My remote classical recording sessions are getting increasingly equipment intensive and, for each session I do, I invariably come up with a list of gear, which, if it had been present on that session, would have made my life easier. In this context, Furman Sound’s SRM-80 is the answer to one of my recent prayers.
Product PointsApplications: Recording studio; project studio; live sound reinforcement; home stereo system
Key Features: Balanced (TRS) and unbalanced (TR) I/O headphone jack; high-resolution LED bargraph display; optional wired remote available
Contact: Furman Sound at 707-763-1010
+ Well conceived design
+ Fills a definite gap in the pro audio equipment world
– Sound quality not transparent enough for use in critical recording paths
The Score: If your small digital or analog mixer lacks multiple recording and monitoring busses, here’s an easy way to add them.
By the time I’ve setup multiple sets of analog equipment, multiple converters and recording machines, it becomes obvious that I have no way to properly monitor everything during my session. I added the largest unit from Coleman Audio’s line of balanced analog monitor switchers, the MS8VH. Problem solved? Yes and no.
The stream of musicians and other on-lookers in my control room — not to mention assistant engineers and producers — produces conflicting monitoring needs. On one hand, I need to hear what I need to hear when I need to hear it. On the other hand, what I must monitor at any given moment is usually not what most of these other people want to hear.
To solve this dilemma, I plan to add a Furman SRM-80 to my monitor setup, giving me, in effect, two separate monitoring paths — one for me, and one for everyone else.
The SRM-80 ($499) packs a lot of functionality into its single-rack-space, 6.5″ deep chassis. The front panel features four three-position and one five-position rotary switches, a monitor pot, five pushbuttons, a high-resolution, 40-LED-by-two-bar graph display and a headphone jack. The rear panel contains five pairs of balanced TRS jacks, six pairs of unbalanced TR jacks, three stereo pairs of banana jacks, as well as switches for power, ground lift and input levels and two sets of trim pots. The power cord is attached. Finally, there is a DIN-sized connector for hooking up the optional SRM-RU wired remote box.
One can hook up four stereo analog devices (such as tape machines or CD recorders) to the pairs of 1/4″ jacks. The first one, labeled A, can be balanced and its gain adjusted (via the aforementioned switch) to accommodate either -10 dBV or +4 dBu inputs. Your mixer’s output can be connected to another set of balanced input jacks labeled source.
On the front panel, since there is one rotary switch associated with each of the four stereo devices (A, B, C and D), each switch can be set to pass the output of any of the other three sources to its own input, that is, device A can be set to record from B, C or D. The fifth rotary switch determines which input source — A, B, C, D or the console output itself — will be monitored.
Monitored where, you ask? In one of three sets of speakers connected to the appropriate jacks on the rear panel, that’s where. The first set is designed for powered monitors and drives them via a pair of balanced TRS connectors. The second and third sets of speakers receive their input from a power amplifier, whose input must be connected to another set of TRS jacks, and whose output is connected to a pair of banana jacks. Speaker systems B and C connect directly to the appropriate banana jacks.
The single level pot controls monitor level simultaneously to headphones and to all three sets of speakers. But what if the speakers in your studio are of differing efficiencies? No problem — Furman includes tiny trim pots on the rear panel. Adjust them once and your level-matching worries are over.
Other thoughtful touches include mono and dim pushbuttons on the front panel. The former mixes the stereo channels to mono — only in monitor mode, of course; tape dubbing is unaffected. Dim does just that; it dims monitor level by -15 dB, for those occasions when, say, the phone rings, or your vocalist whispers mixing instructions in your ear.
The brightly lit and extremely helpful bargraph LED meter can be set to read with true VU meter characteristics or switched to Peak Program Mode via a front panel toggle switch. The meter also features a slow-release-time peak hold function, allowing easy verification of critical peak levels. All in all, it’s one of the best stereo meters I’ve seen in a piece of equipment at anywhere near this price.
The optional SRM-RU remote control allows convenient access to speaker selection, mono and dim functions, and can be connected to the SRM-80 by the supplied 10′ cable.
It was easy to get a good idea of how this unit sounded. I simply hooked one of the balanced outputs from my Wadia Model 27 reference DAC to the SRM-80’s console input and patched the Furman’s balanced output to where the DAC usually went. I set up the other output from my DAC to come up on an adjacent position on the main selector switch in Studio Dufay’s Eclair Engineering vacuum-tube monitor console. After carefully adjusting their relative monitor levels, comparing the two signal paths involved simply switching between the two adjacent positions on the Eclair’s rotary switch.
Unfortunately, the test results were not very favorable to the SRM-80. The sound quality of my source signal diminished considerably — after merely passing through the Furman box — in just about every parameter I could name. High-end openness, bass slam, midrange liquidity, etc., were all severely compromised when compared to the source as sent around the Furman rather than through it.
This difference was several orders of magnitude greater than the usual differences I hear even between low-priced ADCs and their sources, such was the amount of veiling the Furman imparted to my source signal.
Put in the context of its intended use, however, the box didn’t sound all that bad. The SRM-80 was actually designed for small project studios, not high-end classical recording installations with lots of expensive tube mic preamps and multiple five-figure converters! And for the smaller studio — which is precisely where its features would be most appreciated — the tradeoff in ultimate sound quality for the unit’s extensive flexibility makes much more sense, especially considering its reasonable price.
I like to open up review gear to check out the parts construction quality and, in this case, I was curious to see just which particular ICs might be responsible for its sound quality. Unfortunately, it was not possible. My attempts at interior examination were thwarted by Furman’s inclusion of a single tamper-proof rivet among all the other standard screws holding on the top panel.
Despite my qualified approval of the Furman SRM-80’s sound quality, I would not hesitate to install it in my remote monitoring setup, feeding a separate set of monitors for use others for instance. All in all, it is an extremely useful piece of gear for the small studio.