Mar 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By John McJunkin
Affordable system processor offers better-sounding loudspeaker management.
Sabine is well-known for its wireless microphone systems and feedback extermination units, but it also makes a great loudspeaker management box. I test-drove one from the Navigator series and discovered a quality unit that's nicely priced. There are several versions available, ranging from the NAV3600, a three-input, six-output unit, to the NAV4800 (the one I checked out) with four inputs and eight outputs, all the way to the NAV8800, with eight inputs and eight outputs. There are also Ethernet-enabled versions of each of these (indicated with an -EN in the model number). The 4800 I looked at was not Ethernet-enabled.
The front panel is intuitive, an appreciated design that is all too often glossed over. Starting on the left end of the front panel is an array of five-segment LED input meters, each with an associated mute and gain menu button that selects the corresponding channel for modifications to its parameters. The 4800 I looked at had four such meter/button pairings, while the 3600 and 8800 have three and eight, respectively. Next, to the right of these are similar output-oriented meter/button pairings (eight in the case of the 4800 and 8800, while the 3600 sports six.) Generally speaking, I found this setup very workable, with one minor exception: If, for example, you select the compression ratio parameter on output number three, then switch over to another output (or input) channel, the compressor page will show up, but you must navigate down to the ratio parameter again. In other words, changing channels redirects you to the top of each parameter page. It could be worse, for instance, if it redirected you all the way back to the top page. Nevertheless, it would be nice if you could lock in on a parameter and then quickly and easily move to that same parameter on each channel.
On the other hand, Sabine has made it very easy to link channels, which causes all parametric changes to be applied to all linked channels. By the way, this all becomes a moot point when you use a computer to control the unit.
To the right of the output meters is a backlit LCD display with four lines of 26 characters each. To its right are left/right menu and cursor navigation buttons, along with system/enter and exit buttons for data entry. Finally, on the far right is a data entry wheel, the kind with three indentations on 120-degree centers. I must say I really like the way this knob feels. It has a bit of friction, unlike some of the others that spin a little too freely. I was able to easily dial values into the system's parameters with this knob.
If the Navigator's front panel is simple and self-explanatory, the rear panel is unbelievably simple. On the left is the unit's power input and switch, along with a fuse holder and voltage selector. Next to that is the unit's computer interfacing, with a standard RS-232 connector and an Ethernet connector on the enabled versions. On the right is plain and simple I/O. There are either six or eight balanced XLR outputs, depending on the configuration, and then either three or four balanced XLR inputs. It simply doesn't get any more straightforward — just the way I like it.
UP AND RUNNING
The operation of the Navigator is nearly as simple as its front- and rear-panel controls and connections. Each input channel has level, polarity, and delay controls, along with six parametric filters (EQ), a feedback extermination (FBX) circuit, and a compressor/limiter. Each output channel has the same complement of digital signal processing, with the exception of crossover filtering versus feedback extermination. The front-panel controls easily navigate the system's parameters, but using Sabine's included computer software to control the Navigator (up to 16 total units) is far and away my preferred way to go. Not only do you gain the benefit of a pretty graphical user interface, but also the ability to move through system parameters much more quickly. And strictly speaking, it could be done wirelessly via Wi-Fi with the Ethernet-enabled units as well, making the whole thing portable.
Channel input gain ranges from -40dB to +15dB, in 0.25dB increments. Polarity is reversible, and delay can be applied in 0.21ms increments (or in feet or meters). Each channel sports six EQs with parametric, hi-shelf, and lo-shelf varieties available, enabling cutting from -30dB to a +15dB boost with Q from 0.02 to 2.5 octaves in 0.1-octave increments. Range is from 20Hz to 20kHz, and both 6dB- and 12dB-per-octave slopes are available for the hi- and lo-shelf filters. Without getting into the gory details, the FBX circuit has detailed controls available to eliminate feedback — one of Sabine's strong suits. Each input's compressor/limiter is nicely appointed, with obvious threshold and ratio controls, but including attack and release controls as well.
The channel output controls for level, polarity, delay, and EQ are identical to the input channels. In place of the input channels' feedback extermination, there are crossover filters in Bessel or Butterworth varieties with 6dB- to 48dB-per-octave slopes (in 6dB increments) and 12dB-, 24dB-, 36dB-, and 48dB-per-octave slopes available in Linkwitz-Riley filters. Each output channel has the same compressor/limiter available as the input channels. A mixing matrix is also facilitated by adjustable levels from each input channel feeding each output channel.
Up to 30 programs can be stored, and the system ships with handy stereo two-way, three-way, and four-way configurations. Parameters can be copied from one channel to another, and I appreciate the ability to speed up the configuration process facilitated by this. Clearly, there are plenty of powerful DSP and routing functions available, so the remaining question is whether the system actually sounds good. In a word? Absolutely.
It's dead quiet, with excellent (better than 100dB) crosstalk performance. It's dead flat as well, with no bumps or dips greater than 0.1dB from 20Hz to 20kHz. The EQs sound nice, and the detailed parametric control enabled me to place EQs at very musical frequencies with nice broad bandwidth. The compressors are surprisingly transparent, unless you really get into hard limiting. Again, I prefer to use the system with computer control, and with the computer, you can really move around the parameters quickly and easily.
There is no lack of loudspeaker management devices at this time, and the competition in the marketplace has forced the manufacturers to provide excellent solutions at reasonable prices, and that is precisely what Sabine has done here. The Navigator is a good value, and I would strongly recommend considering it if you're in the market for a loudspeaker management system.
John McJunkin is the principal of Avalon Podcasting in Chandler, Ariz. He has consulted in the development of studios and installations and provides high-quality podcast production services.
Pros: High-quality sound, reasonably priced.
Cons: Inability to lock onto a specific parameter and then scroll through channels.
Applications: Loudspeaker management, matrix mixing, signal routing/processing.
Prices: NAV3600: $1,099; NAV3600-EN: $1,499; NAV4800: $2,149; NAV4800-EN: $2,499; NAV8800: $2,829; NAV8800-EN: $3,169
Inputs and Outputs
Input impedance: >10k
Output impedance: 50
Maximum level: +20dBu
Type: Electronically balanced
Frequency response: ±0.1dB (20kHz to 20kHz)
Dynamic range: 115dB typical (unweighted)
CMMR: >60dB (50kHz-10kHz)
Distortion: 0.002% (1kHz at +4dBu)
Digital Audio Performance
Processor: 32-bit (40-bit extended)
Sampling rate: 48kHz
Analog converters: High Performance 24-bit
Propagation delay: 1.47ms
Power: 115/230VAC (50/60Hz)
Threshold: +20dBu to -20dBu
Ratio: 1:1 through infinity
Knee: Soft/Hard 4
Release: 2X to 32X the attack time
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