Snapshot Product Reviews

VIEWSONIC VA800 Flat Panel Display Once available only to the rich and famous, large-format, flat panel computer displays are fast becoming more affordable.
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VIEWSONIC VA800Flat Panel DisplayOnce available only to the rich and famous, large-format, flat panel computer displays are fast becoming more affordable. A recent entry in this field is the ViewSonic VA800, a sleek, lightweight unit that is compatible with Macs and PCs and offers a full 17.4-inch display with true 1280x1024 resolution.

As the studio environment becomes more and more populated with computer monitors, engineers are discovering the drawbacks of multiple displays in the control room. Besides the nasty effects of electromagnetic and radio-frequency interference when guitar or bass pickups are used too close to a typical CRT, monitors emit an annoying 15kHz whine and can generate a surprising amount of heat in a confined space. Placement is another issue - the weight of single or multiple 17- or 19-inch glass display can be hazardous to your meter bridge.

Weighing in at 18 pounds and only nine inches deep, the VA800's LCD is well-suited to the studio environment. Its 17.4-inch screen offers nearly as much area as a traditional 19-inch monitor and is free from the weight, footprint, heat and magnetic interference issues of standard glass designs. The display is sharp and bright with a useable horizontal or vertical viewing angle of 160 (80 off-axis). Front panel buttons allow switching between two connected computers - a Mac and a PC in my studio. One thing I found somewhat odd was the small in-line external DC power supply - a fairly new concept for monitors. A wallmount kit is an option that may be handy for some installations. The VA800 carries an affordable list price of $2,000 (retail is around $1,599), so there might be a flat panel display - or two, or more - in your future.

ViewSonic, 909/869-7976;

ART HPFXHeadphone Monitor SystemSometimes technology creates as many problems as it solves. Computer-based recording systems offer excellent price/performance ratios, but the latency delays that occur when overdubbing on soundcard-based workstations can prove disastrous for operations as simple as running a touch of digital reverb to a performer's headphones.

The half-rack HPFX combines a 2-channel mic splitter and digital effects processor with a small mixer and four individual headphone outputs, which allows announcers or vocalists to set up an independent headphone mix while the dry mic signal is sent directly to the preamp or main mixer feeding the workstation. Two 1/4-inch input jacks accept a stereo cue feed, so all the performer needs to do is set his or her own levels for mics, effects and overall volume while the studio engineer or workstation provides a backing track mix. No phantom power is available, but condenser mics can be powered from their preamps or the mixer - the split through the HPFX is passive and does not affect phantom powering.

In session, the HPFX worked perfectly, allowing artists to tweak their own headphone mixes - they love turning knobs, and it's simple enough for any singer to figure out. However, the HPFX also works just as well in "traditional" analog environments for recording or broadcast production, and if desired, the 24-bit effect processor can be used as a stand-alone unit to provide stereo reverbs or delays during the final mix (via a stereo TRS output jack). The headphone amp section can be used by itself in a variety of other situations. At $299 retail (with a three-year warranty), the ART HPFX is a useful problem solver that should find its way into all types of recording environments.

Applied Research & Technology, 716/436-2720;

SABRA-SOM SPKMic Mounting SystemDescribed as a "Noise Protection System for Microphones," the SPK from Brazilian manufacturer Sabra-Som is a combination of products that form a versatile "Erector Set" to deal with mic placement, shockmounting and pop filtering issues in the studio. The system includes the ST2 universal T-bar double support with 5/8-inch thread, an SSM-1 mechanical noise suppressor support and the SPF pop filter. Additional modules or accessories can be added to create customized setups, or to add a second mic for M-S or conventional stereo arrays.

The SSM-1 shockmount consists of two rings with elastic bands that accept mics of up to two inches in diameter. The unit was effective in isolating mics from noise, rumble and vibrations and held most mics securely, though using larger studio mics will require that the lower shockmount ring is attached over the XLR input to prevent the mic from sliding downward. Also, heavier, tapered mics, such as U87s, cannot be used upside-down with the SSM-1, because the mic can easily slide out. By mounting a second SSM-1 (optional) to the ST-2 T-bar, the system will accommodate even the longest shotgun mics. Additionally, the T-bar can be used alone as a stereo mic mount with a maximum 8-inch spread, ideal for X/Y arrays. All components attach to (nonrotating) hex rods for a solid lock.

The SPF (Sabra Pop Filter) is a dual-layer screen design that effectively removes breath pops and plosives, while protecting your classic mics from the onslaught of performer's saliva, etc. The SPF mounts on an articulated arm that swivels and locks precisely and securely into position, unlike other pop filters that use gooseneck-type mounts.

Priced at $129.95, the Sabra-Som SPK offers a flexible and elegant solution for all your mic hang-ups.

Sabra-Som, dist. by K-IV Enterprises, 201/828-9492;

KURZWEIL PC2RMIDI Sound ModuleKurzweil is no stranger to creating great-sounding MIDI sound modules, and the PC2R - which puts the power of the company's latest PC2 keyboard in a single-rackspace chassis - definitely continues the lineage.

Features of the PC2R include 64-voice polyphony (expandable to 128), up to four split/overlapping zones under MIDI controls, stereo analog and 24-bit/48kHz digital output (AES or S/PDIF switchable), and real-time adjustable, dual onboard effects processors. A multiple bus architecture allows separate send levels per MIDI channel for effects and reverb levels. Effects include reverb, chorus, delays, distortion, rotary, phasing, flanging and dynamics.

Among the PC2R's 272 programs are useful presets such as triple-strike stereo grand pianos, newly recorded multistrike classic electric pianos, brass sections, drums, percussion, voices, Kurzweil's KB3 modeled tone wheel organ, mallet percussion, guitar, bass, Clavinet, harpsichord, synth sounds and more.

At a retail of $1,295, a few corners were cut, but fortunately not in sonic quality. The PC2R uses an external power supply, but at least it's an in-line transformer rather than a wall wart. But other than this minor hurdle, the PC2R was pure joy.

The triple-strike pianos are far better than anything Kurzweil has offered in the past - no easy feat - and are rich and full with natural decay and sustain that must be heard to be believed. The Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos are also excellent, and the KB3 (B-3 tone wheel emulations) scream with nine drawbar settings, percussion control and realistic rotary speaker emulation. I was far less impressed by the PC2R's guitar samples - these are definitely vin ordinaire - but the strings, vocals (both choirs and Kurzweil's acclaimed Take 6 vocal samples), basses and percussion sounds, including traditional drum sets, Latin sounds and tuned percussion (vibes, marimba), are superb. The latter showed excellent punchy dynamics, long cymbal sustains and enough interesting new sounds to inspire creativity - just try "Virtuoso Percussion," "Woody Marimba" or "Aborigine Jam," and you'll see what I mean.

Anyone looking for lots of clean, useful studio sounds should give the PC2R a listen.

Kurzweil, 253/589-3200,

LITTLELABS PCP INSTRUMENT DISTROGuitar Splitter/Direct BoxThere are too many "me too" products in the industry, so when something really different comes along, I'm interested. A good example of this is the Littlelabs PCP Instrument Distro, a unit that combines the functions of a direct box with a one in/three out guitar splitter providing transformer isolated, guitar level/high-impedance outputs, each with individual controls for routing, phase reverse, ground lift and level matching.

In its most basic incarnation, the PCP Instrument Distro can function as a high-quality direct box, but rather than providing a mic level output signal, the unit's XLR output is a +4dB balanced line for connecting directly to tape machines, consoles or pro outboard gear. (By the way, the "PCP" part of the name stands for "Professional-to-Cheesy-Pedal.") The rear panel has three +4dB balanced XLR inputs, which can be summed together - with or without the instrument input - to feed three front panel, 1/4-inch, high-impedance/guitar level outputs for routing any signal to guitar pedals/effects and or amplifiers for "re-amping." Additionally, a 1/4-inch line driver output for driving long unbalanced cables allows the user to play guitar in the control room, while using amps in a distant iso booth or main studio. A pair of TRS expansion jacks on the back panel connect to a second PCP box, offering up to six instrument level outputs.

The PCP Instrument Distro is housed in a half-rack chassis (a rackmount kit is optional) with an external power supply. The front panel is laid out in a simple grid of pushbuttons that select which of the three XLR line inputs and/or instrument input is routed to each hi-Z instrument level output jack. Every switch has a corresponding two-color LED that shows all connections at a glance.

Whether tracking or mixing, the PCP Instrument Distro proved absolutely amazing, providing a degree of flexibility that's both creative and fun, especially to anyone who does a lot of guitar recording and has access to a variety of amps and pedal effects. On one session, routing a hat track through a Mu-Tron Bi-Phase into a little Danelectro 10-watt harmonica amp added just the right touch of weird to an otherwise straightforward rock mix.

Also, the possibilities of re-amping existing tracks is very cool. For example, after laying down a nice, clean DI-bass track, the PCP Instrument Distro let me route the audio back into the studio, connected to two miked amps - in this case, an Ampeg and a Fender Bassman. From there, I could choose from any combination of the three sources (DI/Ampeg/Bassman) during the mix.

Priced at $950 (including custom case), the PCP Instrument Distro offers a nearly endless variety of studio tricks. Besides introducing an entire Pandora's box of strange stomp boxes into your studio-mixing palette, with the PCP Instrument Distro, I suddenly have tons of outboard gear I never used before! I like this.

Littlelabs; 323/851-6860;