Carvin XP880 Powered Mixer

I have had many experiences with Carvin musical instruments and their craftsmanship for many years. They are true value with many endorsements by prominent recording artists and except for my interaction with one of their recording consoles, purchased by a client with whom I was consulting, I have never used any of their pro audio equipment.
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Fast FactsApplications: Live sound

Key Features: Eight-channel; twin FX banks; three-band channel EQ; seven-band graphic EQ; 250W amps; 300W amp

Price: $499

Contact: Carvin at 800-854-2235, www.carvin.comI have had many experiences with Carvin musical instruments and their craftsmanship for many years. They are true value with many endorsements by prominent recording artists and except for my interaction with one of their recording consoles, purchased by a client with whom I was consulting, I have never used any of their pro audio equipment. I was looking forward to using the XP880 and had the perfect opportunity when a friend of mine told me he was looking for a small portable sound system for his praise band to do a series of small concerts throughout the summer.

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Features

The XP880 ($499) is a rugged-looking piece, housed in an injection molded case with a steel chassis, large heat sinks and a variable speed fan, which is quieter than most fan-cooled power amps I've heard. The numerous knobs are sealed to resist the elements of the road. The font panel of this unit has a lot going on in a small amount of space, so I understand the reason for the small knob size selection, but I can tell you that it takes some getting used to. They are staggered in their arrangement so that access to the controls is maximized.

Carvin's literature states that the surface mount technology used to fabricate the circuit boards will help prevent wear from vibration.

The XP880 is an eight-channel (Channels 7/8 and 9/10 double up) powered mixer with two 250W per channel (@ 4 ohms) amplifiers for the main outputs and a 300W amplifier for the monitors. The rear-mounted output 1/4-inch plus Speakon connectors provide for the connection to speakers and monitors. A four segment LED output/clip meter allow for monitoring of the amplifier output. The first six channels have a balanced XLR mic and TRS line level input. All inputs for the channels are accessed in the lower front face of the unit. The channels have a three-band tone control utilizing a shelving contour for the high (11.5 kHz) and low (80 Hz) frequencies and boost/cut control at 750 Hz for the mids. Below that we have the monitor send and a split control for effects send 1 and 2 and then below that the balance control and level control. The gain trim is located just above the input jacks.

Channels 7 and 8 and 9 and 10 provide a combined input offering of a balanced mic (XLR) a stereo line in (TS) with 9and 10 having an additional convenient stereo phono input. To the right of the channel strips is the seven-band stereo graphic EQ for the main and a mono seven-band for the monitors. EQ bands available are 80 Hz, 160 Hz, 400 Hz, 800 Hz, 2 kHz, 6 kHz and 12 kHz, with a null center position. Below the EQ is a nifty little 'music break' switch that mutes all channels except 9 and 10 so that you can play music from your favorite source in between sets.

The LED mode indicator is useful in helping you not to forget the status of your rig. Next to that we have the main output level adjust for the monitors, the main FX control and the FX selection of 256 effects and the parameter adjustment. The detented knobs are tight, so again this will take a little getting used to. A useful silk-screened chart is available to help in the selection process. My friend was zipping around setting up his favorite effects in no time.

In the lower right corner are the global phantom power button and balanced 1/4-inch TRS main and monitor outputs for use with external amplifiers. There is also an EFX2 send for use with an external FX unit, but the audio must be returned through an unused input channel.

There is a footswitch jack so that you can enable or disable the FXs 1 and 2 with a stomp box.

To complete the system, I had two PM15s, a two-way loudspeaker which uses a 15-inch low frequency driver with a 90 x 45 injection molded horn coupled to a high frequency driver. The published power handling specification of the speaker is 400 watts continuous, 800W peak with a sensitivity 100 dB SPL, 1 watt @ 1 meter with an impedance of 8 ohms. The ABS constructed vented cabinet has an integral pole mount aperture and weighs about 48 pounds.

In Use

After connecting the system to the pair of PM15s and power, I connected two acoustic guitars; a Martin Sigma 12-string acoustic with a Fishman pickup and a custom Omega six-string acoustic guitar using an L.R. Baggs double barrel pickup made by renowned luthier Kevin Gallagher. Both guitars were connected using the direct outputs. On vocals we used a couple of Shure SM58s and a Beta Green.

We set the system up outside and used an old Yamaha two-way speaker for monitors. We turned the system on and just turned things up. The system cranked, and we could hear it clear across the parking lot into the next property. It took some work with the EQ to tame the guitars but after awhile we found acceptable settings for both. It would have been nice to have a sweep mid range control but we dealt with it. The system had lots of gain and the PM15s faithfully reproduced and the sound at a very high level.

The internal effects were nice and it was a real convenient having the ability to select separate FX for the vocals and the instruments without needing external boxes and wires. The monitor setup was straight forward and worked well with power to spare. Although I'm not a fan of graphic EQs, they were intuitive to use and helped us tweak the sound. In fact, my friend who is more a musician than technical found the suggestions in the manual very helpful and to my amazement didn't apply the traditional "smiley curve" but rather set up a nice judicious curve that accentuated their sound without starving gain. I was impressed.

Summary

All in all, the Carvin PM880 with the PM15 loudspeakers provides a compact, easy to use, good sounding system. If you have a small band and are doing small to medium-sized rooms and even some outdoor parks, this system certainly fits the bill. Incidentally, for the tour, the band needed a few more channels and found that Carvin made a larger 12-channel unit, which they purchased and love.

Carvin definitely has a way of getting into the mind of the working musician with features and functions and easy to use interfaces that remove the technology fear from its users, while keeping the cost reasonable.