Frazer Wyatt ZX100P
Paul Francis in cult classic Frazerhead!
As my learned colleague Bob Henrit astutely observed recently '...percussion amplification systems would appear to be the growth area as far as manufacturers are concerned'.
Frazer Wyatt has built a system to accommodate the frequency and dynamic demands of electronic drums and has dealt effectively with the basic problems of sound reproduction for them. As was mentioned in the recent review of the Trace Elliot EPAS 400 System and Simmons SDC200, huge dynamic range, bass response and ferocious transients are the main culprits and it is interesting to delve a little into how Frazer Wyatt have tamed them.
For about the last 40 years speaker cabinet design has been pretty much the same and has fallen into roughly two categories: the standard compact box type and the reflex system. Good response and effective propagation of the sound have always been high on the list of requirements.
The dynamic range and bass response, specifically regarding bass drum response, has been the chief headache in electronic drum sound reproduction. Frazer Wyatt have dropped the resonance of the cabinet to a sub-audible 15 Hz so that any troughs in the bottom end are imperceptible. Air movement is crucial when reproducing what amounts to an explosion in the lows, but instead of expecting the excursion of the speaker to do the donkey work (as is usual) a strategically placed partition moulds or controls the air which in turn reduces the cone displacement to a quarter of what is normal, or alternatively allows the driver, a Fane 15", to move four times the usual amount of air.
This has been dubbed the Powair Acoustic System by Frazer Wyatt, and although I have outlined the basic idea, much of the computer design and electroacoustic theory is still shrouded in mystery. Never mind the intrigue, what about the sound? The bass is wonderfully clear, is tonally very attractive across the spectrum, and is projected powerfully and without any hint of mud at all. In effect what has happened is that rather than focus exclusively on the components for good sound reproduction, a good deal of attention has been given to utilising the airspace within the enclosure in conjunction with the components. The partition not only assists the sound propagation as I have already described, but it also neutralises the problem of air interfering with the sound coming from the rear of the cone.
The ZX100P combo is straightforward to use with a very simple set of controls. The bass and treble pots are responsive but the honest reproduction that this unit offers prompted me to make only minor tonal adjustments, as Simmons, Pearl, U/P and an array of drum machines sounded as good as I've ever heard.
The two-way sensitivity switch functions at 100mV and 0 dBm and there is a Link/Monitor output which offers the facility of units being used in parallel.
The gain control brings me to another major design feature by Frazer Wyatt, this time christened Expanded Headroom Dynamics (EHD). When maximum loudness is reached a green indicator lamp on the control panel changes to red, although this does not necessitate adjustment as clipping or distortion is prevented by an internal circuit which automatically engages at 80 watts.
There are two ways of looking at the EHD principle. The first is to say that the ZX100P is an 80 watt amp with an extra 5dB of headroom and the second is to look at it as a 250 watt amp with an electronic gain control that prevents the continuous power from exceeding 80 watts.
If an amp has been built to handle a continuous or sustained level, then the spikes are usually driven to clipping, which in the case of electronic drums would be disastrous. Compression is a solution but dissipates the dynamics, again offering an unsatisfactory result in the case of drums.
Because of the intrinsic nature of a drum waveform, peak power is going to be of more importance than continuous power which applies to instruments of a less overtly dynamic nature such as guitars or keyboards. Peak power to mean power ratio is approximately 8dB under 5kHz and it is this relationship of peaks and sustained levels which gives us music. A good power to music signal or honest reproduction is the obvious aim of any manufacturer, and Frazer Wyatt has reached that target comfortably, with a possible 500 watts of peak power (not continuous) being available.
The amp is a single channel MOSFET-type built by Axess of Session fame, the remaining back panel features being a mains on/off switch, fuse and IEC mains input.
The Fane 15" bass unit and moving coil horn tweeter cross over at 5kHz and the frequency range is 30Hz-16kHz.
Because of the lack of products readily available to compare with the ZX100P, Trace Elliot's EPAS 400 System will just have to suffice.
First and foremost the price difference is enormous — £1,674 for the EPAS and £382 for the ZX100P, which would also indicate a considerable gap in quality. The area that stood out for me was in the definition. The sheer size of the EPAS coupled with the sophisticated eq and stereo imaging facilities gave very clear definition across the spectrum.
The ZX100P cannot be criticised too heavily on this point because, considering its size, it has surprisingly good definition although, because of the obvious limitations of a single cabinet, it did rather 'cramp' any stereo effect. The response was great from both systems and only the greater output from the EPAS really separated the two.
This compact, excellently designed unit has tackled some formidable electro-acoustic problems and emerged triumphant. The size and price make it immediately accessible to the working drummer and the extent that Frazer Wyatt have researched their product can only really be justified by the results which are exceptional.
Frazer Wyatt ZX100P - RRP: £382
Review by Paul Francis
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