On the Road
Music U.K.'S P.A. Test
Carlsbro P.A., EV Mikes & Evans Echo
PA CHECK NO. 1.
CARLSBRO PRO 2x12H CABS, MONITOR WEDGES, 300 & 150 AMPS, E-V MICROPHONES & EVANS SUPER ECHO.
BAND: THE BOUNCING CZECHS.
I should like to start this piece, with your permission, by making an assumption. To wit, that the very fact you are reading this ostensibly technical review on PA probably means that over the past few months you have been keeping an eye on our Home Recording series. A fair assumption is it not? I would also imagine that as you have waded through the written stream of information and generally good stuff, things of a technical nature which previously were wont to strain the old bean have now become clear as spring water. We have, I must confess, received a generally excellent reaction to the series and indeed look forward to hearing any further comments which you might have regarding the same. In the meantime however, we at Music U.K. continue to make a stout effort towards creating a genuinely more informative script, and with precisely that objective in mind we offer you, what we hope is to be the first of many, PA checks. (Blast of trumpets. Cries of 'God Save the King', Gallant lads march off to teach the empire a lesson etc.'— Ed.)
In these articles we hope to be able to put various PA equipment components in some kind of real gig environments, so that as real life problems arise, we can report on how the equipment coped. As far as it can be, it is the PA equivalent of the 8-track set-ups involved in our Home Recording Series, although due to the difficulties involved with arranging a suitable test venue, the articles will not be as regular. And so to business.
It would be wrong to suggest that the 'Bouncing Czechs' are a rock band. Their line-up consists of bass, guitar, acoustic and electric piano and four part vocals. This is not a heavy band ladies and gentlemen. They are however the funniest and most musically slick outfit I can ever remember seeing, and anyway who else would have risked a completely unknown PA system on a series of important London dates? They present a hysterical parody of the music and idioms of the 'thirties and 'forties through a bunch of original songs of that era plus a number of songs written in that style by the band. With such a sparse line up, a clear full sound, with highly intelligible vocals is very important, and so we reckoned all in all that it was a very fair test.
The gear on test consisted of a range of Electro-Voice microphones, speakers from Carlsbro's Procab Series, plus a Carlsbro M300 amp to drive them, a pair of Carlsbro monitor extension wedges together with a M150 amp and finally an Evans Super Echo.
Electro-Voice have recently appointed Shuttlesound Ltd as their sole U.K. importers and distributors, and I suspect, after my dealings with director Tony Oaks, that it's going to mark the end of an era in which EV have maintained somewhat of a low profile in this country.
The first thing you notice about most of the EV mikes is the ruggedness of their construction. Certain of the models, finished in non-reflective grey appeared to me to be similar to World War Two German hand grenades, though I have to confess to having had little experience of such explosive devices! Of the seven mikes in my care three were from the 'Pro-Line' series, two were from the 'Professional Microphones' series with the two remaining coming under the heading of 'General Purpose Microphones.' Those are the three categories under which you will find all EV mikes, and in fact many of the 'Pro-Line' mikes are identical to the respective 'Professional' mike.
The prices given here are simply recommended retail prices inc. VAT and will vary considerably from from dealer to dealer depending upon the discounts available in each case.
Starting with the most expensive at around £167.90, this was probably the best of the crop. The 1777 is a high quality cardioid electret condenser, and it was this mike which reminded me of what I thought a German hand grenade might be like. The unit's grip unscrews to reveal a PX21, 4.5v battery positioned in a tubular metal case — I felt like I was assembling one of those high powered assassin's pistols! Perhaps I've just gone weapon mad, but those around me had to agree the thing was solid. The almost spherical windshield also unscrews to reveal heavy internal foam padding. The mesh basket is also very heavy duty, and it was suggested that we should have a game of conkers using a selection of other manufacturers' mikes as the ultimate durability test. Well, it's an idea, but I know where my money would be. The unit's response was excellent, giving a clear, bright sound with a warm bottom end which increased, due to the infamous proximity effect (see Home Recording Pt 4 in issue 9) which lent itself well to lead vocals, especially hand held. On the other hand you'll need to have fairly strong arms to hold it up over a long period. It has a recessed on/off switch for which you need a biro or similar to shift it. This is great to stop accidental switching, but quite appalling if, at the last minute you haven't switched it on and you haven't got a biro!
My second favourite was the PL80: a super cardioid with a similar shape to the 1777, but having a squared off windshield. Again, very ruggedly constructed with a warm but bright, clear response and a general feeling of tough reliability. I wouldn't worry too much if I dropped it. Due to the tight confines of the theatre in which the performance took place, feedback was an ever present problem, and the super cardioid pattern was excellent in keeping this to a minimum. Price around £139.15.
Coming down in price, we have the PL88L. This is a simple cardioid dynamic with the classic shape in the SM58 style — or is the SM58 in the PL88L style? Anyway, for around £65.00, it really is an excellent performer, equipped once again with a windshield you could hammer nails in with, and an on/off switch, so that you can shout at the rest of the band between numbers.
The following three mikes are of a more delicate nature, although they still look as if you could drop them without problems. The RE11 is from the 'Professional' range, and incorporates an EV system of pointing called 'variable D' which makes it all but immune to the proximity effect. This together with it's super cardioid response pattern and its flat frequency response, not to mention its small size, makes it a good choice for miking up instruments where fidelity of reproduction is of great importance. Price around £147.20.
The next one is the PL95. This unit is noteably less sensitive as compared to the others, and I found it rather unresponsive, although I think it might have something to do with the desk I was using. Also, although it looks quite elegant, it's a little top heavy for hand held use. Price, around £103.50.
The 635A is an omni-directional mike from the 'Professional' range, and is the smallest of the batch. For PA work, an omni pattern has few applications, and although the response of this unit is good, I don't think it has a place in a band's limited mike stock. Price, around £96.60.
"...THE SOUND, WHICH DUE TO THE EXTREME 'LIVELINESS' OF THE SHOW WAS PRONE TO EXTREME PEAKS..."
The final item was a tie-clip condenser mike. No, it doesn't condense ties, it clips to them or anything else for that matter, (ouch! Ed). In this case I used it on the acoustic piano, positioned with the help of an improvised frame and gaffer tape, a few millimetres away from the inside of the piano body lid, actually facing the lid. The idea was to simulate a PZM mike, by allowing the mike to receive sound from-the surface of the lid, and diminish the problem of reflected sound. It worked well in this instance, but it relied on a fairly low level on stage of sound to maintain acoustic isolation.
Power Amp 5300M (RRP £329.76)
2 x 122H150 cabs (RRP £352.93 per pair)
2 x monitor extension 75 watt cabs (RRP £150.97) and M150 slave (RRP £182.34).
I've been given cause over the last few months to deal a lot with Carlsbro, and I am continually impressed by their service, professionalism and efficiency. All their equipment has a very sleek appearance, and the lot I had performed well.
Our main amp was an S300M, stereo, modular unit, which included Carlsbro's optional SCLF (stereo compresser limiter, high pass filter) module. The amp will deliver 105 watts into 8 ohms or, as was the case in this instance, 150 watts into 4 ohms per side.
Carlsbro use a lot of modern plastics in the construction of their equipment which make it very robust, relatively lightweight, and cosmetically appealing. Together with an excellent sonic performance, these features go to make up a very attractive, reliable package, and excellent value for money.
All inputs and outputs are on matt black XLR's, with the inputs being electronically balanced. There are basically two sides to the front panel of the amp: to the right is the power amp section with a male and female socket providing line in and a line level link out for another amp or device. On the far right each channel has a pair of male output XLR's, allowing twin 8 ohm speakers to be connected to gain the full 150 watts. Between the sockets each channel has a separate volume control marked simply 1 — 10, and a LED to show clipping.
The left hand side of the unit is where the compressor module plugs in, and there is also available a mono compressor with variable crossover module available if that suits your needs better. The only control for the SCLF is a threshold adjustment marked in volts rather than dB from 0.5v to 2.5v. If you have your calculator, log book or slide rule (you remember slide rules) you can convert these voltages to dB. On the other hand in practice you simply set the level on the desk at which you require the limiter to apply the 'negative wellie' to coin a phrase, and then adjust the threshold until the limit LED comes on: simplicity itself. The result was a noticeable tightening up of the sound, which is due to the extreme 'liveliness' of the show, was prone to extreme peaks here and there. The device is a hard limiter though, rather than a compresser, and its main function is to stop any nasty spikes or very low frequencies, ie below 30Hz, getting through to the speakers. It works very well.
Our main speakers were the 2x12 with a flared horn and piezo tweeter, from the 'Pro Cab' range of professional speaker systems. Here again the construction was very solid and used a lot of plastic protective edge strips and corners, plus a tough protective speaker grill sporting the Carlsbro name. Although not light, I was able to lift a cab onto its telescopic stand on my own, although if you then wanted to raise the stand, you probably need help. The stands are also well made and really quick and easy to erect. The telescopic part is fixed at a given height by simply screwing a T bar bolt through the main frame into the telescopic arm. This may not be as slick as a ratchet type of arrangement, but it's so much more reliable and inexpensive, and with bolt in position, you can be pretty sure the speaker's going to stay where you put it. Stand price, £53.71.
The amp I used for the foldback was a mono slave, a Carlsbro Ml50, providing 105 watts into 8 ohms and 150 watts into 4 ohms. Connections are unbalanced via jack sockets on the back panel. The front panel has a 12 LED display showing you how hard you are driving the output, and when you're going over the top, in which case a volume control is provided.
The monitor wedges were the unpowered extension cabs, although powered units are also available. They contained a single 12in driver plus a flared HF horn, and were constructed to this maker's high standards.
The whole system performed very well both sonically, and in terms of roadability. A lunchtime show meant that most of the system had to be collapsed and re-rigged each day, and it was all really very easy. Design details such as the spring back, recessed plastic handles and the plastic mouldings on the amps which allow rigid stacking all go together to make a really professional system. It's recommended.
(RRP £298.34 inc. VAT)
A simple tape echo device with three playback heads plus a short spring reverb unit. There are three universal switchable mic/line inputs on ¼in phone jacks, each with a volume control and effect on/off switch — useful facilities if you're not using a full facility mixer. Each playback head has a separate output, and you can access each one individually or in any combination, eg 1 & 2, 1 & 3, 2 & 3, etc, so that you can have various combinations of repeat echo. There is also a tape speed control, but due to the spacing of the heads, the longest delay is still well under 1 second, and it would have been nice to have a longer option (as the actress was reported to have commented to the vicar). On the other hand, the available delay meets most needs, and with the feedback control some very nice repeat effects can be created. The reverb spring, of necessity is rather short, and hence the effect is limited in quality. However, considering the fact that you have a very flexible tape delay and a usable reverb device, this has got to be extraordinary value for money, and if you're looking at buying a Roland or similar, take a look at this first. You can also put the tape delay in line after the spring, creating some interesting repeat reverb effects. A switchable output level control allows you to use the device in a number of different situations, and it would be well suited to both instrument/stack applications and as a piece of PA ancillary equipment.
Overall the whole system worked extremely well and is recommended, either individually or as a package.
Feature by Nobby Line
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