Snapshot Product Reviews

Mar 1, 2006 12:00 PM

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E-MU PM5 PRECISION MONITORS
Powered Near-Field Speakers

After decades of creating high-end sampling, synthesis and pro recording gear, E-mu Systems unveiled the PM5 — its first studio monitor — at last year's AES show. The PM5 is E-mu's first speaker product, yet this is hardly a freshman effort. The company partnered with noted audiophile designer Jun Makino of Majeel Laboratories, which is known for its advanced power amplifiers and Nagisa line of active speakers.

Housed in a front-ported, 11.5×6.9×9.7-inch (H×W×D) enclosure, the PM5 is a two-way, bi-amplified system with a 5-inch glass-fiber cone woofer and a 1-inch neodymium soft-dome tweeter. Each driver is powered by a 40-watt custom discrete amplifier with a Class-A input stage and MOSFET output devices. An LED on the front baffle glows blue for power-on and switches to red if the PM5's onboard overload-protection circuit kicks in. The active crossover is a second-order (-12dB/octave) Butterworth-type, centered at 2.5 kHz.

The rear panel sports a standard IEC AC socket, power switch and a large heat sink that keeps the operating temperature under control. Also on the back are input jacks (Combo ¼-inch/XLR balanced and unbalanced RCA), a rotary input sensitivity knob and two three-way switches (treble tilt and bass roll-off), with settings for attenuating low/high-frequency response to match your room's acoustics or personal taste.

The PM5s impressed me with their response, especially given their compact size. E-mu rates the monitors' LF response at 67 Hz (-2.5 dB), but they go well below that figure and give the impression that you're listening to a much larger system. The 1-inch tweeters offer unhyped highs and smooth uncolored mids, and the crossover point is nearly undetectable. Max SPL is rated at 103 dB/1m, but I usually monitor at around 80 to 85 dB, which allowed tons of headroom and punchy transients. Makino's amplifier design philosophy is to come as close as possible to a straight-wire approach, and the PM5s' low-distortion amps deliver clean reproduction during long listening sessions without ear fatigue. I like that.

The monitors also provide excellent stereo imaging with a realistic soundstage. Better still, mixes made on the PM5s translated precisely to other media, large and small. At a street price of $249.99 each, the E-mu PM5s are compact, accurate and affordable. And this spring, when the optional PS12 subwoofer begins shipping, the system should be even better.

E-mu, 831/438-1921, www.emu.com.
George Petersen

U-HE AUDIO FILTERSCAPE
Resonant Filter Plug-In

Rhythmic effects are essential in pop music, as is the squelchy sound of resonant filters. Filterscape combines the two in a package that is powerful and affordable ($129, direct Web purchase only), sounds great and serves up some unexpected extras.

The plug-in runs under AudioUnits on a Mac and VST in Windows. Its main components are two resonant state-variable multimode filters with overdrive, a 4-band morphing parametric equalizer, two LFOs, two 16-step sequencers, four envelope followers and a stereo delay line. All of the modulation sources sync to the host's clock, and there are so many parameters to modulate that I couldn't help but wish for more LFOs. MIDI modulation inputs can be used if your host routes MIDI to effects and, of course, if automation is supported.

The audio signal paths among the modules can be configured in five different ways: not just series and parallel, but with the EQ in the delay feedback loop, with both filters in parallel within the delay loop and so on. The morphing equalizer is a revolutionary design. You can sweep back and forth among eight different curves. In addition, each of the eight snapshots has its own modulation inputs for changing the gain, frequency and bandwidth of each band while the music plays.

I've used Antares Filter, which is comparable to Filterscape in some ways. For example, Filterscape has only one delay line and two filters to Filter's four, but Filterscape's overdrive and the extreme possibilities for the EQ give it a more edgy, modern sound. I liked it on drums and other tracks, but I generally needed to follow it with a compressor to tame the extreme resonant peaks.

When you buy Filterscape, U-HE also throws in FilterscapeQ6, a 6-band version of the morphing EQ. It only has the four envelope followers for internal mod sources, plus external MIDI. As in Filterscape, the followers can track low, mid or high frequencies, or the entire input signal. The threshold is adjustable, and the output curve can be smoothed — just the thing for livening up a ho-hum drum loop.

The third part of the package — included with Filterscape at no extra charge — is FilterscapeVA, a full-featured, two-oscillator, virtual analog synth plug-in. FilterscapeVA has one multimode filter and the 4-band morphing EQ. It also sports basic FM, versatile waveform modulation, a slick little arpeggiator, its own chorus and delay, and hundreds of great presets. I loved the instrument's crisp sound, which held its own in an all-electronic arrangement against much more expensive synths.

That's three plugs for the price of one, giving Filterscape the best cost-to-performance ratio of any download I've seen in years.

U-HE Audio, www.u-he.com.
Jim Aikin

ART TUBE MP — PROJECT SERIES
Preamp/Limiter/Direct Box

In 1995, Applied Research & Technology (ART) unveiled its Tube MP, which packed single-channel tube preamp/direct box functionality into a package barely larger than a stompbox. Best of all, it sounded respectable and cost less than $100, earning a TEC Award nomination in the process. Now, a decade (and more than 100,000 units) later, ART has upgraded the original with the Tube MP — Project Series.

This is not just a simple makeover; the new unit is completely redesigned, with front-mount controls, illuminated switches, a 4-LED gain meter, mic input impedance select, FET peak limiter, selectable highpass filter, XLR and ¼-inch I/Os, and a beefier (but still wallwart) power supply. The chassis is stackable, but it could use a threaded point underside for rack tray mounting. MSRP is a “pick up several” $79.

No mysteries here: It's just plug in and go. I was immediately surprised by the cleanliness of the new model's discrete preamp circuit. Response is only -1 dB at 40 kHz, and noise is almost nonexistent. That said, it is possible to grunge things up and overdrive the 12AX7 tube stage, as the input control is wide-ranging, offering up to 65 dB of gain on the mic side; the output XLR is capable of pushing up to +26 dBu. Both XLR and ¼-inch outs are always active, useful for doing recorder/P.A. splits, etc. At the same time, headroom is much improved as compared to the original.

The switchable peak limiter kicks in before the tube and, unless pushed to extremes, is mostly invisible and does a decent job of protecting against overloads. The Bessel design, 40Hz highpass filter effectively removes rumble without gutting or destroying the signal. Another new addition is an input impedance switch on the XLR input. The “high/low” marking on the front panel refers to 4.7k/600-ohm impedance switching. The switch worked fine left in the “high” setting with every mic I tried, but there's no harm in using whichever setting you prefer. The unbalanced ¼-inch input is set at 1 Megohm, and is ideal for direct guitars or basses.

The unit's Project Series name may imply that this new Tube MP is not up to pro specs — wrong! I doubt this preamp is going to replace the ViPRE/LA-2A or Millennias I normally use in my vocal chain, but at a paltry $79, this new unit outdoes the original Tube MP in performance and features. It's a handy addition to any studio, large or small. Better still, ART is releasing a USB output version for $129 in a couple months — perfect for the podcasting crowd.

Applied Research & Technology, 585/436-2720, www.artproaudio.com.
George Petersen

MIDDLE ATLANTIC PRODUCTS
Split Screen Pop Filter

Middle Atlantic Product's Music Accessories line now offers the new Split Screen Pop Filter. The $45 unit uses APDT (Air Pressure Dispersion Technology), one of many innovations that makes this screen very effective in filtering breath-caused plosives. Though this new filter may look like a typical hoop-style pop screen, upon closer inspection, it is easy to see that it's an all-new, re-engineered design.

The Split Screen Pop Filter uses two fully washable, 90-percent nylon screens. The two screens face each other and are in durable, molded-plastic surrounds with textured finishes and non-parallel internal surfaces said to prevent frequency resonances. A 1-inch air gap (open on all sides) separates the screens. This air gap is key to the filter's efficiency. In use, the first screen diffused the main brunt of air blasts and then the middle air gap and surrounding openings vented the wind sideways. Finally, the second screen diffused what little forces were left before they hit the mic.

The pop screen's dual surround has hardened threads and screws onto a 13-inch gooseneck that easily conforms to any shape or position. The gooseneck stayed in any position without a fight because of its dual-wound construction: a steel coil inside another steel coil.

The stout, — ⅛-inch steel C-clamp mounting bracket, called an Omni-Clamp, has a brass clamping screw with a knurled tension knob. The padded return added extra grip and makes for easy attachment to most mic stands or booms without knuckle-busting tightening or scratching. Both the Omni-Clamp and the gooseneck are coated in black chip-proof E-Coat — an environmentally friendly electro coating that's stronger than paint.

The Split Screen Pop Filter is a simple and effective device that can take all the punch and energy out of the worst “p,” “b” and “t” sounds without drastically removing the high frequencies. It's a must-have for studio vocal recording, voice-over or radio announcer work.

Middle Atlantic Products, 800/266-7225, www.music-accessories.net.
Barry Rudolph






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