RADIAL JD-7 INJECTOR
Guitar Signal-Distribution System
Radial is known for its excellent direct boxes. Now, the company takes the concept of the direct box light-years ahead with the JD-7. Priced at $799, this clever signal-distribution system allows guitar or bass players to connect as many as seven amps or simulators at a time, providing the ultimate in tonal versatility — onstage or in the studio.
The single-rackspace JD-7 can operate as a simple direct box, handling hi-Z instruments (guitars, basses, etc.) or line-level (keys, drum boxes, etc.) sources from front panel ¼-inch jacks or a rear +4dB balanced XLR input. Outputs are numerous, with a line-level XLR out and five ¼-inch outs (to feed amps, etc.). All are Jensen transformer-isolated, with ground lift and phase-reverse switches. Outputs 5 and 6 also have unbalanced ¼-inch effects loop send and return jacks. The ¼-inch outputs 1 and 7 are transformerless, direct-coupled outs — sans phase and lift switches.
The active circuitry is all discrete Class-A, with no ICs or op amps in the audio path. Combined with the Jensen transformer outs, the result is whisper-clean audio. Another nice touch is a rotary Drag control, which optimizes the loading of the guitar pickup to the active front end inputs. Drag can be optimized for a sweet direct sound or, alternatively, it can add some nasty edge for a bit more “character.”
The real fun begins in the studio. Users have the option of laying an ultraclean guitar track down first and then experimenting later with multiple amps/devices — sort of like a Reamp on steroids — or laying down live tracks in real time, feeding many amps/sources simultaneously. In the studio, I liked the former because we only had to use one track in the beginning, and had the option of either printing the combo of four to five amps to tracks or simply feeding them in the studio during the mix to create a “live” stereo submix.
The JD-7 offers enormous flexibility. We combined a superclean JD-7 direct bass track with routings to a Line 6 Pod and two Fender Bassman tops driving a 4×10 and a 1969 single-15 Tone Ring bottom. Later, we sent dry rhythm and lead guitar performances to a Marshall AVT 275, Tech-21 Trademark 60, Danelectro Piggyback, Fender Deluxe Reverb and a Fender Showman/Tone Ring. There are lots of guitar amp modelers, but blending the signals from five amps was a gas. Best of all, we could experiment with various amp settings, tone, mics and placements without wearing the player out. The tone was so thick that you could cut it with a knife, and the stereo — or surround — possibilities are endless.
On other sessions, connecting sterile-sounding synth tracks to a couple of guitar amps added punch, while a dry organ track routed to an iso'd Marshall and a stereo-miked Leslie had the power of a freight train. This thing is addictive!
Radial Engineering; 604/942-1001; www.radialeng.com.
— George Petersen
Pocket 4-Track Recorder
Will the 4-track ever really die? Well, not for the time being. The Korg PXR4 is possibly the most full-featured, portable multitrack to ever hit the market for under $500. The PXR4 records four tracks (two tracks simultaneously with eight virtual tracks per channel) to 4- to 128MB SmartMedia cards. The unit has an internal mic, ¼-inch low/hi-Z (switchable) input with trim, analog stereo in/out, USB jack and a headphone jack. The front panel has faders for each of the four tracks, master fader, shuttle controls, jog wheel and various controls for audio editing and accessing onboard effects. Other standard features are track cut/copy/paste commands, time expansion/compression, and various drum and tempo patterns.
The PXR4 was an excellent addition to my gig bag on road trips and the perfect excuse to take my guitar to the park, as it runs from the supplied AC adapter or two AA batteries. The internal drum tracks and surprisingly rich onboard effects (based on Korg's popular Pandora multi-effects line) provide hours of guitar geek bliss. The drum patterns are pretty basic, running the gamut of rock and jazz styles, but are far more enjoyable to play along with than the average click track.
The PXR4 offers three recording resolutions or digital-compression settings with a stated bit depth and sample rate of 16/32 kHz. At the highest setting, I was able to eat up the supplied 16MB SmartMedia card pretty quickly, and the sound quality was about what you'd expect from a portable 16-bit recorder. The lower settings, of course, provided more recording time, and the sound actually reminded me of my first Tascam 4-track cassette. But for sketchpad purposes, any of the recording resolutions were fine. Users can also output their audio as MPEG files via USB: Simply connect the PXR4 to a USB-equipped Mac or PC and the PXR4 shows up as a removable drive from which users can drag files onto their hard drives.
All in all, the PXR4 is an excellent unit for the traveling musician or the perfect stocking-stuffer for that up-and-coming music prodigy. If you already own a decent laptop, your money might be better spent on a USB audio interface, but if all you need is a pocket-sized way to work out your ideas, the PXR4 might be just what you're looking for.
Korg; 516/333-9100; www.korg.com.
— Robert Hanson
Pro Stereo Headphones
Sennheiser's HD280 Professionals are comfortable, over-the-ear closed headphones featuring an 8 to 25k Hz response, a sturdy coiled cord that stretches almost 15 feet to reach the ends of the widest consoles, and padded earpieces that swivel 90° for off-the-shoulder, one-eared spot monitoring. They're fairly large, but fold up into themselves for space-saving storage.
The HD280s present a natural sound reproduction, making them a better choice for music, especially as a reference with studio monitors. Their warmth, low distortion and comfort reduce listening fatigue on longer sessions, excellent for recording and broadcast studios. The HD280s offer a tight, toe-tapping low end similar to the Sony MDR-V6, owing partly to the excellent seal of the ear pads, which completely cover all but the largest head-flaps, while also providing over 30 dB of isolation — far more than most in-ear monitors. As a bonus, the HD280's high isolation allows monitoring at lower levels in loud environments than most other cans.
The obvious comparisons are with other popular closed models. Either you love or hate the venerable Sony MDR-V6 — a fragile live sound darling that's the consumer version of the 7506. If you like the accentuated highs of the V6, try Sennheiser's own under-appreciated HD25, which has more brilliance and is very rugged. The HD25 has been my favorite to check mixes in IEM applications, where its response matches that of many two-way molds.
Ever had your favorite cans accidentally crunched at a gig? Most engineers have busted several. The 280's resilient plastic parts score high marks for ruggedness. I used the 280 on several tours and lots of sessions where they were stepped on, sat upon and crushed inside a suitcase, with the worst results simply requiring an ear hinge to be popped back into its muff. If the $199 list seems high, the reward is that they'll easily outlast others, so outfitting a studio with these can save money in the long run.
Sennheiser; 860/434-9190; www.sennheiserusa.com.
— Mark Frink
PRISM SOUND DREAM AD-2
2-Channel A/D/D Converter
Although it's been around for a couple of years, the stellar Dream AD-2 ($8,110) deserves another look. The 2-channel AD-2 provides both A/D and digital-to-digital (D/D) processing in 16, 20 and 24-bit word lengths, with four different noise-shaping curves offered with word-length reduction. The unit also offers a mode to encode/decode 24-bit recordings to/from 16-bit recorders. The AD-2 operates internally at 32/44.1/48/88.2/96 kHz and can lock to external wordclock or the signal presented at one of its digital audio input jacks.
Rear panel inputs include L/R analog inputs on XLRs, two AES/EBU connectors on XLRs, three BNCs (one for wordclock input, the other two for either AES/EBU or SDIF-2 audio) and both co-ax and optical S/PDIF ports. With the obvious exception of the analog inputs, the same number and type of jacks are offered in the digital output section. Both single-wire (double-speed) and dual-wire AES formats are supported in A/D and D/D modes at 88.2- and 96kHz rates. The AD-2 can perform digital-format and sample-rate conversions, as well as simultaneously transmit two signals that have different bit depths, sample rates and data formats via two jacks. The unit's 0dBFS reference can be calibrated to +5 to +28dBu in 0.5dBu steps.
The AD-2's prodigious 130dB dynamic range (RMS, unweighted) presages the profound depth and stunning sense of realism the unit captures. In A/B tests with my cherished Apogee Rosetta (a far less-expensive unit), the AD-2 sounded noticeably smoother, warmer and more revealing. The Rosetta produced a tad wider stereo image. Overall, the Dream AD-2 is the best-sounding linear PCM A/D converter I've heard.
Prism Sound; 973/983-9577; www.prismsound.com.
— Michael Cooper
CheckPoint — maker of architectural laser tools — has married a precision laser and a digital inclinometer in a rugged, 6.5×1.5-inch, anodized-aluminum chassis that's helpful for live sound speaker adjustments.
If the height of a speaker array is known, then the vertical angles of coverage can easily be measured from the audience before the speakers are hung. Measuring the angle to the bottom box from the front of the listening area and then to the top box from the last row is done by simply pointing the laser and reading the digital readout. Dropping a tape measure from an array's hanging point provides an accurate target, especially when there's no proscenium wall directly behind the point.
The Inclino-Matic Laser is also useful when stacking speakers with known dispersion angles. Coverage can be visualized by placing the tool on top of the speaker and adding the angles above and below the horizontal plane. It's a simple matter to cut some doorstop-shaped wood wedges that create the -6dB-down points of coverage when placed on the top or sides of a particular speaker. I have 15° and 20° wedges for the CQ-2s that I use regularly. This helps visualize frontfill coverage and side-wall reflections — plus clients think that the laser is cool.
The digital inclinometer operates on a 9V battery (I have yet to replace it after a year on the road), and the laser uses two AAA batteries. The DLT-675 can be purchased directly from CheckPoint for $169.95.
CheckPoint Laser Tools; 310/891-1550; www.checkpoint3d.com.
— Mark Frink