Dangerous Music Monitor ST/SR

In October ‘06, I received a call from longtime client Sammy Hagar to mix a St. Louis performance of “Sammy and The Wabos” and “The Other Half” in 5.1 for an upcoming dual-pronged broadcast on HDNet and, later, a DVD release. Due to budget constraints, I decided to “gear up” and give it a shot in my humble converted-garage studio, which has a fairly small room (about 11'' x 13'') and is set up only for stereo mixing. Having never handled a 5.1 mix at home, I took this as a challenge that justified a test drive upgrade in the form of the Dangerous Monitor ST/SR Stereo and Surround Monitor Control System.
Author:
Publish date:

SETTING UP

For me, a new piece of gear can be somewhat daunting, and I tend to procrastinate about doing the setup because of this fear, or something silly like having to wire new snake connectors. But, thankfully, this all went without a hitch, largely because the unit uses DB25 connectors (a quickly growing standard) making the setup quick and painless. I ended up feeding the XLR outs directly to my six speakers from a DB25-to-XLR snake. Included were two ribbon cables and a short CAT-5 cable that connected the “ST” to the “SR.” In total, it took me about 30 minutes (including installing the units in my rack and running a long CAT-5 cable to the remote control) to get the show on the road.

APPLYING THE ST/SR

First off, the Monitor ST/SR has a much larger feature set than was needed for my project. For example, one can easily integrate –10dB “semi-pro” gear with the Monitor ST/SR. Some useful applications would be to have a consumer 5.1 system on hand for A/Bing mixes and checking DVD refs or finished product. But, given my needs, the Monitor ST/SR fared incredibly well, as it was ridiculously easy to use and totally transparent from a functional and sonic standpoint. The definitive volume detents let you recall exact monitoring level positions in a hurry, and this helped keep monitoring levels under control so that you’re not always “sneaking up” the volume and creating a potentially ear-fatiguing or damaging situation.

Listening to older mixes through the unit revealed previously hidden details, both good and bad, which helped me prepare a mix that ended with the video editor at HDNet calling me to say that my mix was the best one to ever come through. Slam dunk!

The Monitor ST/SR keeps the audio signal path entirely in the rack. This is convenient because it minimizes analog cable runs; but the coolest part of the design is the computer-controlled transmission line attenuator for the main level controls — they use no DCAs or VCAs for level control. So, when adjusting the desktop volume controller, you hear subtle yet satisfying “clicks” in the rack unit which, while initially startling, comforted me, as it showed me how clean the signal was. Of course this is only present if you keep it in the same room with you . . . and as the remote cable can be 100 feet or more in length, installing the rack units in a machine room is not a problem.

Having a rack-only unit as my last controller (complete with talkback switch on the rack, though with no remote), I was constantly leaning over to talk every time I wanted to say something. Not fun. But with ST/SR, you get two switchable talkback modes — momentary and latching. So you can latch the mic on, move about the control room freely, and continue your conversation with the live room via the sensitive onboard mic or with an external talkback mic of your choice. This makes the process much more comfortable.

Two features I found indispensable were the dim switch on the remote, and the PPI button (or “Producer Pacification Indicator”). The former is great for checking balances very quietly; this is a technique I recommend, because everything sounds great loud — but making a great mix at a barely listenable level is critical to the quality of your overall mix. The PPI button is likely to save your mixes as well. It doesn’t do anything (except when in Setup mode,) but the next time you have a perfect mix together and a producer says, “I like it, but it just needs a little more,” you’re covered. When this happens, simply pop on the insanely cool blue PPI light and say “Which do you like better, this (off) or this (on)?” Invariably, the producer will pick the “blue light” setting and you can happily print your mix, collect your fee, and move on to your next job.

Also, the ST/SR sports a special use for input 4 that’s helpful too. Generally, a CD player feeds into input 4 so an engineer may compare a mix to that of any commercial CD. As the commercial CD will be maximized and thus much louder than your mix, input 4 has been assigned a volume knob on the front of the ST rack to bring its level down to a match with your mix, which provides a more direct comparison between the two sources. I used it in a similar way, bringing my “B” rig Mbox up on input 4 for a similar purpose.

THE LFE CHANNEL RULE

One rule of thumb is that for any type of music surround mixing (save the rogue DVD-A format), nothing gets placed in the LFE channel, as the channel was designed for “subsonic effects” such as explosions in a theatrical setting. The typical 5.1 home listener will have five satellites and a subwoofer, right? Thus, the low end is “peeled off” the satellites and redirected to the subwoofer. This is called “bass management” and is done differently depending on the system. So, for music, there is already plenty of low end coming out of the subwoofer due to bass management; therefore if, say, the kick is sent to the satellites and the LFE, the LFE’s low end will be added to the peeled off low end and the sub will get overloaded. Or (and this is even worse), if the LFE channel gets out of phase with the other five channels you end up with no low end. And this has happened! So, even though the LFE option is here, just say no to using it when doing 5.1 surround on an album.

CONCLUSIONS

The Dangerous Monitor ST/SR allowed me to focus on every minute musical issue that arose during the mix because it was completely transparent to the process. Though I used the ST/SR in a fairly simple form (in that I didn’t need to utilize half the features), what I did use was incredibly helpful and convenient. From the quick setup to amazing sound quality I achieved at the end, the Monitor ST/SR made it a pleasure to mix Sammy’s concert. Sure, the ST and the SR expander represent a big monetary commitment, but I absolutely could not have handled this gig without them.

Bob Daspit has produced and engineered Sammy Hagar’s last seven albums and DVDs. Bob’s own band, The Goldbrickers, plays regularly on the West Coast, and he composes for video games, TV, and film in his spare time. Bob can be reached at www.myspace.com/bobdaspit.