Snapshot Product Reviews

MANLEY 162Rackmount Mixer Leave it to EveAnna Manley and her chief designer, Hutch, to destroy the concept of the line mixer. They got this one all wrong.

Rackmount Mixer

Leave it to EveAnna Manley and her chief designer, Hutch, to destroy the concept of the line mixer. They got this one all wrong. Line mixers are supposed to be ugly, lightweight, lo-fi, utilitarian units that cram 16,821 inputs into a two-rackspace chassis. Heavy, elegant and offering absolutely sparkling audio quality, the Manley 16×2 mixer started out as a 16-input/2-bus line mixer, but is also offered in two other versions, with either eight or 16 line/mic inputs.

To keep the 16×2 from becoming a 40-rackspace/400-pound behemoth, the unit's vacuum tubes are supplemented by high-quality ICs from Burr Brown and Linear Technology. From the thick, milled-slab, five-rackspace front panel and massive outboard power supply to its use of quality (read: expensive) components, the 16×2 was built for no-compromise performance.

I checked out the “8+8” model with eight mic/line inputs and eight line channels. The mic inputs have Neutrik Combo XLR/TRS jacks, insert and direct out jacks, and phantom power — switchable via locking toggle switches. The front panel has illuminated mute/solo switches, rotary pan/level pots, an 11-step gain switch with a 60dB range, and inset switches for phase reverse and insert in/out. The line channels are similar but lack the phase/insert switches and insert jacks, and substitute an aux send in place of the gain control.

The master section has the stereo bus out level pot, aux return pot, dual VU meters, and control room level control with -15dB attenuator, five-position monitoring source selector, and a switch for routing the CR out to main or small speakers. More than a simple line mixer, the 16×2 offers everything you need to do for an entire session, an essential tool for everyday production.

One of my sessions on the 16×2 was recording a jazz quartet live to 30 ips 2-track. The drums were miked with two Royer SF-1 ribbons as overhead XYs; an Audix D4 on kick; AKG C-414s on piano (half-stick lid with blanket covering); and Sennheiser 409 on the guitar amp and bass through a Summit tube direct box. After inserting a UREI compressor on bass and taking the direct outs of the piano to feed a Lexicon 200 reverb (returned through the line inputs), the results were smokin' — transparent, dynamic and clean, with left/right separation you could really hear. Of course, the mixer's huge headroom, 100kHz bandwidth and nonexistent noise floor played no small part in the results.

The 16×2 was equally useful on bread-and-butter duties such as providing eight channels of superb mic preamps for tracking, or as an ultra-fidelity submixer for mixing Pro Tools sessions right from the outs of my 888|24s converters — offering the best of both worlds, bumping the mix performance way up while providing access to plug-ins, editing, etc.

Retailing at $9,000 (line version); $9,500 8+8 (line/mic); and $9,900 for the all-mic version, the 16×2 is not exactly cheap. But with excellent mic preamps and mixer/submixer flexibility, the 16×2 is useful on every session, making it way more affordable than some digital doohickey that gets fired up once a month.

Manley Laboratories; 909/627-4256;
— George Petersen

Aural Exciter and Optical Big Bottom

The Aphex Model 204 — which combines the company's patented Aural Exciter® and Big Bottom® processing in a single unit — is the perfect final coat of gloss for any signal chain (live, studio, Internet or broadcast).

For anyone unaware of what the Aural Exciter and Big Bottom do, imagine having the ability to boost both top and bottom end, with the ease of a dynamic EQ, yet without appreciably increasing the peak level of the signal (i.e., without causing overload distortion). The Aphex Aural Exciter circuit actually extends a signal's high-frequency content, unlike dynamic equalizers or other HF enhancers. The Big Bottom circuitry dynamically shapes the bass response in the 20 to 120Hz range, increasing the perception of low frequencies without boosting the peak output.

The 204 is a slick, one-rackspace unit that offers two discrete channels with ¼-inch and balanced XLR I/Os, and it can operate as a stereo unit or run two separate mono sources (e.g., hi-hat and floor tom) simultaneously. Operation requires little more than tweaking a couple of knobs until it sounds great, although moderation is the key here; too much of a good thing can ruin the sound.

I tested the 204 on live and recorded sources. As the final link on my bass rig, the 204 added noticeable presence and depth to the signal, without bringing in any unpleasant artifacts. I especially liked the way the 204 warmed up synths in a live playback situation. A band I work with uses a pair of E-4 samplers through a small Mackie mixer and sent to FOH. Inserted into the stereo outputs, the 204 brought some much needed punch and clarity to some of the more static “old-school” square wave and sawtooth leads that the E-4s were playing back.

In my project room, I've always been upset with the “boxed in” sound that computer-based DAWs always seem to produce — regardless of the “emulation” plug-ins I keep shelling out cash for. On mixdown, paired with a high-end reverb, the 204 brought just the right amount of “color,” sparkle and vocal intelligibility to everything I mixed. My modest studio suddenly started sounding like the real deal, and that's the best endorsement I could possibly give. The Model 204 lists for $399. Check it out!

Aphex Systems; 818/767-2929;
Robert Hanson

Active Subwoofer

Tannoy is no stranger to studio subwoofers. However, the company's previous subs — such as the PS88 and PS110B — were intended for pairing with smaller near-fields. Now, with its new PS350, Tannoy has unleashed a monster — a 350-watt behemoth paired with a long-throw, 15-inch woofer and advanced bass management capabilities.

Available with balanced XLR (350B) or unbalanced RCA (PS350) connections, the unit is housed in a 20×18×20-inch, 58-pound, vinyl-covered cabinet. The enclosure has a front-firing woofer, with the driver mounted above the dual ports, thus reducing the possibility of foot-through-cone syndrome when used in an under-console position.

The pro PS350B has more features than the consumer version. The PS350B's rear panel has line-level XLR inputs and feed-throughs for the left/center/right speakers; an LFE subwoofer input; and pots for the subwoofer crossover point (40 to 150 Hz), LFE boost and master subwoofer gain. Also standard are switches for phase reverse, LFE lowpass in/out and single/dual-sub configurations.

A remote switch jack is provided for a footswitch (included with the PS350B) that defeats the bass management functions. When depressed, the LCR speakers are rolled off at 80 Hz, with the subwoofer information derived from the LCR inputs. In the opposite position, the 80Hz highpass filters in the LCR feed-throughs are bypassed and the sub is fed from the external LFE input. In that case, if no LFE input is connected, then the switch can simply function as a subwoofer in/out selector. A custom switch can be easily fabricated for fingertip console access, etc.

Overall, the PS350B is capable of producing the kind of chest-thumping experience where LF energy becomes a physical sensation. This is the first subwoofer I've used that could keep up with my Meyer HD-1s, and unless you produce a lot of rap and hip hop, you'll probably have to turn back the subwoofer output control and go easy on the LFE boost knob.

Also, beyond merely offering an extra octave (or two, or three) for monitoring pipe organ fundamentals, the PS350B will tell you everything that's going on in the input, whether it's stage rumble or distant subways creeping into that solo piano track. At $1,419 shielded or $1,299 unshielded, the PS350B is a formidable tool for stereo or surround production.

Tannoy/TGI North America; 519/745-1158;
— George Petersen

Universal Earphone Monitors

Custom-molded earpieces provide the best performance for in-ear monitors, combining superior sonic isolation with the most comfort. However, they also require a fitting by a hearing professional, which adds to their cost and to the time it takes to acquire them. So, there may be times — such as one-offs or impromptu guest appearances at a show — when custom molds don't fit (so to speak).

New from Future Sonics Inc., the Ears™ EM3 Series of universal-fit, in-ear transducers were designed as an affordable, one-size-fits-all alternative to the company's high-end customized Ear Monitors® brand. Retailing at $198 (with six replaceable foam sleeves), the EM3 features FSI's F/R dynamic drivers for a stated 40 to 20k Hz response, and terminate in a standard ⅛-inch stereo TRS plug for interfacing with headphone amps or beltpack receivers. FSI is also providing EM3s for use with Sennheiser's Evolution 300 Series wireless systems.

Operation is easy. The user selects either the small or large foam sleeves and compresses the foam before placing them into the ear canal. On release, the foam expands, sealing the ear. Each earbud is color-coded with a mark to indicate left/right orientation. Their -25dB isolation was ample for use with rock drummers or players in front of loud guitar stacks.

The EM3s offer very low and very full LF response. Drummers and bass players will love these. For vocal monitoring, I rolled the bass off at about 80 Hz, which added to the MF clarity and allowed the monitors to reproduce greater apparent SPLs. FSI states a frequency response out to 20 kHz, but the top end is well attenuated at those HF extremes, and I found that a little 1.5dB boost around 10 kHz added a little sparkle for a natural feel, without becoming fatiguing.

With a sensitivity of 118 dB at 1 watt, the EM3's 80mW power handling offered plenty of volume and a decent headroom margin for dynamics and punch. At $198/pair, the EM3s provide an affordable alternative for the novice in-ear user, and an excellent backup to custom earpieces for those special “you left them where?” occasions. They also allow ample isolation for getting the rest of the band weaned off those noisy stage wedges — without breaking the bank.

Future Sonics; 215/598-8828;
— George Petersen

Stereo Microphone System

For 40 years, MBHO has offered a variety of quality, affordable mics for studio, measurement and stage applications. One of the company's more interesting products is a Jecklin Disc — a circular barrier mount that accommodates two omni mics on either side of a 12-inch, foam-covered disc, providing excellent stereo performance from a simple, flexible system.

The Jecklin Disc was developed by Juerg Jecklin — hence the name — who proposed his OSS (Optimum Stereo Signal), where two omni mics were mounted on either side of a round barrier and splayed slightly outward. Jecklin achieved the best results when the two capsules were about 6.5 inches apart. The outward angle of the omni capsules, their spacing, the effect of the nearby barrier (the disc) and the small layer of foam (to prevent HF reflections) increase the apparent separation as the frequencies rise, while having a minimal effect on imaging at wavelengths below 200 Hz.

The Disc itself is 12 inches in diameter (and approximately 5/16-inch thick), and is made of a tough, hard polymer with six slots where a stand-mount can be fitted, allowing the user to adjust the mic's angle of incidence in relation to the source. Mounts on either side are provided for small-body — about ¾-inch — omni condensers, from either MBHO or other suppliers. I tested the unit with several omni mics, including MBHO's 648 Series with numerous interchangeable capsules with various preamp modules. Unlike other stereo mics — such as AKG C24s or Crown SASS — the advantage of using a stereo barrier/detachable mic approach (such as the Jecklin) is that the mics can also be used separately in other configurations, such as XY, spaced pair, ORTF, etc.

Of the two preamps I tried with MBHO's KA-100D omni capsules ($237 each), I preferred the smoother sound of the transformer-coupled 648 ($264) over the transformerless 603 ($603). Both preamps have extremely fine threads that attach the electronics body to the capsule, and because the bass roll-off switch is located on the covered top of the preamp, users may need to remove the capsule head frequently.

On a chamber recording with a five-piece brass ensemble in a small hall, the MBHO omnis/Jecklin Disc combination provided a wonderful blend of the hall's ambience with a tight, well-focused soundstage of the players. The trick here was to experiment with placement: About 15 feet back with the mics angled slightly downward on an 8-foot stand was just right. Placing them much closer (about two feet above the source) as drum overheads for a rock session yielded a punchy sound with wide separation: Here, the “hole in the middle” caused by the mics being too close to the source helped keep the snare out of the cymbal tracks while yielding a huge stereo image.

Sometimes rules are meant to be broken, and I also tried the Jecklin with some cardioids for some in-your-face, exaggerated stereo effects. Retailing at $219, the Jecklin Disc is a useful — and sometimes fun — addition to your mic arsenal.

MBHO USA; 718/963-2777;
— George Petersen

Powered Studio Monitors

I first heard Yorkville's original YSM1 monitors more than 10 years ago and was impressed by their high-performance/low-price approach. Now, the company has updated its classic design with the YSM1p — an active, bi-amped system — and the YSM1i, an unpowered version.

Other than the rear amp/electronics module and clip/power LEDs on the YSM1p, the new speakers are essentially similar to the originals. Updates from the original YSM1 include a smooth, radiused front panel to reduce diffraction effects, a foam-surround woofer and no grille cloth, but the new models are designed to sound like the originals. All feature video-shielded drivers: a 6.5-inch, ferrofluid-cooled woofer, and 1-inch tweeter in a 16.4×9.6×11.2-inch, ported enclosure.

Built in the style of Mackie's HR824, the piggybacked amp module has a Neutrik Combo ¼-inch/XLR input, removable power cord and power switch on the bottom of the unit, and no connectors protruding from the back, so the YSM1p can sit flush against a wall. The module is vented on all sides and remains cool during operation. Besides the 70-watt LF and 30-watt HF amps, the module has a rotary input trim pot, a switchable overload protection limiter, and DIP switches for adjusting HF Reflection Optimization and LF Efficiency Factor (two haughty phrases for the ±2dB roll-off/flat/boost settings for the woofer and tweeter). These are useful for adjusting the YSM1ps to specific listening environments, especially in compensating for corner or against-wall placements common in project studios.

I usually monitor at fairly sane levels (75 to 85 dB), so the YSM1p's max SPL (in the 105dB range) offered more than ample headroom in the near-field, and I left the limiter switched out. If you like listening loud and want the comfort of not blowing drivers, then the limiter feature could be very valuable to you.

Overall, the sound of the YSM1p is very good. The bass is not boomy — nicely balanced, thanks, in part, to Yorkville putting a 6.5-inch woofer in a cabinet where other companies might use an 8-inch driver; the roomy enclosure offers enough volume for the YSM1p's woofer to function smoothly. On the top end, the soft-dome tweeter was an ideal complement to the woofer, with a smooth 2.5kHz crossover band, realistic imaging, and crisp — yet natural — highs that were never harsh.

Users seeking slam-dunk 120dB playbacks should look elsewhere, but at $320/each, these are worth checking out for anyone seeking an affordable, accurate near-field reference.

Yorkville Sound; 905/837-8481;
— George Petersen