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Sound Reinforcement - Forums for Live Sound Professionals - Your Displayed Name Must Be Your Real Full Name To Post In The Live Sound Forums => SR Forum Archives => Road Test FUD Forum Archive => Topic started by: Andy Peters on May 09, 2007, 02:04:08 am

Title: TC M350
Post by: Andy Peters on May 09, 2007, 02:04:08 am
The friendly guy in the brown truck dropped off some packages last Friday, one of which was a TC M350, which is positioned by TC as their lowest-end digital effects device (list price $249).   It's a "dual engine" device, with one engine dedicated to non-reverb effects (like delay, flanging, chorus, phaser, tremolo and compression) and the second dedicated to reverb.   It has two inputs, two outputs (all balanced, BTW), as well as S/PDIF digital I/O. It has a MIDI port for control, set-up dump and firmware update.  A standard IEC jack attaches to the locale-specific power cord; the switch-mode power supply accepts any mains line voltage.

Natch, the first thing I do with any piece of gear is to open it up and poke around.  Inside are two PCAs.  One is a single-sided job that's the power supply (it looks like TC buys somebody's supply) providing +15V and -15V for the op-amps, +5V for the converters, and +3.3V for the digital stuff.  The other PCA holds everything else.  A Freescale (formerly Motorola) 56362-120 (about $8 in 1K qty) is the DSP, which
is connected to an SRAM and a flash EPROM.  Presumably, it's clocked at 120 MHz (it has an internal oscillator and I didn't check to see if the system clock is brought out to a port pin) so the DSP does 120 MIPs, which is obviously sufficient.  Like all Moto 56K parts, it's a fixed-point 24-bit processor, with a 24 x 24 MAC and 56-bit accumulators.  An Atmel ATMega 8-bitter handles MIDI and user interface.  The DAC and the ADC are AKM parts.  Opamps are 5532s.  Ferrites are used at all I/O ports for EMI suppression.  I/O is balanced although it appears that the outputs use the simple build-out to ground for the inverting line (which is fine).

The M350 can be configured, via rear-panel switch, in one of two ways:  One is as two parallel effects engines, with one input for the effects engine and the other for the reverb.  In this mode, both engines have stereo out which are combined to drive the outputs.  A balance control sets the relative level of both engines in the mix.  The other configuration is serial, with the effects engine first, followed by the reverb engine.

I've been pretty vocal about my dislike of the dual-engine with one output configuration.  It has to do with how I mix.  I like to bring my effects into the console on their own inputs.  I like to set up, on the input channel aux send knobs, the proper blend sending to an effect, while trying to keep the effect's input level decently hot (best effect S/N), and then adjusting the level of the effect in the mix on the return fader.  Usually the return fader lives somewhere other than at unity.

Having two effects combined in the box means you have to put the effects return faders at unity (or some other convenient level) and then establish the level of the effects in the mix on the effect input, which is a pain, perhaps less so if your console has faders for the aux send masters.   Of course you're boned if you want to use the box in the parallel mode but also send the delay output to the reverb (since vocal that's fed to both a reverb and delay with the delay kept dry sounds kinda weird to me).  So it's a simple matter to say "this is a single-engine device," especially since each engine's effect select has an "off" position.

This brings up another important topic: User Interface.  And the M350's interface is kinda spartan, similar to competing products in its price range.  There are the expected input-level and blend (wet/dry) knobs, and the effect balance knob.(There's no output level knob, which is fine, as most users set it to maximum.)

Each engine has a 16-position effect-select switch (as noted, one position is "off"). The Delay/Effect engine has two pots for parameter adjustment and the Reverb engine has three such pots.  The 12 o'clock position of each pot is what TC calls the "normal" setting.  One could reasonably ask, "What's normal?"  For example, the Reverb engine has controls for Predelay, Decay Time and "Color."  If you choose the Gold Plate program, what's the decay time?  Seriously.  At my show on Saturday, the opening band had a mixer-person, and he asked for a 2 second reverb.  On many pro-level reverb boxes, the reverb decay setting is simple.  On the M350 (and similar units from Lexicon and others, let's be honest here), there's simply no way to know your decay time.

And this is where the whole dual-engine-summed-into-one-output concept falls on its face: you can't cue up just the reverb to fine-tune it... you also hear the delay engine.  (Similarly, you can't cue up just the delay without hearing reverb.)

The delay engine has an interface quirk related to this "normal" setting.  You actually set the delay using the tap button.  If the delay time knob is in the "normal" position, the delay time you tap is what you get (and you can fine-tune it by turning the delay knob). However, if the delay time knob is not at normal, then the time you tap gets varied by the amount the knob is offset from normal, which is annoying until you realize what it's doing.  Advice: leave the knob at 12 o'clock and tap your delays and be done with it.

More to come ...
Title: Re: TC M350
Post by: Andy Peters on May 09, 2007, 02:25:58 am
More about the TC M350 ...

TC tells us that the M350 is "Perfect for Computer Recording ... Through the included software, the user can control and edit the M350?s parameters stand-alone and in any AU/VST environment. "

The demo unit didn't include a CD, so I followed the link to "control software" where I was able to download the Vyzor Control Software for OS X.  I installed it, connected the unit to my M-Audio MIDI gizmo, and ran the software.  I was then asked for a serial number for the software (!!), which is NOT the same as the unit's serial number.  How to get a serial number?  Follow the link where you're asked for an e-mail address and your name.

Note to TC: You've just annoyed me.  The Vyzor software has one purpose: to control this particular box.  So why do I need to register it and get a serial number?  It's not like I can use the software to control my LXP-5?  No!  So, please: drop the stupid serial number.

I haven't had a chance to play with the control software yet.  I hope that it offers reasonable control of things like reverb time, kinda like how a Lexicon MRC makes the LXP-1 and LXP-5 units actually usable.

Another potentially interesting use of this box is as a plug-in for a DAW, using the S/PDIF I/O.  The note above mentions "the user can control and edit the M350?s parameters stand-alone and in any AU/VST environment. "  There's a comment about this: "For more information about availability of an Audio Units version of the Control Software, please click here."  So I clicked there, and we're told that "We hope to have the Audio Units version available for download from our webpage in march 2007."  Well, it's the lusty month of May, so I've filed AU support for the device under vaporware.  (Maybe by the time it's real, I'll have figured out how to use Logic 7.)

-a
Title: But How Does It Sound?
Post by: Bennett Prescott on May 09, 2007, 05:30:02 pm
Hey Andy,

Thanks for really tearing up the box and seeing what makes it tick. How would you say the sound quality of the algorithms stacks up against other FX units in its price range? I've always thought the M300 makes a good drum and instrument FX unit, but the new M350's reverbs sounded even better at AES.
Title: Re: But How Does It Sound?
Post by: Jeff Babcock on May 10, 2007, 03:21:17 pm
Interesting.  The M300 has come in handy on lots of occasions, particularly the tempo-tap delays.  I couldn't agree more with your comments about summing the dual engine to common outputs... it kind of is crippling....  aside from that though it's been a good unit.  Unless the reverbs are A LOT better, for what I use it for, I'll stick with the old 300.
Title: Re: TC M350
Post by: Andy Peters on July 14, 2007, 06:42:56 pm
Sorry for the delay between posts about this thing.  Anyways ...

About the control software, called Vyzor M350, apparently written by a third party.

The product's web page tells us that, "through the included software editor, parameters and preset recalls may be fully automated or real-time controlled."  Ignoring the awful syntax of "may be real-time controlled," I downloaded the software, and installed it on my MacBook Pro.

As I noted before, for whatever stupid reason TC requires you to get a serial number for the software. So I registered for the software, and it asks for my name and my e-mail address.  I expected to get an e-mail with the magic serial number, but no, I just get to a web page with the serial number.  So the deal here: print that web page so you don't lose the number and have to re-register.  Why ask for an e-mail address?

NB that the promised Audio Unit support still has not materialized, although there is VST support if your DAW software can use it.

After getting a serial number, I connected an M-Audio USB Uno MIDI interface to my MacBook Pro, then connected the MIDI tails to the M350.  I ran the software and it asked me which MIDI port to use, so I selected the Uno and it seemed to recognize the M350.  I was able to fetch user presets from the box.  The main window of the program has an image of the M350, which, when clicked, opens up a large photo of the front panel and all of the user interface controls are clickable and changeable.  However, after changing a few controls the software (which was v1.00) crashed.  Restart, re-set MIDI port selection, open up the front panel, play a bit, crash again.  

I did about five or six cycles of this, until I got pissed off and checked the TC Electronic web site and sure enough, there's a v1.3 of the control software.  I downloaded it, read the READ ME FIRST.pdf file, which told me that I needed to update the firmware in the M350 to work with the new software. OK, that's fine ... except the disclaimer: "The M350 software upgrade can only be done using a PC running Windows. (emphasis theirs) We have only tested it under Windows XP, but it may also work under other versions of Windows."  On the next page, we're told, "Please note, the software update cannot be made under Mac OS X. (again, emphasis theirs) This is not a deliberate choice on the side of TC Electronic. We know a lot of studios and musicians use the Mac."  

In other words, go fuck yourselves, Mac users.  This is an EXCELLENT reason to take the unit out of the rack, put it back into the box, and return it.

More to come ...


Title: Re: TC M350
Post by: Andy Peters on July 14, 2007, 06:51:46 pm
Oh, I figured that I had nothing to lose by at least installing and running the v1.3 software without doing the firmware update, so I did.

And it turns out that what's labeled as v1.3 on the web site still shows up as v1.0 when one does "About Vyzor M350 ..."

Ooops.  Somebody at TC needs to, you know, get that sorted out.

Gotta dig out the ThinkPad and do the FW upgrade.  I suppose I could try it under Parallels, as the new v3.0 has some excellent hardware support (I can talk to a Silicon Labs serial JTAG dongle using a Prolific USB-to-RS232 converter with the SiLabs software running in Parallels).

Poll! Should I do it from the Mac under Parallels, knowing that I could brick the M350?

-a
Title: Re: TC M350
Post by: Michael 'Bink' Knowles on July 15, 2007, 12:27:36 am
Andy Peters wrote on Sat, 14 July 2007 15:51

...Poll! Should I do it from the Mac under Parallels, knowing that I could brick the M350?


I say risk it but then it's not my money. Once you try it, people will know from your experience whether it's possible or not so even if you lobotomize the one on your desk you will have saved others out in the field.

I can't believe TC hasn't tried it themselves.  Confused

-Bink
Title: Re: TC M350
Post by: Robert "Void" Caprio on May 24, 2008, 10:04:32 am
Just bought an M350 at the behest of my client and so far I do dig it but would be very interested in getting it to work with my Macbook Pro. Any new updates on this? I would prefer not to brick my unit but at the same time I doubt that would really happen. i have heard all the warnings about stuff like that and it's never happened, at least not yet. Rolling Eyes
Title: Re: TC M350
Post by: Tony "T" Tissot on May 27, 2008, 03:55:19 pm
I use a couple of M300 (because I'm cheap). They are roughly equivalent in sound to the 350.

The dual effect thing is annoying enough where I gave up using it. I use one unit for delay and the other for verbs.
Title: Re: TC M350
Post by: Tim Padrick on May 28, 2008, 11:23:43 pm
Tony "T" Tissot wrote on Tue, 27 May 2008 14:55

I use a couple of M300 (because I'm cheap). They are roughly equivalent in sound to the 350.

The dual effect thing is annoying enough where I gave up using it. I use one unit for delay and the other for verbs.



What's annoying, other than that the outputs are summed?  I find this easy enough to live with.
Title: Re: TC M350
Post by: Tony "T" Tissot on May 29, 2008, 01:15:42 pm
Tim Padrick wrote on Wed, 28 May 2008 20:23


What's annoying, other than that the outputs are summed?  I find this easy enough to live with.


The common outputs.

Why I don't think it's ideal?:

My preference, for example, when I want more reverb, is to just push a (2) channel fader up. In the "dual-output" mode I have to boost the gain for an effect in the unit, and then make sure I am OK at the board, and that the "other" effect is still at the right level as well.

It would have been a nice extra feature if it picked the outputs pre summing amp as well as post summing amp (a true dual unit). I would gladly give up the kludgey "recall settings" mode - which remains an unused feature.

BTW - this is really a minor nuisance, and does not in any way take away from the excellent price/performance of the TC.
Title: Re: TC M350
Post by: Andy Peters on May 29, 2008, 02:13:30 pm
Tony "T" Tissot wrote on Thu, 29 May 2008 10:15

Tim Padrick wrote on Wed, 28 May 2008 20:23


What's annoying, other than that the outputs are summed?  I find this easy enough to live with.


The common outputs.

Why I don't think it's ideal?:

My preference, for example, when I want more reverb, is to just push a (2) channel fader up. In the "dual-output" mode I have to boost the gain for an effect in the unit, and then make sure I am OK at the board, and that the "other" effect is still at the right level as well.

It would have been a nice extra feature if it picked the outputs pre summing amp as well as post summing amp (a true dual unit). I would gladly give up the kludgey "recall settings" mode - which remains an unused feature.

BTW - this is really a minor nuisance, and does not in any way take away from the excellent price/performance of the TC.


LOL, I am still subscribed to this thread.

Anyways, the quick summary of the M350 is as follows:

It's actually a fine-sounding box, certainly if you want (close to) M1 sounds for less money in a bar rig and situations where you don't have to meet riders. Dial up one of the several reverb types and it's a good starting point.

Having said that, the cons:

I must say that I hate the user interface, although it's really no different from the user I/F on similarly-priced products from competitors. If you want to dial in a 1-second reverb, forget it. There's no way to set things like reverb time or predelay in human-understandable units. This is especially annoying when you want to set delay times without using the tap feature.

If you use the tap feature, you have to make sure that the DELAY knob is set to NORMAL (at 12 o'clock), otherwise what you tap ain't what you get.

However, for me, the major annoyance is the summed output. It sucks. OK, I mean, if you run it in dual mono mode, it's OK, but if you want to use stereo reverbs or delays, you will hate the summing feature the moment you decide you want to preview (PFL) just the delay in your headphones. Can't do it. That's a dealbreaker.

I suspect that for an extra $50, TC could add two more output jacks and give the user stereo delay out and stereo reverb out and most users will be happy. (I supposed they'd have to add a second S/PDIF output, or otherwise say that the S/PDIF out supports summed output only.)

Regarding computer control:

a) Mac OS X AU support, which supposedly would make the M350 appear as an audio effect within a DAW that supports AU, is still not available, and probably will never be. So forget that feature. VST is apparently available but I haven't tried it.

b) The Vyzor control software remains at v 1.0. And while it goes give you computer control over front-panel options, you still don't get useful human-understandable control. So your reverb time is still set in units of 0 to 127. Recommendation? Forget that the computer control software exists and just use the front panel.

c) A Windows machine to update the firmware if necessary, though I would expect that currently-shipping units have the latest version.

SUMMARY:

Sounds fine, UI is limited and limiting, software control worthless. Certainly more than fine for the $200 street price, and certainly better than the SPX-90 that inhabits many bar rig racks (though I suppose that's damning the unit with faint praise). Me?

Who wants the box next? PM me and I'll ship it out.

-a
Title: Re: TC M350
Post by: Tim McCulloch on May 29, 2008, 02:37:48 pm
You've had this for over a year?  That's longer than Jeff Permanian's Growlers sat in.. where ever they were.

Have fun, good luck.

Tim Mc
Title: Re: TC M350
Post by: Adam Whetham on August 07, 2008, 02:22:01 am
I'll take it for a spin with the weekend warrior's I run sound for... Anything's better than their Digitech Studio unit they have now...
Title: Re: TC M350
Post by: Adam Whetham on October 07, 2008, 09:44:14 pm
Just to update this. I have the unit right now. it seems it lost some screws to hold the front plastic piece on over the display. luckily all the parts were in the box, minus the screws.

So far I've used it on a few gig's and its worked great! I haven't read the manual yet. just sort of ran with it. and it took me about 10 minutes of fiddleing with it to "get" it.

Nice delay sound with no fiddling. quick knobs to make changes, and a tap tempo that does the job.

the Verb's sound great with 3 easy knobs for control also. So far I'm impressed. This unit fits right into the band budget for a unit. We have a few more placing I'm looking forward to trying this out at.