Field Test: Trident S40 Single-Channel Strip

May 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Barry Rudolph

Classic Console Sound in a Two-Rackspace Chassis

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With its signature black-anodized front panel, colored aluminum knobs and small rectangular push buttons, the S40 is clearly the progeny of Trident's Series 80 and TSM consoles. Housed in a two-rackspace cabinet, this single-channel recording strip uses the Series 80 4-band EQ and TSM's high/lowpass filters. A fitting tribute to Trident designer John Oram's 40th year in the business, I found the S40 to be exactly as a Series 80 console's input module. From the no-nonsense style of the smooth controls to its clear, present and upfront sonic character, the S40 has it all.

ANATOMY OF AN S40


The S40 retains the classic Trident sound with Class-A circuits and the latest chips for lower noise and slower TL070 ICs. The front panel is divided into four sections: a mic preamp, a compressor/limiter, a 4-band semi-parametric EQ with overlapping mids and an output driver/meter stage. The all-steel cabinet offers good construction with many surface-mounted components, handwired pots and Elma switches. The English-made unit has an internal 110/220 VAC power supply.

The mic pre has a detented gain pot for smooth, continuous control with up to 60 dB of gain (plenty for any mic), switches for polarity flip and phantom on/off and a peak LED that lights at +9 dBu. Based on the TSM, the transformerless mic preamp has a 200-ohm input source impedance, -126.4dBu EIN, +28dBu max output and a dynamic range spec of 154 dB. A front panel ¼-inch input jack is ready for any piezo transducer or the impedance-sensitive passive pickups of your favorite Fender P Bass.

The dynamics section is from the Oram Sonicomp range and in the new Trident Oram Series 80 5.1 console. The compressor uses a VCA but is configured as a feedback element of an amplifier, so the main signal path remains untouched. The S40 has rear panel control voltage-in/out jacks for external control of gain or stereo linking. This workhorse compressor/limiter has continuously adjustable attack times from 0.1 ms to 40 ms, and threshold (-45 dB to +18 dB) and release times from 0.05 to three seconds. I'd like to see even slower attack time choices offered. The nonlinear ratio control range is good, as the lower ratios are spread out to easily set a 1:1 to 1.5:1 to 1.75:1 to 2:1 and 15:1 for hard limiting. Gain reduction is always read on the meter, even when the compressor is bypassed — great for setting up for an upcoming song in a live sound mix.

The Pre button inserts the compressor before/after the EQ section. The S40 borrows this feature from the Oram GMS Al Schmitt Pro-Channel, and it offers no excuses for lazy engineers who would patch an outboard compressor after EQ and never bother to repatch to hear it the other way around. I found the compressor useful and mostly transparent for light duties: lower ratios and higher thresholds for 1 to 4 dB of RMS gain reduction. For a purposeful “squashed” sound character with lots of personality, the unit is capable of all the “sturm and drang” you can take. I wish the compressor section had a makeup gain control for A/B comparisons of compressed to uncompressed at the same level.

The S40's 4-band EQ is accurate and smooth. The two sweepable midsections overlap, covering 150 Hz to 2 kHz and 1.5 kHz to 15 kHz. With broad half-octave Qs, these sections are excellent tools for subtle touch-ups or severe carving of an individual track or program mix. The shelving LF and HF bands offer two corner frequency choices: 50 or 150 Hz and 7 kHz or 12 kHz, respectively, and smooth 4dB/octave curves. The high- and lowpass filters are tuneable: LF from 5 to 200 Hz, and HF from 1 kHz to 50 kHz. Bandwidth-limiting tracks with these filters can keep useless frequencies out of the track's total energy band. Boosting with the low- and high-shelf equalizers at the same frequencies produces a unique equalizer sound.

On the back, a balanced output driver stage gives an added 6 dB of gain. I ran this at center-detent position unless I needed makeup gain. The small VU meter shows output level (blue) or gain reduction (green) changes — easy to spot from across the control room.

IN THE STUDIO


The S40 is straightforward to use. I recorded narration tracks using a stock Neumann U87, my voice-over talent's favorite mic. With the 87, the S40 had a clear and present sound without any additional EQ. Recorded singing voices took on a certain clarity — a forward sound without sounding EQ'd.

My quick and unscientific reference A/B test against Brent Averill — restored Neve 1073 module showed that using a U87, with both modules set to 50 dB of gain and no EQ or compression, the S40 produced the same output level and overall sound but had a punchier low end. With EQ in, there is a slight increase in low-frequency distortion rising to 0.1% at 20 Hz.

Making a song harder-sounding to compete with an aggressive rock track, I used a combination of bandwidth limiting, EQ and compression. However, the next session may be all about purity and naturalness. Here, the S40 would score again with the transparency and headroom of the mic preamp section.

I recorded a Tobias bass using the ¼-inch DI input. Slightly overloading the preamp and compressing with a 1.5:1 ratio yielded a very cool, distinctive rock bass sound. Reducing the preamp gain produced a smooth jazz tone that was great on a ballad.

Setting the gain to 0 dB, the S40 becomes a line-level processor. I liked the equalizer and compressor to post-process guitars, keyboards, drums, vocals, etc.

With all of the new preamps that promise to sound like vintage equipment, the S40 delivers the classic Trident console sound. From meticulous high-fidelity recordings to over-the-top aggressive processing, the S40 does it all and belongs in the pantheon of classic vintage recording gear. It's sold exclusively in the USA through Guitar Center at a retail of $2,495.

Trident Audio Limited, +44 1474/815300, www.tridentaudio.co.uk.






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