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Eight Great Audio Values

Extremely reliable, multifunctional, or nearly indestructible, these products have been selected by AV pros as the ?best value? audio products in the industry.

In certain AV applications, you expect to pay a lot for a product, such as when you're in the market for a large mixing console or outdoor LED signage. In fact, the more you pay, the more you convince yourself you've bought the very best, right? On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, there are those times when “you get what you pay for” holds true — and you realize that some products only last about as long as the RT60 in a large church. Because expensive isn't always more, and cheap doesn't always mean less, it's often hard for end-users to identify true AV “values.” But somewhere in between the two extremes lie those rare products that achieve a competitive price point while differentiating themselves from other makes and models with superior quality. Once you find them, they quickly become staples in your AV arsenal. The trick is: How do you identify these treasures?

For answers in the audio space, we sought the advice of some large systems integrators and AV consultants —industry professionals with a proven track record who work in the trenches. The products highlighted here have passed the acid test of real-world installations. Some products are new; others are not. Some are expensive; others are affordable. Despite their differences, all of these products have at least one thing in common — they all harness cutting-edge technology to deliver a price/performance balance that translates into real audio value.

BSS Soundweb

The BSS Soundweb is a programmable DSP network audio system consisting of several components, including the sw9088iis Networked Signal Processor, the sw9008iis Output Expander, the sw9000iis Network Hub, the sw9016 and sw9026 Audio Matrix Switchers, plus remote and wall panel controllers. Systems are defined and configured using Soundweb Designer, a software package running under Windows 95 or Windows NT. Soundweb units can be fitted with microphone pre-amplifiers, facilitating comprehensive systems from microphone through to the power amplifier input with full DSP. Soundweb networks are expandable and carry both control data and eight channels of bi-directional 24-bit/48 kHz digital audio.

Albert Leccese, vice president of engineering for Colorado Springs, CO-based Audio Analysts, believes the Soundweb represents outstanding value because of its comprehensive set of features and scalable architecture —enabling the system to accommodate a wide range of installations. Audio Analysts is a design/build firm with installation projects that include houses of worship, performing arts facilities, plus sports and recreation centers. “With the Soundweb you can set up a centralized processing system with two or three units in a single location, or the system can be used to create distributed processing where you have a DSP unit in several machine rooms throughout the facility,” Leccese says. “We've configured systems where the Soundweb has handled paging, background music, telephone interfacing, and sound reinforcement to accompany large-screen video systems. Our company has handled a dozen or so installs with it — creating systems ranging from a single box in a church to an 18-piece system for a sports center.”

To Leccese, the Soundweb's most attractive feature is its cost effectiveness. “Dollar for dollar, it provides a wealth of processing power for just about any system configuration you'll likely encounter,” he says. “We've also found the Soundweb to be very reliable. There's a lot of bang for the buck. For me, that's great value.”


  • sw9088iis: $3,799-$4,449 (dependent upon I/O configuration)
  • sw9008iis: $2,999
  • sw9000iis: $2,499
  • sw9016: $1,699
  • sw9026: $1,199

dbx DriveRack 260

The dbx DriveRack 260 is an equalization and loudspeaker control system offering two independent channels of processing power with a linkable 28-band graphic equalizer, industry-standard dbx stereo compressor module, feedback suppression, and sub-harmonic synthesizer on the input. This six-channel output system includes parametric EQs, limiters (to protect against speaker blowouts), and driver alignment delay.

The DriveRack is a favorite with Mike Evans, vice president and systems consultant for Alpha Sound & Lighting Co.'s Alabama facility. With offices in Saraland, AL, and Santa Clarita, CA, Alpha Sound & Lighting is a national AV contracting firm that focuses on the house of worship market. “What makes this piece particularly appealing is the amount of processing power for the cost,” Evans says. “The unit employs an easy setup wizard that preloads speaker-tuning values, optimizes the gain structure for the speakers and amps, and includes an Auto-EQ function with an excellent collection of preset response curves — or we can create our own. I use the feedback suppressor extensively. I've worked with several competing products and believe the DriveRack is the best I've encountered. It's not uncommon for us to install two or three systems a month. We use the product for a full range of DSP functions, and it's great for tuning the loudspeakers to the room.”

Especially on religion installations, budgets are often highly scrutinized, Evans explains. “It's my job to find products that are not only bullet-proof, but that also represent solid value and deliver reliability,” he says. “With its feedback suppressor and all its additional DSP capability, the DriveRack 260 represents great value. You can also control the unit from the front panel or via a laptop computer, so it's very flexible.”

MSRP: $1,299.95

Inter-M PX-0288

The PX-0288 audio matrix mixer enables users to route up to eight local audio sources in any combination to eight zones using either local or remote control. Built for multi-zone systems like those found in hotels, airports, casinos, hospitals, conference centers, and restaurants, the device receives ancillary support from a pair of dedicated remote controls and a remote microphone station.

The PX-0288 supports RS422 protocol for remote operation, provides remote mic station and paging mic level control, has auto fire alarm broadcasting capability, and includes a front panel monitor speaker for monitoring any of its eight inputs.

Roly Jan, sales manager and engineer for Silver Springs, MD-based Total Audio Visual Systems, has deployed the PX-0288 regularly during the past year. A systems integration company that services the government, Fortune 1,000 companies, and educational institutions, Total Audio Visual Systems provides AV systems for boardrooms, conference facilities, plus command & control centers.

According to Jan, the PX-0288 is a great choice for projects where audio needs to be routed to different destinations because it's so easy to configure. “With balanced I/O, local and remote paging capabilities with priority override, and built-in phantom power for the paging mic, this mixer is a compelling product for the AV professional,” he says. “We've used it in government command & control centers as well as public information centers, auditoriums, restaurants, and hotels.”

For all the features and functionality this unit offers, Jan cites price as one of its most attractive qualities. “We're using this product quite regularly because our installers are very comfortable with the piece,” he says. “This mixer is easy to set up and install. It's rugged and well built, and it has proven itself to be very reliable. In my book, that represents real value.”

MSRP: $1,460


Part of JBL Professional's JRX 100 Series, the JRX115i is an economical, suspendable, 15-inch, two-way loudspeaker designed for installation where ground stacking or pole mounting is impractical or undesirable. The enclosure is manufactured from 3/4-inch MDF material, which is extremely dense and rigid, allowing it to achieve better low end than particle board. Three threaded M10 suspension points are featured on the “i” version. An 18-gauge steel grille protects the entire baffle on both models. The JRX115i is well suited for a variety of sound reinforcement applications, including live music, music playback, and speech.

Jerry Lamb, sales manager for Olympia, WA-based CCI Solutions considers the JRX115i an excellent value for budget-conscious customers. CCI Solutions offers AV consulting, system design, and installation services — with the bulk of its business focused on houses of worship.

“We've found the majority of churches operate on fairly tight budgets,” Lamb says. “I believe the JRX115i is positioned very affordably and represents real value. The loudspeaker works very well in sanctuaries that are 40 to 60 feet deep by 40 feet wide with ceilings in the range of 18 to 25 feet high. They are easily flown, and a single speaker provides a surprising amount of coverage. A pair, particularly with the matching sub (JRX118S), will cover the vast majority of spaces for both spoken word intelligibility and the worship music played through them.”

Lamb regularly supplies churches with the JRX product because it's equally functional as a portable live sound product. “It makes a great speaker for flying or pole mounting,” he says. “I consider the JRX115i's fidelity its most appealing characteristic. This loudspeaker sounds good, its frequency response is excellent, and it's quite attractive and sturdily built. Combine these attributes with the fact that the speaker can be flown, and you have tremendous value.”

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