Snapshot Product Reviews

Oct 1, 2003 12:00 PM

SPL MODEL 2380 Surround Monitor Controller
Sound Performance Labs has a long history of providing slick new products that do something completely different, such as its acclaimed Transient Designer. Now, SPL offers an elegant solution to the mundane, everyday issue of multichannel monitor management with the Model 2380 Surround Monitor Controller (SMC).

Housed in a single unit, the SMC is a multichannel volume control and source-switching selector for 5.1 and stereo listening environments, especially those where playback is from a DAW or console that lacks playback level control of 5.1 material.

The front panel is dominated by the large volume control and also has surround/stereo input selectors; in/out switches that double as Solo/Mute buttons for any of the individual 5.1 (and stereo) speakers; -20dB attenuator/dim switch, switches for summing either the L/R stereo fronts of Ls/Rs rears to a single mono playback; and a Mute-All switch that doubles as a panic button.

On the rear are the connections for the 5.1 speaker outputs (all balanced ¼-inch TRS), the surround “A” and stereo “C” inputs (+4dB balanced on D25 subs in the 8-channel Tascam DA-88 format) and a “slave” D25 sub mirroring the “A” and “C” inputs to connect to a recording device. Input “B” has six RCA jacks for monitoring unbalanced sources, such as a reference DVD player, and input “D” is stereo unbalanced on RCA jacks. For ease of hookup, SPL screened the IDs for all of the connections both rightside-up and upside-down (for looking over the unit) — nice!

In the studio, the unit's maximum of 16 individual lines, two D25 sub snakes and IEC power cord can make for a messy setup when used as an on-console controller. Mine was much better in the classic “sit on meterbridge” and “set off to the side” modes, allowing for cleaner cable management.

But the best part about the SMC was its sound, or rather lack of sound. Instead of taking the easy, lo-fi route of using VCAs or DCAs to control volume, SPL opted for a discrete, six-level potentiometer with a minimalist approach to components throughout to maximize transparency. Frequency response extends to 100 kHz (-3 dB), the action of the pot was smooth and the essential switching of the individual speaker buses was glitchless. At $769 retail, this could be the solution you need right now!

Dist. by SPL USA, 866/4-SPL-USA,
George Petersen

M-AUDIO TAMPA Mic Preamp/DI/Compressor
TAMPA is M-Audio's entry into the land of rackmount signal processing, and the result is a great-sounding unit at an affordable $799.95 price.

Combining a mic preamp, ¼-inch direct box input, compressor and analog/digital outputs, TAMPA is packed with features. The preamp uses Temporal Harmonic Alignment, which supposedly aligns the phase of the desirable even-order harmonic components in a signal with the main signal itself, resulting in a tube-like sound from a solid-state circuit.

The front panel is straightforward, with toggle switches for power, phantom power, instrument/mic select, polarity reverse, low-cut in/out, compressor in/out, a 20dB input gain boost and a 20dB output level pad. Retro “chicken head” knobs select input impedance (300/600/1,200/2,400 ohms) and digital output sampling rate (44.1/48/88.2/96 kHz). There is no switch for output select; the XLR and ¼-inch TRS analog, and both S/PDIF co-ax and XLR AES digital outs are always active. Rotary pots handle input gain and threshold/ratio/attack/release parameters, and illuminated VUs display output level and compressor gain reduction.

I used TAMPA to track background vocals with a Royer SF-1 ribbon mic: a low-output, but extremely wide-bandwidth model that can really put a preamp to the test. Sure enough, I needed every bit of the preamp's gain, but was pleased by the clean signal, even when it was turned up to 11. However, had I been recording extremely soft Foley effects, I would have needed more gain than TAMPA could deliver.

During another session, using an Audio-Technica AT4033 — a mic with a “typical” condenser sensitivity — I had more than ample gain, from pin drops to close-miked rock toms. As far as the “effect” of the Temporal Harmonic Alignment goes, it's hard to say: There's no Defeat switch to A/B the processing, but the sound of the Class-A preamp circuit is sweet, not overly colored and pleasant overall. The input impedance matching is another nice touch not often found on preamps in this price range.

I was impressed with the action of the compressor, with its servo-controlled, dual-passive optical attenuator. The output was smooth and did the job without pumping or breathing artifacts, whether used on vocals or DI'ing a Fender Jazz or Hofner Beatle Bass.

Overall, I enjoyed using TAMPA. The unit lacks some functions (probably to keep the price low) that would be great on TAMPA II, such as a line input for accessing the compressor alone, a rear-panel mic jack that paralleled the front input, preamp inserts, an internal power supply and wordclock input to sync multiple TAMPAs with the digital outs. Still, at this price, TAMPA rocks!

M-Audio, 626/445-2842,
George Petersen

ROLAND M-1000 10-Channel Digital Line Mixer
Roland's M-1000 is a flexible and versatile unit that fits into all sorts of studio-niche applications.

The M-1000's “10-Channel Digital Line Mixer” subhead is somewhat of a misnomer: The unit is a digital mixer (although in a very “analog”-looking chassis) that does have 10 inputs, but it's set up with an analog stereo pair (+4/-10 dB switchable) and four digital stereo pairs, all with S/PDIF co-ax jacks. Additionally, one of the digital pairs can be switched to an S/PDIF TOSlink optical input source and another pair can handle a USB digital input from a computer.

As a bonus, the M-1000 provides stereo analog monitor outs with level control for driving headphones and/or studio monitors (via 10dB ¼-inch jacks) and a digital master output fader (with balance control) that feeds the dual seven-segment LED meters and the USB output, S/PDIF (co-ax and optical) outs and balanced +4dB XLR analog outs. The back panel has BNC wordclock I/O with switches for Clock Thru and 75-ohm termination.

Keeping track of all of this on the front panel are 13 status LEDs indicating wordclock lock from each input, clock sources, sampling frequencies (44.1/48/96 kHz) and USB activity. And if you need more, multiple M-1000s can be cascaded for additional fun. Somehow, all of this is packed into a single-rackspace enclosure, but the layout is clear and uncluttered, making operations a snap.

The M-1000 ships with a CD-ROM of Mac and PC drivers for WDM, MME and ASIO, and Roland provides updated drivers — such as the new M-1000 Mac OS X USB driver — on its Website's support section.

The audio is sparkling, thanks to its 24-bit/96kHz operation, and with 56-bit internal processing, headroom is never an issue. The M-1000 also includes automatic sample-rate conversion (32 to 96 kHz) on all of the digital inputs. The unit's main drawback — not being able to simultaneously send 96 kHz in and out of a computer via USB — is actually a USB limitation rather than the M-1000's.

Although the M-1000 was originally intended as a digital keyboard mixer, it can do much more: acting as a simple A/D converter to the S/PDIF or USB outs; an aux mixer combining audio from a computer with external analog or digital sources, and then returning the mix back to the computer; a USB I/O interface for routing audio or returns from virtual instruments or real-time plug-ins to/from the analog and/or digital domains; a TOSlink-to-co-ax (and vice versa) converter; a monitor station to connect studio monitors to your DAW; and more. At $795, the M-1000 is a versatile and powerful adjunct for the modern studio, project or pro.

Roland, 323/890-3700,
George Petersen

CHANDLER LTD-1 Mic Preamp/EQ Revisited
In my recent review of Chandler Limited's LTD-1 Enhanced Neve Mic Pre/EQ (Mix, August 2003), for the purpose of a quick A/B comparison, I used a Whirlwind IMP Splitter 1X3 box — a popular sound reinforcement tool — to connect a Neumann M149 microphone to the inputs of both the LTD-1 and one of Brent Averill's refurbished Neve 1073 mic pre/EQ modules at the same time. It is a resistive splitter and was handy at the studio. While I know about splitting transformers, it didn't occur to me to seek one out. Because the M149's output impedance is 50 ohms, and both the LTD-1 and Averill's 1073 were set to 1,200 ohms input impedance using the same exact input transformers, I reasoned that both preamps' first transistor input stage would “see” the same signal, impedance and level.

Upon publication of that review, I received some e-mails that were critical of my testing setup and I decided to retest; this time, using a Jensen model JT-MB-E four-way mic-splitting transformer for the simultaneous connection of the mic to the two preamps. Chandler Limited loaned me another LTD-1, and I procured the same pair of Averill/Neve 1073s used in the original review.

After setting both units to a -40dB mic gain setting and with both output controls full-up, I again found that both units delivered exactly the same output level. I had two Averill Neve units to compare to the single LTD-1. Neve number one was only slightly warmer in the low frequencies but muddier than the LTD-1, which was more open in the high frequencies. Neve number two was thinner than the LTD-1, and both Neves had a slightly boxy sound quality when compared to the LTD-1's seemingly flatter and more open sound. I compared both singing and speaking voices without using either unit's EQ sections.

Using the transformer splitter, I could hear much “deeper” into the subtleties of all the units. In general, all of the aforementioned differences are extremely subtle; and as a practical matter, the retested A/B results were the same as before.
Barry Rudolph

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