By Barry Rudolph
Trident's 4T Celebration channel strip is a party - a 1-rackspace soirée that commemorates designer John Oram's 40th (4T, get it?) year in the pro audio business. Useful for live performance, studio recording, and mastering applications, the single-channel 4T has a separate direct instrument input (DI), a mic preamp, a 3-band equalizer, a compressor/limiter with metering, and stereo monitoring facilities.
For live gigs, you can play guitar or synth through the instrument input, sing along using the XLR mic input and mix these two signals along with a stereo backing track coming into the rear-panel line level inputs. When recording at home, this stereo input can be used for monitoring your DAW's soundcard output. A pair of 4Ts will also work as an analog stereo mastering chain since the XLR mic inputs will accept up to +23.5dBu line levels.
The brushed-aluminum front panel is ergonomically laid out with 12 aluminum knobs, 10 push buttons, two 1/4" jacks, an on/off switch, and a wristwatch-sized VU meter that's amazingly easy to read. This is one densely packed front panel - yet it's easy to use.
There are two RCA input jacks on the rear panel for connecting the stereo output of a CD player, DAT deck, or your DAW's output to the 4T. The Mon level knob controls the monitor level (of this stereo input) to both the 4T's front-panel headphone jack and the rear-panel output jacks. The output signal of the 4T Channel also comes out of the stereo output jacks at the same time. It shows up in the center of the pair if you're monitoring them panned left and right. I connected the 4T output jacks directly to my powered monitors and later switched to two input channels on my console.
Since there's no separate output jack (without the monitor input), if you want to record the channel's output only, you have to push in the Mon button. This separates the 4T output from the monitor mix feed. The stereo monitor mix now appears only at the headphone jack and the 4T's output only at the rear-panel jacks.
DI And Mic Mixing With EQ Magic
The front-panel DI jack's signal and the rear-panel mic input mix together using the Instrument level and the mic Gain controls.
The DI's preamplifier has an input impedance of 10-megohm and accepts up to +15dBu levels. Passive and active guitar/bass pickups and touchy piezo transducers all worked great.
The Direct button, when out, routes the instrument signal through the rest of the channel for EQ and compression. When Direct is pushed in, the instrument signal goes straight to the left and right outputs. This would leave the 4T's EQ and compression on the mic input only.
A nice surprise is something called "EQ Magic." This is a very musical sounding shelving EQ that boosts or cuts 100Hz and 10kHz simultaneously using a single control. This is no-brainer EQ - just turn it to where it sounds good. The control has a center-detented "flat" position and only works in the instrument DI path. (Too bad; it would be useful on the other inputs as well!)
&lusmn;1dB. There are phase/polarity flip and phantom power on/off push buttons. The transformer-less mic pre is the same as in Trident's S20 and S40 channels and is configured around an Analog Devices or THAT Corp chip but with enhanced biasing to keep it Class-A.
Trident EQ and Compressor/Limiter
The equalizer section differs from the Trident S40 only in that it has three bands instead of four. There is a sweepable midrange section with 1/2-octave Q covering 100Hz to 10kHz. The high-frequency shelving section has two corner frequency choices: 7 and 10kHz. Low-frequency shelving is available at 50 or 150Hz. All bands provide up to &lusmn;15dB boost/cut.
The 4T's compressor/limiter has two ratio choices: 4:1 and 30:1. Interestingly, the meter indicates gain reduction even when the compressor isn't engaged. This is good for live sound use: pre-set the compressor and then drop it in on cue using the Dynamics button. Compression threshold is continuously adjustable from off to -25dBu with attack time variable from 0.1 to 40ms. Release time is also adjustable from 0.05 to 3 seconds. Like the S40, the meter changes backlit color from blue for output level to green for gain reduction when toggling the VU/GR button.
In The Studio And Live
First up were direct recordings of a Fender Telecaster guitar and a Roland JV-1080 synth. I had loads of gain available for both tasks and found the direct sound clean and noise-free. The 3-band EQ sounded good and precisely took the muddiness out of an organ patch. I mic'd up the Tele's amp with a Royer R-121 and blended it with the DI by using the mic gain control. There was no noise buildup and everything was in phase and sounded fat.
Recording direct bass got me using EQ Magic - my bass player loved what that little knob did! At about the 2-o'clock position, it bumped up the bottom for fatness and the top for air and attack. More recording gear should have musical controls like EQ Magic.
I liked the 4T compressor because I could get both a smooth leveling amp sound (4:1) for a soft ballad and then, for controlling very dynamic bass pops and slaps on a funk/dance song, switch over to peak limiting (30:1).
I had good luck recording both my large-lunged, male rock singer and my quieter, girl balladeer with the 4T. I used a Neumann U 87 without a pad for each singer. The 4T never folded up (overloaded) once, and adjusting the compressor was easy although there's no separate make-up gain control for matching the levels between compressed and uncompressed. For vocals, the compressor can be as gentle or as aggressive as you want. Vocals used the (very typical) 4:1 ratio and I got full-sized vocals immediately without working hard at all.
At the club, the 4T is the greatest! Singers love compression and a touch of EQ to get over the crowd din. Placing the 4T right up front within easy grasp of the performer worked well. He now had the immediate ability to mix in his backing track to taste, which really won him over.
My only wish would be an effects loop for inserting a reverb/delay unit. I used the clever Direct button pushed in so that the direct guitar signal wasn't affected by the hard limiter setting I had for the performer's vocal. This worked out perfectly since he usually plays guitar through a Line 6 Pod anyway.
Trident deserves to celebrate with this multifaceted unit. The 4T is a clever bit of analog design that expands the idea of the dedicated recording channel for applications outside the control room. The sound of a Trident mic preamp, EQ, and compressor and the ability to mix and monitor your DAW or backing track along with your mic and instrument - what more could you want?