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Auditions: Snapshot Product Reviews

APOGEE DUET Desktop I/O for Apple Logic The Apogee Duet is a $495 FireWire bus-powered, stereo I/O audio interface with dual mic preamps. Capable of sample


Desktop I/O for Apple Logic

The Apogee Duet is a $495 FireWire bus-powered, stereo I/O audio interface with dual mic preamps. Capable of sample rates up to 96 kHz, and exclusively designed to work with Apple’s OS 10.4.10 or 10.5.x, Duet takes its sound and styling cues from Apogee’s rackmountable Ensemble interface, but shrinks it into a sleek aluminum package a bit smaller than a VHS videotape. With one large endless encoder knob, you can control the preamps’ input gain or output volume, or even generate MIDI continuous controller commands. Pressing the encoder switches between the settings, and LEDs indicate Duet’s current functionality. Dedicated seven-segment stereo meters above the control knob show input or output levels.

After installing the drivers and restarting my MacBook, getting started required little more than plugging the included FireWire cable between my computer and Duet. I confirmed a message asking if I wanted Duet as my main system audio output. Connecting my beyerdynamic DT-770 headphones into the unit’s integrated ¼-inch headphone jack, I fired up iTunes and was impressed with what I heard. While listening to my usual reference mixes, it was immediately apparent that high-frequency detail, transient articulation, low-frequency definition and positional imaging were greatly improved in comparison to the MacBook’s direct headphone out.

Unfortunately, to gain access to I/O beyond the headphones, you must dangle a 20-inch breakout cable with plastic-molded cables and wiring that reminded me of something made by Radio Shack. A 15-pin, VGA-style connector connects to Duet; the other end sports four ¼-inch (two inputs/two outputs) and two XLR input connectors. The ¼-inch, unbalanced -10dBV line outs can also be configured for instrument level output. I really wanted to see balanced +4dBu outputs for driving long lines in live situations.

Making settings such as choosing the balanced/unbalanced inputs, applying phantom power and inverting input polarity is handled using the included Maestro software. Maestro launches when Duet is plugged in, but Logic users will appreciate that they can directly access most of the same features within Logic.

As Duet fits so nicely into my laptop bag, I always had it with me and ended up using it in more applications than I expected to. I tracked percussion overdubs, recorded voice-overs and played soft synths through it, and it always sounded great. I did however, have one problem: On unplugging the FireWire cable, my computer locked up. Apogee tech support was quick in responding and said that they were aware of an issue with FireWire interfaces causing problems in computers with more than 2 GB of RAM. I hope this gets resolved because other than this issue, I loved Duet. (At press time, Apple released a software update and Apple FireWire audio driver, Version 242, which fixed the problem.)

The bottom line? Duet truly delivers great sound in a portable package. Certainly, Mac laptop owners will love Duet, but even desktop users who just want great stereo sound produced through two exceptional mic pre’s and converters should take a listen to this little powerhouse.

Apogee Electronics, 310/584-9394,
— Robert Brock


DS-V10 Dynamic Vocal Microphone

Equation Audio is a relative newcomer to the microphone market, having been established approximately five years ago. The company offers a complete line of dynamic and condenser mics, including its popular handheld, the Dominion Series DS-V10 ($179 list). This dynamic, supercardioid vocal model employs Neodymium magnetic materials and has a 40 to 17k Hz response. Its zinc body is coated with a rubberized, matte-black finish intended to reduce handling noise. A steel-mesh grille protects the capsule from harm while reducing plosives. Maximum SPL is rated at 140 dB.

I used the DS-V10 on vocals in a number of live sound situations, and took it for a quick spin in the studio. Without saying anything, I put DS-V10s onstage for Richie Castellano (keyboard and guitar player for Blue Öyster Cult) in his two mic positions. It was comical to watch him sing into the mic while trying to read the brand and model of the mic. Castellano fell in love with the sound of his voice on the DS-V10, and so did I. It’s clear that someone on Equation Audio’s engineering team did their homework. The mic is voiced such that it requires little (if any) EQ to get presence in the mix without harshness. The DS-V10 produced a smooth response yet maintained clear articulation across the frequency range.

The DS-V10’s off-axis rejection was outstanding and I noticed a significant drop in leakage of keyboard and guitar amps into his vocal mic. In fact, the pattern of the DS-V10 is so tight that if you’re speaking into the mic on-axis and turn your head, your voice all but disappears. This could be a double-edged sword: The mic rejects stage spill very effectively, but a singer who doesn’t stay on-mic will experience drastic dropouts when he/she moves off-axis.

Proximity effect on the DS-V10 is gentle. When Castellano sings a falsetto part, he gets right up on the mic, and if there’s too much proximity effect, his voice can become muddy. Not so with the DS-V10, which maintained clarity under these circumstances. The DS-V10’s pop filter works extremely well when a singer’s mouth is right on the grille, but (surprisingly) less so when the mic is pulled back around six or eight inches, where plosives are still audible.

When you add solid construction and a finish that helps minimize handling noise to the DS-V10’s sonic attributes, you come up with a vocal mic that’s a clear winner.

Equation Audio, 800/575-4607,
— Steve La Cerra


Compact, Powered Reference Monitors

In 2006, Avantone released the passive Mix Cubes, paying homage to the Auratone 5c monitors — studio stalwarts offering engineers the ability to listen to what their mixes might sound like on a far-from-audiophile, but close-to-consumer playback system. Avantone’s latest incarnation of the Cube is an active model, a Limited Insignia Edition that offers the same output driver, this time powered by a 35-watt Class-A/B amp.

The cabinet is constructed of a nonlayered, high-rigidity MDF board featuring low-resonance characteristics and radiused edges. These little guys deliver as promised; they are solid as a rock and offer no resonance when you subject them to a considerable rap of the knuckles. Unfortunately, they are only available in a buttercream finish. It was the one thing that seemed to bug everyone I showed them to, and perhaps the second version could offer these in basic studio black. However, the cabinet shows attention to detail and design: There’s a non-skid, 7mm-thick neoprene pad on the bottom, and a standard mic stand socket (⅝-inch/27-thread) in the base. The single driver has a custom-designed, 5.25-inch paper cone blended with mica fibers for rigidity and longevity, and a cloth-surround material boasting unique damping characteristics. The basket is low-carbon steel while the magnets are Mil-spec Y-40-grade, yielding a 43-ounce, high-power/low-distortion motor structure.

The back of the unit has a large, red aluminum heat sink, an XLR/TRS balanced input, RCA unbalanced input, adjustable (+6 to -30dB) output gain trim, power supply input and on/off switch. The cable that attaches the power supply to the speaker is beefy and woven with a 3-pin screw-on adapter. Each cabinet weighs 8.8 pounds and is 6.5×6.5×8.125 inches. They can be purchased as a pair or as mono units.

When I first plugged them in, I mounted them on the console top and borrowed the XLR line outputs from another pair of powered speakers for this test. On first listen, the 60-cycle hum was substantial. I looked on the power supply and the back of the speaker to verify that there was no ground lift and then called the manufacturer. I was told they had encountered this before and to simply use a ground lift. Not my usual MO, but it worked and I was ready to listen. (Avantone later hinted that a future model would fix this with a ground lift and/or an amp upgrade.) Familiar with Auratones, I didn’t expect much of a frequency bonanza from the Mix Cubes and I was not disappointed. These sounded lean on the bottom and top, and consistently flat in the midrange — the same characteristics that made the Auratone a valued listening reference. They got plenty loud without distortion and showed off the vocal, snare, toms, upper range of the kick and solo instruments in a number of mixes, just as I expected.

I’m a big believer in listening to tracks across a wide range of speakers. The Avantone Active Mix Cubes offer another chance to evaluate creative studio output and make judgements regarding how my work would translate across a wide range of systems. At $359 list, these are a no-brainer for those wanting another quick-and-dirty reference to help in the quest for tracks that translate.

Avantone Electronics, 909/931-9061,
— Kevin Becka


Programmable UPS

The M1500 ($999) is the first product under the new PFPower brand from Panamax and Furman. Specifically designed for studios and home theaters, the M1500 is a programmable, uninterruptible power supply with voltage regulation, power line conditioning and integrated power-down sequencing.

Guaranteed for three years, the two-rackspace M1500 weighs 59 pounds, complete with a sealed lead-acid battery. Under normal operation, the 1500 is a voltage regulator that outputs a constant 120 VAC and only switches to battery operation when the input line voltage falls below 88 volts or exceeds 147 volts.

Most UPS units are DC-to-AC inverters running on batteries kept charged by the AC line. They’re okay for keeping a PC powered during a power failure, but worthless for powering audio and video equipment. Besides providing non-sinusoidal AC voltage that decreases the efficiency of power transformers and causes electrical noise and interference, battery-only UPS units do not have the current “headroom” required for the huge, instantaneous current demands made by audio power amps, powered speakers or a DLP projector lamp.

The M1500 produces 1,000W (1,500VA) of pure, 60Hz (±1-percent) sine wave 120VAC (±5-percent) output with 50 dB of noise and RF suppression from 100 kHz to 1 MHz. When the AC line fails, it will supply full power for eight minutes — much longer if the load is lighter. It can transfer to battery operation in 4 ms. This is an important feature for DAWs, as many computers’ power supplies will not tolerate line voltage outages any longer than 6 to 10 ms before they will restart.

The M1500 extends its utility by providing programmability through a rear panel RS-232 port and IR (infrared) ports. Via the RS-232 port and the included software, the UPS can be programmed using a PC for use with home theater gear and/or home automation. The IR ports use the “learn” feature in your remote control to configure sequential power-down commands in two steps to your A/V gear. Sent over IR flashers (not included), amps and powered monitors could be powered-down first, followed by all other gear.

A simple front panel display shows power-on/off, load level, battery condition, unsafe line voltage and any line faults such as broken grounds. Another great feature is that the onboard battery is replaceable while the unit is turned on and regulating.

With 1,000W available, I used only about 50 percent of the unit’s load capacity to power my entire Pro Tools studio. The M1500 has six sets of circuit breaker-protected AC sockets: four for noncritical loads and two for critical loads. You can program the unit so that critical loads (DAW computer, interfaces, monitor, drives and recording chain) have more minutes of run time beyond the moment when noncritical loads (CD player, video monitor, lava lamps, etc.) shut down.

After a series of momentary outages in my neighborhood during a crucial recording project, I kept working, oblivious to the outside world. The M1500 paid for itself that day in work/time otherwise lost. If you’re serious about protecting your DAW and — more importantly, the artistic audio assets you’re entrusted with — don’t fly without a PFPower M1500.

PFPower, 707/763-1010,
— Barry Rudolph