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Author Topic: Sencore SP395 Audio Integrator  (Read 21172 times)

Bennett Prescott

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Sencore SP395 Audio Integrator
« on: June 02, 2006, 12:48:04 am »

FedEx is playing games with me again... They left this one at my mailbox, at the end of my driveway, 2/10 of a mile away. Despite their scheming, I now have in my possession Sencore's model SP395 Audio Integrator, a handy-dandy little battery-powered hand-held dual-FFT meter of many functions.

For those of you as visually minded as I, here's a link to the photos: http://www.campuspa.com/images/sencore395/sencore395.html
The manual is also an informative read, so here's it: http://www.campuspa.com/images/sencore395/manual_web.pdf

The unit arrives in a nice padded shoulder bag with foam cut-outs inside for it and the supplied (calibrated!) reference mic and the power supply. There's a zipper pouch on the front that contains a goody-bag of cables for connecting the 395 to your computer, its reference mic, or bare contacts for measuring impedence or what have you. It also includes a software CD, warranty information, a few warning cards about how to charge the thing without destroying your battery life, and a glossy sheet of 8.5"x11" lauding their customer service on high.
http://www.campuspa.com/images/sencore395/sencore395-Thumbnails/4.jpghttp://www.campuspa.com/images/sencore395/sencore395-Thumbnails/13.jpg
If you read carefully, you'll notice nowhere did I say they included anything like a manual... no quick-start guide, no handy photo with a few arrows explaining what all the cryptic symbols on the screen are, nada. I figured, no problem, I'll go download it from their website... of course they'll have it, in some easy-to find section marked "downloads" or "tech support". Nuh-uh. No luck. A listing of telephone numbers I can call to get help (nobody's gonna be there, it's well after closing time) is all I see. Now, I happen to know that this is a former Terrasonde product that Sencore has teamed up with them to market, service, and (soon) build. So I go to the Terrasonde website where I am quickly and easily able to find the manual and download it... a quick leafing-through and everything is explained.

Once I'd given the manual a quick read and figured out what the strange symbols at the top and bottom of the screen were, the unit was simple to use. One or two things aren't under the menu I'd necessarily expect, but there are only so many options and once you've found a feature once you know where it is from then on. Just so's you know, the strange symbols are...
Top, from left to right: Back to main menu, battery indicator, current mode, then polarity, phantom, and gain for the left preamp, automatic or manual gain mode, then polarity, phantom, and gain for the right preamp.
http://www.campuspa.com/images/sencore395/sencore395-Thumbnails/16.jpg
Bottom, from left to right: Monitor input on/off, level, internal speaker on/off, input selector, mono-mix-down, memory settings (memory slot, Store, Recall, Clear), tone generator on/off, level, wave type (sine, square, etc), frequency, frequency selection granularity (1hz, 1/3 oct, or 1 octave).

I would like to take a second to explain the "automatic or manual gain mode" selection, since I think it's a really great feature. Simply put, when you've selected automatic gain mode the unit will turn down its input gains whenever it senses clipping. It does this quickly and seamlessly and adjusts for the change internally so you can go on with your measurement and stop worrying about how hot you might have your mic set. Everything is referenced to the unit's internal calibration for the supplied reference mic, so SPL readings are accurate. It also turns its input gain back up, but only to a "safe" level... I'm not quite sure how it determines that, but in my basement if I scream at the RTA mic with the gain set to +58 (the maximum) it knocks the gain down to +10 or so pretty quickly and then takes it back to +40 within a few seconds and leaves it there.

If you've ever seen one of these things without actually trying to pick it up and use it, your first though may be like mine: It's pretty damn big. Here's a photo of me holding it in my hand, which is pretty average-sized:
http://www.campuspa.com/images/sencore395/sencore395-Thumbnails/5.jpg
After a few minutes messing around with the 395, however, I've decided that its initially off-putting size isn't really a problem except in terms of, for instance, packing it in your luggage to fly to a gig with. It's a comfortable width that fits easily in my hand and the weight is not an issue, even with my atrophied pasty-white-geek hand muscles. The screen is nice and large and readable, although extremely low-res and chunky, and the clickable rotary encoder that is the only HUI is appropriately responsive. No complaints there.

My SP395 came loaded with all the extra "add-ons", like TechBench which allows me to do crosstalk and distortion measurements, and Speaker for measuring impedence and polarity and all that jazz. I asked for it that way, I don't know how much those particular tools add to the price.

As I have alluded to a few times already, the screen on this unit isn't exactly high resolution. It's a big, easy to read, back-lit screen, certainly... but it's about 125 pixels wide, and maybe 100 tall (I tried to count, that's within a few pixels, you try counting something that small). It's also got a very slow refresh rate, so trying to see rapidly changing waveforms in oscilloscope mode, for instance, is tedious.
Fortunately, for nearly every function where the size of the screen is an issue there's a sliding scale on one or both axis that allows you to "zoom in" on a measurement, plus some sort of scrollable cursor to help you pick out particular data-points. All this adds up to make the unit extremely usable without requiring the cost of a large high-resolution screen. Plus, of course, there's the computer interface which ought to make things a lot easier to see.

While we're on the subject of taking measurements, it should be noted that the unit has a number of memory slots that you can store measurements in on the fly... 40 of them, to be exact. It's easy to pause a measurement, save it to a memory slot, and then keep going to measure something else. While scrolling between memory slots the unit thoughtfully tells you what kind of measurement is stored in each so you don't try to, say, recall your impedence sweep in RTA mode or accidentally overwrite your hard-to-get measurement from last week. Each memory slot holds the actual measurement data, too, so you can export it to a computer or look at it on the unit's screen and zoom in and out.

As long as I had my USB->Serial dongle handy, I figured I'd hook the unit up to my computer and see how well the software works. What ensued was a lengthy and exhausting fight replete with meaningless error messages and buttons that didn't work (or didn't appear at all, in some modes) for no apparent reason whatsoever. The software is, of course, only available for the PC, so I'm running it in emulation mode. Figuring that might be the problem, I grabbed an actual PC laptop and loaded the software onto it. All the same problems occurred, actually more of them in this case, so it's not just my platform. There is very little mention of how to use the software interface in the manual, and the error messages it gives you are completely useless or, in many cases, lies. I finally figured out that you've got to have the SP395 in the same mode as you want to view on the computer in order to use "real time" mode, where the computer essentially mimics the Audio Integrator's display. Using this newfound wisdom I managed to capture this screenshot:
http://www.campuspa.com/images/sencore395/sencore395-Thumbnails/14.jpg
Still beyond my reach is the ability to grab data from the unit's memory ("No serial data." it said. Then: "Cannot open connection: Port blocked." it said. "Shutdown Windows Now" I said.) or use any mode other than RTA. There are also several functions available on the SP395 itself that aren't represented in the software at all, as far as I can tell. For a box with a mediocre screen one would think that a multi-platform well-tested computer interface would be way up at the top of their list. Apparently now. I will give them the benefit of the doubt, however, because this whole Terrasonde line is a very recent addition and they're probably still getting un-mixed-up and taking care of bigger problems.

Quick note, before I forget: That USB port on the side of the unit is for the I/O. It uses standard drivers and allows you to send or receive signal to the unit from a computer, which is a pretty handy thing.

That's all I've got for the basic operation of the unit, it's past my bedtime and I need to hit the sack. So far, I like it a lot. It's a quick and easy way to take a few basic measurements without having to break out a computer, and it's small enough to take with you anywhere. The memory functions are nice because you can take measurements elsewhere and worry about getting them off the unit later, so it's really kind of a "one box to do it all" kind of dealy. I'll have to see how well it performs in transfer function applications, and I'll give Sencore a call to see WTF is up with their computer interface.
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-- Bennett Prescott
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ADRaudio d.o.o.
Cell: (518) 488-7190

"Give me 6dB and I shall move the world." -Archimedes

Dave Stevens

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Re: Sencore SP395 Audio Integrator
« Reply #1 on: June 02, 2006, 02:27:21 am »

What's the list price on that box?  It certainly has possibilities.  The previous Terrasonde boxes were pretty useful, this looks like it could be too.

About the FedEx, they changed the policy on residential drops that if the shipper doesn't specify signature required they'll drop it off without you being there.  Pretty weak if you ask me.

Dave
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Bennett Prescott

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Re: Sencore SP395 Audio Integrator
« Reply #2 on: June 02, 2006, 11:56:51 am »

Just had a very informative talk with John Olsen at Sencore, who was able to answer all of my immediate questions. Even managed to get the whole computer interface up and running... I still think it's a little esoteric, but once you've figured it out it's really very handy. This unit may look a little low-tech, but it's got really powerful guts and calibrated everything. Every time I use it I'm more and more impressed with my newfound ability to just... measure. Quickly. Easily. Without having to spend an hour setting up my laptop. Heck, the laptop's only useful here for offloading data to in order to let it look pretty for others.

I've uploaded an impedence sweep of one of my QW2s in full range, and here's a link to the raw data (also right off the device) for those of you interested: http://www.campuspa.com/images/sencore395/impedence.csv

Dave, list price on the base unit without any goodies is $3195. I've got a breakdown of costs on the add-ons (which ship with the unit, but you have to enter an unlock code to actually use) that I'll post later.

I'll be hauling this with me everywhere for the next few weeks... I'll have it with me at InfoComm if anyone wants to play. Once I got over the "you actually have to read the manual" curve, it's very easy to use and makes a lot of sense. A lot of the initial difficulty is simply due to figuring out what the little symbols on the screen mean, but they've managed to pack a lot of information into a very small space while keeping it usable for at-a-glance measurement. If you want a fancy screen, the SP495 has a 320x240 color screen (about twice the resolution of this one) and costs only $800 or so more.
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-- Bennett Prescott
Director of North American Sales
ADRaudio d.o.o.
Cell: (518) 488-7190

"Give me 6dB and I shall move the world." -Archimedes

Bennett Prescott

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Re: Sencore SP395 Audio Integrator
« Reply #3 on: June 02, 2006, 10:28:06 pm »

Here's all the pricing for the add-in modules:

TDA $795 (Includes Terralink Software)
Speech Intel $395
Tech Bench $295
Noise Curves $195
Audio Stethoscope $95
Multiband RT60 $95
Terralink Software $295 (Included with TDA firmware)
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-- Bennett Prescott
Director of North American Sales
ADRaudio d.o.o.
Cell: (518) 488-7190

"Give me 6dB and I shall move the world." -Archimedes

Bennett Prescott

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Re: Sencore SP395 Audio Integrator
« Reply #4 on: June 04, 2006, 09:52:57 pm »

I ran this thing through its paces doing meaningless but fancy measurements, including a 5-sweep TDA plot of one of my QW2s, which is a feature I've never been able to work with before. Not much to say, still a very nice box, I like it a lot... wish I could afford it, of course, so I'll be slaved to my laptop again as soon as I send it back.

I'll have some more "technical" measurements once I finish using it on the RSS snake... I'm going to use it to verify noise spec and the like.

Attached is the raw data, lightly annotated by Yours Truly, of my last few days of fun, as well as a screen cap of the 3-D waterfall plot of the TDA sweeps of the QW2 of my basement. Of.
http://www.campuspa.com/images/sencore395/memories.csv
index.php/fa/4977/0/
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-- Bennett Prescott
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ADRaudio d.o.o.
Cell: (518) 488-7190

"Give me 6dB and I shall move the world." -Archimedes

Tom Young

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Re: Sencore SP395 Audio Integrator
« Reply #5 on: June 06, 2006, 07:01:30 am »

One of the unpleasant little surprises that I came upon with my ATB3c is that the impedance measurements are restricted to 4200 ohms (or thereabouts) due to the current (amperage) limits of the tester. Now this has only occured (hitting the upper envelope) just a few times, but because they do not mention it anywhere in their documentation it completely threw me off until I called them and was enlightened.

I have very mixed feelings about the ATB and love it some days while being completely pissed off and frustrated on others. While it is apparent that Sencore may have fixed some of the physical flaws of the ATB in their equivalent models (and provide a much better suited case), they appear to not have improved the software at all.

It appears that the TDA tests are clearly handicapped versus "real" TDA (TEF) measuremenrs, much like the FFT function is nothing like those provided by Smaart, SIM and TEF.
It does do SLM related measurements very well and also provides impedance, cable and polarity checks that are as good as (or better than) anything else I have used. But it does these at a pretty hefty premium.

As you say; this thing (when full or near-full feature loaded) costs some very serious cash. I just wish it did the more sophisticated measurements well.
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Tom Young
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Ivan Beaver

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Re: Sencore SP395 Audio Integrator
« Reply #6 on: June 06, 2006, 09:31:51 pm »

Tom: If you wouldn't try to do impedance sweeps of 70V speakers tapped at 1 W you wouldn't have that problem. Laughing

I currently have 2 audio toolboxes.  The original I bought when the company was 2 months old (the one with the purple hardware-it has been upgraded) and a ATB2.  I love both of them and both are well worth the money.

However, the newer ones have gotten so expensive-I cannot justify the costs. As Tom said they don't do the extensive measurements (what about the phase of the impedance type stuff?), and only provide a sampling of what TEF and Smaart do.  I use mine all the time-even three times today at infocomm during setup for some testing.  It was the fastest thing that I could grab and give me the results I was looking for.  But I wasn't looking for high precision either.  If I want real measurements, I will use the appropriate REAL tool.

I think they are really missing the possible target market with the price and limited features.  "It's just like a TEF" NOT!

If they would reintroduce some of the simpler less expensive models they would sell more, but they are trying to compete in an area where they can't with the same quality.

The price has just gotten out of hand.  But I still like the unit.

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Bennett Prescott

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Re: Sencore SP395 Audio Integrator
« Reply #7 on: June 07, 2006, 06:52:09 am »

Ivan Beaver wrote on Tue, 06 June 2006 21:31

The price has just gotten out of hand.  But I still like the unit.

Ivan, Tom, thank you very much for weighing in. After having said "it's too expensive" about the last unit I reviewed, I was wary of saying the same thing about this one and was hoping someone would step in and determine value.

Those are very much my thoughts exactly... very well put together unit, nice for what it is, I'd love one for taking general purpose measurements... within a few dB is plenty good for what I want it to be. If it were half the price it would still be pretty expensive, however, for what it is. In an age when I can buy a laptop for $100 (thanks, MIT!) that has a high resolution color screen and a powerful built in processor, I just don't see why a handheld piece of hardware like the SP395 can command such a premium in the marketplace.
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-- Bennett Prescott
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"Give me 6dB and I shall move the world." -Archimedes

John Roberts {JR}

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Re: Sencore SP395 Audio Integrator
« Reply #8 on: June 07, 2006, 08:23:51 am »

Bennett Prescott wrote on Wed, 07 June 2006 05:52


Ivan, Tom, thank you very much for weighing in. After having said "it's too expensive" about the last unit I reviewed, I was wary of saying the same thing about this one and was hoping someone would step in and determine value.

Those are very much my thoughts exactly... very well put together unit, nice for what it is, I'd love one for taking general purpose measurements... within a few dB is plenty good for what I want it to be. If it were half the price it would still be pretty expensive, however, for what it is. In an age when I can buy a laptop for $100 (thanks, MIT!) that has a high resolution color screen and a powerful built in processor, I just don't see why a handheld piece of hardware like the SP395 can command such a premium in the marketplace.


Correct pricing is subjective from the buyer's perspective and (hopefully) calculated by the seller to intersect with a target portion of the market. There are several moving variables in there so it's not an exact science.

I had a little experience with "value" test gear, designing and selling a little sine-wave gen, freq counter, dB Voltmeter (LOFTech TS-1) back in the '80s for $300. There were huge differences in precision and THD between that $300 box and the typical several $k for pro test gear, but it proved very useful.

These days there are still differences between "pro" and "pro-sumer" test gear but I suspect we will continue to see price compression. I continue to be blown away by how much scope I was able to buy for a grand, compared to 20 years ago. Times change.

JR
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Tom Young

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Re: Sencore SP395 Audio Integrator
« Reply #9 on: June 12, 2006, 05:20:02 pm »

No doubt about it: the numbers that Sencore will sell versus any popular consumer device (PC's, HiFi, telephones, coffee makers, etc, etc) are miniscule. So I am resigned to pay a price that hardly seems as economical. But I definitley expect it to do what it claims.

Sencore has hiked up the price of the ATB over what Terrasonde sold it for with no apparent improvements (other than the color of the enclosure). Frankly, if their customer service / tech support was better that *might* be enough justification. But I am not aware that it is better. Plus they have their own brand-cult persona (evident in their training class description and elsewhere) that simply rubs me wrong and therefore I wish to have no relationship with them. A salesman from Sencore called my office dozens of times, leaving messages in anticipation of a sale. Apparently they did not buy Terrasonde's owner list.

I was very enthusiastic about the ATB and Ivie IE33 when they first appeared. I highly recommended them here at LAB (regretfully). It was only after 1-2 years of further use that I have reached the conclusions I now have, which is that they both suck. Terralink does not work on my current PC, plus the other gripes I already mentioned. But when I consider offing them on Ebay I realise I need the limited functions they offer and therefore will keep them. As I said earlier, the SLM functions work quite well. Other than "for court".

BTW - I owned several Loftech generators. And crossovers. Good stuff. No gripes.
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Tom Young
Electroacoustic Design Services
Oxford CT
Tel: 203.888.6217
Email: dbspl@earthlink.net
www.dbspl.com
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