AVANT ELECTRONICS MIXCUBES
Mini Reference Monitors
During the '70s, '80s and into the 1990s, Auratone 5C Sound Cubes were pretty much required in every studio. These little 5-inch monitors were just the thing for checking your mixes on AM car radios or mono TV speakers. But as TVs and car stereos improved, the need for Auratones (sometimes called “horrortones” by users) diminished. Today, Auratones are long gone, yet the need for a low-fi reference has returned in the form of computer speakers, boom boxes and other limited-bandwidth consumer systems.
Sensing the need to provide “real-world, bass-challenged” monitors, Avant Electronics offers MixCubes, which put a single 5.25-inch speaker in 6.5-inch square cabinet. But unlike their Auratone cousins, the MixCubes use a high-quality, cast-aluminum frame, full-range driver with 43-ounce motor structure in a solid, non-resonant MDF enclosure with a glossy, butter-cream lacquer finish.
Small details are not overlooked: Connections are via metal binding posts that accept spade lugs, banana plugs or up to 12-gauge wire, and the cabinet has a recessed mount with 27 standard ⅝-inch threads, allowing the option of mic stand placement. Also on the underside is a 7mm-thick neoprene pad offering acoustic isolation/skid resistance. The latter provides some isolation characteristics, but these are hardly the sort of speakers that would acoustically couple with studio structures and shake the place apart. Most users will appreciate the neoprene's anti-slide properties, which keep the monitors in place on an angled shelf or meter bridge.
The important thing about MixCubes is understanding that they are not meant as primary monitors, but as an adjunct to your present studio speakers. I listened to the speakers with a variety of power amps. With their high-SPL handling, these are like hearing a set of computer or boom box speakers, but without exhibiting breakup at high-playback levels. The MixCubes' working frequency response (-3dB down-point) is about 150 to 12k Hz, although the bandwidth extends much further than that. But in the mid-band (250 to 8k Hz) range where they're intended, the MixCubes are remarkably flat. And besides checking mixes for mono compatibility or translatability to lo-fi systems, the MixCubes yield a microscopic-style view of critical midrange tracks — such as guitar, keys or vocals — that would fall somewhere along a crossover point on most other monitors.
The Avant MixCubes are serious audio tools that fulfill a necessary role in any pro studio setup, and at a most reasonable street price of $199/pair, there should be some square, buttercream speakers gracing your meter bridge in the future.
Avant Electronics, 909/931-9061, www.avantelectronics.com.
— George Petersen
TASCAM CD-01U, CD-01U PRO
Studio CD Players
Tascam's CD-01U and CD-01U Pro are single-rackspace, slot-loading CD players designed for broadcast or recording studio use. They will play commercial CDs, CD-R/RW (12cm and 8cm sizes) and MP3 discs. The two machines differ only in terms of I/O and control ports: The Pro model has XLR balanced outs, while the CD-01U has unbalanced RCA jacks. Both have S/PDIF optical outputs and serial RS-232 control for AMX and Crestron system programming. The Pro adds an AES/EBU digital output and a parallel control port. An included infrared wireless remote duplicates all front panel controls.
Both machines include 20 seconds of RAM buffering for shock protection and relay I/O jacks for chaining multiple units together. In chained or relay playback mode, the second machine will start playing its disc as soon as the disc on the first deck ends. The relay-in jack can also trigger “fader start” used in radio broadcast. Other broadcast-related features include up to 10 seconds of programmable fade-in/out in 0.5-second increments; switchable mono output from the analog and digital outputs; auto-cue (where the machine pauses at the first sound and not the actual beginning of the recording); and auto-ready, which puts the unit into standby mode after playing a track.
For the studio, the CD-01U and CD-01U Pro offer A-to-B repeat playback or looping between two designated points in the program, a ±12.5-percent pitch control, a Key Original mode for changing the speed without changing the pitch, and programmed playback for programming up to 100 tracks in any order.
The large LCD is visible at a distance and displays running or elapsed times, pitch and time settings, play modes and whether you're playing an MP3 disc. The headphone jack provided plenty of level for cueing selections while my studio monitors were playing. I found the programmed playback to be a great tool in auditioning different album sequences painlessly. Producers and songwriters love changing playback speed without altering pitch when working on new song ideas.
In these Internet days, the MP3 play function is a useful bonus. MP3 files must be recorded in ISO 9660 format (most newer burners and software already do this automatically) and play from the top-level directories downward as long as all files are in the first session — if you burn multi-session discs.
The rugged construction and advanced features of the Tascam CD-01U and CD-01U Pro are far superior to light-duty consumer decks. At $599 and $699, respectively, these are great additions to any pro studio.
Tascam, 323/726-0303, www.tascam.com.
— Barry Rudolph
OLD SCHOOL AUDIO VISTAPHONE
Okay, it's ugly and sounds bad, but that's exactly what makes the Old School Audio (OSA) Vistaphone (marketed by Atlas Pro Audio, $149) a fun and inexpensive way to add new color to your tracks. It is exactly what it looks like: a bullhorn repurposed as a microphone. Using an output transducer as a microphone is nothing new. Engineers have been using speakers as kick drum mics for years, and Yamaha even went so far as to market that idea in its Subkick mic. OSA takes a page out of Yamaha's playbook, but at the other end of the audio spectrum.
The Vistaphone has an XLR at the back and a stand mount at the bottom; the rest is up to you and your imagination. I first heard the Vistaphone used with a Shure SM57 recording a screaming guitar cabinet. The 57 sounded as you would expect in this situation, as did the Vistaphone — thin and narrow in scope. But when the Vistaphone's fader was slowly added to the 57's feed in the mix, it had the effect of bringing out the edge of the guitar, changing the blend and placing it squarely in your face.
Next, I used it to add some male vocal ad-libs to a cover of Marvin Gaye's “What's Going On.” In the section where the song transitions into the sax solo, the singer rapped freely into the Vistaphone on two tracks that I compressed to death and panned away from center. Tucked way back into the mix, I had an instant vibe without ever having to touch an EQ, processor or plug-in. Lastly, I recorded an entire drum kit with the Vistaphone placed three feet in front of the kit, about chest high. I used that single mono track as an opener for the song, and then slowly faded that track out while I faded in the entire mix of the drums from the same take recorded traditionally.
Yes, the Vistaphone is a one-trick pony, but think of it as pepper: too much and you hate it, but just enough — used wisely — brings some spice to your world.
OSA, 866/235-0953, www.old schoolaudio.com.
— Kevin Becka
LATCH LAKE MUSIC MICKING
Boom Mic Stand
You may not think a mic stand is stylish or critically important — that is, until you dump one of your favorite mics while tracking or can't place it just right in a typical (or not-so-typical) recording situation. Latch Lake's micKing boom stand and accessories make the task pleasant and do it in a completely innovative way. While the micKing doesn't have the rock-solid feel of a Starbird, at $750 it doesn't have the hefty price tag, either.
For starters, the clutches are the best I've seen. All are completely adjustable in fine increments, and the hardware is sturdy and easy to use. The back of the boom carries a heavy counterweight that lets you confidently balance even the heaviest mic arrays. The base is also innovative, with the bulk of the weight on the outer ring, providing far more stability than the stand appears to offer. The base interlocks with other micKing bases, turning storage into a neat proposition.
I've seen the micKing operate in a number of situations — some easy, some not — and it was a stalwart in every way. It held a Decca Tree with three BLUE OmniMouse mics without a whimper. Granted, in this situation the base had to be bagged as a confidence-builder, but when properly balanced, the micKing did a “stand-up” job. Next, I had it well extended holding the 8-mic Trinnov SRP surround array very close to the ground, and even then, could easily fine-tune placement. In this situation, having the stand's upright portion out of the way so that the player could get to the back of the rig was critical. The long boom extension and swivel head were especially helpful in this regard. They adjust easily without tools, and keep things solid.
In addition to the swivels, counterweight hardware and clutches for vertical adjustment, the stand comes with one of the coolest — and largest — Jam Nuts in the business. What is a Jam Nut? It's the flat, round nut that you tighten against the mic to make it stay in place. Rather than the measly ones you're used to, the micKing's are thick and large, allowing you to easily tighten the mic just right.
You can also add mics to your rig with the Xtra Boom accessories, which is especially helpful when miking a drum set. I had two micKings on either side of a kit performing overhead duties while several Xtra Booms were attached to each stand for miking the hi-hat, snare and toms. You can't fully appreciate this rig until you see how much neater and more efficient it is than a typical one-mic-per-stand setup. The Xtra Booms can also be attached to cymbal stands or any other upright mic stand.
After using this stand and its accessories in a number of situations, the conclusion is inescapable: In its price class, the micKing is the king of stands.
Latch Lake Music, 651/688-7502, www.latchlakemusic.com.
— Kevin Becka