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This article was originally published in issue #44
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Founded in 1980, US-based Samson Technologies set up shop as a manufacturer of wireless microphone systems. Over the years, the company has grown into a major player not only in the sound reinforcement market but also, through its Hartke brand, in bass amplification.
Although as gigging musicians we pride ourselves in our knowledge of the intricacies and esoterica of our PA setups we sometimes forget that out there in the real world there are those who occasionally have to rig and run a PA but who, through no fault of their own, haven’t a clue what to do – other than plug in, switch on and hope for the best.
These users can range from church volunteers to marketing executives running small launches and presentations, through to musicians taking their first steps into live performance. There are also those of us who gig in wine bars, restaurants and the like who need a small, exceedingly compact PA to avoid engaging the wrath of the management.
Technological developments such as switch-mode power supplies, Class D PWM amplifiers, moulded cabinets and lightweight loudspeaker magnets have, over the last decade or so, enabled several manufacturers to produce compact, easy to use systems many of which, it has to be said, were of variable quality. However, in more recent times, major manufacturers such as Samson Technologies have been releasing competitively-priced all-in-one systems that are capable of producing excellent results.
Samson’s latest product in this market area is the flagship Expedition XP800, which sits at the top of their range of compact all-in-one sound systems.
The XP800 delivers 800W of Class D power from its lightweight eight-channel stereo powered mixer through twin passive two-way loudspeaker cabinets. The system is quick and easy to set up, break down and carry thanks to its clever interlocking speaker design that allows the entire system and cabling to be packed up into a single 18kg (40lb) package. This is accomplished by having a recess in the back of each speaker cabinet, one of which carries the powered mixer whilst the other has a removable door behind which you can fit the two supplied 25’ speaker cables, the mains lead and (probably) a couple of microphones and their leads. Sliding the two speakers together to engage their locking flanges produces a compact bundle that can be easily carried in one hand.
As with other compact PA systems, no loudspeaker stands are supplied with the XP800, which may or may not matter depending on the application. The speakers themselves are equipped with 1” tweeters and 8” woofers and their cabinets are shaped so that they can be used as floor monitors if necessary, though I couldn’t see myself buying a XP800 as a foldback system.
The stowaway mixer/amplifier is simple and to the point in terms of features and facilities. Of its four mono input channels, three (1, 2 and 4) can be switched individually between balanced XLR microphone inputs (with globally switchable phantom power) and mono ¼” jack socket line inputs. On Channel 3 the input source selector switch changes function to become a high/low source impedance switch in order to allow the direct connection of electric guitar or bass. On all four channels simple +/- 16dB 2-band EQs - with centre frequencies at 10kHz (treble) and 100Hz (bass) - take care of tonal shaping, single Effects sends feed the onboard digital effects processor and rotary potentiometers set the individual volume levels. There are no pan controls. The fourth mono channel is also equipped with a USB Type A input connector that has nothing to do with anything other than Samson’s own XPD USB-powered Digital Wireless System (which is sold separately), although I suppose that you might be able to press it into service as an emergency mobile phone charging power source!
There are two stereo channel inputs 5/6 and 7/8, both of which carry the same 2-band EQ and channel volume controls as the mono channels. However, they are both devoid of effects sends, the resulting space being occupied by a listing of the sixteen available on-board effects. Input 5/6 has four possible sources – a pair of ¼” jacks, a pair of RCA phonos and a stereo minijack. Input 7/8 is sparsely provided with a mere pair of RCA phonos, but gains a goodly amount of street cred with its connection to the mixer’s onboard Bluetooth receiver. Pairing your Bluetooth-equipped mobile phone, laptop or mp3 player etc. does not require any password or interaction action other than pressing the pairing button until its LED flashes and selecting the XP800 from the list of available Bluetooth connections on your device.
The 16 onboard 24-bit digital FX are a typical selection of reverb and time-domain effects. A rotary selector switch does what you’d expect in that department and a master Effects Send, since there is no other overall send level control, sets the level going into and coming out of the FX processor, whose output of which is routed directly to the main mix bus.
The XP800’s physical I/O is limited to ¼” jack sockets – a pair for the LR power amplifier outputs to the unit’s loudspeakers, another pair that carry the LR monitor line level main mix output (which has its own volume separate control) and allow you to connect to a recorder, another PA system or a pair of powered monitors, and a single subwoofer output. A further jack socket is provided for an optional footswitch that mutes the onboard FX if required.
A master volume control is provided to control the output level of the power amplifiers, and that level is displayed on a single LED ladder whose topmost segment indicates that the onboard limiter is active – if you see that coming on solid, you’d be advised to pull the level back a bit to avoid distortion. Finally, a Speech/Music switch reduces the level of low frequencies in the output in Speech mode, which can enhance the intelligibility of speech in certain less-than-perfect acoustic environments. In Music mode, performance is full-range, although I’m not sure that its quoted 20Hz lower limit would ever manage to trouble an audience’s chest walls.
The Samson Expedition XP800 is a compact, portable, simple to set up, easy to use sound reinforcement system that would be ideal for use in small venues such as classrooms, church halls, business presentations and the like. Performance-wise the XP800 sounds good overall and has enough volume available to handle those smaller audiences and spaces comfortably.
If you’re on the lookout for a system that is attractively-priced, could be successfully operated by an inexperienced operator and sounds good, then the Expedition XP800 is well worth seeking out. But it's really only going to be of use to musicians playing small venues and who have the most basic requirements.