(click thumbnail)Fast FactsApplications: Sound reinforcement, live sound, installation
Key Features: Modular system; 24-bit/96 kHz performance; Ethernet; separate stage box
Contact: Roland Systems Group at 800-380-2580, www.rolandsystemsgroup.com.
+ Sonic characteristics
+ Ease of use
- No dB reading on remote
- Cannot run communications through snake
Pretty much everything you need in one integrated system. The use of a "digital" snake is obvious when it comes to a digital console – converting the signal to digital as close to the origin of the signal – ideally right at the preamp. Many digital consoles have package deals of proprietary digital signal routing systems, i.e. snakes. But a digital snake can also be used with analog consoles. To address these concerns (with digital and analog consoles), Roland Systems Group (RSS) has recently introduced the S-4000S, a modular digital snake system delivering up to 160 channels of high quality 24-bit/96 kHz audio over CAT-5e cables. The advantages of this technology are ease of setup, sound quality, no hums or buzzes from cabling, and flexibility in modular design, making it a product for the future.
The Roland S-4000 Modular Digital Snake is configured using two basic components, the S-4000H and the S-4000S. The S-4000H is a fixed 8-input, 32-output design that is typically used at the front of house position or as the output side of a split. System components include remote controllable XR-1 professional quality mic preamps, redundant Ethernet ports and splits using standard Ethernet hardware.
The S-4000S is a modular chassis that was configured as an S-4000S-3208 with 32 inputs and eight outputs for my demo. This configuration worked with the S-4000H at FOH to make a 32 x 8 system. A 64 x 16 system can be easily configured using two S-4000S-3208, two S-4000H units and two CAT-5e cables. The unit carries an MSRP of $7,995 for 32 x 8 systems with remote control, stage and FOH units, and modular in design. Pricing for custom configurations are available by contacting Roland Systems Group.
The other component of an S-4000 digital snake is the S-4000R remote controller. The S-4000R can be used at either the stage or the FOH position, but typically is used to control the input gains from the console at the mix position. The remote is plugged into the S-4000H using an RS-232 port and designed to control up to 40-channels of audio at microphone or line level. The remote has illuminated buttons for phantom power, 20 dB pad, and a "clip clear button." If the input mic preamp channel clips, the button stays illuminated until depressed to clear it. The input gain is set using a rotary knob located on the remote to adjust input gain from –64 to +4 dBu. The remote has memory presets for storing gain settings.
I used the RSS Digital Snake on several shows with Tony Bennett and his Quartet with a system provided by Altel Systems of Brewster, N.Y. The first show was a benefit at Pier 60 in New York City that required the snake to be run above and along the ceiling. The advantages of running this CAT-5e snake versus a traditional analog copper snake was immediate on this show as it took two guys a very short time to complete the task versus running a 48-pair copper snake.
A nice feature of the S-4000 system is built-in redundant cable ports. If the main cable is broken, the system will automatically and seamlessly switch to the backup Ethernet cable. Also, if you are on the road and you need to replace this type of cable, you can probably get it at Radio Shack. An optional S-240P power supply ($995) can be used at the stage location, FOH location or with any splits. If there is a problem with the original power supply the optional supply will automatically switch over.
Another nice design feature is the ability to "split" system inputs using standard Ethernet hardware switches providing for multiple audio splits to monitors, a recording location or broadcast truck. Keeping the audio in the digital domain, there is no loss of audio quality when creating a split.
Sonically overall, I was pleased with the XR-1 preamps. They were very clean and complemented the sound I was trying to achieve on all instruments and vocals. I found the clip indicator light a little too sensitive, as it seemed to engage at times when no clipping was apparent. It should be noted that Clear-Com Communications intercoms couldn't be run down this snake due to its DC voltage. So if you need communications and are using this snake you should bring wireless communications.
When you use the remote to set signal gain you must scroll to the input desired, then use another rotary knob to set the gain. There is no dB reading on the remote, which I found a little cumbersome. Having used many digital consoles I wished you could see the input gain in a dB reading, so gains could be preset for the various instruments. As you turn the gain knob you feel like you are guessing as to what your actual gain is. For example, most engineers know the gain settings for a Shure SM 58. However, the system can be controlled from a computer with downloadable PC/Mac software. Using the software on my laptop I could see actual dB gain and monitor settings better and quicker than using the remote.
The RSS Digital Snake is a worthy alternative to sound companies and contractors using traditional analog snakes. Its lightweight modular design will be a cost-effective alternative in the future when costs of raw materials like copper are constantly increasing in order to meet global demand. The ability to run extra CAT-5e cables in conduit offers great savings in installation and conduit costs when expanding this system especially in the contracting market. For anyone considering a new snake system for sound reinforcement the RSS 4000 system is worth checking out.
Yamaha PM 4000, Midas Venice consoles; Meyer M1D speakers.