(click thumbnail)Fast FactsApplications: Sound reinforcement, live sound, installation
Key Features: Four inputs, eight outputs; 48 kHz sample rate; parametric, graphic EQs; delay; compressor/limiters; crossover controls; FBX Feedback Exterminator
Contact: Sabine at 386-418-2000, www.sabine.com. This is a great time to be in the live sound field. Technological advancements have delivered enormous computing power to most of the electronic tools of our trade. The formerly dark art of speaker processing has now entered a golden era with powerful units flooding the market - especially those that are affordable to budget-restricted churches, schools and small SR providers. Gone are the days when you needed a rack full of gear and thousands of dollars to perform critical speaker management functions like crossover, EQ, delay and limiting. A notable new arrival in this class is the Navigator series from Sabine. These units perform all the previously listed functions as well as matrix mixing and Sabine's unique FBX feedback suppression.
There are three basic units in the Navigator line. The NAV8800 has eight inputs and eight outputs while the NAV4800 has four inputs and eight outputs and the NAV3600 has three inputs and six outputs. There is also an option for Ethernet function - allowing for control of Navigators on standard networks or Ethernet and serial-based touch screens. This capability means that users can control their Navigator from anywhere in the world (although I'm not sure why you'd want to do that). Additionally, the Navigator can be controlled from its front panel or from a laptop computer with the provided Navigator Remote software.
The NAV3600 3 x 6 has a list price of $1,099; the NAV4800 4 x 8 lists for $2,149 and the NAV8800 8 x 8 lists for $2,829. Ethernet-equipped versions add $200 to the list price of each unit.
The unit I received for review was the NAV4800. As mentioned, it has four inputs and eight outputs - all of them appearing as balanced XLR connectors. The chassis is one rack space and it protrudes eight inches back into the rack. The front panel features mute and function buttons for every input and output, a backlit LCD display screen, six menu buttons, and a dial encoder for parameter adjustments. The rear is home to the input and output connectors, an RS232 serial port (for connecting to a remote computer), a power switch and an options panel (for optional Ethernet connection).
The Navigator features 24-bit A/D and D/A converters, a sampling rate of 48 kHz, and internal processing at 32 bits (40-bit extended). It has a claimed frequency response of 20 Hz – 20 kHz (±0.1dB) and a purported dynamic range of 115 dB (unweighted). The unit generates a modest propagation delay of 1.47ms.
As would be expected from a dedicated speaker processor, the Navigator offers control over level, polarity, parametric filters (up to six with either numeric or graphic control), crossovers (Bessel, Butterworth, and Linkwitz-Riley with slopes up to 48 dB per octave), high and low shelving, compression/limiting (with adjustment for threshold, ratio, attack, release and gain), and digital delay (up to 450ms adjustable in 20 microsecond increments and selectable as ms, feet or meters). And, unlike most other speaker processors, there are eight FBX Feedback Exterminator filters too. All of these processes are available on every input and output of the Navigator. The unit stores up to thirty presets and features multiple levels of password security (a nice feature for install duty and to avoid tampering from pesky band engineers).
When using the Navigator Remote software, the user can access all the above features and additional goodies like graphic filter adjustments, viewing and editing frequency response curves, storing and recalling files, setups and programs, controlling up to sixteen linked Navigators (on Ethernet equipped units) and firmware upgrades.
I have been using the Navigator for almost two months now and have found it to be a wonderfully competent unit in a wide variety of scenarios. I have stored stereo two-way (with an aux fed subwoofer) and three-way presets (it can also do stereo four-way) for two different sets of loudspeakers (each requiring a different crossover slope and point with appropriate equalization). I also created slots for music and speech systems with satellite delays.
At one gig, I had a band playing on the main floor at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. The room is very cavernous but, to protect delicate artifacts like the Spirit of Louis, they have some strictly enforced SPL limits. My client that day wanted the music from the band on the stage piped to the upstairs balcony during the cocktail hour. Obviously, we couldn't just turn up the PA for it to be heard upstairs so we sent the signal to another system upstairs via a wireless link that derived its feed from an output on the Navigator (set to a distance delay and minus filtering that appeared on the other outputs).
The Navigator is very intuitively designed - I had the software installed on my laptop and the PA operational in short order (all without consulting the manual!). The user interface is very sensible with excellent graphics. I like the fact that the unit features a spreadsheet function where you can view all the parameters and make a quick overall comparison. I also liked the easy-to-use copy and paste function - a real boost for quick setups. Another nice find was the preferences menu, where you can select delay units (ms, feet or meters), EQ bandwidth units (Q or octave) and ambient temperature (Celsius or Fahrenheit).
While I have used another speaker processor in this price range that featured a higher sampling rate (96 kHz), I found this unit to have no discernible negative sonic impact (that's optimal) and lots of headroom and gain capability. In fact, overall, I found it to be as competent as some processors that cost more than 50 percent more.
While I rarely experience feedback loops that are caused by the house speakers, I do understand how the onboard FBX filters could assist inexperienced users in a setting like a worship house or school. The FBX filters are very handy when using the Navigator on monitor duty, yielding more system gain and happier singers. Since I was already savvy at using FBX filters, I found the system easy to set-up and operate. Novice users may find it a bit more complicated to initiate but they are also the people who may reap the most reward from this processing since they may be untrained at removing troublesome frequencies.
I do have a couple minor gripes about the Navigator. First, I wish there was a graphical display for gain reduction when using compression. Also, when using the front panel controls (which is rare since the software is so much easier to navigate), I noticed that certain soft keys caused other keys to move (not trigger) when one was depressed.
The Navigator has found a home in my rack. It is a highly competent piece of equipment – performing all the essential functions of a high quality speaker processor (and then some). It has a wonderful user interface in the accompanying remote control software and, during the course of my review, the unit performed without a glitch. The Navigator 4800 is not the cheapest speaker processor on the market (although the 3600 is pretty close) but it is affordable. It represents a great value- especially considering it has features and capability that puts it in the company of the some of the industry standards.
Midas Venice 320, 160, Allen & Heath GL2400 consoles; JBL and Community cabinets; Audio-Technica, Shure, Audix and Sennheiser mics; Rane, TC Electronic, BSS, PreSonus processors.