DAS AUDIO SM12A
Powered wedges are the trend.
This one is better than most.
Text: Christopher Holder
If you were placed in the unenviable position of only having two high-quality speaker cabinets in the back of the truck and a pair of also-rans, I wonder how long you’d agonise over where to put the good ones? Out front for the audience… or on stage for the artists? It’s a tough call. Either way it’s a big compromise. Put the good ‘uns on stage and you’re far more likely to have a vibed-up band and a killer performance… but that of course leaves the shoddy ones pointing into the room. Do it the other way around and the room gets a better, full-range sound, but what would they be hearing? Probably, an underwhelming performance from a band full of dropped lips. In the end, I’d contend a great performance wins every time.
The point I make is one that’s well recognised by monitor engineers the world over: getting a great on-stage sound is half the struggle. If the band’s unhappy – constantly looking over to the monitor position and pointing up/down, shaking their heads, or simply storming off – then it doesn’t matter if you have the world’s best house system, the night is a disaster.
So the follow-up point to make is: it’s no use blowing all your dough on the best front of house PA you can afford then bolting together some ‘frankenstein’ wedges in your shed from components you have hanging around.
DAS Audio is doing quite well with the Stage Monitor Series, so I thought I’d get hold of an SM12A and hear one for myself. The first thing to note is: it’s self-powered. This is proving to be a trend. Quite a few manufacturers are heading down the ‘integral amp’ path and it’s quite easy to see why. A powered wedge is easier to lug than an amp and a wedge and, being bi-amped, DAS has been able to optimally match amps to drivers and build all the associated protection circuitry into the box. The downside of a powered monitor is, of course, there’s another lead on stage (power as well as audio). DAS has gone with PowerCon connectors, which lock nicely into place (an IEC just wouldn’t cut it), and there’s an AC Output socket so you can daisy chain mains power from one to the next (up to four boxes). This alleviates the ‘power cords everywhere’ problem, but I’d still be nervous about seeing a bottle of Jack Daniels resting next to the cabinet.
The SM12A is a solid piece of kit. Thanks to the Finnish birchply cab, the extra weight of the amp blocks, and the rubber feet, you’re unlikely to see this speaker hopping around the stage or shoved out of position by an errant foot. It’s knocking on 30kg in weight, but handles ease the burden. DAS has also used some chunky speaker components. The lows are taken care of by a 12-inch driver with a three-inch voice coil, while the HF device also sports a chunky three-inch voice coil. Powering the drivers are a 500W Class D amp for the lows and a 100W Class A/B for the highs.
The SM12A is a thoroughbred floor monitor, not some hybrid that’ll work okay on stage if it really has to. There’s no pole mount, there’s no power switch, or volume knob on the rear… everything points to this device being tamper-proof and ready for some serious abuse
The SM12A sounds full and loud. Naturally, the first thing I did after pulling it out of the box was to plug in a line level source and play some CDs. Immediately the SM12A exhibited a full and well-balanced sound – it’s very pleasant to listen to. I then had it working as a vocal monitor and as a drum fill, and was easily able to pull a good, strong sound with very little recourse to the graphics.
Floor monitors are traditionally an odd breed in that their SPL ratings normally hold about as much weight as how they actually sound. I’ve had the dubious pleasure of being in front of some scarily loud wedges. The Firehouse wedges on the AC/DC stage nearly stripped the skin off my jumping carcass, while L-Acoustics’ 115XT is certainly not for the faint-hearted. DAS quotes a maximum output of 133dB at 1m, which seems plenty loud enough to me. In practice, the SM12A cut through easily enough when used as a drum fill (with the drummer going berserk). For a 12-inch, it’s got plenty of thump and doesn’t mind running full throttle. But, and perhaps I’m ruining the SM12A’s street cred entirely here, what I like most is the relative delicacy of this unit’s sound – it sounds quite refined. Sure, it’s still a compression driver we’re listening to here, but the SM12A wasn’t giving me a headache. And for that I’m very grateful.