Audio Equipment Revisited, Part 2

As I mentioned in last installment of The Magic Tech Road, there have been improvements in audio technology, which are a great asset to magicians. These include new versions of Kelly Duro’s Virtual Soundman, budget sound system options and portable PA systems from Apollo, Anchor and especially SOUND PROJECTIONS. I also have recommendations for speaker tripods and audio cables.


Kelly Duro has been hard at work improving his Virtual Soundman, which controls minidisc and CD players. The VSM Mini LED is for people on a budget ($499). I do not know of another system that can provide as much for this price. This compact unit is almost as powerful as the newer VSM 7, and it has an LED display built in, so you can tell what sound track you are on. Syncing with your player now happens automatically. Simultaneously pressing the two volume buttons activates a macro which does a 10 second auto fade, forwards to the next track and pauses. THIS IS EXTREMELY HANDY. From the tiny AM key fob transmitter, you can also cue forward, cue backward, pause and control volume – all from up to 100 feet away. If you want a more substantial system, the VSM 7.5 ($699) has a built in rechargeable battery, built in speaker, an on and off switch, multiple confirmation lights, the ability to insert auto-pause signals, attach a larger LED display, a more reliable and farther-reaching FM transmitter upgrade. It also has an auto music interrupt circuit, which brings the volume of the music down automatically while you are speaking through your microphone. The surprisingly loud speaker is great for setting up track order before the show or rehearsing in your hotel room. USAGE NOTES: I find it best have the VSM receiver at least 18 inches off the floor and a few feet away from the PA amplifier. Make sure the antenna is pointed towards your performing area. When pressing buttons, hold them down for a whole second. The signal seems to be sent on the release of the button. These things will ensure reliable operation. Finally, look for these systems under “products” at Kelly has an excellent guarantee and stands behind his products.

LATE BREAKING NEWS: Kelly Duro has a special discount on the VSM MiniLED for students of Jeff McBrides classes. It is an incredible bargain for such huge functionality. Also, Kelly hopes to release a new model soon, the iCue. It works with minidisc and Apple iPod. I have not tested it, but he is taking orders.


I recommend portable public address systems because they combine speaker, amplifier, mixer and wireless microphone all in one compact unit. They are wonderful because fewer wires and connections means there is less to mess up. They free me to focus on the magic.

BUDGET OPTIONS: While portable PA greatly simplifies show setup, if you REALLY need to save money, seriously consider a used 100-200 watt keyboard amplifier. (NOTE: Do NOT get a guitar amp.) Check out Fender products with multiple inputs at

Next get a separate, high quality wireless microphone. Shure is an industry standard trusted by thousands of technicians. A Shure T series system costs about $250 new, $150 used on eBay. If you shop around, it is very likely you can get a used Fender keyboard amp and Sure wireless mic for a total system price of $300-400. That will be money extremely well spent. Other quality microphones include Audio-Technica and Sennheiser. Remember, selectable and diversity VHF are considerably cheaper than UHF.

APOLLO PA6000 – A MORE-AFFORDABLE “GET IT DONE OPTION:” For a few years I used my 50 watt Apollo PA 6000. ( This tough little unit served me well. While it was designed mainly for voice projection, it did a good job reproducing sound for up to 300 people indoors. If you are looking for an affordable $650 option, the PA6000 it is still hard to beat. Staples office supply sells these around the country, so check out

ANCHOR AUDIO: Anchor ( has the most diverse range of quality portable PA systems. These are the “Lexus” models, and you will pay dearly for them. They are high quality, rugged business machines, using very good VHF & UHF Shure and Anchor brand wireless microphones. The high compression signal provides a lot of clean sound considering the low wattage. If you find a used system on E-Bay or in your community, chances are it will be a good deal. The Explorer is good for smaller crowds up to a several hundred people. The AC and battery powered Liberty systems will do crowds up to 2,000, and the AC-only Liberty Extreme will handle huge crowds up to 5,000. (NOTE: These numbers are for systems with extension speakers working indoors.) Each of these has multiple inputs and can house from one to three wireless microphones. They can have tape or CD players built in. All of these units are tripod mountable. These are starting to seem a bit overpriced though…

SOUND PROJECTIONS – MY NEW FAVORITE SYSTEMS: What happens when the engineer of the Anchor Liberty product line breaks off to start his own company called Sound Projections? ( Higher quality, beefier, more flexible and affordable systems begin to hit the market. Like Anchor, Sound Projection systems are made to custom order with the options you want. The Sound Machine 2+ (SM2) clearly trumps the most powerful Anchor products. The SM2+ has 200 watts, 118 dB (125 dB in loud mode), a heavy duty lead-acid battery, multiple Shure UHF wireless mikes, optional built in CD, great inputs & outputs, low-mid-high tone control, companion speaker output, and even build-in cable storage. As far as I know, it is the only 200-watt system with a built in battery.

In the fall of 2003, Sound Projections released the Freedom 1, a more affordable but still very high quality option. The frequency range and decibel punch are slightly less than the SM2+, but the Freedom 1 is housed in the same speaker casing with 100 watts, 115dB (123 dB loud mode), the same heavy duty lead acid battery, up to two optional Shure VHF microphones, the same built-in CD, many inputs and outputs, and high and low tone control. It also has an automatic limiter to keep sound levels from going too high and blowing out the speaker – a useful protection for those who are not sound geniuses. Finally there is a new “talk-over feature.” With turned on, the system senses when someone is speaking on microphone 1, then lowers the other volume levels. When they finish talking, levels are brought back up in 3 seconds. I find it handy for making announcements before the show, during intermission and after the show. The SM2+ and Freedom 1 may be mounted on a 1.5” speaker tripod. Both carry a THREE-YEAR WARRANTY. I purchased Freedom 1 last fall and love it.

OTHER AFFORDABLE PA OPTIONS: For years, audio companies sat back and watched Anchor own the market with these convenient systems. That is not the case today. More affordable but lesser quality portable PA units are made by the following companies: Mipro, Pyle Pro, SoundTech and the interesting Fender Passports (150 & 250 watt amplifier & dual speaker systems that snap together and fit in the back seat of your car.) Some of these can be seen at Joe Leffler’s site,

SPEAKER STANDS: I have discovered that some of the most reliable and affordable speaker stands in the world are made by Ultimate ( Their basic model securely holds 100 lbs, only costs $50 and comes with a three-year warranty. They have nice carrying cases too.

PROFESSIONAL AUDIO CABLES: Custom hand-made and standard cables are available through this wonderful company: I am very impressed with the quality of their work.

Well, that’s the current leg of our journey. In the future, we will be focusing on cases, tables, lighting and other technical matters pertaining to the one or two person stand-up show. I look forward to seeing you on the Magic Tech Road!

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