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Page 2: Dangerous Music D-Box

Summing & Monitoring System
By Hugh Robjohns

Listening

The overall sound of the D‑Box is classy: it sounds as expensive as it is, with all the virtues of well-engineered analogue circuit design. It gives a clear and open sound, with a solid bottom end and good, stable spatial imaging. The D‑A converter is also very good, possibly tending towards a hint of warmth rather than clinical sterility, and I detected no noticeable sense of fatigue even after extended listening, which is always a good sign. In general, the monitoring section performed every bit as well as you'd expect of a monitoring controller at this price — even ignoring the 'free' inclusion of a summing mixer. Switching between sources was click‑free, and even changing between digital sources with different sample rates provided only brief mutes. The volume control stereo‑tracking was very good, particularly over the most-used middle portion of the range, and the inclusion of a mono button was very useful. There are no gain trims to balance up the levels of the main and alternative monitors, but that can usually be performed easily enough on the input sensitivity controls of powered monitors or amps. Everything feels solid and reliable, and the buttons and knobs all give the impression that they'll provide long service.

The two headphone amps are unusually powerful — almost worryingly so — but are very quiet and provide a solid and accurate sound. However, I was disappointed that the headphone outputs can only carry the same signal as the main monitoring selection. I think this is very limiting, and to the extent that the D‑Box simply won't be suitable for a lot of potential users. It would be acceptable for someone working on their own and recording their own performances, but is far too restrictive for a more professional setup. This arrangement makes it impossible to monitor a solo channel while recording, for example, without disturbing the performer's cue mix and, equally importantly, it doesn't allow any way of providing 'comfort reverb' on a vocalists headphones independently of what the engineer needs to hear. Most other monitor controllers (even relatively affordable designs like the Presonus Central Station and Mackie Big Knob) provide external cue‑mix inputs specifically to address this common requirement. This seems to be a significant weakness in an otherwise excellent product.

Moving on to the eight‑channel mix bus, this is clearly of very high quality, and far better than any budget mixer that I've heard. It provides that analogue magic that seems to help a mix gel together in a more satisfying way, and boasts loads of headroom and a very low noise floor. It may not be as technically accurate as an in‑the‑box mix should be, but there's no doubting that it sounds nice, and that is reason enough to justify its inclusion. Should you eventually need additional summing inputs, the system could be expanded easily enough with a Dangerous Music 2‑Bus or 2‑Bus LT — or any other manufacturer's analogue mix bus unit, for that matter. Even if you don't need or want to use the mix bus to create your final stereo mix, it exists as a separate entity within the D‑Box and can be used for other purposes. For example, a number of external keyboards or rack sound generators could be submixed through it with better quality than a budget mixer would achieve — and with the built‑in monitoring facility you wouldn't even need to fire up the computer or a separate hardware mixer to practice your chops!

The talkback facility is an oddity, and I haven't been able to quite make up my mind about its usefulness. If the performers are in a separate room, the addition of talkback is very handy, but the restriction on the control‑room monitoring sources reduces the practicality of working like that anyway. And for the performer/engineer who wouldn't be bothered by the lack of monitoring flexibility, the talkback is superfluous. All that being said, the addition of a remote talkback switch function is a good idea, but I'd have preferred to have a talkback output instead (or, even better, as well). That would have allowed the flexibility and usefulness of the D‑Box to be extended significantly with the addition of an external headphone system, providing independent selection of monitoring and cue sources, but retaining the ability to talk to the performers.

Conclusion

My only real concern with the design of the D‑Box is in the cue‑monitoring arrangements that restrict its flexibility as a monitor controller. The result is that the product will either suit a user's needs and way of working perfectly, or it will be completely unacceptable — and that seems an enormous waste for the sake of an additional pair of external inputs to the Cue system. There can be no doubt, though, that the audio quality of the D‑Box is superb, both as a monitor controller and as a summing mixer, and the combination of the two functions at this price makes for a very attractive unit.  

Alternatives

I am aware of no other devices on the market that combine a mix-bus system with a monitoring controller, but separate units could be combined to achieve similar facilities, albeit requiring more rack space. The Presonus Central Station costs about a third of the D‑Box price, leaving plenty of options for mix‑bus units, and with a more flexible cue‑monitoring section. The Mackie Big Knob could also be considered in the same context, although from a quality point of view my money would head towards the Presonus offering. Moving up market, the Coleman TB4 Mk II is an interesting passive monitor controller featuring separate engineer and performer cue headphone outputs (with an external input) and talkback — but there'd be little left in the budget for a high‑end mix bus. The same would apply to the Audient Centro and Sumo combination which, although very capable and impressive, would cost considerably more than the D‑Box.

Pros

  • Superb sound quality.
  • Solid and reliable construction.
  • Excellent price for the combination of summing bus and monitor controller.
  • Digital input to monitoring.
  • Two powerful headphone amps.
  • Talkback with remote switching.
  • Useful configuration options.

Cons

  • Common cue and main monitoring source selection.
  • No external cue inputs.
  • No talkback output.

Summary

A high-quality monitor controller with a free eight‑channel summing mixer... or an eight‑channel summing mixer with a free monitor controller thrown in. Your choice! A built‑in D‑A converter allows one of two digital inputs to be monitored too, and a pair of headphone amps and talkback facilities cater for performers — albeit with the restriction that engineer and performer have to listen to the same thing at the same time.

information

£1553.65 including VAT.

Total Audio Solutions +44 (0)1527 880051.

sales@totalaudio.co.uk

www.totalaudio.co.uk

www.dangerousmusic.com

$1399.

Dangerous Music +1 607 965 8011.

info@dangerousmusic.com

www.dangerousmusic.com

Published March 2009