By Robert Lindquist of the L2P Network. Live2Play, Play2Live.
As someone who plays in a band (doubling as the “sound guy”) and fills the open weekends as a Mobile DJ/MC, I need a case that can change personalities as fast and frequently as I do. I need a case that can be out with the band one night, and then convert easily to a table top DJ set-up the next. Also on the wish list is easy access to my laptop and a flat surface where I can park my Mackie 1402 VLZ-Pro mixer. Most importantly, with the big push toward vehicular downsizing, I have to be able to slide it under the bed cover on my compact pick-up. The SKB case I had been using for years did not take it kindly when I replaced my Chevy Avalanche with a considerably smaller Colorado. The new truck is smaller, lighter and gets marginally better mileage but the bed is just a couple of inches too shallow (see photo comparing the height of the new case with the old).
As driving with the bed cover off is simply not an option, I turned to the SKB web site for a better solution. What I found was the SKB-R104 / AV-8 combination (hereafter referred to as “the case” and “the shelf.”) The case provides a slanted surface with full 10U of mounting space with an additional 4U in the front. Typical of SKB design, the case has rugged steel threaded rails, a hard lid and doors, and convenient side access ports (for cable routing). Obviously, someone really thought this through as there’s plenty of room to clamp the lid on with the shelf installed. According to SKB, the one piece base is roto-molded of Linear Medium Density Polyethylene (LMDPE) while the hard front and rear doors and lid are Injection molded of Rubber Modified Styrene (RMS). In other words, it’s made out of really tough but lightweight material. The case alone weighs in around 24 pounds, but feels lighter—empty. Two tight fitting TSA locking SKB patented trigger latches secure the lid. I’ve been to the SKB factory and seen how they make these—so I expected, and received, a quality product.
Now, Where’s my electric screwdriver?
The first task was to remove the contents of the old case and remount it in the new one. Being that the old case was an upright, and this one is a slant top, I had to allow a little additional noodle time to configuration. When working with the band, I want the mixer right on the slant top and the laptop pushed back out of the way. For DJ gigs, the mixer can sit off to the side, I want the laptop up close (I run a program called MegaSeg which has manual and auto mix modes). The solution for me was to go online to Sweetwater.com and order a 6-space blank to fill the gap and a flat surface to place the mixer. The more typical configuration, at least for DJs, would be to mount their mixer in that space (I always complicate things).
The next operation was to install the shelf, which required drilling some additional holes in the blank, and then mounting it all to the case. Regardless of how close the manufacturer’s tolerances are, it’s routine that some adjustment is required. In this case, to get the holes in the shelf brackets to line up just right required a dozen or so strokes with a circular file. Once in position, the shelf moved smoothly from the folded position to the extended position. So far, so good, next task was to install my ETA power strip, BBE processor, Ashly Compressor/Limiter and a VocoPro CD player. When the job was done, the case had gained a little over 50 pounds.
Ultimately, the reasons for using a case of this type are first, to protect your gear and second, to facilitate fast set-ups. As for protecting the gear, this case is a veritable vault. Everything fits tight and locks securely. To speed set-up, use those access ports on each side to run your cables out quickly. You can keep the side facing the audience closed up during the show for a nice clean look.
As handy as the shelf is, it is designed to be used in one position, which is fully back (open). As I wanted to be able to use the my laptop in the intended position as well as in a farther forward position, I decided to file a couple of small notches in the shelf supports and run a metal rod from one side to the other. Well, that didn’t work (besides, making alterations to the case or shelf voids the warranty), but I did manage to accomplish my goal perfectly by simply running a short bungee cord from one side to the other (see photo). I should have tried that before I went nuts with the file.
On the road
There’s no getting around that fact that a road case that’s nearly two feet from side to side and from front to back, and eighteen inches high, is going to be anything less than awkward to lug around. It’s no reflection on SKB that I decided to load this box to a gross weight of 75 pounds, but they had done their homework and anticipated just that scenario. The side handles are well placed, making the case fairly balanced when carried solo, but a little help is always welcome.
Loading up, the case slid easily under the bed cover on the Colorado. At the venue, it was simply a matter of lifting it out unto a cart and rolling it in. Once positioned, connecting it up was a snap as I had tied all the cables to the mixer together—all that was required was to open the front, snap off one of the side ports, and run everything out port. For the laptop, I ran the output from the soundcard in one port and out the other to keep a clean look. Overall, it takes less than ten minutes from the time the case is placed in position until it’s ready to go. If you choose to mount your mixer right to the case’s slant rack, you can probably get that down under five minutes with no problem.
Once I had connected up my mixer and QSC powered speakers, all that was left was to set up the laptop, plug it in and boot up. The bungee cord solution allowed me to park the shelf at the perfect height to use the laptop, and still view the display screens on the CD Player. At the end of the evening, it was simply a matter disconnecting the mixer and laptop, snapping on the cover and splitting the scene.
SKB has been making cases for musicians, DJs and a lot of other professions for 30+ years. There’s no disputing that the company builds quality cases and is quite aggressive in terms of innovation. This new case/shelf combo is a perfect example. While it may not be the perfect solution for everyone, it sure to appeal to those of us who use our gear to cover a variety of jobs. While it’s often said of someone with multiple personalities that you have to “take the good with the bad,” in this case (pun intended), this SKB case/shelf combo is well-adjusted and ready to help make the more physical tasks associated with mobile entertaining a whole lot easier.