Working from home? Switch to the DIGITAL edition of FRONT of HOUSE. CLICK HERE to signup now!
x

Crown Audio Xti4000, Presonus Digimax FS and AKG Perception 200 Condenser Mic

FOH Staff • New Gear • March 15, 2007

Crown Audio Xti4000

By Mark Amundson

Put yourself into Crown Audio's product managers' shoes: You have the renowned touring audio power amplifier line called the I-Tech, and you have the task to create a smaller mass music market version that sells for a competitive price but still has the features and power ratings this market wants. In this pursuit, I believe Crown has succeeded very well with the XTi line of amplifiers. I took delivery of the XTi4000 because of its 1200 watt per channel at 4-ohms rating, which has enough flexibility to drive professional grade speakers, and could do subwoofer duty in smaller venue applications. And in this review, I am going to give you a bit of what hides behind this "I-Tech like" power amplifier.

Even though this is a class AB+B amplifier, the Crown Audio XTi4000 is very much in keeping with Crown's power amplifiers lineage. At two rack-spaces, 18.5 pounds weight, and 12.25 inches of chassis depth; virtually no other audio power amplifier could meet these specs without a switcher power supply and a switching power amplifier. And on the back of the amplifier chassis, there is a large American Flag decal that boasts that the XTi4000 was designed and assembled in good old Elkhart, Ind. Having been inside the Crown Audio factory, and seeing the nicely designed guts of the XTi4000, I can say that the factory automation pretty much removes most of the hand labor in assembling the amplifier, and thus there are no cost benefits from foreign build in countries with cheap labor.

The Gear

Starting with the front panel, the Crown Audio XTi4000 has the basics covered with two detented level controls, a power on/off switch and two LED bargraphs for status and signal level detection. With the ventilation holes on the top half of the front panel for cooling air intake, what's left are the three buttons and the adjoining Liquid Crystal Display to handle the fancy Digital Signal Processing (DSP) preamp inside the XTi4000. Besides obvious mono/ bridged/stereo routing, the DSP allows for extra self-contained speaker processing features like crossovers, digital EQ, time delay and limiters. While these DSP features are not very flexible compared to dedicated speaker processors, they do cover the essentials just fine.

The crossover feature selections are canned 90Hz, 100Hz, 1200Hz, 1500Hz, 2000Hz plus 2- channel sub and custom settings from Harman Pro's HiQNet System Architect software. System Architect also allows parametric EQ selections, but the EQ cannot be tweaked just by the front panel buttons. The channel time delays are per channel and in millisecond increments for 1 to 50 millisecond choices. Note that these are more for speaker to speaker alignment than for driver alignment purposes. The limited choices on the channel limiters are -3dB, -6dB, -12dB and off. While better than nothing, personally, I would have either skipped the DSP altogether or put in a full dbx DriveRack processor capability.

On the rear panel, the normal IEC power inlet is accompanied by the usual stereo binding posts and pair of NL4 Speakon Jacks. A single 3.5-inch exhaust fan attests to the simple cooling air needs of the XTi4000. For inputs, the In/Thru XLR connectors per channel are accompanied with a USB-B jack for the HiQnet interconnect to up/download the DSP.

Performance-wise, I found the Crown Audio XTi4000 right up there with similar 1200 watt per channel amplifiers with great damping factor (>500, 8-ohms @ 20Hz to 400Hz), 1.4 volt full power sensitivity, 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response (+0/-1dB), and a 34.2dB voltage gain. This XTi4000 was rated for a 120VAC +/- 10% line for power input, and draws about 8.0 amperes at the nominal 1/8th power rating in stereo 4-ohm loads. And for the digital amplifier skeptics, it has a 0 � 40 degrees Celsius external operating temperature range.

The Gigs

When racked up and out in the clubs, I put the XTi4000 through its paces as a mid-frequency mains amplifier, a subwoofer amplifier and some full-range wedge duty. As suspected, the Crown Audio XTi4000 delivered power non-stop in all applications like any other nonswitcher 1200 watt per channel amplifier would do. In the subwoofer application, I heard no artifacts in driving a pair of 2 by 18-inch woofers, but the amplifier was obviously giving all it had to do sub support with rock 'n' roll live sound.

In summary, the Crown Audio XTi4000 amplifier is designed reasonably solid, but I thought the DSP at the LCD panel could have been beefed up. To me the LCD and the associated buttons took the ruggedness factor away from what is an excellent step up from the CE4000 series, and chip off the old I-Tech series. As an electrical engineer, I thought the elegant PCB/heatsink design is worthy of praise from both a manufacturability perspective and a trustworthy thermal design.

What It Is: An amp rated at 1200 watts/channel at 4-ohms.

Who It's For: Regional soundcos and your heavier anklebiter gigs.

Pros: Good sounding, plenty of power, compact Design

Cons: DSP could use more flexibility at the front panel.

How Much: $1591.00 MSRP

Web site: www.crownaudio.com

Presonus Digimax FS

By Bill Evans

Presonus has made some great live stuff over the years. I can't even count the number of their 8-channel comps and gates I have seen in racks. I remember an EQ that had a special secret weapon — a button that killed 60-cycle hum. Loved that. But over the past decade the company has been going more and more in a digital/studio/recording direction and we have had little to talk about in regards to their gear. So when I got the call about the Digimax FS, it was a pleasant surprise.

But the alarm bells went off when he uttered The Phrase. "It was designed for the studio but we are seeing a lot of them used live."

Now, this phrase can mean a few things. The most common is that it is total B.S. and they are just looking for another market. The second is that, sure, it could be used in a live setting, but why would you want to when there are simpler and cheaper alternatives that sound just as good? Finally (and this is rare), it's really true. Someone had the gonads to take it out of the studio rack and on the road and found that it solved some problem and did it well. This is one of those times.

The Gear

The Digimax FS is a 1RU box that houses eight very good mic pres. No EQ or obvious bells and whistles, just eight quiet, warm, good-sounding mic pres. The front panel sports eight combo jack inputs — six at mic/line level and two at mic/instrument level. If you plug in an XLR, it's mic level. If you plug in a 1/4" it is line or instrument depending on the channel.

To the right of the inputs are eight gain knobs with a paired clip indicator. A couple of nice touches on those knobs: First, they are in two offset rows, which makes them infinitely easier to grab and adjust. Second, the knobs feel substantial and smooth. Finally, the screening for each knob has the mic and line lettering in different colors, making it a lot easier to read. Next to that are selectors and indicators for internal word clock or an external sync.

But the really cool stuff is on the back. Turn the Digimax around and you will see a veritable forest of 1/4" jacks — 24 in all — plus BNC connectors for that hated word-clock stuff (the days of live guys being able to say "Word clock? We don't need no stinking word clock" are rapidly coming to an end) and four ADAT LightPipe connections.

First the 1/4"ers. Eight are insert points ('nuff said), eight are analog outs (they are labeled as direct outs, but as they are POST pre-amp�) and the last eight are called DAC outs and you will likely never use them live. The deal is that if you have eight channels of digital audio coming into the Digimax over LightPipe, then you get the outputs from those jacks.

The four LightPipe connections are the standard in and out (eight channels of audio on each) plus two connectors on the SMUX protocol, which allows you to send higher resolution signal than LightPipe was designed for by sending only four channels on each line.

The Gigs

The Digimax was pitched to us as an expander for small digital mixers like a Yamaha DM1000. And as such it works great — hook up the ADAT connections and a BNC cable and you just added eight input channels to your console. If the console sends word clock over the ADAT lines, you can even dispense with the BNC cable. Sweet.

The other gig we used it on was — again — expanding a mixer, but this time to feed an Alesis HD24 for a live recording. It worked fine. The only issues were that the tracks recorded via the Digimax sounded much richer than the ones coming straight from the board (everything went to the HD24 via LightPipe). The fact that they crowded so many connections on the back made it hard to get things hooked up, and it would be nice if the direct outs were XLR jacks. If it had been designed for live use, they might have ditched the DAC outs and gone with the larger XLR connectors. [Presonus responds: The DAC outputs are useful in a live application for the following: what if you need more analog outputs of your Yamaha Digital console? You send lightpipe to the Digimax FS and add eight more analog outputs using the DAC Outputs. –ed.]

The splits are good and quiet, so you can safely put the Digimax FS at the head of the line signal wise and send house the direct outs. You will likely never realize there is something in between the source and the board — except when you are digging through the workbox for enough 1/4" male to XLR male adapter cables.

Three of these and an HD24 fit into a sixspace rack and are everything you need to record every show to 24-track digital for a lot less than you would spend for some other solutions to the same issue. Not as cheap as some, but definitely not the most expensive, either.

What it is: Eight channel mic pre/digital interface

Who It's For: Anyone who needs to expand a small digital mixer (as long as it has ADAT connections) or needs to feed an ADAT compatible recorder like an Alesis HD24

Pros: Excellent sound quality, you can probably use it without ever opening the manual

Cons: No XLRs on the direct outs, output jacks are crowded too close together.

How Much: $799.95

Web site: www.presonus.com/digimax_fs.html

AKG Perception 200 Condenser Mic

By Larry Hall

I don't know about you, but I have noticed a trend with "affordable" condenser mics sounding "clunky" and requiring a lot of help in the EQ dept. Why bother making it affordable if it sucks? Add that with the reputation for delicacy — especially in some large diaphragm models more suited for the studio — and many of us avoid using them live. But these mics came to me in a very cool quasi-flight-looking case. For the price I was surprised AKG made the effort! The mics are very retro studio looking, and are extremely rugged (more on that in a minute).

The Gear

The 200 is the "low-end" of the Perception series, which is a hard fact to line up with the specs. It has a large diaphragm, which AKG says does a full 20Hz to 20kHz. We didn't measure it, but that sounds about right. You get a couple of features usually found on much more expensive mics like a -10dB pad and a low-frequency roll off (12db per octave at 300Hz). It'll take a 145dB pounding and comes with a twoyear parts and labor warranty. Plus that cool road case.

The Gigs

Gig One: Typically when FOH brings me a condenser mic to check out, I put it in the one location onstage where, if it sucks, it's easy to lose — overheads or ride mics. I was mixing a local corporate act in a room with about 1000 people. I was pleasantly surprised — these mics didn't suck! They had similar qualities to AKG's much more expensive and more popular mics. Not all of the same qualities, but a lot of them. Nice sizzle without being harsh — something most "affordable" condensers lack.

Gig Two: Feeling more ambitious this go around, I was working with a horn band and decided to put them on a couple horns. Now I have some wedges to contend with and, well, horn players. As we were sound checking I basically turned the mics up and had REAL horn sound! Not that kazoo sound that you would expect. It once again was a pleasant surprise.

With a well-known line array in the air, that has a well-known harshness between 4K and 6K, combined with a popular digital console that, well, sounds like a digital console, I still had minimal EQ to do once again. How nice it would have been to have an analog… Oh wait, wrong story. I asked my monitor engineer how he made out, and he told me his EQ on both the mix and the rail was minimal with no complaints. Lots of blaring horn volume in the wedges.

The bottom line? For a mid sized touring or regional sound company, you've finally got a condenser you can afford to buy and use. As bad is this may sound, this is a mic that if it gets dropped, dinged, dented, stolen, put in a toilet or whatever, it's not "breaking the bank" to call AKG and replace it. List price is $399, but I have seen it online for well under two bills.

Which brings up the "ruggedness." When we test a mic we are asked by FOH to — This is not for the weak hear ted. Clear all kids from the room — drop the mic. I know — Sacrilege! Blasphemy! But we didn't even scratch it. I can't disclose the height from which we dropped it because, well, AKG may never send another mic. But I will say a scissor lift was involved.

What It Is: Large Diaphragm Condenser Mic

Who It's For: Regional and local soundcos and crews that abuse gear

Pros: Sounds more expensive than it is. Rugged. Cool road case.

Cons: None that we could really see.

How Much: $399 MSRP (but you can find it for a lot less)

Web site: www.akg.com/perception200

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!