NEUTRIK MR1 MINIRATORPocket Audio GeneratorI'm always impressed when I find simple, low-cost tools that make my life easier: The Neutrik MR1 Minirator is definitely one of them. Housed in a VCR remote-sized package, the MR1 is a multifunction audio generator that outputs 20 to 20k Hz sine waves (steady or variable-time sweeps), 20 to 5k Hz square waves, white noise and pink noise, and includes a polarity check function. The $139 price grabs attention, but what knocked me out was the MR1's little touches such as unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR connectors (the latter using a clever flip-out male plug), and variable outputs that are user-definable as -76 to +6 dBu, -78 to +4 dBV or 0.13 mV to 1.6 volts. Other features include a fast, intuitive three-button-plus-LCD-screen interface, and an always-on or auto-off function that both extends the (dual AA-cell) battery life and enables automatic shut-off of pink noise after 10, 30 or 60 minutes. A must-have accessory for any audio pro working in contracting, live sound, broadcast or studio recording, the MR1 Minirator is an instant classic!
FURMAN HDS-6/HR-6Headphone Mixing SystemMy least favorite studio chore is setting up monitor mixes for musicians, so when something like the Furman HDS-6/HR-6 comes along to make that job easier, I'm interested!
The system consists of the rackmount HDS-6 box with six (four mono and one stereo pair) 11/44-inch TRS balanced inputs-all have recessed trimpots with a 20dB range to accommodate line level feeds from a console send or direct output. The HDS-6 outputs use standard RJ-45 Ethernet-type cables that "daisy chain" connect up to eight HR-6 remotes. The latter are simple mic stand-mounted mixers that allow musicians to create their own cue mixes using one stereo and four mono pots. Each HR-6 has a built-in stereo headphone amp (with two output jacks) and a button that mutes the four mono feeds, for hearing only the stereo source. The $349 HDS-6 includes one HR-6 mixer and 25-foot RJ-45 cables; additional HR-6 mixers (with RJ-45 cables) are $129 each.
Over a period of months, I used the HDS-6/HR-6 on all kinds of sessions and liked the results. About the only downside of the unit was having to set up the rack box in the studio, and using adapters to feed it through the mic snakes from the control room. (I don't have any Ethernet snakes coming from my control room-yet.) Yet, aside from this minor point, the system worked wonderfully and I was pleased with the audio performance: Reproduction is clean and loud, with a respectable 500mW (@ 100 ohms) headphone output. The standmount HR-6 mixers are convenient and rugged, and hold up well to the usual abuse. Musicians liked having control over their own mixes, and I didn't have to spend three-quarters of my setup time doing cue mixes for that picky percussionist or that overbearing oboe player. What more could anyone ask for?
B.L.U.E. THE BLUEBERRYStudio Condenser MicBaltic Latvian Universal Electronics (B.L.U.E.) has always been an innovative company that does things differently. For example, its B7 Lollipop is a large-diaphragm capsule that attaches to the mic body of AKG's C60/61/28/29/ 30/451/452 mics, offering an instant big sound for a small $735 price. And B.L.U.E.'s Bottle Mic provides state-of-the-art tube mic performance in a $4,500 package based on the shape of Neumann's classic CV3.
Now B.L.U.E. has taken on the challenge of creating an affordable, solid- state mic based around its handbuilt capsules. Priced at $1,295-including velvet-lined wood box-The Blueberry is a cardioid design combining a large-diaphragm, single-membrane capsule with discrete, Class-A electronics and a transformer output. But under The Blueberry's distinctly cool body shape, it's evident that this is no "budget" mic; the construction and workmanship are impeccable, and the parts used throughout are of the highest quality.
I tried The Blueberry on various instrumental and vocal sessions and must admit that I like this mic. My first session was four-string dulcimer, which I miked from about two feet away. The Blueberry neatly captured this instrument, with all the zing and complex overtones intact. Results on banjo and acoustic guitar were similar, with a nice balance between highs, lows and mids. Next, I recorded snare drum cadences to be used as background effects on a CD-ROM. The result was punchy and crisp and the mic handled high SPLs without problem. The same session revealed just how clean The Blueberry's output is when I used it to record Foley-style effects-a quill pen scribbling notes on parchment. The mic's price may be low, but its performance is definitely high-end.
Of course, the main application for a large-diaphragm mic is vocals. The optional shockmount/pop filter is a clever yet simple design that grips the mic securely in any position and provides excellent shock isolation. The mic's mesh grille offers ample protection from all but the breathiest vocalists, and I rarely needed the pop filter. Also, the mic's proximity effect is fairly minimal, except in VERY close quarters, so there's no worry about all your vocalists sounding like Barry White. If you're looking for a vocal mic with a huge bass bump and a presence boost, this is not the mic for you, but on both male and female vocalists, The Blueberry provided an un-hyped sound that was quite natural, with an uncolored off-axis response.
Overall, The Blueberry is an excellent all-around studio mic whose natural reproduction, clean output and versatility make it a good choice either as a first large-diaphragm mic for the novice or as an addition to a well-stocked mic locker. Besides, who says all mics have to look alike?
Baltic Latvian Universal Electronics818/986-2583www.bluemic.com
ART DUAL TUBE EQProfessional 2-Channel TubeParametric EqualizerThree years ago, ART broke the price barrier of tube gear with its can't-beat-it-for-the-money Tube MP, a mic preamp/direct box offering impressive specs at a rock bottom $159. Now ART is poised to do the same for EQs with its Dual Tube EQ, priced at $499.
Although the product's front panel uses the phrase "parametric equalizer" the Dual Tube EQ is not parametric at all-each channel provides two sweepable mid bands, along with high and low shelving bands. Yet, even without the variable bandwidth controls required of a true parametric, switchable range controls on each band and ability to cascade both channels (transforming it from stereo 4-band to mono 8-band operation) give the unit plenty of versatility.
Under its rugged, extruded aluminum chassis, the Dual Tube EQ is a hybrid design like other modern tubes: solid-state filters, followed by a tube gain make-up stage, using readily available, industry-standard 12AX7a tubes.
The front panel is laid out logically, so this unit is plug and go. Each channel's hard-wired bypass switches are placed next to each other for comparing flat and processed settings without resorting to the "thumb-pinkie stretch" required on other units for one-hand bypass. Input controls permit optimizing gain without overload-even in extreme boost settings-while the output controls allow the user to trim down the processed level for making intelligent A/B choices, without a huge gain boost being part of the decision process. The rear panel has both balanced XLR and unbalanced 11/44-inch I/O, along with an attached AC cord for the built-in power supply.
In operation, the Dual Tube EQ proved to be a real workhorse on all kinds of material. It is best used as a shaping tool, especially due to the smooth action of its wide bands, which are free of edginess, even in extreme settings. The frequency centers of the LF/HF bands are musical, with the 120Hz band adding warmth and fullness, while the 40Hz setting was ideal for cutting rumble and fluff. At the other end, the 18kHz setting could either add air or cut hiss, depending on your needs, and the 6kHz added punch and sizzle. The 10x Multiplier switches on the mids sweep the LMF band from 20 to 200 Hz (or 200 to 2k Hz); the HMF sweeps from 200 to 2k Hz, or 2k to 20k Hz in 10x mode, making the unit equally versatile to punch up a vocal track or to reshape mixed program material.
Other than the EQ's lack of bypass switches for each band (hey, it's only $499-they had to cut corners somewhere!), I would have liked some color variation on the concentric frequency/gain controls on the mids. Right now, the black outer ring gain controls are hard to see against the black front panel. But other than these minor quirks, the ART Dual Tube EQ is a solid performer that should find a welcome space in effects racks everywhere.
Applied Research & Technology716/436-2720www.artroch.com