Personal monitor mixes can be tricky to set up, particularly in large sessions. Can this modular system take the pain away?
There are several network-based systems that allow musicians on stage or in the studio to set up their own personal monitor mixes, but MyMix make one of the most sophisticated I've tried to date.
Everything's centred around the MyMix unit you can see in the main picture, but there are also expansion units that enable you to feed further inputs into the network from, for example, a mixer's pre-fader outputs. Not only does the system cater for mixes comprising up to 16 input sources, it also allows the user to add effects, such as comfort reverb or delay, and to apply four-band parametric stereo EQ to the output. Furthermore, a card slot allows the mix to be recorded: up to 18 tracks (the 16 mix sources plus a stereo mix) of 24-bit, 48kHz time-stamped WAV files can be captured on a microSD, standard SD or SDHC card — which should be great for recording gigs to remix at home. There's also a Play Along mode that allows you to sing or play via two analogue inputs while hearing up to 14 tracks of audio that have been previously recorded on an SD card. This could be very useful for using recorded backing parts on stage, but also as a rehearsal tool.
Although an individual unit can perform basic functions on its own, the most common scenario is to have multiple units connected as a network via a commercially available network switcher. The system uses Cat 5 networking cable (Fast Ethernet, 100Mbps), and networks carrying fewer than 16 channels can be set up using standard 'unmanaged' Fast Ethernet switches. For those unfamiliar with switchers, MyMix list a number of suitable devices on their web site and have downloadable configuration files, though they can also provide pre-configured switchers if you prefer.
Each unit has two audio inputs, so they can accommodate performers who both play and sing, and every user has access to all sources (and stereo mixes) from other connected units once the network is set up. However, there's no signal 'thru' capability, so if you need to feed the units directly rather than feeding them from the monitor outputs of a mixing console, separate signal splitters are necessary. Note that the preset digital conversion protocol for the system is 24-bit, 48kHz.
To extend the capabilities of the system, IEX16 expander units (see the box for more information) can be added to the network. Each one of these brings in up to 16 line sources, either via analogue inputs or via a pair of ADAT optical ports. Each MyMix user can then select up to 16 sources based on any of the audio inputs feeding the other MyMix units on the system, or any of the sources feeding the expander. When hooking up multiple expanders to increase the number of audio channels on the network, bear in mind that each MyMix user can only choose a maximum of 16 channels from which to build their own monitor mix. But apart from that, you can, in theory, connect as many MyMix units as you're ever likely to need — with the only major limitation being the number of Ethernet switcher ports you have available.
A MyMix unit can be used on a desktop, or can be fitted with the included stand-mounting adaptor, allowing it to be set up on a mic stand. The designers have focused on ease of use, with everything being adjusted via a colour-screen interface and a very small number of controls. Each MyMix unit can be given its own name on the network, and sources feeding the MyMix can also be named. Each channel may be muted or soloed, and there's a master mute button for silencing all the channels at once. The ability to store multiple profiles means that settings can be stored for specific shows, such as a band tour or a musical production. The units always boot up showing the last-used setting.
There are actually two very slightly different versions of the MyMix, one for live applications and one for studio use — and when I say 'slightly', I mean it: but for a difference in the approach to cooling, they're identical. The live version is fitted with a fan that, although better at cooling, would almost certainly be too noisy for typical studio use, whereas the studio version has a larger heat sink and a much quieter fan, making it quieter but slightly less portable. It's still loud enough that it may be audible in some situations, though, and that's something I don't feel entirely comfortable about.
Both analogue inputs, located on the rear panel, are on XLR/jack 'combi' connectors, which can supply phantom power for condenser microphones. The headphone outlet is presented on a mini-jack on the side of the device, and this signal is duplicated to create the main line output, which is delivered on quarter-inch jacks. When connected to a network, a MyMix unit is powered via the network cable, which also plugs into the rear panel, but there's also an external power inlet for using the MyMix on its own. Two shallow knobs on the left side panel allow the input gains to be adjusted, and the SD card slot is located on the opposite panel.
By way of controls, there's a large rotary encoder with integral push switch, for navigating, selecting and adjusting the on-screen sections, a mute button, a record button and four 'tab' buttons down the right-hand side of the screen for selecting the corresponding on-screen functions. The input mode you select determines how other MyMix units on the same network handle your own local inputs. The stereo mode carries discrete left and right channels but is shown as a single channel as far as the network is concerned. The dual-mono mode operates as two separate channels on the network, while the mono mode utilises only the first of the two inputs and only that one shows up on the network — the second channel remains hidden when not in use. Finally, a 'None' mode tells the network that you are not using either physical input, so the device only receives signal sources from over the network. The effects section in each MyMix unit offers a choice of small, medium or large room or hall reverbs, or a user-tweakable delay. Each audio channel being monitored can have its own effect send level set.
Once all the connections are made and the system has been powered up , the data knob/button can be used to select on-screen items. Pushing the knob brings up a dialogue box with further choices for selection and adjustment. Navigation is essentially via the jog wheel and the four soft keys on the right side of the unit. Where the system is to be used for more than one application, the setup for each task can be saved as a 'Profile' via the settings menu, and up to 20 profiles can be stored. Any changes are stored automatically into the current profile, so there's no manual saving procedure. You can also name your MyMix unit in the settings menu, and this is the name by which other users will see you on the network. This is also where you choose which of the available sources feed your monitor mix. Input gains can be set using the two rotary trim controls and phantom power can, once again, be switched on via the settings menu. When 'Send Mix to Network' is turned on, the stereo mix of your own MyMix will be available to other MyMix units connected to the network. Selecting this option precludes you from selecting a mix from other units receiving your stereo mix (which would otherwise cause a feedback loop).
A mix is set up by using the wheel to select the channel you want to adjust, then pushing the wheel in to allow you to adjust volume, effects levels and pan for that channel. Mute and solo are always within easy reach via the 'soft' buttons, and any changes to the mixer settings are, again, automatically stored in the currently selected profile. When recording to a memory card (which must be SDA 2.0 compatible and formatted in the MyMix unit), recording is started and stopped using the record button; the individual tracks are saved in a session folder.
The technical specifications of the unit are impressive. There's a 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response, which is flat to within a couple of dB, and a signal-to-noise ratio of better than 104dB (THD+N) from mic in to line out. The latency is also quoted as being less than one millisecond.
I certainly experienced no problems with the sound quality, although, as I mentioned, I was a little concerned by the fan noise, low though it was, on the studio version. From a practical perspective, it could also be argued that having a 'mic thru' facility would have been useful, and some users may also find the screen size a little small, given all the information it needs to display, but then some compromises are necessary in order to keep the units down to a sensible size. I haven't tried the system under bright stage lighting but I'm also concerned that the display visibility might suffer.
I'm grateful to have been loaned a pre-configured system; I know about as much about Ethernet switchers as I do about haddock farming on Neptune! However, I can appreciate how the system architecture lends it a huge amount of flexibility, so as well as offering a monitoring solution to live and studio performers, MyMix also has obvious applications in multi-room facilities, and installations such as theatres where Green Room monitoring may be required.
The MyMix system is a serious technological undertaking and, accepting the limitations and caveats mentioned above, it has numerous applications where large-scale monitoring is required, and where individual users need to be able to adjust their own monitor mix. The inclusion of a recording facility might seem a little unnecessary, but I suspect that many live performers will take advantage of such a straightforward way to record a multitrack version of the proceedings. The expandability of the system is certainly impressive, offering, as it does, the capacity to connect more units than anyone is realistically likely to need. I really like the way basic effects are also included, as this allows singers to set up their own monitor reverb or delay.
On balance, then, this is both a technically impressive and user-friendly monitoring system, which is far more sophisticated than others I've tried. Unfortunately, though, it isn't close to being a budget solution, and in recording situations, the fan noise — even on the quieter studio version — could be a deal-breaker for some users.
The closest alternative is probably the Aviom Pro16 system, which can also mix 16 monitor feeds, allowing local user control, and the Hear Technologies Hearback system might do the job for some people. Although there are several simpler monitoring systems on the market, most have far fewer facilities.
If you need to feed additional sources to the network, for example, from a live-sound monitor desk or studio console's pre-fade sends, you'll need one or more IEX 16L expander units. There are actually two variants of this: the IEX 16L, and the IEX 16L-A. Both connect to the source audio signals via a pair of DB25 connectors (wired to the common Tascam pin-out protocol), and are designed to accept line-level signals. Additional digital gain of +6dB and +12dB is available on each channel. Signals fed into an IEX 16L can be designated as mono or stereo signal pairs and can be named so that they appear on the network in the same way as inputs from other MyMix units. The 16L-A variant can accept up to 16 input channels via a pair of ADAT optical connectors.
- Extremely flexible, with the ability to expand up to a very large system.
- User-friendly interface.
- Memory card recording function built in.
- Reverb and delay effects can be added to any of the monitor mix sources.
- Some fan noise is audible, even on the quieter studio version.
- No signal 'thru' connections.
The MyMix system is an impressive technical achievement offering a practical solution to the problems posed by large-scale monitoring. Usefully, an individual unit could also be used in live performance by those needing to play back pre-recorded parts.
Shure Distribution +44 (0) 1992 703058.