Alesis 1622 Mixing Desk
Already renowned for producing high-quality budget equipment, Alesis have introduced a new 16-channel mixer. Ian Waugh discovers Monolithic Circuit Technology is behind the 1622's amazing performance.
The explosion in "affordable" digital reverb units looks set to be followed by a similar explosion in "affordable" mixing desks. Alesis' offering: 16 channels with unbelievably low noise and price.
I'VE BEEN ITCHING to get my hands on this desk since I saw a mock-up at last year's British Music Fair. My motives however, I admit, weren't completely altruistic in wanting to bring you, dear MT reader, the low-down on one of the latest pieces of hi-tech gear.
You see, my then-current eight-channel mixer was several years old, almost pre-MIDI in fact, and old enough to have been around when instruments with stereo audio outputs were rather thin on the ground. It's doubled as an instrument mixer (for synths and so on) and a recording mixer, a task it has coped with well until stereo equipment became the norm at which point the inputs definitely became overcrowded. Many MT readers may recognise the situation.
With the proliferation of hi-tech gear with stereo outs, secondary outs, individual outs and drum outs it soon became clear that I could not run all my equipment in stereo. Even dedicating the mixer to instrumental use only and recording in stereo direct from sequencer to tape (something which I have been doing increasingly over the years) left me a few channels short of a full mix (marginally better than being a few sandwiches short of a picnic).
So, the 1622 seemed an ideal solution - and a budget-priced solution, too. Alesis have built their reputation on new (dare I say innovative?) and interesting gear at the right price, and the 1622 seemed to be on.
"What's it all about?" you may ask. Monolithic Integrated Surface technology, that's what, the net result of which is a high quality mixer at a low price.
IF YOU THOUGHT monolithic only referred to the stone age or something out of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, think again. Alesis' "Monolithic Integrated Surface" technology has led to the development of a complete mixer - yep, the 1622 - whose internals are basically designed around a single circuit board. This includes the pots and the faders which, in fact, are part of the board itself. The benefits of this form of construction include reduced production costs and improved conductivity - the controls work beautifully with not a scratch or a glitch to be heard.
Although the construction appears to be quite rugged, I wonder what happens if a control does become faulty or if you break a pot or a fader - would a repair mean replacing the whole board? Of course you take good care of your gear but accidents do happen.
The casing itself is made from moulded plastic and in a familiar wedge shape - mainly, I suspect, in order to house the plethora of sockets which you'll find if you take a peek around the back. It can be used flat or mounted into a rack.
AS YOU'VE PROBABLY sussed from the name, the 1622 is a 16-channel mixer and each channel can be routed to a Master or Sub Master buss. Let's work our way down one of the channels.
First is the trim pot, variable from -10dB to +30dB. Next is a two-band EQ section consisting of simple treble and bass controls operating at 10kHz and 100Hz with ±15dB of cut and boost. The lack of a mid-range control could prove a miss to some, but, in use, I didn't really miss it (although I tend to tweak rather than gouge). The EQ is certainly flexible enough to lift the top end and boost a bass drum and to clip the top-end noise from a particularly ill-mannered synth.
Next are the sends - two pre-fades and four postfades. The pre-fades will probably be used for headphone monitoring although they can also be used with outboard effects. The four post-fade sends may seem like overkill but there are many home studio owners with more than two effects units or who would simply like the flexibility of more than two sends.
Underneath the sends are the routing switches which send the signal to the Master or Sub Master, and below these are Mute and Solo switches. These are little white toggle switches which slide across the mixer from left to right rather than the more usual push-button affairs. Again, I assume this is due to the internal layout of the board.
Mute does not affect the signal on sends 1 and 2 but it does mute the other sends. There are no overload LEDs and you must use Solo - and your ears - to check the levels. A Solo'd signal is heard in mono and without any effects. Once the red LEDs start to peak there's little headroom left before the signal distorts.
Obviously, altering the input signal (changing synth patches and so on) and tweaking the EQ will alter the input level so you may have to check the levels several times during use.
Finally we come to the pan pots and below them the faders.
"One of the most impressive and noticeable - or unnoticeable - features of the 1622 is the lack of background noise. This thing is quiet."
ON THE RIGHT of the mixer are the group controls. At the top are the level LEDs - seven green, four yellow and four red. Below these is a Solo LED - which lights when a Solo switch is on - and a Power On LED. You may think this non-essential but the unit is so quiet you could well need reassurance that it is switched on. I kid you not.
Below this is a giant Master Volume control dial. To the left of this is a Monitor Defeat switch and a Tape/Master switch. The latter determines what you hear on the control room monitor speakers - the signal from the mixdown tape deck or from the desk.
Next we have the six send master volume controls followed by the effects returns. The first four (that is, the two pre-fades and the first two post-fades) each have a pan control as well as a volume control which allows the signal to be placed anywhere in the stereo image. The other two returns are permanently assigned to the left and right Sub Master and Master busses respectively, useful for dedicated stereo effects.
The final controls are concerned with the Master and Sub Master busses. The left and right Sub Master channels have their own pan pots. There's also a Sub Master-To-Master switch which, as its name suggests, routes the Sub Master signal to the Master buss.
As each channel can be routed to either buss and panned left or right, you could effectively use the mixer to feed four independent signals to a four-track recorder, for example, with a reasonable amount of flexibility. The Sub Masters could also sum a collection of signals before passing them onto the Master.
EACH CHANNEL HAS unbalanced line inputs, and channels one to eight also have balanced XLR mic inputs. Channels one to eight also have Direct Outs which could feed an eight-track recorder (in such an application, the tape outs would go to channels nine to 16).
There are separate Sub Master and Master outputs plus a Monitor Out to plug into your, er, monitors - via an amp, of course. Here we also find the Tape In sockets which let you monitor the mixdown signal without repatching - thoughtful. Use with the Tape/Master switch described earlier.
Each channel has an insert point on a stereo jack allowing you to plug an outboard unit into just one channel. There are also separate left and right Sub and Master inserts which are useful if you want to run the entire mix (or a "Sub" part thereof) through an effects unit (compression and excitation spring to mind).
The headphone socket is here, too, along with a +4dB/-10dB level switch to assist compatibility with both pro and semi-pro gear.
The power supply is external and plugs into the back. It's identical to the one used with the Quadraverb, in fact.
THE 1622 LOOKS hi-tech, if a little undistinguished, with its grey/black casing and light grey controls. However, the casing is of such a design that it always looks dirty. Once you cross the acceptance threshold, however, you realise the advantage is that you don't notice the real finger marks.
It's not a new ploy (take Roland's upmarket R8 drum machine and its "underfelt" finish as another example), but in a world of dust and grime I prefer to keep my gear looking clean.
The pots are small but very usable. However, if you are used to chunkier knobs they may seem to lack a little feel, although not, I think, response. This is partly due, I believe, to the fact that they are connected directly to the circuit board. The faders fit into channels recessed into the case which keep them moving in a straight line so as not to put undue stress on the circuit board. This can result in a little friction and scraping as they touch the side of the channel, which, in turn, can affect their response if you are relying on light, fingertip control.
"The 1622 has many applications - four-track studios, eight-track studios, keyboard submixing, sound reinforcement and most likely of all, in the MIDI studio."
The headphone socket is placed rather inconveniently on the back along with the power on/off switch. Consequently, if you mount the mixer in a rack you'll need access to the top of it. Again, I suspect this was a necessity forced on it by the monolithic circuit board.
The good news is, the 1622 is extremely light - if you use it live your roadie will love you forever. The 1622 is also supposed to be beer-proof, Coca Cola-proof and resistant to all other sorts of sticky and runny substances. The Alesis stand at Frankfurt was showing a video demonstrating just how impervious the critter is. If you have ever dirtied your mixer - and who hasn't thrown the odd can of Red Stripe and bottle of Scotch over their equipment now and again? - you'd have been suitably impressed. However, it would take a stronger stomach than mine to try this on my own mixer (it's OK Alesis, I didn't try it on yours either).
THE 1622 HAS many potential applications. It is an ideal choice for a four-track tape studio for a start. The manual is also keen to demonstrate its usefulness with an eight-track recorder - this is quite feasible, too, although it's not quite as ideal as an eight-buss mixer and a certain amount of repatching may be necessary. This, however, would depend upon your specific setup and a patchbay should solve many problems (and if you can't afford a patchbay you probably can't afford an eight-track recorder, either).
If you're after a mixer for eight-track work the best advice I can give is to work out your requirements then check out the 1622. It may be just what you need, but on the other hand...
If this is your first (or even your second) venture into mixing, you should find the manual very helpful. It clearly describes the functions of all the controls and sockets, and includes several applications with suggestions on how to connect equipment to the mixer. This includes a couple of eight-track recorder setups. There is also a glossary, a troubleshooting guide and some "mix and recording theory".
Other applications include sound reinforcement. Again, the manual contains several suggestions and here the Sub Masters really start to earn their keep.
The 1622 would make a neat keyboard sub-mixer, too, especially as virtually all modern synths have stereo outputs - don't we know it? - and many have additional outputs as well - room for six stereo synths here, vocals, guitar and bass with perhaps a channel or two to spare.
The high sonic quality of the unit makes it equally suitable for professional situations, too, perhaps as a sub or secondary mixer or even in a video post-production suite. Still more suggestions can be found in the manual.
But I reckon one of the main niches in which the 1622 is going to find itself is the MIDI studio. There must be hundreds, if not thousands of musicians whose work is based around a computer or hardware sequencer and who do a mix directly from the sequencer and/or their equipment onto tape. If you're working in stereo with four synths or expanders then that's an eight-channel mixer swallowed whole. The 1622's 16 channels give you plenty of headroom plus channels to spare for vocals or acoustic instruments. The six sends and returns give you lots of options for patching in effects units.
ONE OF THE most impressive and noticeable - or unnoticeable - features of the 1622 is the noise - or lack of it. This thing is quiet. Apart from any other features this is reason enough to check it out. Noise is the bane of all our lives - unwanted noise that is - and any piece of equipment with such a low level of inherent noise is to be welcomed.
Most of my brickbats are to do with the design which, in turn, was dictated by the monolithic circuit board which, in turn, is what makes the 1622 perform as unbelievably well as it does. It's a tradeoff, but one which comes down, I believe, firmly in favour of the pros. That said, a mixer is such a personal piece of equipment that you really need to put your hands on it and play with it to make up your own mind about it.
And when you throw the cost into the equation (if you haven't already sneaked a look at it) you'll find a mixer with a performance and facilities to belie its price.
Ideally in a review of this nature I would report that I was so impressed that I bought one. Well, I was sufficiently impressed but my needs back at last year's BMF were great and urgent and I couldn't wait until the production models - or even a review model - came rolling off the line. My hard-earned lolly found another home.
However, had it been available and had I bought it I would have had a flexible, very low-noise mixer for a modest sum of money. And if that sounds attractive to you, you know what to do.
Price £699 including VAT.
Review by Ian Waugh
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