Handheld Vocal Mic
Some 20 years after debuting the OM-1, its first professional vocal mic, Audix offers its latest entry, the VX5 handheld condenser. Retailing for $299, the VX5 has recessed switches for bass roll-off (150 Hz) and a -10dB pad. The 14mm gold vapor-sputtered diaphragm on the electret condenser capsule helps provide a 40 to 16.5k Hz (±3dB) response.
The first thing you notice about the VX5 is its “feel”; the slim, tapered 8-ounce mic balances nicely in the hand. The black-satin body is capped by a rugged, three-stage pop filter (stainless-steel outer mesh, fine inner screen and fabric stretched over the capsule). These combine for effortless plosive and vocal pop handling.
The VX5's supercardioid pattern is somewhat tight, which could be a challenge for vocalists who bounce around a lot and have trouble staying on-mic. Yet even in such cases, the VX5's off-axis response remains consistent. The minimal rear lobing of its polar pattern helps maximize gain before feedback, while rejecting off-axis stage noise and keeping drum/guitar/etc. out of the vocal mic channel. The mic exhibits a fairly flat frequency response up to a rising top-end boost peaking around 9k. The result is clear and accurate, yet not spiky nor harsh, with a top end that's airy without being overly sibilant. At the other end, the VX5 exhibits a smooth proximity effect for a lush, close-in fullness, if desired. Whether the mic is used for male or female voices, any need for EQ is minimal and done to suit the performer rather than to correct for the microphone.
The mic has a 130dB SPL spec that extends to 140 dB with the -10dB pad kicked in. The VX5 doesn't distort, even when it's hit really hard by the loudest close-in singers. What surprised me more was hearing the mic on acoustic 6- and 12-string guitars. Handheld vocal mics are hardly my first choice in this application, but here the VX5 delivered natural, uncolored reproduction with a nice blend of low-end bottom, balanced mids and top-end zing, with tons of detail, especially with harmonics.
With the VX5, Audix offers a great-sounding mic that — like the OM5 — will surely be a popular item on riders for years to come and be appreciated by artists, and house and monitor engineers alike.
Audix, 503/682-6933, www.audixusa.com.
TC ELECTRONIC KONNEKT 24D
FireWire Recording Interface
TC Electronic's Konnekt 24D packs a lot into a compact desktop enclosure. This 14×14 (in/out) FireWire recording interface features two mic/DI/line inputs, two additional line inputs, ADAT Lightpipe and (96kHz) S/PDIF co-ax I/O, MIDI I/O, four analog line outputs, headphone amp, control room level control and onboard DSP. Under the hood, the Konnekt is no slouch: The ADCs/DACs on the analog I/Os are 24-bit/192kHz, and the internal effects are the Fabrik R reverb and Fabrik C channel strip/compressor from the company's PowerCore platform. The DSP can be placed inline during recording, or show up as channels in your host application or used without a computer, like a standard outboard effects processor.
The unit can be powered from a FireWire bus or an included AC adapter. In addition to its low-latency drivers for Mac OS X, Intel-based Macs, Windows XP and all apps supporting WDM, ASIO and Core Audio drivers, the unit ships with TC NEAR™ (Network Expandable Audio Recording). This application provides intuitive control of all routing, setup, DSP and mix functions, and allows networked control of up to four Konnekt 24D units for more versatility.
The TC NEAR install disk includes the appropriate drivers and a copy of Cubase LE for those needing a recording application. After smooth sailing on an AMD Opteron PC and a lowly Power Mac G4, I experienced a variety of strange quirks using Konnekt 24D on an Intel Mac, but these were finally cured by a Version 1.20 update of TC NEAR that's downloadable from the company's Website. And according to TC, Konnekt 24D's Intel Mac performance is much improved by using a beta version of Apple's upcoming Mac OS 10.4.10.
On any FireWire audio system, data clog can result when a multichannel audio interface is being run on the same FireWire bus as an external hard disk. On desktop computers, an additional bus can be created using a PCI FireWire card to supplement the built-in bus. When using Konnekt 24D for remote recordings directly to a laptop, I simply stored the tracks to the internal HD and later copied them to an external disk before mixing/editing.
Aside from these few caveats, working with the Konnekt 24D was a pleasure. The mic preamps offer 62 dB of gain and — while they're hardly in the league with the Millennias in my studio — these were surprisingly good: clean and transparent with decent headroom. Other nice touches include the hi-Z instrument DI inputs, the rear panel's TRS balanced line I/Os and the two headphone jacks, one of which automatically mutes the control room feed when plugged in.
Eight of Konnekt 24D's 14 I/Os come from two Lightpipe ports. There's a lot of versatility here; each can operate as eight channels in ADAT 44/48kHz mode (or four SMUX channels at 96kHz) or be software-switched to provide S/PDIF Toslink optical I/O, in addition to the co-ax S/PDIF ports. Here, the little-used ADAT out on my 8-channel PreSonus DigiMax (which I normally use for tracking drums) was a perfect complement to the Konnekt 24D. Running Logic or Cubase, everything was plug-and-go.
One of Konnekt's 24D's strongest suits is its interface, which is designed to get you up and running as quickly as possible. Beyond the front panel's gain and output knobs is a multifunction source/level control (surrounded by an LED value ring), which ties into the software, offering a tactile control option for adjusting levels or panning. Another cool feature is Konnekt 24D's ability to save three TC NEAR setup/configurations as presets that can be recalled from the unit's front panel — even when you're not using a computer.
TC NEAR provides fast onscreen access to setup parameters (i.e., buffer size, clock source, sample rates), as well as the mix and routing screens. It's also the gateway to the Fabrik C and Fabrik R windows. Both use MINT™ (Meta Intuitive Navigation Technology), a remarkably simple means of tweaking effects by moving various parameter icons within a grid. This visually oriented approach is easy to master and gets results fast.
Anyone who's used PowerCore will be familiar with the excellent audio quality and flexibility of the onboard DSP. Fabrik C offers 4-band parametric/notch/peak/shelving EQ, a scalable de-esser, limiting and single/multiband compression. Fabrik R features versatile live, hall, plate and club programs. The effects are not available at 176.4/192 kHz. Only one plug-in (Fabrik R or Fabrik C) can be accessed at 88.2/96 kHz, although both can be used simultaneously at 44.1/48 kHz.
TC Electronic's Konnekt 24D is a little box with a lot to offer, and with a list of $625, it should appeal to novice and pro users alike.
TC Electronic, 818/665-4900, www.tcelectronic.com.
FUTURE SONICS ATRIO
Expanding its line of in-ear monitors, Future Sonics is shipping the Atrio Series universal-fit personal monitors. Based on the company's latest MG5PRO™ driver technology, the $199 Model m5 is designed for live performance applications and is supplied with several sizes of ComfortFit™ foam and EarFills™ silicon sleeves, with the ability to upgrade to custom-fit SofterWear™ sleeves at a later time. The addition of this affordable ($199) custom-mold option makes the m5 an ideal choice for artists who are starting out with personal monitoring or upgrading from lower-quality earpieces and want to get their feet wet before making the full plunge into custom-molded earpieces.
You can try either the foam or silicon sleeves and choose whichever feels most confortable. Both are replaceable and slide on easily over the stem of each m5 earpiece. Once the unit is in place, plug the stereo ⅛-inch connector at the end of the 1-meter cable into your beltpack receiver and you're ready to go. Depending on your own ear canal geometry, the sleeves provide up to -26 dB of attenuation from the outside world. The units do not have to be pushed very far in for an effective seal, and they are lightweight; with several choices in sleeve size/types, they are comfortable, as well.
The drivers have a 20 to 20k Hz response, but are not designed for a flat response; the Atrios provide a musical response, intended to offer a big sound at lower levels. Bass in particular seemed rich and full. I suspect this comes from an LF bump (sort of like the left side of the classic “smile” curve), but whatever it is, it works. Midrange sounds are easy for earpieces to reproduce, but Atrio's high-frequency response offers ample top end to hear details like reverb tails and decay — a tough call for a loudspeaker measuring less than 10mm.
Best of all, with a good seal and a good mix, you can listen at lower levels (even while drumming), forget the mechanics of the system and focus on your performance. With a sensitivity of 112 dB at 30 Hz/1 mW, the Atrio Series can get plenty loud, but this efficiency also means you don't have to drive your beltpack's headphone amp into clipping to get enough level. Your ears will thank you.
Future Sonics, 215/826-8826, www.earmonitors.com.
George Petersen is Mix's executive editor.