360 Systems Audio Matrix 16
MIDI sophistication in the humble patchbay: this modest-looking unit can store 100 routings of its 16x16 audio matrix and place the proceedings under MIDI control. Lorenz Rychner patches things up.
The beauty of a standard protocol like MIDI is the fact that crafty people can use it for purposes other than those for which it was originally intended. Remember when MIDI was about Note On messages, and stuck notes reminded us painfully that it was also supposed to be about Note Off? It wasn't very long ago. Soon afterwards, however, came MIDI-controlled lighting systems and hand-held triggers for percussionists, wind players, guitarists - you name it. All that time we had to remind ourselves that MIDI wasn't dealing with sound, that no audio signals ever entered the MIDI picture. Well, think again, because now we have a MIDI-controlled audio patchbay, with enough memory to store 100 routings of up to 16 audio inputs to 16 outputs.
Let's clarify one thing: this is a patchbay, not a mixer. No signal summing is going on; no two input signals end up coming out of the same output as a mixed signal. All audio connections are on 1/4" unbalanced jacks mounted on the rear of the 2U-high rackmountable unit. Channels 15 and 16 are duplicated on the front panel, cutting out the rear connections when activated by an inserted plug. MIDI In and Out and a fixed mains lead complete the rear.
The left of the front panel is taken up by 16 small white squares where you can scribble notes about the 16 connections - very low-tech and analogue, but certainly handy. The righthand side is divided into three large two-character LED readouts, each with its own pair of increment/decrement tabs. A list of six operating modes is accompanied by a Mode Select tab and three more tabs take care of Bypass, Enter and Store functions.
Patch Select is the normal operating mode. This employs the mode tab and the up/down tabs on the unit, or a patch change can be sent to the Audio Matrix over MIDI. A Patch is put together in an edit buffer in Audio Path mode, and only when the result has been found to be satisfactory does it need to be memorised as a Patch number from 1-99. Patch 100 is a bypass patch that's meant to be the basic configuration of your setup. Incoming MIDI program numbers 101-128 select Patch Chains, where each Chain can be set up as a sequence of up to 32 Patches, in any order. The Chain footswitch may be used to select these pre-sequenced Patches in an endless loop. Upon powerup, the operating system checks the footswitch and assumes the opposite of the current switch status as the activating status. According to Murphy's law, you'll always have a "normally open" switch when you want a "normally closed" switch, or vice-versa. Here it doesn't matter.
A Patch consists of 16 audio paths, one for each input. An input can be routed to one or more outputs without worry about load increase or other changes to the signal. So when you call up a new Patch number you're performing an elegant version of an ugly task, that of pulling out and plugging in bucket loads of audio leads. But that's not all (other manufacturers take note, please): the Audio Matrix 16 can transmit up to eight memorised MIDI program changes with each audio Patch, all mapped to the right MIDI channels. What more do you want? How about the ability to transmit and recognise System Exclusive data dumps of the current RAM contents for future use? If your sequencer allows recording and playback of SysEx data as track data, you can send the Audio Matrix a new RAM's worth in a matter of seconds.
This versatility invites more inventive configurations than I can list in this space (but of course, I'll try): multiple alternative effect sends in the middle of a sequence, audio muting of synths or tracks not currently used, and assigning one sound to more tracks and busses than the desk allows are all possibilities that come to mind. The audio specs are impressive signal to noise of 102db - and bore themselves out in practical use. I couldn't fault it at all sonically in the time I had to play with the unit. The manual is explicit right down to the very last MIDI byte.
So, is it worth £598 to increase the virtual number of inputs and routings of your system? Think about it - a good mixer costs more, and even an expanded system forces you to plug and unplug cables. This box will perform tricks for you that you haven't even begun to think about.
Price £520 plus VAT
Review by Lorenz Rychner