Hi, my name is Bill and I’m an Audio Snob… (“Hi, Bill!)

They say the first part of getting past a problem is recognizing it so let’s start by getting that out of the way. I wasn’t always this way. As recently as a decade ago I was pretty happy with a decent powered box-style mixer for most gigs and was really proud of the one entry-grade wireless mic that I had. But in 2002, this “guy in the band who owned the PA” and who had made a living as a journalist for most of his adult life, went from doing a print magazine for working musicians called GIG to leading the tribe at the top trade magazine in the world for live sound called Front of House.

And it was in the nine years there that my problem started to become more apparent. It was bound to happen. I mean, I went from doing local gigs with my own band and supplying sound for local events with my own PA to covering massive productions with audio systems that cost way more than the average house (and I lived in L.A. at the time…) and from figuring I could get by with 16 inputs to watching techs working who had 96 inputs and every one of them was full. From miking maybe the kick drum to knowing that I “had to” have two mics on the snare. (What, you’re not using top and bottom snare mics? Really?)

Now that I think about it, only eight or nine months after i started the FOH editor gig my band was the “house band” at an industry jam at a trade show. Remember that an event like this is really about a bunch of high-end sound and lighting guys showing off for each other. When we walked out onto a stage with enough lights for a Van Halen music video, in-ear monitors, a lighting guy, a monitor engineer and the guy mixing for the house who was on a break from his regular gigs mixing Jimmy Buffett and Brian Wilson… Well, I guess that was the end of audio normalcy for me.

I tell you all of this so you can maybe understand my attitude going in to reviewing the VocoPro PA Pro 900. I had never used VocoPro stuff before but the association in my mind was 100% karaoke. And I had a bunch of cool pro gear like digital consoles and really bitchin mics and software plug-ins and stuff. So, even though the VocoPro got to me first, it kept sliding further and further down the list when it came time to break open boxes and start reviewing.

Outta The Box

Finally, I could not put it off any more. We had the unit here and had actually already given it away to one of our loyal FaceBook/Twitter/ReverbNation/LinkedIn/Digg/Tumblr followers and I had to get the review done before we sent it off to her. So, in an effort to edumacate myself a bit, I went online and got a hold of the manual for the PA Pro 900 and started reading. By page three, my attitude had done a 180 and I could not wait to get the box open.

“Wait,” I thought. “This thing has four wireless mics built-in and a digital recorder and one-knob compression? Really? I did not own a compressor until I had moved up to a PA that i could use to do an outdoor gig for 1000 people and I didn’t really know how to run it for a couple of years after that.

So here’s the lowdown. Powered box. Four mic channels with phantom and three bands of EQ. Two stereo channels with 1/4” inputs AND an 1/8” stereo input for an iPod or laptop. Power is 450 watts a side but keep in mind that is into four ohms. Most giggers who can use this size box are going to have speakers rated at more like eight ohms so that means more like 225 watts.

Lots of options. It can be setup for standard left-right setup or you can hit a switch and assign one amp to the mains and one to the monitor send. Main outputs that bypass the power and are on XLR connectors. Two graphic EQs. At seven bands each you are not going to use them to ring out monitors but they can be useful for some gentle tone shaping. Remember, with smaller graphics you want to avoid any drastic boosts or cuts. The width of each band means that “big moves” on the EQ WILL carve up your sound.

In addition to the one-knob compressor for the mic channels, there is a DSP section with separate controls for reverb, delay (echo) and a “hiss filter.” And the DSP has a separate return control for the mains and the monitors. (Remember, too much “grease” in the monitors is a sure way to guarantee feedback. Use it wisely, Grasshopper.) There is even a jack for a footswitch (not included) so you can turn the reverb off between songs so you can talk to the audience and not sound like you are in a cave. You also get a mono out with a low-pass filter set at 125 Hz that you can use to feed a separate sub.

Oh, and it’s built like a tank. The little sucker weighs in at more than 50 lbs…

Here is where it get’s really cool. The PA-Pro 900 comes in three flavors–Basic, 1 and 2. What do you get with 1 and 2? How about wireless mics and a digital recorder? Yep. And you don’t have to buy it all at once. On the front of the box there is a steel plate held in with two screws. Take it off and pop in the recorder module and you’re ready to record onto a standard SD card. On the back are four more plates, each covering the receptacle for a wireless mic card. And each mic channel has a switch for taking the signal from the “internal” wireless or through the XLR input on the front. I have not had a chance to use the wireless mics, but Bob Lindquist used one of the four-mic units that use the same mics and circuitry as the modules for the 900 and he tells all about it HERE.

Final Word
Solid. Well-built. Are you gonna take it out and hand one of the wireless mics to Celine Dion? Um, no. But for smaller gigs and bands just getting started or for acoustic acts or even to have as a separate system so you can offer karaoke service during the band’s breaks on say a wedding gig, it’s hard to beat.

Now I gotta go see if I can find a 12-step group for audio snobs. It’s Vegas, there has to be one. I’ll know I’m there when I find the place with a line array at the front door and a coffee machine in the back…

Originally posted 2011-06-05 23:20:11.