters can keep useless frequencies out of the track's total energyband. Boosting with the low- and high-shelf equalizers at the samefrequencies produces a unique equalizer sound.

On the back, a balanced output driver stage gives an added 6 dB ofgain. I ran this at center-detent position unless I needed makeup gain.The small VU meter shows output level (blue) or gain reduction (green)changes — easy to spot from across the control room.

IN THE STUDIO


The S40 is straightforward to use. I recorded narration tracks usinga stock Neumann U87, my voice-over talent's favorite mic. With the 87,the S40 had a clear and present sound without any additional EQ.Recorded singing voices took on a certain clarity — a forwardsound without sounding EQ'd.

My quick and unscientific reference A/B test against Brent Averill— restored Neve 1073 module showed that using a U87, with bothmodules set to 50 dB of gain and no EQ or compression, the S40 producedthe same output level and overall sound but had a punchier low end.With EQ in, there is a slight increase in low-frequency distortionrising to 0.1% at 20 Hz.

Making a song harder-sounding to compete with an aggressive rocktrack, I used a combination of bandwidth limiting, EQ and compression.However, the next session may be all about purity and naturalness.Here, the S40 would score again with the transparency and headroom ofthe mic preamp section.

I recorded a Tobias bass using the ¼-inch DI input. Slightlyoverloading the preamp and compressing with a 1.5:1 ratio yielded avery cool, distinctive rock bass sound. Reducing the preamp gainproduced a smooth jazz tone that was great on a ballad.

Setting the gain to 0 dB, the S40 becomes a line-level processor. Iliked the equalizer and compressor to post-process guitars, keyboards,drums, vocals, etc.

With all of the new preamps that promise to sound like vintageequipment, the S40 delivers the classic Trident console sound. Frommeticulous high-fidelity recordings to over-the-top aggressiveprocessing, the S40 does it all and belongs in the pantheon of classicvintage recording gear. It's sold exclusively in the USA through GuitarCenter at a retail of $2,495.

Trident Audio Limited, +44 1474/815300, www.tridentaudio.co.uk.

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