User Report: Big Performance in a 'Mini' Box
BALTIMORE In my hot little hands is the new DSPXmini-AM processor from BW Broadcast, a U.K.-based manufacturer of audio processors and FM transmitters.
With a simple set of text and status displays, a shuttle wheel control and three buttons on the front, the 1RU box is nice and clean. Balanced analog I/O, AES/EBU I/O and synch input, RS-232 connection, remote trigger port, LAN port and a ground lift switch round out things on the back of the unit.
By reducing some of the chassis features found on their much more expensive units, BW is able retail this processor for a mere $1,750.
Like a good sleeper car on the street, what's under the hood is not reflected on the outside. Hidden horsepower comes in the form of a fast 8-bit microcontroller, six 24-bit DSPs and 24-bit A/D and D/A converters.
The unit is new so I needed to hook up my PC via the serial port and update the software. I set the unit to "bootloader" and fired up Hyperterminal, and it was about a minute for the system to run a full update and restart operation, without losing my place or settings. Simple and clean, like the whole unit.
After updating, I connected up the various audio cables and plugged in the LAN connection to my network.
The DSPXmini-AM allows you full control over the IP and MAC addresses of the unit. Rotating the selection knob and pressing in to select, users navigate to the System menu and LAN Config. Set an IP, default gateway, MAC address and port number and then load up the remote control software on the PC. Primary control is done on the remote interface, in part because it's easier to see and jump around than using the jog wheel on the unit. Once a user has loaded up the software, entered the IP and port information into it, click "connect." As soon as the display pops up with all the proper audio settings, it's off and running.
I really like the clean interface on the software. You have an immediate, easy-to-read set of audio indicators along the top center of the interface: input, four-band AGC, four-band limiter, output and MPX. Down the left side is an operating menu, with a logical folder-style layout. Above that menu is a menu/preset selector. Click on the preset tab and the left side display switches to show all of the existing processing presets loaded in the system. On the upper right side of the display is a large Disconnect/Connect button and an A/B selector. The lower 2/3rds of the screen is the control area — altered by the selections from the left menu.
The unit ships with 12 factory presets and eight user-definable presets. Users can save modifications for their own presets, and load presets from a PC via the LAN connection. BW runs www.audio-processor.com, which includes an area dedicated to each of their processors. Users can upload their settings and download others to try.
This is, of course, where the sound geek comes out to play.
After listening to the presets, I settled on "Music Bright" as a starting point for the Pop-centric '60s/70s format we were testing.
Adjusting the audio is incredibly intuitive on this interface. We did initial testing sitting between the speakers of a nice home audio system, with a portable, single speaker radio sitting in the middle for A/B comparisons.
Speaking of A/B comparisons … one of the most exercised features on the remote software was the A/B button. This lets the user bounce between the preset originally started with and the tweaks made on the fly. It was a great way to fine tune settings and keep working through subtle changes.
Saving the tweaked setting in the users section for future use, I took the laptop out to the van, hopping into wireless mode. Listening to the station on the van radio while using the laptop to adjust some more for that environment is a killer app if ever there was one. With the A/B comparisons, I was able to set up a processing sound that was equally at home in the car and in the house. Given the next few months of playing, it will keep getting fine-tuned, and saved. Sooner or later it will be uploaded to the BW site for others to share.
The bargain feature on this box is dayparting. A feature virtually every station wants and needs but can never be found on a lower-priced processor. T he DSPXmini-AM allows users to set eight dayparts by day of the week (or all days), hours and minutes of the change and hours and minutes of the duration.
By designing it well, users can set a standard daypart function for the whole week and then create deviations for other times. Each daypart is tied to a selected preset of the user's choosing. This is a fantastic feature that allows for fine-tuning programming with ease — whether it's a Saturday morning kids show or a Friday night sports jam, users will be able to punch it up as hot as they want.
Test and measurement was done using a Belar AMM-1 monitor and transmitting on a 100 mW Hamilton RangeMaster AM1000 transmitter. You know this box is good when you're able to make a 100 mW signal sound competitive with a 50 kW in town!
Overall, the sound, ease of remote management and the price are just fantastic. What else can one say about a low-cost processor that lets you tweak everything from your modulation symmetry to the daypart in which to apply it? This processor represents an absolute bargain for lower-budget broadcasters that want to kick the big boys out of town.
Thanks to Chuck Begin of 1630 Bar Harbor for assistance in the listening tests.
For information, contact BW Broadcast at (866) 376-1612 or visit www.bwbroadcast.com.
The author is operations manager for WLOY(AM) at Loyola College.