With the huge rise in popularity and superior performance of dedicated ‘in-ear’ monitoring on concert and arena stages and as the practice becomes more affordable and widespread, the humble ‘wedge’ or stage floor monitor speaker’s days may be numbered. Using ‘in-ears’ solves several problems; it removes unsightly black boxes from the front of the stage – allowing better sightlines for the audience and giving the performer more space – and it also eliminates unwanted feedback and gives the performer their own personal mix which doesn’t interfere with anyone else. However, until the day when the wedge becomes obsolete – like the old bins’n’horns’ type PA stacks – we will still have a large choice of said item as nearly all the major PA manufacturers still produce floor monitors for musicians that remain lumbered with no choice but to keep on lugging them into pub and club gigs so they can hear themselves.
Setting up stage monitors can be tricky; stage position, microphone placement and power source can all contribute to the difference between good or bad sound. Frustration with monitors can also lead to on-stage malarkey; many a hapless sound engineer has witnessed their employer’s speakers hurled into the crowd or has had to watch helplessly from the sidelines as beer and water are poured onto them, not to mention the thousands of size-10s that have scuffed the finish in those impulsive ‘foot-on-the-monitor’ moments at rock gigs.
The trend now is for powered or active wedges, with built in power amplifiers, EQ and often a mic input and a myriad of ins and outs. Some even double as regular PA speakers, with top-hat inserts built in. Some are very expensive indeed and out of reach price-wise to the average musician but happily, there are a lot of affordable ones too – like the Fame SM-150A MK IV.
The Fame SM-150A MK IV is a 2-way monitor, containing a single 12” speaker and a 1” HF unit, is rated at 200W and boasts a frequency range of 50 Hz – 19 kHz, dispersion angles of 90° x 60° and a max SPL of 115 dB. On the front mounted panel are a Master Volume, separate controls for Mic and Line inputs, Treble, Mid and Bass EQ and XLR inputs for Mic, Line and Line Out. There are also useful indicators for Power, Signal and Clip and the cabinet weighs in at a manageable 16.5 kg and is 38cm wide x 62cm high x 35cm deep. It’s finished with a black carpet covering and has metal corners, a recessed carry handle and a top-hat insert.
We can see at a glance that this monitor could be utilized in several ways. A solo vocalist/guitarist could carry one as a mini PA although he/she would need a DI box to convert their guitar signal to line level. The SM150A would also work as an out-front PA on speaker stands although in some venues, the accessibility of the front-mounted controls might make this mode of operation inadvisable. As its design suggests though, most users will want it as a floor monitor, connected to the monitor/auxiliary output of their mixer or mixer amp. If your said mixer’s monitor output is a jack (most are) then you will require a jack to male XLR audio cable and we can’t help thinking that a line in on a jack socket would have been more useful.
You can link as many SM150As together as you like with the Line Output and given the affordability, you may be able to persuade all the members of the band to get (i.e. pay for) one for themselves. With a Shure SM58 mic and electro acoustic plugged directly into the unit (using a DI box) there is enough volume on tap for a solo performer using the unit in a small wine bar, restaurant or folk club, with a good, clear overall sound. Just don’t expect too much volume using it this way, there isn’t enough gain on the mic input for that. However, hooked up to the aux. out of a mixer amp the results were totally different. There’s gain aplenty, and you can push the amp input as hard as you like and tame any feedback with the EQ. There’s certainly enough output to use this monitor in a band situation, unless you play at earth-shattering volume, and the rugged nature of the cabinet should see it through a good few years of gigging – at least until you can afford that ‘in-ear’ system.