Snapshot Product Reviews

Jul 1, 2000 12:00 PM, George Petersen

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CEDAR BRX+ AND AZX+ Debuzzer and Azimuth Correctors Cedar has expanded its acclaimed X Series of audio restoration modules (DCX Declicker, CRX Decrackler and DHX Dehisser) with two new units, the BRX+ Debuzzer and AZX+ Azimuth Corrector. Priced at $6,555 (BRX+) and $5,695 (AZX+), these single-rackspace boxes can be used alone or daisy-chained in any combination, and feature 40-bit, 50MFlops floating-point CPUs for real-time processing.

There is no analog I/O, but all are equipped with S/PDIF (co-ax) and AES/EBU digital I/O, and provide 24-bit I/O resolution at any sample rate from 30 to 50k Hz. The front panels on both units belie the fact that there's a lot going on within their central CPUs, but keep operations simple.

The AZX+ Azimuth Corrector fixes the timing differences created by azimuth errors and electronic faults in the signal chain. Not just for tape recorder head correction, the AZX+ also works with any signal where the phase alignment of the L/R sides are off, such as phono recordings where the cartridge is misaligned. In automatic mode, a tracking algorithm locks onto these errors, and AZX+ synchronizes the channels with an accuracy of 0.25 samples. A manual mode permits timing shifts as small as 0.01 samples. As azimuth correction has a major effect on stereo perspectives, the pre/post processed input can be monitored as a stereo, mono summed (L+R) or mono difference (L-R) signal.

On material exhibiting left/right timing errors, the AZX+ did an absolutely amazing job of restoring the stereo image and mono compatibility of the signal. And lest you think that azimuth correction is simply a mono concern, problems such as propagation delay (where only one side of the signal is affected) can crop up in digital recordings, and I have found numerous commercial CD releases exhibiting problems stemming from a misaligned playback deck. Once such recordings are archived to digital, the errors are there to stay, unless corrected, making the AZX+ an indispensable tool for the mastering/archiving facility.

Unlike a simple notch filter, the BRX+ debuzzer automatically identifies all the harmonics that form buzz and hum, such as AC power hum, dimmer noise and camera sounds, and removes them with virtually no effect on the input signal. In addition to film/video dialog restoration, applications include improving surveillance tapes and other forensic recordings. The BRX+ offers a combination of methods using either presets (at frequencies where hum tends to occur) or at any user-defined fundamental from 24 to 130 Hz. From there, the system will automatically track any minor frequency fluctuations in the noise, and the user simply adjusts the "buzz power" and attenuation pots until the desired effect is attained.

I used the BRX+ on a variety of material, both audio and video, including U-matic and vintage EIAJ reel-to-reel black and white tapes I was archiving to digital. The BRX+ made a enormous improvement in clarity on several recordings that otherwise were essentially unusable. On another session, the BRX+ rescued a telephone interview where the cassette recorder sat next to the back of a computer monitor and was awash in hum from the CRT's choke. In every case, the BRX+ reduced or eliminated the offending noise (and its harmonics) while leaving the original unaffected.

Cedar, distributed by Independent Audio; 207/773-2424; www.independentaudio.com.

CAD VSM Cardioid Tube Microphone Made entirely in the USA, the VSM (formerly dubbed the VSM 1) tube condenser mic features CAD's patented Optema capsule, a 3-micron, 1.1-inch diaphragm, an input stage with a hand-selected, "burned-in" 12AX7 tube and a solid-state output stage. The pickup pattern is cardioid.

A -3dB-at-80Hz highpass filter and a -8/-16dB pad are standard.

With an attractive silver gray body with matte-black trim, the VSM has an art-deco look and includes a custom flight case, a well-designed shock-mount, power supply and cable. The case holds the VSM mounted in the shock-mount as a single unit, saving the hassle of taking the shock-mount on and off during setup/breakdown. The rugged external power supply is switchable to 117 or 220 VAC. The 30-foot, 7-pin mic-to-power supply cable is high-quality Gotham cable with gold-plated Neutrik ends.

The VSM's frequency response is rated at 10 to 20k Hz (impressive, especially to my dog, Bud). The mic has very low self-noise, especially considering it's a tube mic. The numbers support what I heard, or more specifically, what I didn't hear; S/N is rated at 79 dB at 94dB SPL.

The VSM is neutral sounding with a clear mid-high response. There are a few subtle bumps and dips in the midrange but nothing unacceptable. The low end is light and unobtrusive, surprising for a tube mic. Its generally flat response yields the sense of a mellow high-end rise starting at around 11 or 12 kHz that's quite pleasant. There is, however, a smearing proximity effect starting around six inches and closer, making the VSM's sweet spot just beyond that point, and about seven inches from the capsule was ideal.

The VSM is particularly complementary to edgy voices, as it tends to smooth out the sound. Sibilance is handled beautifully; tracks recorded with the VSM should need only minimal de-essing. Certain types of percussion instruments (shakers, cuicas, bean pods, etc.) also record very well. The mic imparts an airiness to their transients that sit nicely in the mix. It's not my first choice on acoustic guitar-I prefer a smaller diaphragm like Neumann's KM54 for better presence-but the VSM would do in a pinch. For overheads, I suspect this mic would work great, but, unfortunately, I only had one VSM for review.

With a list of $1,299, the VSM is a great value, offering VX2 technology in an affordable package. I'd even recommend it over some models that cost much more, but if a large-diaphragm condenser mic with heavy tube color is what you're looking for, the VSM probably isn't for you. Its strong point is its uncolored sound, its translucent quality: not things everybody will like, but qualities that help define it as a welcome addition to mic lockers in project and pro studios alike.

CAD Microphones; 440/943-0110; www.cadmics.com. -Michael Denten

HOEI PRECISION StartREC 400 Digital Audio Recorder, Editor and CD Duplicator StartREC 400-which ships with a Plextor 40X CD-ROM, 6GB internal IDE drive, and four Panasonic 8x CD-R recorder drives-is the first professional digital audio editing system joined with a high-speed, multidrive CD-R duplication solution.

Housed in a four-rackspace package that weighs 35 pounds, the StartREC rack includes a 33-page reference manual that takes less than an hour to digest, thanks to an easy OS and trouble-free operation. Each of the drives has its own headphone miniplug and volume control, and a master 11/44-inch headphone jack with volume control and audio edit interface round out the front panel. StartREC's rear panel has one AES/EBU and two S/PDIF (co-ax and optical) digital ports, with stereo XLR balanced and unbalanced RCA analog I/Os.

Divided into three partition blocks for managing simultaneous projects, the internal 6GB IDE drive is the first audio target when extracting songs from CDs, transferring digital audio, or recording fresh analog tracks with StartREC. Once on the internal hard drive, tracks can then be moved, deleted, divided, combined, re-indexed, and faded in or out en route to one or all of the CD-R recorder drives. Including any one of three SCMS copy-protection levels (none, 1X digital copy and fully prohibited) is up to the user, and StartREC can read and copy from CD-RW discs, as well.

The compact digital audio editor interface has CD-like transport controls, various menu, display and edit switches, concentric L/R record level rings and a 2x16-character LCD screen for accessing StartREC's well-organized edit menu hierarchy. The latest 1.0e firmware provides an audio verification feature as well as nondestructive program playlist editing. StartREC can write Track at Once and Session at Once CD-Rs, and it can automatically or manually rearrange, add and delete track markers, and convert 32/48kHz files to CD standard 44.1 kHz.

StartREC couldn't be easier to use or earn a quicker return-on-investment for its $3,995 price tag. I was able to digitally transfer, rearrange, and burn five master tracks from a Mac down to CD-R in less than 30 minutes with StartREC. Creating a compilation CD from numerous CD-RW session disks was easy, and the rackmounted 400 was perfect for recording a live stereo mix and burning CD-Rs at a friend's gig before the drummer was finishing breaking down his kit. If you're building a short-run CD duping business, transferring digital audio to CD-R, recording fresh stereo tracks, or all of the above, check out the StartREC 400.

Hoei Precision, distributed by Microboards; 800/646-8881; www.microboardsproaudio.com. -Randy Alberts

Dbx 386 Dual Vacuum Tube Preamp With Digital Out The 386 Dual Vacuum Tube Preamp is a single-rackspace mic preamp that delivers exactly what its name specifies. In addition to serving as a conventional tube mic preamp in the analog domain, the 386 provides both AES/EBU (XLR) and S/PDIF (RCA) digital ports that can route your mic signal directly to your digital recorder/DAW at sampling rates as high as 96 kHz with selectable 16/20/24-bit word lengths.

Features include selectable dither and noise shaping, word clock sync I/O, 12-segment LED meters, plus separate analog and digital output controls. Further, the unit has 60 dB of input gain, 15 dB of output gain, selectable mic/line inputs, a 20dB pad, phase reverse switch, a 75Hz lowcut filter and 48V phantom power. The 386 also employs dbx's proprietary Type IV conversion process, which combines the best attributes of digital conversion and analog recording processes to preserve the character of the analog signal when it is converted to a digital format.

I used the 386 in conjunction with an Audio-Technica AT4047/SV mic (also reviewed in this issue), feeding analog line level signal to my Tascam TM-D1000 digital mixer with an IF-TAD interface, and from there via a Frontier Design Wavecenter audio card to Sonic Foundry's Vegas Pro. The unit's operation is intuitive, and I had plenty of headroom. For digital operation, I bypassed the mixer and went straight to the computer via S/PDIF. After selecting the appropriate sampling rate, output format and word length, operation went without a hitch.

The dbx 386 is a versatile mic pre that facilitates both analog and digital connections with a wide variety of equipment. Its controls have a secure feel, and there are plenty of parameters for obtaining a sound that is likely to please all but the most finicky of ears. At $599.95, the dbx 386 offers a lot at a reasonable price.

dbx Professional Products; 801/568-7662; www.dbxpro.com.-Roger Maycock

LAFONT LP-22 ADR/Foley Processor Here's a product whose name is somewhat of a misnomer. Although the LP-22 is designed specifically for recording Foley, ADR and dialog in a studio setting, this single-channel, single-rackspace preamp/compressor/limiter/expander/gate with high/lowpass filters is equally suitable for any situation requiring high-quality audio processing.

Front-panel controls include phase reverse, -20dB pad, 48 VDC phantom power, sweepable highpass (35-600 Hz) and lowpass (20 to 1k Hz) filters, a 20-65dB gain pot and a +10dB gain boost switch. The dynamics section has pots for threshold ratio, release time, gain makeup and de-esser frequency, along with switches for selecting ultrafast attack (100 us), stereo linking and external key input bypass switches for the various dynamics functions. To keep noise buildup under control-or simply for basic gating-the expander/gate has dedicated threshold, range and release pots, and switches for fast attack, gate/expander in/out and a switched input for frequency selective keying. The back panel has six (pin-2 hot) balanced XLRs for mic in, insert send, line in/insert return, compressor key, expander key and compressor out.

In session, the LP-22 proved to be a flexible performer with impressive audio specs extending well beyond 40 kHz, with EIN better than 128 dB-no surprise, as Lafont is renowned for its high-performance/low-noise film mixing and transfer consoles. The preamp is neutral and transparent, and anyone who records with low-output ribbon mics or ultralow-level sources (gum wrapper Foley, anyone?) will appreciate the high gain switch's extra 10 dB of boost.

The preamp section can be used stand-alone (patched directly out), inserted to external gear or sent directly to the unit's dynamic section-offering a variety of connection options. And whether fed from the onboard preamp or a line source, the compression is smooth, becoming noticeable only at its most extreme setting. The key input worked seamlessly for ducking voice-overs over music beds, and the de-essing function was natural, whether keyed internally or via an outboard EQ. Both gating and expansion were flawless in operation and cleanly handled any noise floor artifacts created by heavy-handed compression.

The unit's main downside is that there's a lot packed into this single-rackspace chassis, and the fine writing on the control labels can be hard to read for us old engineer types. Fortunately, the LP-22 has three LED bar graph meters indicating output levels, gain reduction and downward expansion, and an LED next to every switch, providing status at a glance.

Priced at $1,495, the LP-22 draws on more than a decade of Lafont innovation to create a versatile unit with excellent audio specs that should appeal to music and post users alike. Lafont, distributed by Sascom; 905/469-8080; www.sascom.com. -George Petersen

NIGHTINGALE VOICE BOX Vocal Effects CDs With lots of sound effects libraries on the market, the trend lately is specialized products, and the Nightingale Voice Box is an excellent new entry in the genre.

As its name implies, this set is an extensive collection of vocal elements-more than 1,500 in all, crammed onto two CDs featuring almost every imaginable (adult or child) vocal sound, ranging from grunt, groans, moans and screams to laughs, hiccups, burps, coughs, upchucks and, ahem...orgasms. Choose from a variety of included ambiences (bars, parties, dinners, restaurant, swimming pool, beach sounds and street festival), toss in a couple common phrases (from the many provided in English, French, Italian, Spanish, Cantonese, Russian and more) in the foreground-such as ordering a drink or shouting "happy birthday!"-and you can create just about any custom walla, anywhere, anytime. But the set doesn't stop there. Also provided are generic news reports, weather and other broadcast elements ("we'll be right back," again in several languages) and plenty of group reactions (boos, cheers, laughs and more).

The set is documented for finding what you need fast, and the audio quality is pristine throughout. At $245, The Nightingale Voice Box is an ideal addition to anyone's SFX arsenal.

Nightingale Music Productions; 416/221-2393; www.nightingalemusic.com. -George Petersen

DEMETER HDI-1 Tube Direct/Line Driver Part of Demeter's H Series line of studio tube equipment, the HDI-1 is a 2-channel, rackmount unit serving both as a DI box and a line-level driver, ostensibly for "warming up" digital audio tracks. One 12AX7LPS tube is in the audio path for each channel; ICs drive the outputs.

Each channel has an unbalanced 11/44-inch front-panel input that accepts either instrument or line-level sources. For an extra $35, Demeter will provide an extra pair of unbalanced inputs on the rear panel-an attractive option for those who wish to tie the HDI-1 into a patchbay for processing line-level signals.

Separate volume control knobs provide as much as 24 dB of boost for each channel. Independent "unity gain" switches disable corresponding volume controls but nevertheless provide 6 dB of boost for the XLR and TRS balanced outputs on the rear panel. Each channel also features a low-impedance, tube-buffered, unbalanced aux output for splitting an instrument's signal to route to an amplifier. Ground lift and phase inversion switches round out the channel controls.

My only functional complaint with the unit is that pressing its unity gain switch produces a loud pop. This is not an issue as long as you turn down your monitors beforehand.

The HDI-1's 27-megaohm input impedance prevents instrument pickup loading, making the unit an outstanding DI box for bass and electric guitars. Bass sounded lush, yet fully endowed with presence and definition. And my '62 Strat never sounded better, delivering gorgeously rounded, bell-like tones. The HDI-1 can also add nice coloration to line-level signals, although I would not say this is its greatest strength. Running entire mixes through the box, the stereo imaging became a little ghosty. But as a DI box, the HDI-1 offers the perfect marriage of warmth and clarity. At $899 for two channels, the HDI-1 is an attractive buy for the engineer looking to transform dry, flat DI tracks into lush, fat tones.

Demeter Amplification; 818/994-7658; www.demeteramps.com. -Michael Cooper

JENSEN TRANSFORMERS ISO-MAX Audio/Video Ground Isolator Kit Every day, studio and A/V installations become more complicated, as every job is a combination of analog and digital, audio and video, and unbalanced and balanced gear. Times when everything connects and plays back without hum, buzz and distortion seem to be the exception to the rule; and, locating the problem can be a problem in itself, especially when dealing with unbalanced I/Os.

Enter the Jensen Iso-Max Ground Isolator Kit, a $299 set that packs three of Jensen's most popular and widely used isolator boxes (ISO-MAX CI-2RR stereo audio isolator, ISO-MAX VB-1BB composite video isolator and ISO-MAX VR-1FF CATV isolator) in a portable carry case. The set also includes two BNC-to-RCA adapters, a pair of TA-R1 diagnostic test adapters and a troubleshooting guide.

The transformer-coupled ISO-MAX CI-2RR offers transparent ground isolation of any stereo signal and is virtually undetectable in the signal path. Designed for video/CATV lines, the ISO-MAX VB-1BB (line-level) and ISO-MAX VR-1FF (RF level) isolators eliminate 60Hz ground currents, with a bandwidth covering the full video/FM spectrum. By putting these simple, passive (no power required) problem-solvers in a kit, installers can easily troubleshoot systems, perhaps leaving an ISO-MAX unit in place at an install and then replacing the unit from stock. No sweat-and more importantly, no callbacks.

Jensen Transformers; 818/374-5857; www.jensen-transformers.com. George Petersen






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