PROSONIX 48-WAY BANTAM PATCHBAY
While professional studios invariably make use of compact bantam patchbays, most home studios are forced to go the quarter-inch jack patchbay route, mainly because of cost. Admittedly, there's a certain convenience aspect to quarter-inch jacks, because of the predominance of the jack as an instrument connector, but in my experience, the normalising contacts on most budget jack bays become intermittent after a few months. While bantams are not immune to intermittency problems, the design of the connectors makes them less vulnerable to dust, and most of the professional systems are easily disassembled for cleaning.
Those who'd prefer to use bantams may be interested in the Prosonix bantam patchbay, which provides 24 pairs of TRS sockets in just half a unit of rack space, and which costs around the same as a decent budget jack patchbay. Each pair of sockets comprises a Neutrik NJ3TT/2 dual-socket assembly mounted on its own circuit board, with a 4-way DIP switch. Because the connector assembly is fully enclosed, the only way in for contamination is via the jack holes. Should cleaning become necessary, a plastic cover can be prised off, revealing the gold-plated contacts. The boards themselves simply slot into the metalwork, so you don't need any tools at all to take the patchbay apart.
Normalising is handled by three of the four DIP switches (the fourth is redundant), allowing you to normalise the tip and ring separately, and also to isolate the input and output grounds if required. When normalised, the sockets follow the semi-normalised convention, whereby the top row (outputs) can be used to provide a feed without breaking the signal flow, but inserting a jack into the bottom row breaks the contact. The rear connections on the review model were hard-wired, which entails soldering your cable harness directly to the patchbay; while this may seem tedious, it actually saves a lot of money in connectors and is a lot more reliable. However, Prosonix are planning models with connectors on the back, including the 'D' connector used by some manufacturers (Tascam and Fostex, for example).
Bantam patch cables are traditionally very expensive compared to quarter-inch jacks, but Prosonix have sourced a range of low-cost cables from Piranha, who use Neutrik plugs and cable, both in a choice of colours, to produce a balanced patch lead for under £10.
Prosonix may be a new name in the patchbay market, but the guys behind the company were founding members of the original P&R, a name which is well known to project studio owners, so it's not surprising that they're applying their talents to bringing prices down. This is the first of their products I've seen, but there seem to be few compromises, and it's obvious that a lot of thought has gone into simplifying the design to reduce manufacturing cost. Inevitably, panel space is in short supply for labelling, though standard sticky labels apparently fit, but even so, you'll need to use some fairly cryptic abbreviations. My own instinct would be to use bantam patchbays for insert points, aux send/returns and outboard gear, but to retain standard jacks for any line inputs likely to be used for DI'ing instruments. That way you avoid having to make or buy adaptor leads. Other than that, bantams clearly have the advantage when it comes to saving space and keeping the contacts clean. Paul White
£ Bantam patchbay £89.95; Patch cables £9.95 each. Prices include VAT and UK p&p.
A Prosonix, PO Box 32, Hailsham, East Sussex BN27 3XT.
T 01323 848808.
F 01323 441185.
MUSIC HOUSE DATA PRODUCTS POWERMASTER RACKMAC C2 APPLE RACKMOUNT KIT
The idea of making computers rackmounting for studio use is not a new one, but the necessary hardware tends to be expensive. After session musician (and SOS reader) Whyman Baker casually commented on the astronomical price of existing rack kits, Powermaster decided to produce their own version, which is now on sale at a more realistic price of £199.
In these days of RAM raiding there's a security benefit from rackmounting your computer, especially if you use security rackmount screws such as the ones available from Studiospares. Designed to fit the Centris/Quadra 650 and 7100-style models (other versions are being developed), Powermaster's contribution to the protection racket is effectively a satin-black sheet steel shell, enclosing the whole computer aside from the front panel and the connector area of the rear panel. The parts of the shell are held together by simple bolts, and once the hardware is mounted in a rack cabinet, there's no way the computer can be removed without first taking the hardware back out of the rack.
Of course, security isn't the main idea behind computer rackmounting -- it also helps keep things tidy by moving the clutter off your desk and into your rack. If you're taking a computer on the road, rackmounting has obvious practical benefits, though to prevent transit damage, you should always use the type of rack system with an inner cabinet shockmounted inside a larger cabinet using foam or springs. This consideration applies to any shock-sensitive audio equipment, not just computers.
Having assembled and used the Powermaster Mac racking system, I'm impressed by how solidly it is constructed and how much neater my system looks because of it. Now I have my Mac and my rackmount hard drives in the same box, which keeps SCSI cabling runs short and cuts down on exposed wiring. This is a simple concept, but the implementation is well designed and well engineered at less than half the cost of the previous competition. Paul White
£ £199 inc VAT.
A Syco, Kimberley Road, London NW6 7SF.
T 0171 624 6000.
F 0171 372 6370.
NUREALITY VIVID 3D STEREO ENHANCEMENT SYSTEM
There have been many inventions aimed at producing a wider or deeper stereo image from conventional stereo speakers, but few can be as cost-effective as the Nureality Vivid 3D. The aim of the Vivid 3D is to treat the stereo signal in such a way that the reflected components of the sound appear to come from outside the loudspeakers, just as they would in a real-life ambient environment.
This tiny box takes its power from an external adaptor and connects to your system via two phonos and a stereo mini-jack. The connectors hint at the Vivid 3D's target market, which would appear to be computer games and stereo TV. There are no real user controls other than volume: you can simply select 'SRS' to process a stereo signal, '3DM' to add a sense of width to mono sounds, or bypass the effect altogether.
With the box in circuit, switching from bypass to SRS mode causes a noticeable increase in level, which the manufacturers say is due to how the circuitry rebuilds off-axis information. When we hear something off-axis, it is different in both timbre and level to something heard on-axis, due to the human hearing system's frequency response. Microphones don't behave in the same way, and SRS mode aims to correct this by splitting the signal into middle and side components (rather like the output from an MS mic pair), applying the necessary tonal correction to the side signal and then recombining the two. The subjective effect is to reduce the impression that the soundstage exists only between the two speakers; sounds in the centre of the mix are little affected, but sounds panned hard left or right seem to be diffused around the room.
An email message to the manufacturer answered all my technical queries and also revealed that the process has been granted a number of patents. Using my phase meter, I detected the use of out-of-phase components (a usual ingredient in stereo widening) in the 3D setting used to widen mono sources -- but it's claimed that the SRS system adds no additional phase shift.
Because of the tonal coloration introduced by reconstructing off-axis sounds, I'd be reluctant to treat complete studio mixes with this process, but it is useful to pick out odd bits of percussion, little synth details and, of course, effects. Feeding a stereo reverb back through the Vivid 3D produced a noticeably more spacious sound.
Because SRS doesn't use delay or phase shift, it should have better mono compatibility than some other stereo enhancement processes, but by the same token, the results may not be as dramatic as, say, RSS or QSound. However, it is a useful and very valid effect based on sound psychoacoustic principles that can be exploited in the studio to make mixes more interesting. The signal path is reasonably quiet, and apart from the oddball 'games' connectors, it's no trouble to use. Other models are available which offer the user more control, and there's also talk of a rackmount unit in the near future. At the current price, however, this is one area of space exploration that most people can afford. Paul White
£ Vivid £D £39.95 inc VAT, plus £3.50 p&p; Vivid 3D Plus (which adds a Centre mode for enhancing central imaging) £49.95.
A Bull & Bear Ltd, Macmillan House, Kensington High Street, London W8 4SG.
T 0171 795 6977.
F 0171 938 4944.
ROLAND MC50 OPERATIONS HANDBOOK LEVEL 1
The Roland MC50 is one of the best hardware sequencers ever made, but it can be a bit puzzling for the first-time sequencer user. One reviewer dubbed it "Darth Vader's Filofax", and an air of mystery has surrounded it ever since. This book, written by Bobby Maestas and published by Alexander Publishing, proves that the MC50 is actually as flexible as many software sequencers, provided you make the effort to grasp all its basic functions before you dive into the murky depths of the editing pages.
The book is set out like an instruction manual, with everything explained clearly and with a minimum of fuss. There are 21 chapters, beginning with an excellent section on how to connect the MC50 to several keyboards, and ending with the delights of tape and MIDI sync. I was grateful to see a decent explanation of the 'Event Copy' procedure on the MC50, something which never fails to catch me out. The MIDI sync chapter is also extremely useful, because many hardware sequencer fans have a drum machine in their setup. This partly makes up for the lack of information about rhythm programming and advanced editing. Anyone seeking advice on these aspects of the MC50 will find everything they need in the Operations Handbook Level 2.
Few people would put an instruction book on their list of priorities, but MC50 users will appreciate the straightforward style of this one. It shows that with patience and a little understanding, an MC50 will be your friend for life. Richard Clews
£ £22.99 (no VAT payable).
A Sounds OK, 10 Frimley Grove Gardens, Frimley, Camberley, Surrey, GU16 5JX.
T 01276 22946.