John Oram seems at times to be a lightning rod, alternately attracting adulation from top engineers and producers for his audio products, and antagonism from competitors and message-board commentators. Some of the flak stems from the claim by the SoundTech marketing department (a UK company for whom Oram designed mixers), and perpetuated by Oram himself, that he is “the father of British EQ.” At the other end of the spectrum, there are certain audio forum wonks that seem to live for the sole purpose of discrediting Oram’s entire CV.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, post production
Key Features: Eight mic/line input channels; six output busses configured as three stereo busses; three post and two pre-fader aux sends; nine-segment LED stereo output meters; solo in place on channels, aux masters and subgroups; up to 20 units can be linked
Contact: Trident Audio Ltd. at Web Site.
Hyperbole aside, Oram has indeed had a productive career in the music industry designing instrument amplifiers (the venerable Vox AC50 and 1141 ‘SuperBeatle’ amplifiers), popular guitar preamps (including the Martin MEQ932, as well as the Washburn Equis II, which sold more than a quarter of a million units) and original mixing consoles sold under the Oram brand name. Oram was also a design consultant at UK console manufacturer Trident Audio Development for 14 years.
Oram and his company, Trident Audio Ltd., resurrected the original console manufacturer’s name and are releasing faithful remakes of vintage Trident designs and hybrid products combining original Oram and Trident designs. The versatile Trident Audio Ltd. S100 ($4,995) 8×6 mixer intelligently incorporates elements of several original Trident products.
The Trident Audio Ltd. S100, which streets in the US for around $2,900, features eight mic/line inputs and six bus outputs (configured as three stereo busses). The UK-built S100 is marketed primarily as an analog summing solution for use with professional digital audio workstations such as Digidesign Pro Tools and Steinberg Nuendo. With its eight phantom powered mic preamps and per-channel direct outputs, the S100 can also be used as a front end for studio and live event multitrack recording.
Each of the eight channels features a versatile assortment of input options: an XLR mic/line input (‘Mic/Line 1’), a 1/4-inch TRS line input (‘Line In 2’), and an unbalanced RCA line input (‘Line In 3’). Each channel also has an unbalanced 1/4-inch send/receive insert point and unbalanced 1/4-inch direct output (this is the same configuration as the original Trident consoles).
The eight input channel strips take up the vast majority of real estate on the front panel of the nine-space, all-steel rack mount unit. At the top of each strip are separate knobs for Mic 1/Line In 1/Line In 3 input level and Line In 2 input level. Each input section also has a mic/line input select switch (with corresponding LED indicators), a 48V phantom power switch, a phase reverse switch and a peak LED (set to illuminate at +10 dB, leaving 18 dB of headroom to allow judicious use of EQ before clipping). The mic pre is based on the original Trident Series 65 design and provides +50 dB of gain.
The equalization section of the S100 combines a sweepable low-cut filter (5 Hz to 200 Hz) based on the Trident TSM design with a fixed high-frequency shelf (±15 dB at 10 kHz, 4 dB/octave), a sweepable mid EQ (±15 dB from 100 Hz to 10 kHz, 0.5 dB/octave), a fixed low-frequency shelf (±15 dB at 100 Hz, 12 dB/octave), and a switched high-cut filter (gradual from 4 kHz -9 kHz, steep from 15 kHz) based on Trident Series 80 designs.
Each channel also features three post-fader and two prefader auxiliary sends, a stereo pan knob, three stereo buss assign switches, a solo switch (with LED indicator) and a large rotary fader.
The master section features aux send master level knobs with solo switches for each of the post-fader sends and a combined solo switch for the two pre-fader sends. The S100 also provides three stereo returns with level controls; the last stereo return (marked ‘Playback’) has an in/out switch.
The main stereo bus output is controlled via a large rotary fader like those found on the individual input channels; the other two stereo busses each have a level knob, solo switch and main stereo bus assign switch for folding back into the main L/R bus (i.e., as subgroups). The stereo buss feeds a phones output level knob and front panel 1/4-inch jack, as well as a monitor out level knob (with mute switch).
With the exception of the phones out jack, all master section inputs, inserts and outputs are on supplied female 25-pin D-sub connectors that break out to male 1/4-inch connectors. Up to 20 S100 mixers can be linked (including solo functions) via a dedicated D-sub connector on each unit.
One of the nasty rumors perpetuated on certain audio forums is that the Trident Audio Ltd. S100 is a SoundTech Panoramic mixer (a mid-priced live/monitor console designed by Oram for SoundTech) being remarketed as a Trident product.
Due to the striking resemblance, I asked Mr. Oram to address the issue. He responded that both products do in fact use the same main PCB (printed circuit board) and ergonomic layout – designs he came up with when contracted to create the SoundTech Panoramic Series mixers – but that internally, the individual channel components and designs are true to the Trident lines cited in the “Features” section of this review. Oram went on to indicate that he has used the same core PCB as the foundation of several other products including the OramSonic BEQ Series 4 and Series 8 consoles, both precursors to the well-respected BEQ Series 24 production console.
I had the opportunity to use the Trident S100 over the course of a month on a number of professional productions and found it to be a quite useful and welcome addition to my primarily digital setup (based around a Steinberg Nuendo workstation with multiple Universal Audio UAD-1 and TC PowerCore cards with RME interfaces).
I mostly used the S100 as an analog summing bus, which I enjoyed tremendously. Besides the benefits of adding the analog summing stage to otherwise all-digital productions, it also enabled me to incorporate the use of my favorite analog compressors and other outboard processors in a manner far easier than looping them through the DAW software and associated interfaces.
The mixer also functioned well in a multitrack live setting, recording the six bus outputs plus two direct outputs to a 20-bit ADAT XT. Since all sources were close-miked with quality condenser microphones, I had no trouble getting enough gain for my recording levels, though the +50 dB max preamps may be an issue for lower-powered dynamic or ribbon microphones (for which a deducted hi-gain variable-impedance preamp would be preferable in any case). An additional 10 dB of gain can be achieved by sending the channel fader level to a dedicated bus output.
From a subjective sonic-quality standpoint, I found the S100 to be warm and music-friendly, for lack of a better description, and well within the expected signal-to-noise range for an analog mixer with multiple summing busses and returns. If you are familiar with typical analog consoles, the S100’s operation is for the most part straightforward, self-explanatory and barely requires use of the manual (which is a good thing since I received no manual!).
This raises one of my common pet peeves with many audio products, including this one: inadequate labeling. My litmus test has always been to ask, “Does an independent engineer have to ask me for a manual to find basic information.” In this case, the front panel labeling provides no information about the fixed-frequency high and low EQ knobs (are they peaking or shelf, and at what frequency?) or the high-cut switch (what frequency?). This is basic and essential information – I mean, it’s not like I’m asking to label something extravagant like the Q of the mid sweep or slope of the filters.
I should note that, while the use of D-sub connectors keeps the unit uncluttered of the myriad of cables that would otherwise be flowing to/from the mixer, and helps keep the price at a more reasonable level, it does necessitate the use of a patchbay – not a bad thing to have setup anyway, but it should be mentioned.
In every situation in which it was used, the Trident S100 proved to be a useful and sonically pleasing addition to the recording or mixing setup. While its list price is on par with competing analog summing line mixers, the S100’s US street price is significantly lower (hint: check the Trident and Oram websites for pricing specials).
The hybrid nature of this unit is not as faithful a reproduction of the original Trident designs as other John Oram/Trident Audio Ltd.’s offerings, but the S100 stands on its own as a versatile and reasonably priced high-quality analog summing and tracking mixer.