Snapshot Product Reviews

BLUE SKY INTL. SKY SYSTEM ONEStudio Monitoring System There are a lot of me-too studio monitors on the market, so it was refreshing to check out something

Studio Monitoring System

There are a lot of me-too studio monitors on the market, so it was refreshing to check out something that's truly different — at least from outward appearances. With their shiny, hemispheric, mica-filled, polypropylene LF cones, the Sky System One from Blue Sky International are some serious near-field reference monitors.

Touted as a “2.1 system,” the Sky System One consists of two Blue Sky SAT 6.5 bi-amplified satellite speakers and a companion Sub 12 powered subwoofer. All are mag-shielded for use near video and computer displays, and they are approved for use in THX pm3-certified studios.

Weighing 28 pounds each, the SAT 6.5 powered speakers include ¼-inch×20-threaded inserts for OmniMount Series 100 hardware. Inside each of the 12×8×12-inch (H×W×D, with heatsink and tweeter waveguide) cabinets is a 6.5-inch, long-excursion woofer crossing over at 1.5 kHz to a 1-inch, dual-diaphragm tweeter with an integral waveguide and a high-output neodymium motor structure, powered by internal 100 +100-watt bi-amplification.

The “.1” part of the system, the 62-pound Sub 12, has a built-in 2.1 bass management system with a fourth-order, 80Hz Linkwitz-Riley lowpass filter and a second-order, 80Hz highpass filter for the satellites. Under the hood of the 18×16×22-inch (H×W×D, with heatsink and grille) sub enclosure is a 12-inch, cast-frame, long-throw woofer with onboard 200-watt power amp.

Hookup is easy enough, although without detents on the input-level pots, balancing the sub-to-satellite ratio takes a bit of time; it's somewhat easier if you leave both satellites in the full-on “reference” setting, and then tweak the subwoofer pot to your liking. In a fairly small 12×12-foot room, the main problem was too much — rather than not enough — sub, so by starting with the woofer at max and moving downward, the exact balance can be reached via one knob. The sub also has a dedicated subwoofer input, for use as a stand-alone sub or as a second sub in a stereo LF install. All connections are via balanced XLR connectors at +4 dB. Each speaker has an IEC power cable and AC switch, but unfortunately, the power-on LED is on the back of all the speakers — a second LED, paralleled to the rear one, would have been nice.

In the studio, the Sky System One proved impressive. The top end was non-hyped and linear, well beyond 15 kHz, providing for a non-fatiguing listening experience. The mids were well-defined, with no edginess present around the 1.5kHz crossover at all, which is a critical slice in the vocal range. At the lower end, the sub had plenty of punch with no signs of slowing down, providing an ideal match for the satellites, especially in a small- to medium-sized control room — these are near-fields, after all.

What really wowed me about Sky System One was the imaging and overall soundstage, which offered excellent localization as well as a reach-out-and-grab-it phantom center channel effect. Yeah!

A Sky System One 2.1 system retails at $1,595; a 5.1 system is $3,720.

Blue Sky International; 516/249-1399;

X/Y Stereo Microphone

For more than 50 years, Schoeps has delivered high-quality, versatile tools for recording and broadcast professionals. A compact (4-inch long) and versatile X/Y stereo microphone, the CMXY 4V is an excellent continuation of that tradition.

The CMXY 4V — it's available in versions with either 5-pin XLR or miniature connectors — is based on two CCM (Compact Condenser Microphone) Series cardioid capsules.

The mic has a retail price of $3,900, which does include a wood storage box and a stereo 5-pin to left/right standard 3-pin XLR adapter. Small colored dots on either side of the mic mount correspond to the left- and right-side outputs. A recommended option is the A20S shockmount, a compact elastic suspension clip with two small clamps that grip onto either side of the split-output cable, offering some help in decoupling the cable from the suspension.

The two capsules use a clever, geared swivel offering more than 180° of outward rotation, for very tight to ultra-wide stereo separation. Unlike typical adjustable-splay stereo mics, which combine one rotatable and one set capsule, the angle between the CMXY 4V's two capsules can be adjusted without altering the central stereo axis. The capsules always rotate equally and in opposite directions via a slick gear arrangement in the base of the mic. The capsules are about as close to each other as physically possible — the centers are spaced less than an inch apart.

In the studio, the CMXY 4V offered just what I expected of a Schoeps CCM: smooth, natural response with a slightly rising — but never overpowering — HF emphasis. The proximity effect is fairly mild until you get in closer than 3 inches or so; combined with the ease of adjusting the angle of capsule splay, it was great for close-miking mandola, mandolin and bazouki. On acoustic guitar, about 16 inches back from the sound hole with the capsules set about 80° apart, the effect was rich and full — yet present — with a nice stereo effect.

The mic handles SPLs in excess of 132 dB, and was right at home on drum overheads, timbales and even left/right rack toms, although you really want to be sure about the drummer's accuracy before putting a $3,900 mic in the line of fire.

The CMXY 4V's coincident-swivel design also opens up some new possibilities, such as setting the two capsules back to back, and throwing one side out-of-phase at the mixer to create a makeshift figure-8 pattern. In more mundane studio duties, such as piano miking, the CMXY 4V excelled and offered fast, single-stand placement. Its small profile and inconspicuous gray finish should also appeal to users in live theater, broadcast or film/ENG applications, or anybody needing a solid, high-performance stereo mic.

Schoeps Microphones,, dist. by Redding Audio; 203/270-1808;

Spatial Enhancer

About a decade ago, a number of studios became aware of a consumer hi-fi processor made by SRS and marketed to home users by Hughes Audio. Even in a non-rackmount, non-standard height chassis that offered only RCA jacks and decidedly non-pro features like hi-fi tape loop connections, the system did provide spatial enhancement at a rock-bottom $299 price.

Now, SRS offers the SRS Pro 220 — a similarly priced, single-rackspace processor designed to restore the original 3-D sound field to any stereo music mix. Interfacing is similar to the original — the tape loop jacks are gone — and the I/O (still -10dBu analog unbalanced) now offers both ¼-inch and phono jacks.

Incorporating patented Sound Retrieval System (SRS) technology, the Pro 220 can also convert mono material to stereo, and may be used to create additional width and depth in any stereo recording or sound reinforcement application. The process works by looking for “difference” (left-right or right-left) information and “direct” (signals that appear in both left and right channels) in a stereo recording, and offers the user the ability to manipulate each element to create a wider, more spacious effect.

Besides a process-in/out bypass switch, the front panel has controls for space (adjustment of the width/depth of non-centered instruments or vocals); center (for tweaking the level of center panned signals); and SRS level, which essentially acts as a wet/dry (processed/bypassed) signal mix. Used for creating stereo from a mono source, a fourth knob — 3-D Mono Level — determines the ratio of processed-to-unprocessed signals coming through the rear panel mono-in/stereo-out jacks, which are independent of the main L/R stereo I/Os.

In the studio, the Pro 220 can be an extraordinarily powerful tool, with a few caveats. As with anything else in the studio, it's easy to overdo the effect and ruin the track. Here, a light touch goes a long way. One thing to keep an ear on is the fact that in the production stage, SRS is not a set-and-forget process, especially as your knob settings become more radical (closer to 11). Also, depending on the source material and your SRS settings, mono compatibility (level and/or frequency losses when stereo material is played in mono) can be a problem, so as you tweak your SRS settings, hit the console's Mono button every once in a while to make sure everything's okay. You never know when or where one of your mixes will show up, and mono (TV, computers, Internet, AM radio, etc.) is still with us, and is something to check for on all your mixes.

That said, in truly live situations — clubs, sound reinforcement, theme parks, etc. — where you have total control over the playback environment, you can get as wild as you want. Back in the studio, I found the Center control — which operates as minus or plus from a 12:00 position — to be highly useful in salvaging all types of material where solo instruments or lead vocals were recorded either too hot or too soft. The Mono spread circuit was particularly useful with mono synth pads, samples and other mono sources, but as mentioned before, go easy on the processing.

Overall, SRS Pro 220 is a highly useful tool. The -10dBu interfacing might be a pain for some, but at $299, most of us could put up with an inconvenience or two.

SRS Labs; 949/442-1070;

Subharmonic Generator

Unveiled at the Summer NAMM 2001 show, the Peavey kosmos™ is a single-rackspace processor designed to enhance LF energy, HF articulation and stereo-image enhancement on recorded or live tracks. Retail is $300.

Essentially, kosmos generates bass subharmonics combined with an Xpanse control that simultaneously adjusts HF boost and stereo width. A separate crossover feeds a subwoofer output, or the unit can be switched to operate in standard two-speaker mode. With controls marked Seismic Activity, Quake and Subterranean, I had to check it out.

The kosmos subharmonic (Quake) processor tracks the source material, analyzes the bass, and then generates additional low frequencies an octave below the source material. A Subterranean shift button can shift the center frequency of the bass generation to match the speakers you're using, hopefully to avoid blowing drivers, which it can and will if used improperly or to excess. Thud, an additional bass-boost circuit tuned an octave above the subharmonic range, can fill in and fatten out the low end. The left/right stereo image can also be tweaked with the Xpanse control, offering improved separation and clarity (“air” boost).

All I/Os are balanced and are offered on both XLR and ¼-inch TRS jacks, although the system also worked fine on unbalanced signals. Besides the main level control (and bypasses on each stage), the mono TRS subwoofer out has its own crossover and level control, supplying an equalized bass signal for systems with subs.

Overall, kosmos rocks — sometimes quite literally! It's great, either in the studio or live, and clean enough to use in mastering. At $300, it is one of the major studio bargains of the year — whether you're doing hard rock, reggae, hip hop, soca, rap, country or sound effects. This one slams!

Peavey Electronics; 601/483-5365;

SCSI Expansion Chassis

When you're working with digital audio files, you can never have enough storage, whether you're a single user or on a networked system. StorCase Technology — a Kingston Technology company — offers a wide range of SCSI storage solutions ranging from single-drive enclosures to large 14-bay systems in desktop, rackmount and freestanding tower formats.

The Data Silo family of expansion chassis can house 3.5-inch and 5.25-inch full- or half-height SCSI devices, and can accomodate StorCase's Data Express removable drive carriers. Enhanced power supplies and forced-air cooling fans are built into the enclosures, although no drives are provided, leaving the user free to select drives most appropriate to their needs. Various SCSI external cables, several terminators, a slide-out rack kit and numerous external SCSI connectors are optional.

Available in white or black, the two-rackspace Data Silo DS320 is a rugged-steel enclosure housing two 3.5-inch or 5.25-inch half-height CD-ROM, optical disk, tape or hard drives, including the StorCase Data Express removable drive systems. The chassis is prewired for single or dual-host interfaces, and features either 50-pin HD, 68-pin HD or 68-pin VHDCI rear panel connections. All Data Silos include a seven-year warranty and free tech support.

The front panel has an AC switch and power, drive activity and drive-fault LED indicators, along with two SCSI ID selection switches — one drive-mounting bracket per bay, for adapting 3.5-inch drives.

With its tough steel and aluminum construction and 16-pound heft (less drives and carriers), it's clear that the DS320 is built for serious use. Not including the rack handles, the unit itself is 14 inches deep, much larger than one would imagine. The DE100 drive carriers are built like tanks and include front key locks, which provide additional security and functions as a DC power switch to that drive. Each drive carrier can be assigned an identifying unit number (not SCSI number) that is displayed on an LED readout whenever the drive is on, so in the process of moving drives around, you always know what you have. It's a nice — and much appreciated — touch.

The documentation accompanying the system was detailed and complete, making for a no-hassle installation. Over a period of months, the DS320 worked flawlessly with my Pro Tools system. The DS320 has very efficient, forced-air cooling fans, and the fan speed is set via a rear panel switch; even at the lowest setting, fan noise was noticeable in a quiet control room. As a solution, I recommend remoting the entire system, drives, CPU, etc., in a closet/machine room using something like Gefen's Ex•ten•dit ( Priced from $357, less drivers and carriers, the DS320 is a rugged, pro solution to SCSI storage needs, and if you need more than two bays, larger — including some much larger — systems are available.

StorCase Technology; 714/438-1850;