Snapshot Product Reviews

SENNHEISER MKH 800 Studio Condenser Microphone Nearly a decade ago, Sennheiser introduced the MKH 80 - a condenser mic combining the successful RF technology

SENNHEISER MKH 800Studio Condenser MicrophoneNearly a decade ago, Sennheiser introduced the MKH 80 - a condenser mic combining the successful RF technology of earlier models in the MKH line with a medium-diameter-diaphragm, multipattern capsule in a side-address package. The MKH 80 soon caught on with an appreciative audience of classical recordists and audiophile engineers.

Earlier this year, Sennheiser followed up with the MKH 800, a model with a similar feature set but improved noise performance, greater SPL handling (now at 142 dB) and more than double the bandwidth - beyond 50 kHz. It looks like just the ticket for 96kHz/24-bit media such as DVD-Audio.

Housed in a light-colored, anodized 7-inch-long, 1-inch diameter cylindrical housing, the MKH 800 holds few operational surprises, with four rotary switches for setting: the five polar patterns (omni/cardioid/supercardioid/figure-8/wide cardioid); attenuation (0/-6/-12 dB); HF emphasis boost (0/+3/+6 dB at 10 kHz); and highpass filter (0/-3/-6 dB at 50 Hz). A bright LED indicates the presence of 48 VDC phantom power and marks the front side of the capsule. The MKH 800 retails at $2,995 and now includes a flight case, foam windscreen and MZS80 shockmount. The latter is brilliantly designed and not only effectively isolates external vibrations, but incorporates a double-swivel mount allowing accurate mic placement in any position or angle. Besides tight spots like crowded drum kits, it's perfectly suited for MS miking or other near-coincident applications.

Despite the MKH 800's extended bandwidth, this is one mic that does not come off as excessively bright sounding. Don't get me wrong: In all patterns, the HF performance is certainly not dull, and the mic does an exemplary job of imparting a smooth airiness to upper frequencies, especially on harmonic-rich sources such as hammer dulcimer, grand piano and orchestral bells. Interestingly, the three cardioid-variant patterns are nearly ruler-flat to 20 kHz, while the omni pattern shows more HF color in the 10kHz-and-higher bands than the cardioids - the opposite of what I expected.

With its 142dB SPL handling, the MKH 800 was a natural on drums (it's a killer - if somewhat pricey - snare mic), hi-hat and overheads, as well as horn ensembles (sax and trumpet).

Another surprise came from the mic's ability to capture an incredible amount of detail, even at distances of ten feet and more. This can, however, be a double-edged sword - while the mic will capture every performance nuance, it also faithfully documents flaws such as chart turns, fret noise and air handling rumble with frightening realism. Don't blame the mic - it's just capturing what lesser mics may have left out. However, if you have the ears and great players are willing to spend a little time placing music stand towels and tightening that squeaky piano bench, you will find the MKH 800 an awesome performer.

JOHNSON J-STATIONGuitar ProcessorTaking the acclaimed guitar amp modeling technology from its line of "digital" guitar amps, the Johnson J-Station puts that same power into a desktop unit that's ideal for recording applications. Retailing at $449.95, the J-Station also adds bass and acoustic guitar simulation, 30 factory and 30 user presets, compression, modulation, pitch shifting delay and reverb effects, six gain and tone knobs for tweaking effect parameters, MIDI control (via a sequencer, external controller or included Windows-based editor/librarian software) and stereo analog and S/PDIF coaxial outputs.

The coolest aspect of J-Station is its simplicity. Without getting knee-deep into menus or subpages, you can jump right in and tweak the sound you need in a matter of minutes. The unit shines at blues, pop and rock sounds, and its ability to combine choices in amp modeling with 12 cabinet emulation types offers a diverse palette of sounds. However, some care should be taken to not overdo the distortion, as it can sound brittle and harsh when extreme settings are used fairly dry. Here, a little reverb/chorus/etc. can go a long way in smoothing out a rough sound. But if you need very dry, heavy distortion, you may be better off with a real amp. That said, there are tons of great sounds and combinations to get lost in - in fact, I cut all the bass and guitar parts on a surf record on the J-Station with excellent results. You can hear it at phobics - or better yet, plug into a J-Station at your dealer and check it out for yourself.

LUCID SRC 9624High Definition Sample Rate ConverterSample rate converters used to be simple devices, handling mundane duties such as 44.1-to-48 kHz, 48-to-32 kHz and occasionally even a 44.056-to-48 kHz. But with all the formats in use today and doing 96 kHz one day and 44.1 or 48 kHz the next, an outboard real-time SRC can be a real time saver and studio problem solver.

Housed behind an elegant milled/etched aluminum slab on a single-rackspace chassis, the 2-channel Lucid SRC 9624 features real-time, asynchronous sample rate conversion, locking to any resolution (16/20/24 bit - with or without triangular PDF dithering) and sample rate from 30 to 100 kHz, including varispeed and standard pull-up/down rates. In addition to word clock in/out and AES11 sync (AES clock-only "black" or standard digital audio), two full sets of digital inputs and outputs are provided (all with AES3 XLR, AES3-S/PDIF on BNCs and TosLink optical S/PDIF). According to Lucid, the SRC 9624 is the only outboard SRC offering both single- and double-wire 96kHz connections for transmitting/receiving high-definition signals of either format.

The SRC 9624 has an effective conversion range of 1:3 or 3:1, with an optimum ratio of 1.7:1 or less. In theory, the unit handles the full wide-range 96-to-32kHz conversions (and vice versa) with a slight amount of audible artifacts, while 44 to 48kHz and 88.2 to 96kHz operations were virtually undetectable.

Beyond simple SRC functions, the unit includes some useful functions such as S/PDIF-to-AES and optical-to-coaxial style transforms, while its routing section offers several modes: Independent allows the conversion of two independent single-wire stereo streams to any selected output format - in effect, acting as two sample rate converters simultaneously; Distribution routes input A to outputs A and B at the same time, as well as going from two-wire 96kHz AES to single-wire output (and vice versa). Operations are as simple as toggling each input to the desired routing/source/status/output rate and dither (if desired), letting the unit handle the rest. Also, when the unit is powered down, it returns to the previous setting on power up. Nice!

At $1,999, the SRC 9624 offers a combination of flexibility, transparent audio conversion and some useful problem-solving features into a single unit that should appeal to audio professionals everywhere.

SLIDER PIANO BARREMicrophone Mount SystemWhile not particularly difficult, piano miking is never easy. It requires the right instrument with the right mics in the right spot. Now Slider - a company specializing in straps for band instruments - has developed the Piano Barre, a solution to the age-old problem of mic placement. Priced at $189.95 in brushed aluminum finish (colors are extra), the Piano Barre is a telescoping metal arm that lays across a grand piano's side rails, equipped with sliding mic mount threads that are adjustable for placing mics along its length.

An alternative to boom stands, which are awkward, unsightly and can interfere with half-stick (or closed lid!) playing, the Piano Barre mounts easily, although care must be taken as the unit can shift or slide if the mic cables are jostled or bumped. Also, the Barre can tip when used with large, heavy studio mics - certainly this is less of a problem with smaller mics such as KM184s or C60s. As a solution to this problem, Slider makes an optional ($49.95) velvet-lined clamp that temporarily secures the unit to the piano side rail, although this shortens the overall length of the device by six inches, limiting mic placement farther away from the hammers. Aware of this, at press time, Slider was considering either making the Piano Barre longer or offering longer arms as an option. At $189.95, the Piano Barre is a clever remedy to piano miking onstage or in the studio.

FURMAN SOUND HDS-16/HRM-16Headphone Distribution/Mixing SystemRight up there with swabbing toilets and scraping months-old brie off the mic windscreens, creating cue mixes is probably the least fun part of any engineer's job. Personal cue mixing stations have been available for some time, but such products were either too expensive (hey, there are some really NICE systems available!) or too simple to meet the needs of the average engineer.

Furman tackled this problem a couple years ago with its HDS-6/HR-6 Headphone Distribution System, and it was an instant hit. Now, Furman unveils the HDS-16/HRM-16, a much-expanded, versatile system that's equally at home in the studio or onstage as a personal cue mixer for wedges or in-ear monitors.

Priced at $699, the rackmount HDS-16 forms the core of the system, routing four-stereo and eight-mono signals, patched in the control room via the HDS-16's front-panel TT or 11/44-inch jacks. The system uses 25-foot multipair cables - terminating in 50-pin Centronics plugs - to connect to each (six or more) of the $599 HRM-16 mic-stand-mounted headphone stations. Power to drive the headphone mix stations is routed along with the multipair audio, so no external power requirements, wall warts, etc. are needed.

The HRM-16s allow players to create their own mixes from the stereo and mono sends, while each user can talk back with other musicians or to the control room. Other features on the HRM-16s include effect send/returns, master bass and treble pots, talkback level (with stomp-to-talk footswitch jack) and a main volume control.

Overall, the HDS-16/HRM-16 system is a winner. I like the versatility of having TT and 11/44-inch connectors on the control room unit. The headphone output on the mix stations is not only clean but loud enough to satisfy musicians and drummers. And these days, everybody (yeah, even the artists) wants more inputs, and the system provides plenty of knobs to keep the "talent" busy while engineers can attend to more important duties like ...doing anything but cue mixes. I like this one!

HOLLYWOOD EDGE"Sounds of a Different Realm"Long regarded as one of the industry's finest film sound designers, the late Alan Splet helped changed the way we all experience movies. In 1970, Splet began his long-term relationship with director David Lynch and created memorable audio for films such as Eraserhead, Dune and Blue Velvet. Splet was awarded a special Oscar for his work on The Black Stallion in 1979 and a year later, the Academy added sound effects editing as an Academy Award category.

Now, Hollywood Edge has released "Sounds of a Different Realm," a 3-CD set featuring effects created by Splet and his widow - and long-time collaborator - Ann Kroeber, finally making public a few highlights from the couple's library. Priced at $295, the collection has two discs of "Unusual Presences," mostly longer ambience cuts and "Common Sounds Heard in Uncommon Ways," which has more traditional effects - i.e., everyday sounds - but in a way you've never heard them before.

Most of the cuts on "Unusual Presences" are dark, brooding, mysterious ambiences that combine musicality with tone-setting atmospheres: ethereal presences, ambient hums, swirling winds, industrial pulsing, etc. For example, the "Melodious Foggy Ship Horn" drips with intrigue, while stepping away from the cliched "ship in distance" approach. Other tracks - "Ambient Intense Tonal Gas" or "Ambient Doppler Pulsing" - are less location-specific but provide brilliant background textures for science fiction/action/mystery scenes in film, theater or commercials.

The last disc, "Common Sounds Heard in Uncommon Ways," consists of new recordings by Ann Kroeber, for which she recorded the sounds of ordinary objects and devices on two tracks, with a conventional mic on one channel and a custom contact mic on the other. This technique allows the end user to select from either track (adding processing of their own if desired) or simply use the sounds as-is for a HUGE stereo effect. It's hard to believe that a mere bottle opening or soda-pour-into-glass could sound so much larger than life - perfect for commercial spots! Other devices - such as a soda machine, steam iron or VCR - take on an otherworldly character, bringing up sonic images of Martian invasions, alien landscapes or evil medical devices.

Anyone looking for sound effects that are distinctly different would do well to check out "Sounds of a Different Realm." It's a wild ride!

MINDPRINT EN-VOICEWorkstation Front-EndWith a huge number of multitrack recording/editing/mixing workstations on the market, it's little wonder that traditional console sales ain't what they used to be. However, for all the power that DAWs typically offer in terms of mixing and file manipulation, they often lack some of the basic tools that nearly every production requires.

Priced at $749, the En-Voice from German manufacturer MindPrint is a versatile, single-channel front-end for workstations. En-Voice provides inputs for mic, line and DI (instrument-level) sources with a wide range of gain control and also includes switchable high-pass filtering (50 or 100 Hz), 3-band EQ with fully parametric midrange, a compressor/limiter and a 12AX7 tube saturation stage. The line input and output are both provided as balanced XLRs or TRS jacks - definitely analog, although the DiMod, a 24-bit digital module with 44.1/48kHz S/PDIF co-ax input/output, is available as a $249 option.

In the studio, the En-Voice proved itself useful in all sorts of situations. The discrete, transistorized mic preamp is clean and offered ample headroom, though I didn't like the phantom switch position on the rear panel! The front panel-mounted DI jack came in handy when cutting a bass part in the control room, and the EQ and compressor proved to be lifesavers, when on a late-night session, someone absolutely had to cut a funk bass part when the only bass available in the studio was my Epiphone El Capitan acoustic. A little midrange digging and a ton of LF boost, combined with some compression to keep the popping in-line, and the track ended up sounding like a '63 Precision - and with a smidge of En-Voice tube compression, picked up a hint of a 50-watt '66 Bassman.

Overall, the EQ is smooth and nice, and the individual in/out switches on each band both bypass unnecessary circuitry and simplifies A/B comparisons of different settings. The EQ bands overlap and the sweepable HF extends to 22 kHz for a nice touch of "sheen." While I'll stick to my fave Focusrite Red 3, the En-Voice compressor is good enough for most typical tasks, although control of the attack/release time is limited to a "normal/slow" switch. A useful compression sidechain filter switch keeps any sub-300Hz signals (bass, kick, etc.) from causing undesirable pumping.

At $749, the MindPrint En-Voice is versatile, affordable and offers a big studio sound.

CAD DSM-1Drum Mic MountDrum miking can be arduous when it involves lots of mics in a huge, cramped kit. In larger studios, there's usually enough room to do it right - sometimes requiring 11 boom stands - but even then, getting the exact placement you need in a sea of cymbals, drums, pedals and hardware can be nearly impossible. If you're working onstage on a packed drum riser, the problem is worse.

New from CAD Professional Microphones, the DSM-1 is a heavy, die-cast drum mic mount with a slick, locking cam that attaches securely to any standard drum, yet removes easily. Thick rubber pads protect the drum finish, while a neoprene-surround insert (threaded for standard mic clips) offers additional shock isolation. Priced at $24.95, (with a 3-inch extender for more placement options) the DSM-1 is cheaper and easier to haul than a truckload of boom stands and is an ideal addition to anyone's gig bag or mike locker. Highly recommended!