Review of Dr Watson Umix pedal (for live self-monitoring of guitar and vocals )

smigeonsmigeon Frets: 68
edited April 5 in Other Reviews

1. Problem statement

The Dr Watson Umix is a pedal for musicians who both sing and play guitar in a band, and who have trouble hearing themselves when playing live. The USP is that the pedal is designed to have absolutely minimal reliance on whatever the band’s main PA/ monitoring system may or may not be able to deliver. It is also intended to be quick and easy to set up and to sound great. The concept is especially useful where a band is playing on a bill with other acts and where there is little or no time to get the monitors right. To further these goals, the pedal is designed to use a “wired” rather than a “wireless” IEM approach. This is not a “second best” thing – it is deliberately done this way to maximise the above design criteria.

The pedal is packaged as a regular-sized pedal that you attach to your pedalboard like any other pedal. See photo and initial announcement of the Umix in this thread: http://www.thefretboard.co.uk/discussion/comment/1554003/#Comment_1554003. At the moment, the pedal is a prototype, but I believe a production version is expected soon. The pedal is designed and built by our own @danny1989.

2. Connections and Controls

The connections to the pedal are as follows:

  1. i) A 5 pin male XLR that takes a special "two-in-one" lead that comes with the pedal and which is called a “combiner lead”. More on this below, but basically it serves as i) a regular guitar lead between your guitar and your pedalboard; and ii) (in the other direction) as a headphone lead that takes your custom monitor mix, provided by the Umix, to a mini-jack socket that is wired into the cable at the guitar end in such a way that it hangs near your guitar’s body, and into which you plug your in-ear monitors (or headphones or equivalent). Essentially, the combiner cable concept preserves the advantages of wired IEMs (vis a vis wireless) such as low-cost, good sound,  minimal reliance on infrastructure and environment; while eliminating its main disadvantage: i.e. that you are tethered. With the combiner cable approach to wired IEM, you are no more tethered than you already are with your guitar lead.

ii) A female XLR into which you plug an XLR lead direct from your vocal mic.

iii) A male XLR into which you plug an XLR lead that takes your “thru” vocal mic signal from the Umix on to the main PA. The thru signal is transformer-isolated from the vocal mic input.

iv) A 6.3mm jack socket into which you plug a short patch lead that attaches to the first pedal on your pedalboard, and feeds your guitar signal into your pedal chain.

v) A 6.3mm TRS jack socket into which you plug a lead that brings in your amplified guitar signal back from your amp or modeller. It could, for example, be from a mic in front of your amp, or (as in my case) from a Palmer “the Junction” DI box. The socket is TRS to enable the Umix to support stereo guitar inputs (e.g. from a Helix)

vi) A 6.3mm TRS jack socket into which you plug a lead that takes the “thru” amplified guitar signal from the Umix on to the main PA. The thru signal is transformer-isolated from the amplified guitar input.

vii) Two female XLRs into which you plug a pair of XLR leads (or you could use a twin cable) carrying a stereo monitor mix (or whatever mix you can get, if any!) from the main PA.

viii) A socket for power (12VAC).

The pedal has controls as follows:

i) A gain pot and a volume pot for your monitored vocal.

ii) A volume pot for your monitored amplified guitar signal.

iii) A volume pot for the incoming monitor mix from the main PA (if you have one).

iv) A footswitch (looks like a regular pedal footswitch and has an accompanying green/red indicator LED) to switch on or off a stereo boundary mic that is built into the pedal. The purpose of this is to serve as an “ambient mic” to let you hear your bandmates talking between songs (not that we ever do that J).

v) A volume pot for the ambient mic.

Review continues in next post... 

 

 

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  • smigeonsmigeon Frets: 68
    edited April 5

    Review continued from above post...

    3. In Use

    I took the UMix out with my pub rock band. I was very impressed! I could hear myself sing properly for pretty much the first time ever and it was a total joy. I did think before using it that I might not like hearing my voice dry, with no reverb or anything, but I didn’t miss that at all in practice – it sounded really nice. The only slight downside (probably quite specific to me) was that the band said they couldn’t hear me singing quite as “clearly” as usual through the PA. I guess I was backing off from my usual scream-it-out-as-loud-as-possible approach. I think they just need to get used to giving me a bit more PA volume and/or compression. I think this is nothing to do with the UMix itself – it’s just because its the first time ever that I’ve used IEMs.

    Similarly impressed hearing my guitar. I was DI’ing my amp for the UMix only – I only mic it through the PA for larger gigs. I could hear myself playing much more clearly than usual and felt able to play a lot more sensitively. Same slight downside for the band though – they noticed a reigning back of the more aggressive way of playing that I adopt when I can’t hear what I’m doing . I guess it’s just a matter of adapting for both me and them.

    The first time I tried the Umix the drums weren’t miced up, so I had a bit of trouble hearing them when the drummer was playing quietly, and so slightly fluffed the timing on a couple of cues (don’t think many others would have noticed though). I tried using the ambient mic to give me a bit of drums in my ears but this didn’t work well – and it’s clearly not what the ambient mic is designed for. I believe the production version of the Umix will have an additional socket (and associated volume control) for a dedicated monitoring mic which you could, for example, place near the drums or clip to your mic stand.

    I thought the ambient mic worked well for its intended purpose, though. I could easily hear all the chat etc. from the others. One niggle was that switching it on and off with the footswitch produced a loud click which was a bit unpleasant – presumably this could/will be made silent in the production version.

    The “combiner cable” works really well! At the guitar end, there is a small volume control inIined with the headphone half of the cable. This serves as a master volume for the Umix. It is easy to find and intuitive (i.e., I never turned it down when I meant to turn it up . Overall, I very quickly forgot that I had additional "stuff" around my body and guitar, or even that I had things in my ears.

    One slight irritation, especially initially, was that the UMix needs quite a bit of cabling up and you can feel a bit like you’re standing in a sea of cables! Of course this is mainly just an initial lack of familiarity and organisation. It would clearly also help a lot to have the pedal properly installed on the pedalboard (as I was testing a loaned prototype I just left it on the floor), and this would also let you leave some of the cables plugged in. Looking at my pedalboard, though, it would need quite a major reorganisation the way the UMix is currently designed. This is because there are sockets on 3 sides. Ideally, I think, it would have all the sockets on two sides or even just one (presumably top and RHS would be best ). I believe this issue will be addressed in the production model.

     4. Evaluation and Conclusion

    There are a couple of things that I thought I might not have liked given the design is the way it is:

    - The fact that it is wired IEM rather than wireless – but as I say this is an illusory limitation – the combiner cable works so well.

    - The fact that you hear your voice straight as it comes from your mic – i.e. dry without reverb etc. This also has turned out to be a rather illusory limitation: the preamp used is of sufficient quality that the sound you hear is very clear and satisfying.

    - The fact that there is no pan control for vocal, which is centred in the stereo field. But, once again, the centring felt fine to me in practice and my initial desire for pan a control soon evaporated,

    - The fact that the Umix is powered from 12VAC. Now this is an issue for me! I would much prefer it to be powered from a regular 9VDC source that is already available on the pedalboard. I believe this may be fixed in the production version.

    - It might be nice to have a limiter built into the Umix to protect your hearing in the face of unexpected transients. The master volume at the guitar end of the combiner cable largely addressed this, but I still think a limiter would be useful to have.

    In conclusion, I think this is a brilliant little device! It sounds great and is so flexible and comfortable in use. It lets you hear your singing and guitar playing with minimal set up overhead and minimal reliance on any particular support from the playing environment (availability of monitors, custom monitor feeds, etc.).

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