Dangerous Music D-Box
Combining summing and monitoring control in one unit sounds like a good idea providing
neither aspect is compromised by the other. GEORGE SHILLING reminds us that this is a
Dangerous box…
angerous Music of Edmeston, upstate New
switches latch reassuringly. Function buttons feature
York, is best known for its summing boxes
a novel ‘Momentoggle’ operation: a brief touch
— it was onto the concept early on and
latches the button On or Off, while a longer press is
offers a range of high-end solutions that
momentary. Most other functions are obvious, but for
are widely regarded for their sonic integrity. It also
Setup mode you will need to refer to the manual (or
makes quality monitor controllers — essential for
read on!)
those determined to dodge using a traditional console.
The rear of the box is crammed with connectors
The D-Box brings both these concepts together in one
and they’re quality components and clearly labelled.
handy 1U, with the aim of providing the best bits from
Power enters from a proprietary in-line transformer
its high-end solutions into a cheaper (despite using
via a 5-pin DIN. There is no Power button and the
the same components) product for the professional or
possibility exists of a loud blatt on the monitors if this
project studio working to a budget, or even for mobile
plug is pulled out or power is killed — I know because
situations. It has been dubbed the DAW user’s Swiss
I tried it. A number of XLRs provide analogue and
Army Knife.
digital audio connections, along with a multipin D
The brushed aluminium front panel is littered
connector for summing input.
with knobs that have a quality feel to their damping,
For basic monitor control, you will obviously need
with dual rubber grips around them — they feel
to position the D-Box within easy reach, which is not
very smooth. Pushbuttons illuminate with integrated
always straightforward with a rackmount unit. But
LEDs, switching smoothly, with the only audible
when reachable, the large Volume knob is a joy to
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clicks emanating physically as (silver contact) relay
use. It is exceptionally smooth, and tracks perfectly
down to very low levels with no hint of the image
shifting sideways or dropping off suddenly.
On the left of the front panel are two headphone
jack outputs that mirror the Input Select and Speaker
Outputs. There is, unfortunately, no way of deriving
a different cue mix but each has its own independent
level control, and a healthy volume is available from
the clean and powerful amplification — you should
easily be able to run several sets from one output. It’s
a small point, but it might have been better for one of
these to appear on the rear panel for neater integration
into a studio system, especially as the provision of an
in-built Talkback mic implies that the talent is likely to
be in another room. But Talkback level is independent
of headphone level — a nice touch — so that when
the talent wants the mix louder, your next comment
shouldn’t hurt!
The summing section of the D-Box comprises eight
mono inputs that connect using a Tascam-wired Dtype 25-pin connector on the rear, so a custom cable
will need to be sourced (George’s cable was specially
prepared for him by Sommer Cable. Ed). The first six
of these inputs are arranged as three hard panned
stereo pairs, with inputs seven and eight coming
via front panel pan pots with (subtle) centre détente
positions. There are eight Signal LEDs that indicate
music flowing into each input. There are no level
trims, but there is one overall Sum Output Trim
knob, which is set so that full tilt equates to unity.
However, this is not the recommended position of
the knob. Ingeniously, the D-Box allows you to, er,
gain some extra headroom, by running your eight
DAW outputs into the D-Box’s summing input stage
which is at -6dBu.
This results in the possibility of running the DAW’s
faders higher — closer to unity — and also effectively
lowers the noise floor of the DAW’s outputs by 6dB.
March 2008
There is tremendous headroom in the D-Box, so you
can then use the Trim to optimise the level returning
into the DAW for mixdown. The only obvious
downside to this is the lack of precision recall of the
Sum knob, but in practise this is not a major problem,
as the range of the knob is only about 12dB, and
once it is optimally set you probably won’t move it
much, if at all.
There are four buttons for Input selection, these
comprise Sum, which is self-explanatory, Analog (an
external stereo input on a pair of XLRs), DAW and
CD, the last two comprising external digital inputs on
XLR connectors. There are no settings for the last two
inputs; AES or SPDIF is supported, the only caveat
being that only one digital source can be monitored
at a time. These will lock to any digital signal from
32kHz up to 100kHz, and the convertor sounds
remarkably clean, stable and neutral as expected.
In fact, the D-AC sounds rather better than most
‘standard’ convertors, so this is definitely the best
way to connect the DAW main outputs (if you can).
Talkback, Mono and Alt Speaker selector buttons
operate using the aforementioned Momentoggle
mode, this is handy for quick checks or comments
via Talkback, although care will need to be exercised
in the latter case to make sure you don’t accidentally
latch it. However, this possibility can be eliminated
with a jack in the Talkback pedal socket on the rear.
The hidden Setup mode is entered by simultaneously
pressing the Mono and Alt Speaker buttons, which
then start flashing alternately. Two parameters can be
set from here. First, by illuminating the Sum button
(and exiting Setup) you are able to monitor multiple
input sources — Sum, Analog and DAW or CD. This
has myriad uses, for example, when composing or
practising and this makes the D-Box a useful helper
even in the writing and demoing stages. Or you
could monitor programme while working on Foley or
effects tracks. In standard mode, selecting a source
is exclusive, and you can also select ‘no input’ in
either mode to mute the outputs. However, there
is no way of muting the speakers without muting
the headphones (apart from lowering the Volume),
and that might have been useful for control room
overdubs. The other Setup parameter relates to the
external Analog inputs. These are normally set to
accept +4dBu sources but to enable connection of
-10dBV devices, illuminating the Analog button
before exiting Setup mode adds 11.7dB of gain.
With regard to summing, the figures in the back of
the manual imply that the D-Box’s audio performance
is just about as transparent as is technically possible.
For example, the frequency response quoted is 1Hz to
100kHz within 0.1dB, with distortion, crosstalk and
noise boasting similarly impressive figures. Despite
the accuracy of the figures, there is undoubtedly an
audible difference when summing with the D-Box
compared to in-the-box mixing. (The difference is
said to be due to the use of multiple D-ACs feeding a
quality analogue summing circuit and thus running
hotter than the internal DAW’s stereo bus would
permit. Ed)
In the grand scheme of things, it is subtle, but
the difference is apparent when sending subgroups
via the D-Box. The vocals and bass end seem more
present in the mix, and there is a clarity in the high
frequencies that breaks out of that yucky ‘closed-in’
digital character that is apparent even with 96kHz
material. Despite careful level matching, it all seems
louder. However, I also bounced mixes in-the-box but
ran them out through my convertors in stereo and
back in for comparison, and there are certain aspects
of the sound that change purely due to conversion
— going out and back through boutique high-end
convertors seemed to open out the sound a little in
itself. But the winner was always the D-Box version,
and although the difference was very small, there
were richer sounding drums, a better defined stereo
image, and a general crispness missing from stereo
Another benefit to external summing that occurred
to me during the review period is the ease with which
you can introduce external bus processing. Taking the
drum and bass bus, or the vocal bus and compressing
using outboard on the way into the D-Box encourages
experimentation and a re-acquaintance with some
neglected toys.
The D-Box’s manual is clear, and any concerns or
queries were quickly explained by Dangerous Music’s
eager to help co-owner and founder Bob Muller. Coowner Chris Muth has spent more than 20 years as
a chief studio tech in such establishments as Sterling
Sound Mastering, designing and building custom
mastering consoles, monitor controllers and digital
routers. The D-Box inspires confidence, sounds great,
and is truly ‘Pro’. Yet the price makes this something
almost any project studio owner can aspire to. There
are cheaper solutions, and summing is not a priority
for everyone, but investing in a top-notch monitoring
controller should be, and you certainly won’t regret
getting a D-Box. ■
daNGEroUS mUSiC, US:
a great value way of acquiring a premium summing mixer and monitor controller in one box; crystal
clear sonic integrity; compact 1U format — great for portable rigs; simple to operate.
all small things, but… no alt Speaker level trim; no speaker mute button; no Power button; headphone
sockets both on front panel; no headphone cue input; no remote (apart from talkback socket).
dangerous music’s additional Switching
System is a 1U expander for its
monitor St and Sr controllers. the aSS
offers two banks of two options each,
allowing four additional capabilities for
the monitor controller available directly
from the St-Sr remote.
options introduced include mastering quality stereo d-a conversion — daC-St — and dual-format
video input switching for monitor St and St-Sr systems — vidswitch.
Upcoming options include 5.1 surround bass management with selectable filters and crossover points
(Bass-Sr), comprehensive subwoofer control (Sub-St), comprehensive 5.1 to stereo fold-down and
downmix control (Folddown), meter feed and selected output source for monitor St (meter-St), 6-channel
d-aC for surround setups (daC-Sr), and multiple input listening and input mixing for monitor St (mix-St).
March 2008