Samson hope to prove that affordable speakers needn't compromise on sound, with their new Auro range of active PA speakers.
The latest in Samson's established line of portable powered cabinets are the Auro speakers, a range currently comprising eight‑inch, 12‑inch and 15-inch two‑way models (the D208, D412 and D415, respectively), and an 18‑inch powered subwoofer known as the Auro D1800. In brief, the Auro D412 is an integrated, active speaker with a total of 250W RMS bi‑amplified power, and a quoted maximum SPL of 125dB (at 1m). It's ported, but only one of the vents on the front panel is open; the other is blocked off. The D1800 reflex sub has a 500W RMS amplifier, a frequency range of 30Hz to 135Hz (±3dB), and a maximum SPL of 125dB. I tried out a pair of the D412 speakers with a single D1800 sub, and spent a few days getting to know them and discovering what they could do.
The first thing I noticed about the D412 was its relatively compact size: powered, two‑way speakers do vary between manufacturers, but the Auro D412 is just about the smallest design I've come across with a 12‑inch driver on board. It's pleasant enough in appearance, and has that slightly rounded look typical of many modern, moulded‑polypropylene speakers, although the front panel is completely flat, which is fairly unusual and highly practical for transportation and storage. The cabinet is moulded with two differently angled side panels, so that not only can it be laid on its side and used as a floor monitor, but it offers a choice of 'wedge tilt' depending on which side is in contact with the floor. For normal live stage work, the standard 45‑degree angle is fine, but lower angles are often useful for monitors in theatre productions, especially when the performers are well upstage and the monitors have to be some distance away. The flat front means it also has a flat steel grille, which might have been a point of weakness, but I'm pleased to say that the Auro D412 is equipped with a good, strong piece of metalwork that doesn't flex much even when pushed quite hard. The grille is not all that big, as it only covers the 12‑inch driver, not the 90 x 60‑degree horn mouth that forms part of the cabinet moulding.
At a shade over 16kg (35lbs), the D412 isn't the lightest speaker out there, size‑for‑size, but it's easy to lift and carry around, mainly thanks to its two full‑size side handles, which are strong and comfortably shaped for lifting or carrying. The enclosure is well finished, all the external parts fit snugly together, and it looks as if it would handle quite a bit of rough treatment.
On the underside of the cabinet is a standard pole socket with a wheel‑type clamping screw, and three round feet, which are rather hard and don't provide much in the way of grip (I'd have preferred a softer rubber material). However, they do locate positively in three matching 'sockets' on the top of another D412, so that they can be stacked — I'm not sure I'd use them in this way but it's actually a useful storage feature!
The D412's rear panel is very simple, and provides two balanced input connectors (one TRS standard jack and the other an XLR), which feed the single input channel, and can be fed by line or mic sources. Three rotary controls provide adjustment of input level and low/high EQ: the bass control operates an 80Hz shelving circuit, and treble does the same at 12kHz.
Apart from the on/off switch and an IEC mains connector, the only other features of the rear panel are LEDs indicating power on and signal clip, and an XLR output that is connected directly to the input and allows an onward connection to be made to one or more additional speakers, or to a separate remote system. I can never decide whether I prefer more or fewer features on these portable powered speakers; on an affordable product such as the D412 you wouldn't expect too many bells and whistles, but the inclusion of a simple RCA phono stereo input for replay (an iPod or CD player) would have made this a real one‑box solution for many solo performers who use backing tracks.
The input circuitry, crossover, protection circuitry and power amps are all housed within a single module, which is mounted in a recess on the rear of the cabinet, and I took it apart to have a quick look inside. Interestingly, the amp heat-sink sits inside the cabinet, rather than on the outside on the rear panel, and dissipates heat into the space behind the drivers (which shouldn't be a problem with an efficient amp design at this kind of power level). Consequently, the rear panel itself doesn't really get warm during operation. The whole module is enclosed in a sturdy steel casing and the circuit board is neither exposed nor visible without further disassembly, which has to be a plus point in terms of protection and safety. As the drivers are accessible with the amp module removed, I could also see that the speaker wiring was neat and securely connected with good‑sized cable.
Both drivers have large ferrite magnet assemblies (which accounts for much of the D412's overall weight), and the 12‑inch paper cone feels rigid and very strong. It's good to know that the drivers can be reached without having to split the whole cabinet into two parts, which, on most moulded cabs, requires lots of patience and a very long screwdriver!
Before powering up the D412s I unpacked the D1800 subwoofer, which is a substantial item, although probably about as compact as it could be with an 18‑inch driver. It's a solidly built, 18mm‑plywood cabinet finished in a textured black coating. A punched‑steel grille covers the whole of the front, and although this is much larger than that on the D412, it still seemed strong enough to withstand a few road knocks, and didn't flex much or produce any rattles when I rocked the cab from side to side on a hard floor.
The D1800 weighs 41kg and, in spite of having two very large, strong handles, it is really a two‑person lift, simply because of its dimensions. A set of decent‑quality, three‑inch castors is supplied, and these just need screwing in place using the T‑nuts (which are already installed). Once these are fitted, it's as easy to move around as any other 18-inch sub. I liked the more rubbery feet on the D1800, which provided good grip on a shiny floor, although I did have a bit of trouble with the pole socket, which is mounted on the top surface. It's a standard 35mm socket but, short of hammering them in, I couldn't get it to accept three out of the four different poles I tried. On closer inspection, it seems to be made from, or at least lined with, some sort of plastic material, rather than metal, and the inside surface feels a bit rough and has a slight ridge running around at the top. It's not a deal‑breaker by any means, but a better‑quality fitting would be nice to have.
The amp module is mounted inside a large recess on the rear and features a level control, as well as a polarity‑invert switch. There are two inputs and a choice of full‑range or high‑pass outputs (the latter filtered at 12dB per octave, at 126Hz). If you were using one subwoofer per side, only one input would be used, and the corresponding filtered output fed to a D412 mounted above. Using a single sub with two speakers, both the left and right outputs feed their respective mid-range/high-frequency speakers, and the subwoofer inputs are summed to mono internally.
I rigged up the pair of D412 speakers without the sub and fed them with a selection of test tracks for a first listen. I started off with the EQ controls at their mid-point setting (there's a slight detent on the pots, which I find reassuring), and ran various types of material through the speakers, at levels ranging from very discreet right up to clip‑light territory. After giving myself time to get used to the D412s, I found that I needed to back off the top end and upper mid-range (on my mixer) to achieve the sort of sound I was after, and when I took them out into the open air, I didn't need to put this back in. With a vocal mic, they sounded clean and clear, and would be ideal for open‑air announcements, services and the like.
For speakers with such a small cabinet size, the D412s put out a remarkable amount of bass, which sounded pretty smooth and under control, apart from when they were being driven very hard, at which point I felt that they were trying to move just a bit too much air for their size. With a very punchy track, at loud but sensible volume, the D412s' ports were breathing hard, yet they handled the dynamics well and maintained a balanced sound, with the clip light just tracking the peaks.
Out of interest, I ran pink noise through them and measured the output as around 118dB (at 1m in a carpeted but reflective room) when the clip LED came on. It turns out that this is actually a warning point, not the absolute maximum output. At the other end of the scale, there's some hiss and noise at idle (with a single speaker at 1m, I measured a difference of 4dB between 'off' and idle, with the level fully down and EQ centred), but this would only be noticeable in a quiet environment.
For the next test, I hooked up the sub and ran the three speakers as a system, using the high‑pass outputs from the D1800 to feed the D412s. After much listening in the workshop, then taking the rig out to a covers-band rehearsal, then back to the workshop, my personal settings formula was to set the sub level to one o'clock and the tops to 11 o'clock, with the D412's treble at 10 o'clock and the bass slap in the middle.
The D1800 produces a very solid and thumpy bass, and allows the D412s to concentrate on the mid-range and high frequencies, releasing a respectable amount of audio output. During the outdoor test, I had daisy‑chained the two D412s to demonstrate them to a friend who does a lot of public‑address work at charity events, but isn't really into the technical side of things and prefers 'plug and play' wherever possible. It was a simple matter to connect the two D412s using the link output and, as it's a balanced connection, they could be placed a fair distance apart with long cabling. Because the output is a direct 'passive' link, the first speaker's volume and EQ settings don't affect the second speaker, so they can be set up independently to provide coverage in two different areas. My friend's current equipment doesn't facilitate this, so it went down very well, and he wandered happily around the site with a radio mic, making announcements and keeping us amused. The pair of D412s delivered lots of level and clarity, and their robust construction and relatively small size made them ideal for this sort of work.
The Auro powered speakers are attractive in their simplicity, they are affordably priced, and they deliver plenty of power for small and medium‑sized venues. The D412s are very compact, easy to set up, and sound very crisp, but offer plenty of bass even when used without a subwoofer.
When the D412s and the D1800 sub are deployed together, they deliver a lot of sound for the size and money, and would be well worth a close look if you're after something straightforward, easy to handle, and with more than enough output for smaller venues.
Rather than only being 'affordable', I'd describe the Samson Auro range as being good value for money, while also offering high-quality sound.
Offering a similar level of price and performance are the Alto TS range, Studiomaster's VPX speakers, the Mackie Thump series and Laney's CX models.