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January 27, 2012

sE Electronics Munro Egg 150 Review

Filed under: Monitors — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 11:13 am

sE Electronics is a Chinese-British company that was founded over 10 years ago to compete in the microphone market. Now sE Electronics has decided to enter the studio monitor market. In order to break into this market segment, the manufacturer went all the way and asked Andy Munro, a famous designer, to give an original look to its brand-new product. Egg laying has begun!

sE Electronics Munro Egg 150

The introduction of the Egg is a big challenge for sE Eletronics, considering that entering a new market is never an easy process. That’s why sE Electronics wanted to have a famous name on board. They met Andy Munro from Munro Acoustics who has had many well-known recording studios (Air Studios, Sphere Studios, Metropolis) and several famous artists (Massive Attack, U2, Coldplay) as his clients. He also collaborated with Dynaudio, so it is not his first attempt at this! In the past, sE Electronics already cooperated with Rupert Neve, another big name in the audio industry, to launch high-grade microphones (RNR1 and RN17). So it is not a first attempt for sE Electronics either!

London Hen

sE Electronics Munro Egg 150
Also available in white finish, other colors coming soon.

The first step of this review took place in Hitchin (less than 30 minutes from London) at Sonic Distribution’s office, the headquarters of Ishmaev-Young and Phil Smith who have been sE Electronics’ partners in the UK since 2002. There, we had the chance to meet the agreeable Andy Munro to talk about his new babies. Of course, it was also the opportunity for us to listen to the Egg 150 in the studio built in Sonic Distribution’s basement.

Andy Munro explained to us everything, starting with the very original shape of the speakers. Even if its original design is a plus with regard to marketing and sales — the Egg is definitely an eye-catcher in the studio monitor market segment— there are, first and foremost, acoustical reasons to it. The manufacturer asserts that this shape reduces diffraction interferences and smooths the frequency response curve, while reducing the size of the speaker and lowering the crossover frequency to avoid phase shift. Of course, the goal of this development was to get the most linear frequency response curve and a smooth energy diffusion within a room. Munro asserts that the ovoid shape is the second best solution after the wall-recessed speaker installation you can see in high-end recording studios. By the way, do notice that the transducers are mounted on a flat surface instead of being part of the egg shape itself.

For the shell construction, Munro chose a rather thin but very rigid plastic material in order to reduce resonances. That way, the resonance frequency is way above the woofer and the crossover frequency. And since the tweeter is mounted in a sealed volume, there is no resonance frequency problems anymore. As for the electronics, the designer made very clear choices. He designed a fully analog system using neither DSP nor digital processing.

If you want more information, watch the full video presentation with Andy Munro here:

 

We had a very good impression when we heard the Egg for the first time in Sonic Distribution’s studio (very good acoustic treatment by the way). A well-balanced frequency response and a tight and precise bass reproduction (although we had no other monitor for comparison). However, before giving our opinion about it, we wanted to wait until we received the Egg two weeks later so that we could compare it with another well-known 6″ studio monitor: Focal’s Solo6 Be.

But first of all, let’s have a look at the Egg.

Conclusion

sE Electronics Munro Egg 150

The Eggs need not be ashamed in front of the Focal Solo6 Be. In fact, these speakers signed by sE Electronics and Munro prove to be very versatile thanks to the controls on the external amplifier. They allow you to get a typical hi-fi sound reproduction when you want to listen to music for yourself or show your work to your clients, but also a Focal-like analytic monitoring (by boosting mids and attenuating the high and low ends). It’s obvious and it’s no secret that sE Electronics aims for two different markets (hi-fi and pro audio). Anyway, this versatility is a priceless advantage for home-studio owners who want to use their monitor speakers for purposes other than studio work.

sE Electronics has bet on originality (both at the concept and design levels) and it could prove really profitable. With its acceptable price and new 4″ and 8″ versions coming soon, the new studio monitor range signed by sE Electronics and Munro seems to have a bright future ahead.

Advantages: 
  • Original successful design
  • Sold in matched pairs
  • Easily accessible settings thanks to the external amplifier
  • Detailed and well-balanced sound
  • Mid-frequency control
  • Aux input
  • Headphones out on the front of the amp
  • Zero downtime three-year warranty
  • LEDs for a better placement
Drawbacks:
  • The amp takes space
  • No separate headphones volume setting
  • No scratch-resistant Egg surface

To read the full detailed article see:  Munro Egg 150 Review

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August 28, 2011

Apogee Duet 2 Review

About four years ago, Apogee launched a digital audio FireWire interface called Duet that offered two analog ins and outs. In the meantime, competitors have brought out some very interesting products, especially RME with its attractive Babyface. The brand with the violet logo couldn’t keep its arms crossed so they launched an improved version 2. The verdict?

The FireWire format, which disappeared from the MacBook some time ago only to reappear a few months later, seemed not to convince Apogee. Since the interfaces of this manufacturer are only compatible with Apple computers, they depend on the decisions of Steve Jobs and his friends. That’s why Apogee decided to change its strategy and add a USB controller to its compact interface One. The Duet 2 we review today went the same path — USB instead of FireWire. Is it the only change? No, but before we go any further let’s start unpacking the new Duet.

Unpacking

Apogee Duet 2

Let’s say it like it is: the Duet 2 impressed us as soon as we unpacked it. It looks very nice, professional and rugged. It is miles away from the plastic-looking One and it looks more modern and classy than the Babyface. In summary, it looks great and reliable, a bit like Apple computers… As for the weight and dimensions, the Duet is a bit bigger and heavier than the RME Babyface — its main competitor —, even if the difference is minor.

Along with the interface came a breakout cable with the mic/instrument inputs on big (huge!) XLR and 1/4″ TRS combo connectors, as well as outputs on 1/4″ TRS jacks for your speakers. A small aluminum box is available if you want XLR outputs and separate mic and instrument inputs. Why? For a more convenient fixed installation. Price? €81.33, VAT incl. It’s up to you…

 

Apogee Duet 2

On the front of the interface you’ll find a handy headphones out; The rear side includes a connector for the breakout cable, a USB port and the power connection. An external PSU is also provided but we didn’t use it since our MacBook Pro was powerful enough to feed the Duet 2. The interface has only the essential connections: neither digital nor MIDI ins/outs… A pity considering that the Babyface does have them.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Among high-end mobile interfaces, the Apogee Duet 2 has some important advantages against competitors, like its looks, the manufacturing quality, the OLED display, the soft limiter, and the quality of the preamps and converters. On the other hand, the interface has neither digital nor MIDI ins/outs and provides no processing facilities (EQ, reverb) while some others (e.g. the Babyface) do offer these features for the same price. Moreover, PC users won’t have the possibility to use the Duet 2 — typical Apogee. These are many cons but some Mac users will be seduced by the simplicity of the Maestro software.

Advantages:

  • Manufacturing quality
  • Nice design
  • Audio quality of the preamps and converters
  • USB powered
  • Great OLED display
  • Convenient encoder
  • Soft limiter
  • Maestro’s ease of use

Drawbacks:

  • Supports only Mac computers
  • Big XLR connectors on the breakout cable
  • No processing (EQ, reverb)
  • No digital in/out
  • No MIDI in/out

To read the full detailed review see:  Apogee Duet 2 Review

December 8, 2010

RME Babyface Review

Most manufacturers have been adding compact audio interfaces to their product range for several years, and now is time for RME and its Babyface. Many mobile musicians and sound engineers have been eagerly waiting for this new USB2 compatible interface…

This end of year is full of new launches at RME: the high-end Fireface UFX (already reviewed by AudioFanzine) and the Babyface, which belongs to the affordable line of RME products. The word “affordable” is relative, of course, considering that the Babyface’s price tag is nearly $750… However, the Babyface is the German manufacturer’s most compact and affordable external interface and it will surely appeal to mobile home-studio owners searching for quality.

Inside the box you’ll find the user’s manual, a breakout cable and an extension cable to add inputs and outputs to the Babyface (see below), a USB2 cable, a nice transport bag to carry the interface, the cables and a mic (for example), and the Babyface itself with its blue and gray finish. The interface is quite compact (3.9″ x 1″ x 6.3″) but it is heavy enough (1.1 lb.) to sit stably on your desk — it feels sturdy. This impression is reinforced by the metal housing with the typical RME blue finish. Only the knobs and the jog wheel are made out of plastic. The wheel doesn’t seem to be too tough; the first few months of intensive use will show if it has what is takes…

Plug-in Baby

RME Audio Babyface

In spite of its compact size, the Babyface offers comprehensive connections: two mic inputs on XLR connectors, line outputs (on XLR connectors as well), MIDI in/out on 5-pin DIN connectors, and a headphones minijack output (which can also be used as line out). All connections are routed through the breakout cable, linked to the Babyface via a 25-pin D-Sub connector, similar to the ones on VGA graphic cards. On the interface itself you have an instrument input, which replaces the second mic input when activated via the TotalMix FX software, and a second phones out which is electrically linked to the first one. This means that the maximum output volume decreases when two headphones are connected at the same time, and also that both outputs deliver the same audio signal. In other words, you can’t send different mixes to the headphones. You’ll also find an ADAT Toslink input and output, which is a rather nice surprise considering the size and price of the interface. The ADAT option allows the user to connect an external converter and add 8 in/out channels. Nice! Finally, the interface features a connector for an external PSU (not included) and a USB cable with two connectors, in case the USB bus of your computer doesn’t provide enough current (the manufacturer states that the Babyface requires 300 mA).

RME Audio Babyface

On the top panel you’ll find some LEDs and buttons to control certain parameters without having to use the TotalMix FX software. The jog wheel allows you to control the gain of both analog inputs (simultaneously or separately), the volume of the main line outputs or the phones out level. You can select the mode (In, Out or Phone) using the select buttons underneath the jog wheel. A simple click on the jog wheel allows you to activate the dim function (temporary volume reduction) while in Out or Phone mode. The last LED shows the sync status of the digital clock. The source of the clock can be internal or external (via ADAT and S/PDIF).

Two 10-segment LED meters show the level at the inputs or outputs, which is a very valuable feature considering the size of the interface. Usually, manufacturers use only one or two LEDs for similar products… Well done RME!

Now, let’s take a look at the software package included…

Conclusion

RME succeeded in launching a compact and rugged interface with remarkable sound quality. At about $750, this baby provides two quality mic preamps and converters, ADAT in/out, a jog wheel, a transport bag, and a pair of nice-looking VU-meters. Add TotalMix FX —the virtual mixer that allows you to manage all 22 channels and process the signals (EQ, filter, reverb, and echo)— to the package and you get the best mobile audio interface on the market. It obviously has some drawbacks, like the poor precision of the gain controls, the fact that the two headphones outputs are not independent and the sturdiness of the jog wheel, but nothing is perfect in this world…

Advantages:

  • Quality of the preamps and converters
  • ADAT input and output
  • TotalMix FX with EQ, reverb and echo
  • 10-segment LED level meters
  • Size (it does matter!)
  • Metal housing
  • USB powered
  • Convenient jog wheel and buttons
  • Nice transport bag
  • Xmas is coming soon

Drawbacks:

  • Input gain control in 3 dB steps
  • Will the plastic jog wheel survive over the years?
  • The two headphone outputs are not independent
  • I have to send it back

To read the full detailed article see:  RME Babyface Review

November 23, 2010

RME FireFace UFX Review

Six years after the FireFace 800, RME hits the external audio interface market again with a new flagship product: the FireFace UFX, which doesn’t really replace its big brother — it outright and blatantly outclasses it. Focus on what could be the ultimate interface.

We have been waiting a long time for a new product that would replace the famous FireFace 800 — a best-seller and a standard among digital audio interfaces. We were surprised to discover a new FireFace that isn’t meant to replace the 800 but to extend the top range of RME products. Yes, the UFX beats the old good FireFace 800 in every respect, but it is also much more expensive. So, what’s new? Let’s have a closer look…

RME FireFace UFX

The interface won’t look that unfamiliar when you unpack it: the FireFace UFX is a 1U rack with exactly the same dimensions as the FireFace 800. It has the classic RME look: blue, gray and metal. It looks serious but we’ve seen sexier things! However, there is no doubt that this is a FireFace…

However, taking a closer look you will notice that the interface is very different from its big brother — both at the software and hardware levels. Let’s start with the hardware.

Nice Looks, Nice Display

RME FireFace UFX

The front panel is equipped with four Neutrik combo connectors for XLR and 1/4″ jacks. You can feed the inputs with a mic, line or instrument (guitar, bass, etc.) signal. Each of the four analog inputs has three LEDs to indicate when a signal is present, the 48-V phantom power for condenser mics is on and the 1/4″ jack is selected. We’ll explain further on how to use these features.

On the right hand, you’ll find the two fully independent, in terms of volume settings and source selection, headphone outputs (9/10 and 11/12). In other words, each headphone gets its own mix.

RME FireFace UFX

You’ll also find standard MIDI ins/outs in the form of 5-pin DIN connectors, plus a mysterious host type USB port. A quick look in the documentation revealed that this port has currently no function, but the manufacturer promises that it will allow the user to connect a USB key or a hard drive in the future (with a firmware upgrade?). The FireFace UFX will then become a standalone direct-to-disk recording system giving you the possibility to record and read audio files directly from the USB storage device. Nice! The manufacturer promises to free you completely from your computer, which will surely appeal to nomad sound engineers. To be followed very closely!

In the middle of the front panel, a 10-segment LED bar allows the user to monitor the sync (WordClock, AES or ADAT), the MIDI transfer and the status of the USB and FireWire connections. Yes, you read that right: the interface offers USB and FireWire operation — a milestone in RME history.

RME FireFace UFX

Let’s close this front panel overview with the most important thing: the brand new multifunction color display which has a pretty good definition. Besides the VU-meters for all (analog and digital) inputs, it also gives you access to all channel parameters, mic in level settings, headphones and master out level settings, the interface’s setup, and even internal FX settings (reverb, echo, etc.). The three rotary encoders and the four buttons next to the display allow you to easily browse the menus and access almost all parameters without having to look at your computer screen. This looks very promising when you think about the future USB direct-to-disc facility…

The display’s resolution makes it possible to show lots of information and it makes browsing easy. We just regret that there is only one control to set the level of the main out and the two headphones outputs. Separate controls for the phones outs would have been better, especially when a mistake could lead to very loud signals in the headphones and you wanted to lower the volume quickly…

No cons otherwise. Hats off RME!

Now, let’s take a look at the rear connections…

Conclusion

RME decided to bring out the full artillery with its new digital audio USB and FireWire interface. The UFX is so comprehensive that it’s difficult to find drawbacks: very comprehensive connections, up to 60 channels, color display with good definition, USB and FireWire support, almost perfect TotalMix FX software, insert effects (compressor, EQ…), send effects (reverb, echo) and an upcoming function that will allow you to record and play audio data directly on and from a USB key or hard drive! The audio quality is guaranteed with the high-class preamps and converters. On the other hand, we miss dedicated controls to adjust the headphones volume, a more comprehensive remote control, and a more friendly price. Anyway, the new reference has arrived and its name is FireFace UFX.

Advantages:

  • Quality of the preamps and converters
  • 60 channels!
  • Comprehensive connections
  • Convenient and accurate color display
  • USB and FireWire support
  • Very short latency
  • Good stability with our computer
  • Good-quality internal processing and effects
  • Very comprehensive TotalMix FX software
  • Future direct-to-disk capability

Drawbacks:

  • Headphones and main outs share the same volume control
  • Limited (and only optional) remote control
  • Price tag: over $2000

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  RME Fireface UFX Review

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