Snapshot Product Reviews

Jul 1, 2004 12:00 PM

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SABINE SWM7000 SERIES

Smart Spectrum Wireless System

Wireless technology has turned into a cat-and-mouse game, as once-clear frequencies become more crowded or obliterated and the FCC keeps turning over whole spectrums to non-audio uses such as cellular phones and digital broadcasting. After abandoning VHF, the 450- and 900MHz UHF bands seemed pretty safe, but with more encroachment, a number of companies have sought haven in the spacious skies of the globally accepted 2.4GHz band.

One such example is Sabine's SWM7000 Series, a true-diversity, 2.4GHz system that allows 70 units to operate within a single location. This alone would make the unit notable, but the system also includes onboard FBX Feedback Exterminator®, compressor/limiter, intelligent de-essing and Mic SuperModeling digital mic capsule emulation. Also, the receiver stores/recalls up to 10 presets of all parameters for each channel for quick setups or on-the-fly changes during a performance.

The front panel has a lot more than the minimal controls found on the usual receiver, but this is no typical receiver. Each receiver channel has a large LCD showing status of RF signal, transmitter battery, audio signal strength, compressor gain reduction and displays for FBX action, front panel lock, edit parameters, mute, de-essing and more. The hardwired controls (FBX setup, mic model select, de-ess cut, compression ratio/threshold/attack, RF channel select, output level and program save/load/recall) are shared; a quick tap assigns them to either channel. Operation is familiar and fast, and you always feel in control with the SMW7000.

The back panel says a lot about the SWM7000. Each channel has ¼-inch line- and XLR mic-level outs, a threaded antenna connector (with adapters for front or rear mounting) and a DIP switch for setting configurations such as the 1/5 or 1/10-octave width of the FBX filters. Also standard are RS-232 and USB ports that connect to your Windows 2000/ME/XP PC via included remote-control software. Beyond offering signal strength monitoring for 70 channels, front panel lockout, transmitter naming and unlimited preset storage, the software also provides access to channel muting, lowpass and highpass filters, advanced FBX control, compressor knee and release parameters and more. Versions with an “NDR” suffix also have network ports for setting a control network by daisy-chaining up to 35 receivers (70 channels) using standard RJ-45 cables and a stereo 48kHz AES/EBU digital output (with a BNC word clock input), which is always active.

The SWM7000 is available in 1- and 2-channel models with bodypack (lavalier, headworn mic or guitar) or handheld (Audix OM3 or OM5) transmitters. The OM3 version is fine for most applications; however, most pros will opt for the industry-standard OM5. The lavalier beltpack ships with a Voice Technology VT500 lavalier, which is good for voice applications, but there are much better lavs out there to plug into the transmitter's Switchcraft TA4F input. All transmitters have charge inputs and include rechargeable NiMH batteries, which are immune to the “memory effect” of NiCad designs. Alternatively, two standard AA alkaline cells can power the unit. Battery life is long: eight hours per charge or 14 hours on alkalines. The handheld has two mic clips: One is conventional and the other has a built-in charger port. Clever!

Overall, I was really jazzed about the SWM7000's powerful set of onboard DSP, replacing a whole rack of gear. I've been a fan of Sabine's FBX technology for a long time, and having that built into a wireless is a natural. Ten filters are available per channel and any unused for FBX can be assigned as standard parametrics — a nice touch. The compressor/limiter is serviceable. It handles level overload protection, but it won't be replacing UREIs, Summits or dbxs on any riders. But for the smaller band that doesn't pack a dedicated vocal limiter, it's a definite plus. The one-button de-esser was a breeze to use and surprisingly good. The Microphone SuperModeling function is cool, calling up a library of virtual capsules with familiar names such as SM58, ATM41a and D-3800 to flavor the vocal sound. To my ears, these didn't provide perfect emulation, but the vocalists I worked with really liked the feature. In any case, the modeling provides an interesting palette of sounds to choose from.

The top-end 2-channel SW72-NDR receiver retails at $1,659.99; the OM5 SW70-HD15 transmitter is $549.99; and other systems (single-channel, beltpack and nonnetwork) are priced less. But DSP and other features aside, what really makes the SWM7000 stand out is its audio quality, with true 20-20k Hz bandwidth (there's no low-end roll-off whatsoever), 100-plus-dB dynamic range and clear, dropout-free performance that makes it rival hardwired systems.

Sabine, 386/418-2000, www.sabine.com.
George Petersen

COLES 4040

Studio Ribbon Microphone

British manufacturer Coles Electroacoustics has added the 4040 ($1,541 U.S. list) to its respected line of ribbon mics. The 4040 ships without an owner's manual or specs but simply a solitary sheet detailing handling precautions. A phone call to the manufacturer only divulged the mic's weight (2.2 pounds), dimensions (2.6 inches in diameter and 5.7 inches long) and sensitivity (0.5623 mV/PA).

Accessories shipped with the 4040 include a velour mic sock with drawstring, foam-lined plastic storage case, two standard mic adapters (with different diameters) and a swivel-mount adapter. The 4040 screws securely onto the latter and can then be rotated 360 degrees about its axis and approximately 225 degrees up/down.

The 4040 is extremely sensitive to structure-born noise, moderately sensitive to plosives and virtually immune to sibilance. The rear of this inherently bi-directional mic has a slightly fuller upper-bass frequency response than the front, and the mic's null points (90 degrees and 270 degrees off-axis) offer very good rejection.

Patching the 4040 into the optional ribbon DC input of my Millennia HV-3D mic preamp, I miked up a Roland MicroCube amp to record a rock guitar. Placed two feet from the amp, the sound was warm and smooth but lacked presence and crunch. Pulling the 4040 back a foot brought the upper mids into much better balance with the bottom end. Using the same placement, a Royer R-121 ribbon mic offered a tad more presence and definition than the 4040, resulting in a slightly crunchier sound. The 4040's output was slightly hotter than that of the R-121.

Although the 4040 was not intended as a vocal mic, I wanted to check it out in this application. In a subsequent A/B test of the 4040 and R-121 on a male vocalist — variously placed four to 16 inches away from the mics — the 4040 had a noticeably bigger bottom, darker upper mids and a much more pronounced proximity effect; the latter was especially noticeable in the upper-bass band. The 4040 yields a classic “late-night DJ” sound on male vocals, but is not defined nearly enough for miking a singer up close.

My favorite application of the 4040 was recording trumpet miked on-axis three feet from the instrument. The 4040 produced a wonderfully warm and smooth sound, without the slightest hint of being thin or harsh. The tone was bright in the mids and very understated in the high end. Awesome!

The 4040's huge proximity effect demands this mic to be placed farther away from the source than most other mics to achieve a balanced tone, which may not always be workable in some rooms or when tracking an ensemble. But for adding a warm summer glow to icy, biting instruments, the 4040 is quite simply an outstanding choice.

Dist. by Independent Audio, 207/773-2424, www.independentaudio.com.
Michael Cooper

METRIC HALO MOBILE I/O ULN-2

Scalable Mic Pre/Converter/DAW I/O

In its simplest form, Metric Halo's ULN-2 is a 2-channel high-resolution mic preamp. I do a fair amount of remote recordings that tend to be a bit on the larger side: around 24 to 48 tracks. I thought this 2-channel box was going to be a simple slam-dunk review, but I was wrong. This small box packs a huge punch both in features and performance. At 13.5×8.25×1.73 inches, it's just about the size of my G4 667 PowerBook's footprint. The unit feels solid and the front panel provides all of the usual controls and metering one would expect from a mic pre, plus more.

The ULN-2's preamps are best described as clean and quiet with a healthy amount of gain. In addition to the microphone inputs, the ULN-2 has a DI and line-level TRS input. The ULN-2 is not just a FireWire audio interface, but it also has great-sounding AD/DA converters. Combined with the AES/EBU or S/PDIF I/O, the ULN-2 is good for monitoring digital signals or converting your analog microphone, DI or line signal to digital. This can be done without a computer present using the nine definable presets.

One of this box's best features is the balanced sends and returns. These are placed between the mic pre and the A/D converter on each channel, allowing the ULN-2 to function as a stand-alone mic pre. Simply patch into the balanced send as you would with the preamp's balanced output. This also allows the ULN-2 to act as both a mic pre and a separate A/D converter.

Each channel has a gold-plated gain adjustment set at 6dB increments. In addition, you can link the trim pots as pairs, which makes 2-channel adjustments a breeze. The meters are set up in nice increments and seem to give a small amount of headroom before clipping. At the back end, there is a stereo monitor out with gain control and a +4/-10dB line out with no gain control.

The separately converted headphone amp has plenty of power and the correct impedance for professional headphones (600 ohms). Combined with its near-zero latency internal mixer, this unit is perfect for those who use native DAWs. The unit can be powered directly from the FireWire bus or an included AC adapter. The inclusion of a DC 2.5mm connector and the XLR power connector show that the ULN-2's design was focused on professional use and portability.

I tested the Metric Halo unit while recording an acoustic bass, acoustic 12- and 6-string guitars, vocals, trumpet and percussion. On this session, I used a fairly wide variety of microphones including an Oktava Ribbon; Shure Beta 52, SM57 and SM81s; AKG C-12VR; Earthworks SR-77s; Neumann TLM-103; and a Groove Tubes AM-62. Using the FireWire cable as an input to a Mac G4 Titanium laptop and Digital Performer as the recording software, I was pleased with the sounds of all the different microphones. The ULN-2's variable gain was flexible enough to handle the high SPLs of the trumpet and quiet enough for the higher gain needed for the acoustic guitars and bass.

The ULN-2 was a solid performer in all categories. It provided plenty of clean gain, had able converters and, at $1,195, provided many extra features that make it a no-brainer for the laptop-based pro looking for versatile I/O.

Metric Halo, 845/223-6112; www.mhlabs.com.
John Wroble






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