Field Test: Midas XL-42

Mar 1, 2002 12:00 PM, By Mark Frink


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Over its 30-year history, Midas has produced several “classic” live sound consoles, and many of the world's top sound engineers swear by the sonic excellence and reliability of Midas' XL4, XL3 and Heritage consoles. Engineers consistently cite the preamp and EQ circuits of the XL4, in particular, as their favorites; with the XL-42, Midas offers two channels of the XL4's mic preamp and EQ circuitry in a compact and relatively affordable package.

In addition to mic pre and EQ circuits, the one-space rackmount, dual-channel XL-42 incorporates a 48-volt phantom supply. Each channel provides 15 to 70 dB of gain, plus switches for a 25dB pad, phantom power and phase reverse, and there are rotary controls for input, output and pan. The unit offers 10-segment LED metering for each channel, plus a switchable insert send and return point. Each channel also has DIP switches that enable auto-mute scene control from the auto-mute masters of Midas XL consoles.

By itself, the XL-42 can be used to add Midas mic pre's and EQ to any other brand of console; simply return the XL-42's outputs to an insert point or input. You won't find many consoles where this arrangement isn't preferable to the stock mic pre's and EQ. I carried an XL-42 on tour last year with k.d. lang, using one channel for her vocal mic and the other for David Piltch's upright bass pick-up. The quality and ease of operation was obvious to us all, and I don't think I would ever use anything else for my “money” channel. The XL-42 also makes a good stand-alone front end for stereo recording applications, or can serve as mix EQ on console outputs that need a quality parametric EQ.

The XL-42's gain and EQ controls function almost exactly like those on the XL4 console, making it immediately comfortable to work with for those already familiar with Midas boards. Other than missing a high-cut filter, the EQ is the same as on the XL4. The 12dB/octave low cut sweeps from 10 to 400 Hz. Switches on the low- and high-frequency bands, labeled “bell,” switch them from the traditional Midas shelving response to cut-or-boost, like the midrange. All four parametric bands overlap generously, with each covering half the frequencies of its neighbor. Filter width is on a concentric ring outside the dB knob, adjustable from a narrow tenth of an octave to 2 octaves. The center detent position gives a filter width of half an octave, typical of a graphic EQ filter.

Because there's simply less space available, the XL-42's 10-segment LED metering is shorter than the console's 20-segment display. The LEDs start at -12 dB and end at +15 dB with a red LED. Because there's usually additional metering, plus cueing on the console to which the XL-42 is returned, this limited metering is quite workable.

Bantam send and return insert jacks on the back of the XL-42 may require a special cable if you're not using it with a similarly equipped patchbay. The insert points are set pre-EQ at the factory, but they can be converted to post-EQ via internal jumpers. Normally, any post-EQ processing simply follows in the signal chain, but there is another way to hook up the outputs.

Two XLR line-input Link connectors, combined with the pan controls for the outputs, allow multiple XL-42s to be “daisy-chained” to create a stereo mixer. When linked together, the combined pans and output levels sum, producing two discrete channels. Any required dynamic processing can be inserted at the XL-42's insert points, creating a custom sub-mixer.

If a show requires, for example, a few more channels than the input capacity of the master console, then XL-42s can provide additional inputs, two at a time. The resulting stereo output can then be routed to the master console via any convenient point, such as a pair of auxiliary or sub returns, and group or matrix inputs. On the rear, a DB-9 connector allows the XL-42 to be connected to a main console's mute system, and DIP switches allow assignment to any of eight mute groups. This ability to daisy-chain multiple units, going from the output of one to the Link input of the next, permits the creation of a custom mixing console. In fact, several XL-42s and a Midas XL88 matrix mixer would make a powerful rackmount console.

The XL-42 lists for $2,003. The Klark Teknik DN-422M ($1,838 list) is a nearly identical KT-branded model that only lacks the XL-42's ability to daisy-chain, along with the pan pots, insert points and mute system.

Midas, 12000 Portland Ave. South, Burnsville, MN 55337; 800/392-3497;

Mark Frink is Mix's sound reinforcement editor.

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