On the Road
On the Road, the second of our practical reviews of a P.A. package
PA CHECK NO. 2
OVAL 16:2 SERIES III SOUND MIXER, KUDOS 653 SPEAKERS, YAMAHA P2200 POWER AMPLIFIER.
BAND: THE BOUNCING CZECHS.
In last month's action packed issue I offered to you the first of an occasional series of 'PA Check' features in which I outlined my exploits with a musical outfit called 'The Bouncing Czecks.' Yes, I thought it was a silly name when I first heard it, but it does grow on you when you get to know the act. International mega-stardom has, to date, eluded The Czecks, but their two week run at the Kings Head, a small North London theatre, won them high critical acclaim from all but a few of the major papers and even 'Time Out' liked them! (Big deal! Ed.) So it was then that two weeks after the end of their first run, they were back by public demand for a second two week stint, and it seemed to me to be an ideal opportunity to stick another small PA system into the same venue, which by this time I had come to know fairly well.
Last month, due to the fact that I was introducing this new series, there was little room for any description of the venue, and so this month, for those of you who lay Claim to cultural interests beyond the call of rock'n' roll, let me open your eyes to a little theatre which generally presents the more acceptable face of 'Fringe' to its patrons. The Kings Head Theatre lies behind the pub of the same name in Upper Street, Islington, and has, over the years, built up an excellent reputation for its high standard of shows including a good number of in-house productions. It is more or less a cabaret set up, offering an optional meal before the evening show, with table seating for around one hundred and fifty. You will have gathered by now that we are not talking about a large theatre, and in fact non-musical productions or shows with an occasional tune, can be put on without a PA system, as long as the artiste has a loud voice, and the people at the back have good hearing. The Czecks on the other hand are 90% music, which includes several fifties rock'n'roll numbers where volume and a degree of repeat echo on the vocals is a must. The thrust of the stage is such that the performers and the PA have to cover an angle of about 250°, and so the positioning of the speakers for maximum coverage and minimum physical and visual obtrusiveness is verging on the critical. The format of the Kudos 653 units was ideal for this application, where quality and coverage were more important than high sound pressure levels.
As I said last month, the Czecks are certainly not a rock band, but not one of the many friends who came to see the show, most of whom would have been generally more at home at the Hammersmith Odeon staring at a wall of Martin/JBL, were disappointed with what they saw. All the members of the band have done a lot of TV and recording work in the past, and this project started out, as do all the best ones, simply because they wanted to do it, whether it made money or not.
The industry's reaction has been excellent, they have done a number of television appearances and tours of foreign parts have been rumoured. So regardless of your taste in music or theatre, if you get a chance, you really ought to 'check out The Czecks'. (Wow, sometimes I get to thinking I'm just too hip for the mag, you know?)
Oval is an English company based in Lancing, Sussex. It was formed in 1975 by directors Len Blann, who handles the technical side of the business, and Terry Storm who takes care of the artwork, casing and general cosmetics. They do a smallish range of mixers, mixer amps, power amps and auxiliary equipment, all of which is excellent value for money. There have been a number of small PA mixer manufacturers going down the tubes recently, and the choice for a gigging band with a moderate budget is somewhat limited. I first came across Oval mixers back in the seventies whilst looking around for equipment for a permanent theatre installation, and even then I was very impressed with the standard of workmanship and the amazingly low price.
It seems strange to me that the company has not had more success with their products in this country (although they do very well abroad) and if you're looking for a basic facility, high quality PA mixer, I strongly suggest that you check them out before making a decision.
Both 16:2 and 12:2 formats are available in the 'Professional' range, and a 16:4:2 is soon to be put on the market aimed at the small recording set up. The 16:2 loaned to me for review is identical to the 12:2 version except for the extra four input channels. It's not a particularly stunning looking unit, with each channel having the fairly standard array of knobs: from top to bottom, input gain, four fixed bands of equalisation, a pre-fade fold-back send, a post-fade effects send, a pan control and the main channel fader. All controls have the usual type of colour coded plastic knobs as found on at least 90% of budget mixers. Until a little while ago the desk was all modular, but to keep the price down this has been discontinued, and each channel's PCB is bussed to the next, making their removal a job for a man who knows his solder. The bottom panel is easily removed for access.
Each channel has a PFL (pre-fade listen) button which brings the relevant channel up on the headphone output. Unusually, these buttons were of the momentary kind, as opposed to latching, which meant that I had to keep pressure on the buttons while I wanted to listen. It is possible to listen to any number of channels at one time, depending upon how many fingers you might have spare at the time, but future models are to be fitted with latching buttons. Whilst a PFL button is standard on most better quality mixers, some surprisingly highly priced units omit them. This, as far as I'm concerned, is unforgivable for a PA mixer, especially when it's being used for one nighters where the ability to quickly go through each channel to check that a signal is reaching the desk, just before the performance starts, is vital. Also, if something starts making strange noises or rumblings half way through the show, a PFL facility can be invaluable in tracing the source of the problem. Don't be seen mixing without one!
The EQ section has four bands with fixed centre frequencies at 50Hz, 500Hz, 2.5kHz and 12.5kHz. Not a bad choice of frequencies, although I would have thought that the bass control could have been more useful an octave or so up, somewhere past the 100Hz mark. As it is, the control is useful for pulling out rumble, but at the same time, it also accentuates the same rumble together with vocal popping sounds, when you try and add some warmth to a sound by bringing up the bottom end. Here again though, Oval gets points for at least marking the centre frequencies next to the controls, rather than just giving 'bass', 'lo', 'mid', 'hi mid' and 'treble' indications. Even if it is, as some manufacturers say, impossible to be precise with low cost Eq circuits, it does give a reasonably accurate indication of what you are going to be affecting, and for an outside engineer who's new to the desk, that can be very important, especially when you might get a bass control centred as low as 50Hz. The 12.5kHz control was effective for putting the velvet into vocals and the sparkle into certain instruments; the 2.5kHz band was designed specifically with vocal clarity in mind, and will indeed open up the sound of a voice or put a touch of hardness into an instrument; the 500Hz control is basically a fairly low middle filter and you would probably find it most useful for pulling out the honky middle characteristic found with some low cost speakers and microphones.
All the mike inputs are balanced and are available on either jacks or XLR sockets. A padded version of the same input is also available on a jack socket below the mike input, for line level sources. Although this line level input is balanced, the insertion of an unbalanced jack will allow it to be used with an unbalanced source with no problem. The inputs are mounted on the the top panel, above the input gain controls. Whether this is better or worse than having them on the rear panel is a matter of personal preference. It's certainly neater having them on the back, but if something goes wrong mid show you find yourself suddenly appreciative of the fact that all the connectors are clearly in view!
The metering is via a pair of ten way LED ladder displays which can be switched to read the level pre and post the main stereo faders. LED displays are far more convenient than standard moving coil meters, especially when you might find yourself with very low light conditions, and by the use of different coloured LED's it is possible to see at a glance the level of the output. Another nice touch was the four band Eq on the foldback output, and it was also nice to have a fader control for the foldback master control.
Everything was neatly laid out and clearly marked; internal wiring was neat, operation was simple and noise levels were very acceptable. All in all an excellent unit for a medium priced system.
Most PA pundits, on spotting the 653's, will ask if they are a new Bose model based on the famous 802's. This confusion is not entirely surprising, as it really would appear that Kudos have brought these little chaps onto the market in direct competition with them. The first, and for many readers undoubtedly the most important, difference between the two make's is that the Kudos are almost half the price of the Bose 'on the road'!
The 653's look and feel very nice, with a black furry nylon covering, rugged moulded plastic corner and edge protection, solid, recessed plastic carrying handle on the top, and a complement of six full range 5in drivers mounted on a three face baffle protected by a tough metal grille. There is a hole in the bottom of the cabinet with a casting for stand mounting.
Although the furry nylon covering is cosmetically attractive, it wouldn't look quite so wonderful after it had been kicked around a Transit a few times, and I think a simpler, tougher finish would have been better, as it also has to act as a flight case. It would also be nice to see an optional bolt-on attachment for hanging the units rather than putting them on stands. This is a very common method of mounting for this type of speaker and was indeed what I decided to do in the case of the Kings Head. All that would be necessary would be four tapped bolt holes in the the top of the cabinet ready to take a flying attachment; it wouldn't need to make the basic unit any more expensive. As it was I simply put a couple of standard 'G clamps' as used for hanging stage lights, end to end, and looped one end through the speaker handle and the other over the far end of a lighting bar — or barrel, to use the correct terminology. This actually worked well in this case, but it was partly luck, as I had no control over the angle at which the units hung.
The models I had were fitted with a pair of jack sockets to allow connection to an amplifier plus linking to another speaker unit, but I inderstand that both jack and XLR sockets are to be fitted to future units for extra versatility. Each speaker is capable of handling 160watts RMS, and although they're not all that efficient, they are still quite loud for their size and give out a very acceptable sound.
The Bose 802's have to be used with a purpose built equaliser unit which is inserted between the mixer and the power amp. Without this equaliser, they sound very dull and middley, and although the Kudos sounds much better than the uncorrected Bose, I think that a similar approach would be advantageous in their case. The frequency response curve shows a steep drop off above 7kHz and below 100Hz, and there is a bit of a trough around the 3kHz area, which is important for intelligibility of speech. Having said that, I believe that an equaliser unit is at present being designed, and with this in the circuit, and the possibility of a hanging attachment, I think that the lower price of the Kudos system could offer a serious threat to the monopoly at present held by Bose, especially to those for whom budget is of great importance.
Everything about this unit feels solid and performs well, but then for £850.00 it should do! It's a stereo unit capable of developing 240w per side, continuous into 8ohms, and interestingly enough the large illuminated meters on the front show peak watts into 8ohms, which I guess is a more pertinent reading to have on a power amp than the standard VU's. The mains on/off switch and the two detented gain controls recessed into the front panel are extremely positive in operation and feel as though failure is pretty much out of the question.
The Yamaha P2200 is a 7in high, standard rack mounting unit, covered on both sides by large heat sinks which allow it to operate without a cooling fan, resulting in less ambient noise — a factor more important in studio applications than PA.
The rear panel provides unbalanced inputs on both male and female XLR's plus standard phone jacks. The age old problem with unbalanced lines using XLR's is the choice of pin connections: Pin 1 is always ground, but the choice of pins 2 or 3 as hot is fairly arbitrary in practice. In their wisdom Yamaha have fitted a pin reversal switch allowing either pin 2 or 3 to be selected. This may seem to be an incredibly obvious and simple addition to make, but anyone who's ever been caught with a mixer/amp/speaker pin mismatch and very little time, will understand when I say it brought tears of joy to my eyes to see it! Why doesn't every amplifier, mixer and speaker manufacturer include such a switch in their products?
As if to balance their brilliance in the XLR department, they have provided binding posts — that's where you wrap the wire around the lug and screw it up — for the outputs without the facility for banana plugs. This is an extraordinary omission, and I one which caused me personally a fair amount of hassle. Apart from that though, it's a very professionally constructed unit, with excellent specs, more than adequate protection, and a very good reputation in the professional PA world. If you can afford the notably high price, you won't regret it! Once again Shuttle Sound were kind enough to lend us the same selection of Electro-Voice mikes as used in the last PA Check, and once again I came away very impressed. The heavy duty capacitor mike model PL77B was again far and away my favourite, and I actually used it as a hammer to help rebuild the set one night when I'd left my tool box at home! No, you're quite right, I didn't really, but I reckon I probably would have got some kind of sound out of it if I had!
The system worked well; the Oval and the Kudos units are well matched in price and standard, although I think that the Yamaha is probably a little pricey for the average semi-pro band. The Oval mixer will see you through several system upgrades, and the Kudos, especially with an Eq unit, is a very economical, transportable vocal/acoustic PA. As with the Bose, it is possible to stack a great number of the 653's together to provide a few kilowatts of PA, but it seems to me that that tends to miss the point of having such a compact system. For a small system though, they are excellent value for money.
Feature by Nobby Line
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