Test Drive: Orban 787A Programmable Mic Processor

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by Jerry Vigil

If you haven't used a programmable mic processor in production, you don't know what you're missing. There are only a few of these boxes on the market, and the Orban 787A has got to be one of the better ones. What do you get? You get a three-band parametric equalizer, a gated compressor, a de-esser, and a noise gate in one easy to use unit. The designers had both the control room and the production room in mind. There are 99 user-programmable presets, so you can store mic settings for every jock on staff with a few slots left over for your local high school football team. The 787A is a mono processor with an optional second channel slave unit to expand to stereo.

The long row of seventeen buttons on the panel is a little intimidating at first, but once you dive in, programming the 787A is very easy; and the time invested setting it up is returned with interest. After setup, the only buttons you'll touch regularly are the UP and DOWN buttons which select a preset or change the value of a parameter, and the STORE and RECALL buttons which perform the memory functions. Two bargraphs on the panel give all the metering necessary with gain reduction on one and output level on the other. A red LED display shows all the other information needed.

The EQ section has four buttons: LOW, MID, and HIGH plus a bypass switch. Three LED's above these buttons indicate which mode the EQ is in: BOOST/CUT, BAND¬WIDTH, or CENTER FREQUENCY. To adjust the highs, for example, you would press HIGH. One of the LED's will light up to indicate the current EQ mode. Pressing HIGH repeatedly alternates between the three modes. Once BOOST/CUT, BANDWIDTH, or CENTER FREQUENCY is selected, the current value is displayed in the LED readout. Adjustment is then made with the UP and DOWN buttons. Fine and course adjustments are available for precise settings.

Continuing our tour of "what the buttons do," we come to the compressor section of the panel. It offers three more buttons to play with: INPUT ATTEN, RELEASE TIME, and GATE THRESHOLD. To increase gain reduction, you simply hit INPUT ATTEN then hit the UP button until the desired amount of gain reduction is indicated on the bargraph. RELEASE TIME is indicated on the LED display in dB's per second. Again, UP and DOWN are used to make the adjustments. The GATE THRESHOLD is just as easily adjusted. With all three parameters set properly, this compressor sounds very good. It delivers that "punch" if you want it, or very smooth and subtle control over input levels. While the 787A is made by the same people that make the popular ORBAN 424 compressor/limiter, the sound is very different. Without getting into the nuts and bolts of compressors, let's just say that the 424 is a great compressor for your transmitter audio chain, and the 787A is definitely the one for the mic. Cranked to the max, the output of the compressor sounds very clean (if you can consider totally obliterated dynamic range clean -- not too many engineers can), and the gate does a great job of keeping the compressor from "rushing up" during pauses.

The de-esser attenuates highs when peaks above 6kHz exceed the adjustable threshold level. It's a handy tool for those of us who might get carried away with the high frequency boost of the EQ section. The de-esser can also be bypassed.

The NOISE GATE is an even handier tool. Its threshold is also adjustable, but it uses the same threshold as the compressor gate. This didn't appear to cause any problems in all the settings tested for this review. The noise gate on the 787A is a nice feature for production, especially if your mic is in the same room as your equipment. With the proper threshold setting, room noise is virtually eliminated on voice tracks.

It was pleasing to see an effects port on the 787A. The effect send level is not adjustable, but the effect return level is. This keeps it simple and does the job. For an on-air mic setup that uses reverb, this makes interfacing with an external reverb unit possible. The nice touch here is that each jock can have different amounts of reverb on their mic, and those reverb settings get stored in his "number." In the production room, the possibilities are even greater. If you use varying amounts of reverb on voice tracks for different types of reads, these settings can be stored in the presets and called up quickly. You can even go so far as to have the effects port patched to a multi-effects processor and store varying amounts of echo, flange, pitch change, etc. Bear in mind, however, that the effects are mixed WITH the direct signal. You can only vary the effects level in the mix. Also, if you wish to use the effects port for reverb and want stereo reverb, the optional 787A/SL second channel slave unit is necessary.

The 787A also offers restricted access. (Engineers like this function!) A four digit code can be programmed into the unit to restrict access to all the controls except those that select presets. The only way to unlock the machine without the code is with a crowbar or a switch inside the unit.

The optional remote control only has on its panel the UP, DOWN, and RECALL buttons with an LED readout to indicate the selected preset. This is ideal for on-air studio use. It's small, simple to use, and keeps the big box out of temptation's way. Remote control is also available through an optional MIDI or RS-232 interface. Presets can be recalled and parameter settings can be saved to external memory with these interfaces, but parameters cannot be adjusted. A computer whiz with nothing to do might set up the unit to automatically change programs with each jock shift, thus taking the switching completely out of the jocks' hands -- or human hands for that matter.

Specs for the techies include frequency response of 20-20kHz, balanced mic and line inputs, plus mic level and line level outputs. The EQ is tunable from 30Hz to 15.3kHz with boost/cut range from +16 to -40dB. List price on the 787A is $1995. We found one for $1675. The optional 787A/SL second channel slave lists for $995 and can be found around the $800 range.

Aside from the de-esser and the noise gate, the 787A is basically a compressor with EQ. Most production rooms have a compressor and EQ, and one might ask, "Why do we need another compressor and more EQ?" To begin with, this compressor and EQ would be nice upgrades for many; but what's even more attractive about having a mic processor in production is the time saved. If you spend just one minute setting up EQ and compression for a read and do this a dozen times a day, that figures out to an hour a week you can save. That's the extra hour you didn't have last week to cut that spec spot -- the same spec spot that would have made enough money to pay for the box! And if you can get this reasoning to work with your GM, you might want to consider a transfer to sales!

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