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Review: TC Electronic Clarity M

Review: TC Electronic Clarity M

Recently TC announced a new audio meter, the Clarity M. It is a fairly cheap meter in comparison with the RTW TM7, which is regularly found in studios and OBs. But does it perform as well and how about the features?

Sturdy build

The Clarity M comes packed in a fairly small box (23 x 23 x 8 cm) and feels quite heavy at first. Inside the box the meter stares at you through a plastic foil. It fits neatly in its carton holder which also holds space underneath for the break-out cable and usb-cable. Also a small BNC to tulip plug is supplied, so you can connect the AES input to an coaxial S/PDIF output as well. A 12 volts powersupply is stowed in front of the meter, which comes with all major connectors.

ClarityM3

The meter itself has a black, matte powercoated look and feel. Very nice but a bit sensitive to fingerprints left behind when pressing the buttons. A clean, smooth surface might have been a better idea. The device weighs 830 grams, which in turn means when it’s placed on your desk, you do not have the feeling it will fall off pretty quickly. The material for the case is a kind of aluminum and gives the meter a solid look and feel. The buttons on the front do have a good feel, a bit too plastic though, the center knob is rotary with no button function. All good here.

The screen is a 7 inch type with a resolution of 800 x 600 pixels. This gives a colorful and sharp image. The colors are bright and the contrast is good, even in fairly light conditions. Brightness and contrast can be adjusted in the settings. When the meter is still switched off, the reflective screen acts as a black mirror, switched on this effect disappears. Only when you have bright lights in the background behind your mixposition (spots and so on) you might see a reflection of it in the meter. Other than that, the screen is clear and provides a good picture. There is no protection in front of the actual screen, which I found a bit worrying; if you were to travel a lot and use the meter on different locations next to you laptop or console my first concern would be to protect the screen somehow.

ClarityM6

On the back you also find a stand, which is neatly integrated in the housing. There is no way to quickly ‘flip’ down the stand to setup the meter on a desk; you need a torx size 10 to unscrew the stand, turn it around and screw it tightly to the housing again. The downside of this is obviously that without the stand, there is no way to place the meter on to your desk. If you would try to set it up without a stand it would probably be leaning on you connectors! I’d rather have connectors with a less bulky plug or even better, a 90 degree corner so the strain is of the cables and the meter is much flatter when bolted inside a case. Their solution is a RAM mount. There are two holes with M5 thread on the backside, to connect it to a clamp.

Connections

On the back of the meter there are a few connectors. The powersupply is on the left, the plug provided is straight. On the right there is an optical input; most MacBooks, settopboxes, televisions and consoles provide an optical output. But the perfoming star of the device most certainly is the 15 pins connector which houses 3 AES BNC inputs and GPIOs.ClarityM5

Either one of the three BNC inputs can be used as a stereo input or when working in 5.1, all three combined as one surround input. The unit expects the surround inputs to be configured as left, right, centre, LFE, left surround and right surround (also known as the ITU configuration).There are two jack connectors to be found; one 6,3mm input and one 3,5mm. The latter provides a GPO for an external peak or overload indicator. The 6,3mm jack is able to receive two switches. One for start and stop, the other for pause. This way you can start and stop the measurements with a footswitch. To operate these functions you need to have 2 switches connected to one stereo jack. Something you might not have lying around immediately, no worries; these functions are also available directly on the meter on the 2 buttons on the left. The absence of a XLR AES input can be overcome by using an adaptor, something which is not delivered out of the box. ClarityM4

Next to this wide connector there is a tiny USB connector. This is used for direct connection to a computer. It supplies an easy way to connect to ProTools and Cubase amongst others. A plugin is provided by TC, there were no installation problems. Both Protools and Cubase worked flawlessly with the meter. The USB connector on the meter side is somewhat fragile, I might add. I would rather have wanted a more bulky USB-B connector. But taking into account the available space on the backside and the depth of the meter (a mere 2,5 cm) it is a acceptable solution. Still, I have the feeling I have to be careful with this tiny plug because my gut feeling tells me this connector will be used quite a lot.

I’ve got you on my radar

After booting up the meter, which takes about 15 seconds, the radar pops up on the left side of the screen. In the centre you’ll see the readout of the descriptors, values like program loudness, maximum True Peaks and so on. On the right side the TruePeak meters as well as the correlation and devation meters are shown.

The radar works like you expect it to work. It takes up half of the screen, it clearly says:”No mucking around! I’m over here!”. The outer ring shows the momentary loudness (M), with on center-top the target loudness. This target loudness is also displayed on the innerrings as a thicker blue ring. The resolution of the radar is editable in the settings menus. On the top left sits is a peak indicator, which actually is a double of the indicators on the right, although on the right they indicate on which channel a peak has occurred. On the top right side of the radar a LOUD indicator is visible and lights up when you override the target loudness with an amount of decibels indicated in the settings. In the left corner under the radar is the name of the setting loaded and perhaps edited. On the right down side the clock is running. Overall, the view on the radar is fantastic. The rotary button in RADAR mode gives you control over which timespan the radar gives information. That is to say, controlling the speed of the radar making 1 full circle. Ofcourse its scale can be in LUFS, LU but also in LKFS.

ClarityM7

The descriptor list in the middle can be somewhat confusing, but luckily you can influence this. You can choose from a preset list TC has set up for you. From only seeing the momentary to the full list. There is no way to setup a list yourselves, though. In the setup page you’ll see some descriptive names for each setting, this meant for me that I had to read the manual to learn what each setting means. I’m not a big manual reader so I’d rather see in the setuppage the actual items names. Underneath the descriptor list the active input is indicated.

The TruePeak meters and the devation and correlation meters are there to make the whole a complete package. Most welcome I can say!

By pressing the third button from the left, which friendly indicates “RTA”, gives a RealTime Analyzer at the position of the radar. With this same button you jump back to the radar in a split second. While being in RTA the radar still functions in the background, so when you flip back the radar shows you what has happend in the meantime.

The RTA can function as a 31 band RTA (1/3 octave) or with 10 bands (1 octave). It is calibrated with pink noise, as you would expect. There are three modes of integration time or speed, being ‘fast’, ‘slow’ and ‘impulse’. I find the fast setting to work pretty good. The slow setting might be rather too slow for my taste. Also it has peak hold, which you can easily turn off or let it show until infinity and a few settings in between. In RTA mode the rotary button functions as a ‘zoom’ to show in red which frequency is generating what level.

It is a setup

While the three buttons on the left side of the rotary all control realtime functions, the ones on the right side are for library and setup functions.

The “LIB” button takes you to the library. This is where all the different settings are stored. Initially there are a few folders with settings for EBU, China TV, Australia and so on. Changing from folder to folder is done by turning the rotary. Selecting a setting within a folder is done by pressing up and down and pressing recall to load the settings. I found this method to be somewhat confusing. I’m kind of used to select files within a folder with a rotary and navigating through folders by pressing buttons. Minor detail but confusing; the folder name is displayed underneath the settings. Most folder structures I know have the folder name shown above its contents.

In every folder the first 5 settings are locked, you can load them, but you are not allowed to overwrite these. So you need to save these settings into a new slot. The new setting doesn’t get a logical name though. The name it gets is “Auto #6”. Alright. So how do you edit this name? You don’t. At least not without a computer. And this is where things get funky. You MUST use a computer to edit the names, as the meter pops up as a drive on your computer. If you change the name and would like this setting to be number 1, the meter does not always agree and simply ‘forgets’ the settings. The solution: put you own settings on slot 6 to 10 and be happy with that and you’re all good. Deleting a setting without a computer is a no go as well. It sure would be nice to delete those unwanted settings directly on the meter. As well as a button for locking and unlocking files and a “Are you sure?” popup for preventing unwanted overwriting of settings. This clearly must be a point of improvement in future releases.

ClarityM2By pressing the “SYS” button, you come in the system settings page. The first parameter you see is “USB mode” which gives you the possibility to let the meter act as a plugin or as a disk drive. This is done elegantly by asking you for permission to switch. This is a true plus in regards to firmware 1.0.1. It elegantly switches to one of the modes and doesn’t crash ProTools when switching. In disk drive mode it connects to your computer as a drive and shows you the preset folder and its contents.  Once there you can change the name of “Auto #6” into something more comfortable. Also you can see a logo folder. This is where you can upload a tiny .png picture with your logo or name. The most important folder is the Firmware folder. This is where you can upload the firmware updates. I had no trouble uploading firmware 1.0.5. This “SYS” page also contains the settings for the GPIOs and the layout of the 5.1 metering.

The “EDIT” button gives access to the settings page for the ‘RADAR’ and ‘RTA’ mode. This is quite self-explanatory. Though, I could not find the option “auto gate” or “G10” anywhere. I figure this is included but it does not indicate anywhere. That would sure be nice, especially in live broadcast situations where the commercialbreaks give you a fair amount of time that the meter is not supposed to be measuring.  Adding this feature would sure help a lot.

By holding the “EDIT” button for 2 seconds you can switch off the meter. One thing I found interesting; there is an option for reboot. Why would that be while switching off and on the meter takes about the same amount of time? This is just an option you normally find on computers, I could do without here.

ClarityM8

Let the waves rule!

So how does it perform? At first glance, perfect. It takes perfect measurements, no lagging in the screen, no noticable latency. I’ve installed the plugins for Protools and Cubase, which is just one install on my mac. Just select ‘plugin’ in ‘usb-mode’ and your good to go. Not only in stereo it performs well but also in surround mode. It automagically detects surround and gives you the appropriate channels. The RTA is very useful and tells you want you want. No less, no more.

I also connected it to my settopbox for my television. This box has an optical output so I hooked it up to the TC. Again, no flaw. It ran steady for hours.

Conclusion

As a meter for professional use for R128, as for musicproduction, postproduction in surround and stereo and live broadcasting I think this is fantastic piece of gear. It does not perform any less than RTW. It sure is a serious meter with a decent RTA and a very well placed price point. I’m not afraid to be using this in my setup for a long time to come. But please TC, have a look again at the navigation, storing, deleting and locking of presets.

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