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Studiomaster Mixdown Classic 8
8-buss Mixer
Published in SOS June 1996
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Reviews : Mixer

Studiomaster's new desk joins the long list of other contenders in the crowded 8-buss mixer market. Unlike many of its competitors, however, the Classic 8 is a split console, and includes MIDI muting and a meter bridge as standard. Is this enough to encourage musicians to settle for Studiomaster? PAUL WHITE finds out.Studiomaster are one of the longest established UK mixer manufacturers, and indeed, they're one of the few not bought out by an overseas parent company.

 

Their Mixdown Classic is based on technology and features drawn from the original Mixdown range of consoles, and unlike most of today's mixers, it retains the traditional 'split' format, rather than the in-line approach used by the majority of its competitors. Without wanting to enter into the split/in-line war, split consoles are generally considered to be easier to use than in-line models, and there is no need to share the available EQ and aux sends between the main and monitor channels. On the negative side, the Mixdown Classic only provides 16 Monitor inputs, regardless of how many input channels you have, whereas an in-line desk has a Monitor input for every one of its normal inputs, providing double the number of inputs during mixdown. You also get EQ on only eight of those 16 monitor channels on this particular board.

The Mixdown Classic 8 is an 8-buss recording mixer available in 16, 24 and 32-channel versions, with the benefit of MIDI muting as standard -- providing click-free muting under the control of any MIDI sequencer (see the 'Mute Witness' box for more). Also standard is the full-width meter bridge and a rackmount power supply. Direct outputs on every channel mean the console isn't restricted to 8-track recording, and the 3-band EQ features sweep control on both mid and lower sections -- which makes it very flexible.

Inside the robust steel chassis are individual circuit boards for each channel, unlike many budget mixers which use large, horizontal boards. This more painstaking construction method is more expensive, but does allow the controls to be mounted properly, avoiding the wobbly knob syndrome that afflicts so many budget desks today. It also affords easier access for servicing.

CHANNELLING

The input channels all feature balanced mic and dual line inputs as well as direct outs, insert points, a switchable 20dB pad and individual phantom power switching. There's no mic/line switching, though -- you just plug into the input you want to use. All the connections are on the top panel for easy access, though the addition of a meter bridge means they aren't quite as easy to get at as they would be without it. The 'Line A/Tape' switch sends the off-tape signal from the multitrack recorder either to the input channel (for bouncing or mixing) or to the tape monitor section for tracking, whereas Line B provides an input for external line level sources.

After the input section comes the 3-band EQ, which provides up to 16dB of cut or boost per band. The Hi band is a fixed, 12kHz shelving filter, while the Mid and Low may be swept from 350Hz to 7.5kHz and 25Hz to 300Hz respectively. This EQ, which features a band-pass mid section and a variable-frequency shelving low section, is a derivation of the circuit Studiomaster have been using for the past couple of decades, and it does have a certain musical charm and warmth to it. Of course, you don't want EQ all the time -- so a bypass switch is also fitted.

 

"The circuitry is commendably quiet and the EQ compares favourably to the competition."

 

Of the six aux sends, numbers 1, 2 and 3 are set post-fade for use as effects sends. Auxes 4 and 5 may be switched as a pair for either pre- or post- operation, while Aux 6 is fixed pre-fade, for use as a performers' foldback send. All the panning and routing controls are quite conventional, but the Listen button shares its status LED with the channel clip indicator -- a handy feature for letting you know when you're taking too many liberties with the headroom. There's also a channel On button, which has its own status LED and is connected directly to the electronic muting system. Rather than muting the signal instantaneously, which might cause clicks, the mute circuitry has a 50mS fade time to ensure silent muting under all programme conditions. This also applies if the mute is activated manually.

The master section of the console is pretty conventional, and includes a 1kHz test tone oscillator and talkback (switchable to slate or foldback) with an integral mic. Each of the six aux sends has its own master level control, and further level controls are provided for the control room monitor and the headphone output. There's Control Room monitoring of either the main stereo output or the 2-track return; pressing a Solo button overrides the stereo mix, but the 2-track output always takes precedence when selected. A nice touch is that sends 1 and 2 also have mute functions, while sends 5 and 6 (normally used for foldback), have Listen buttons, allowing them to be solo'd.

SPLIT MONITORING

In true split console form, the off-tape monitoring is handled by a set of monitor channels above the Group faders. These are arranged as two rows. The top row can be switched from its normal monitor duties to act as an additional line input when mixing, and this row of monitor channels has the benefit of 2-band sweep EQ, level and pan controls, and two aux sends. The upper of these two sends is dedicated to aux 6, while the lower send may be switched between aux 1 and 2. There's also a Listen button. Also on this row are fader reverse switches, enabling the Group fader and monitor level control functions to be swapped over. During recording, this makes it convenient to set the off-tape monitor levels using faders rather than knobs, but as there are only eight Groups, this feature is available only to the first eight monitor channels.

The lower row of returns is similar, except that there's no EQ and no Listen, and the source is switchable between Tape and Group. Selecting Tape always gives you the tape return, unless a jack is plugged into the relevant aux line input, in which case the external input takes priority. Once a jack has been plugged in, the channel functions as a simple line input feeding the stereo mix.

In Group mode, the Group signal passes through the monitor channel's pan, level and aux controls, making it possible to pan or add effects to subgroups. While this further reduces the number of inputs available at mixdown, it does get around the age-old problem of having to tie up two Groups whenever you want a signal panned anywhere other than hard left or hard right. Each of the Groups is controlled by its own long fader, and separate faders are used for the left and right stereo master outputs. All these faders have Listen buttons, and insert points are provided for all the Group outputs.

Like most Studiomaster mixers, there's a certain amount of user configurability, including the ability to select the XLR outputs to run at either +4dBu balanced or unbalanced. It's also possible to change PCB links to match up with -10dBv or +4dBu multitrack recorders.

OPINION

Because this is a split console, it is very easy to use, though it doesn't have as many available inputs as a similar sized in-line console. Perhaps more restricting is that only a single dedicated stereo aux return is available, so all other effects have to come in via input channels, or via unused monitor channels. This potential restriction on the number of available inputs aside, the Mixdown Classic 8 performs very well; the circuitry is commendably quiet and the EQ compares favourably to the competition. I like the simple approach to mute automation: this is as easy to use as your choice of sequencer will allow, and the mute action is smooth and vice-free. I also like the way the designers have given each channel On switch two LEDs: a green one to show when the switch is physically in the On position, and a red one to indicate muting, either manual or MIDI.

Cosmetically, the Mixdown Classic 8 is a little more up-to-date than consoles from Studiomaster's 'brown period', though some may still find the choice of colours a little busy. The legend is clearly readable, there's plenty of room for chubby fingers between the controls, and the knobs themselves are clearly marked, with a nicely tactile, rubbery surface.

SUMMARY

Compared with other low-cost mixers, the Mixdown Classic 8 stands up as a well-specified and solidly-built product, which includes some endearingly old-fashioned features. It also sounds good and sensibly includes MIDI muting on two of the aux sends, which is where you need it for creative effect control. The comprehensive metering is a big plus point, and the only real weakness is the sole stereo return. On an in-line desk, this might be less serious, but with a split console of this type, you're always limited to 16 monitor inputs, even if you buy the 32-channel version of the desk, and even then you lose another monitor channel every time you use a Group to create a subgroup. The plus side of the split arrangement is that setting up a monitor mix is less confusing, and when you come to use the monitors as extra line-ins at mixdown, the top eight have the advantage of EQ without having to hijack it from an input channel.

The 8-buss mixer market is pretty ruthless at the moment, and I think it would be unfair to point to any single product and proclaim it the clear winner. All have slightly different combinations of features, and the Mixdown Classic 8 looks as though it will appeal most to those who want low-cost MIDI muting, straightforward operation and generous metering.

 

MUTE WITNESS -- THE CLASSIC 8 & MIDI

As already mentioned, the Classic 8 features MIDI muting as standard. The first thing to do is set up the MIDI channel for communications, using a rotary switch adjacent to the MIDI In, Out and Thru sockets on the rear panel. Once the system is switched on via the MIDI switch on the front panel, mute information is sent as Note Off and Note On data on MIDI notes 1 to 32 for the channels, and 101 and 102 for Aux 1 and 2. Note On equals Mute On. Unlike some systems, which use non-latching buttons for the channel On switches, the Mixdown Classic 8 has normal latching buttons. These must be in the channel On position before mute data can be played back into the console -- green status LEDs show the mechanical status of the switch. A red LED shows whether or not the channel is muted, so when both LEDs are on, you know the channel is being muted via MIDI.

Some older sequencers don't handle very long Note On events very happily (you have to feed them an extra one occasionally just to stop them timing out), but most current sequencers should be fine, and the great advantage of such a simple system is that it's very easy to edit the mute data in your sequencer. You can either set up the mutes as snapshots, then dump them to the sequencer one at a time using the Dump button, or you can run the mix in real time and record note data straight into the sequencer by pressing the console's mute buttons. By working on a few mutes at a time and doing each pass on a separate sequencer track, editing is simpler -- and you can always merge the data to a single track when you're happy with it.

If you start a mix mid-song, there's a good chance that some of the mute data will be wrong, because the sequencer won't know what mutes were last set, and it will stay wrong until the relevant mutes are next updated. To get around this, Studiomaster have used the same system adopted for their P7, where mute data is also sent out as bursts of MIDI controller information every second or so. When editing mute data in the sequencer, the controller data must be discarded, otherwise you'll have two conflicting sets of mute instructions. New mute controller data is output from the mixer's MIDI Out when you next play the sequence data back into the console. For those without a sequencer, it is possible to set up one mute snapshot and switch it on or off using the MCM On button.

 

METERS BY THE YARD

When it comes to metering, the Mixdown Classic 8 spoils you like no other budget console I know. There are moving coil VU meters on the meter bridge for the main output, but if you prefer PPMs, you have those too, on the main console panel. These also display the PFL or AFL signals when a solo button is pressed. The remaining meter bridge displays monitor the individual channel signals, and these may be set to meter the channel outputs or the multitrack returns. Eight more bargraph meters on the console panel cover the Group outputs or tape return levels.

 

pros & cons

STUDIOMASTER MIXDOWN
CLASSIC 8
1879/2349/2819

PROS
Simple, split console design.
MIDI muting and meter bridge included as standard.
Generally good sonic performance.

CONS
Not as many inputs as an equivalent in-line console.

SUMMARY
A good value recording console with many standard
features that other manufacturers sell as extras.

 

info

Mixdown Classic 16:8:16:2 1878.82; 24:8:24:2 2348.82; 32:8:32:2 2818.82. Prices include VAT.

A Studiomaster, Unit 5a, Chaul End Lane, Luton, Beds LU4 8EZ.

T 01582 570370.

F 01582 494343.

Published in SOS June 1996
Sunday 8th October 2006

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