Allen & Heath Brenell
Allen & Heath Brenell is the result of the combination of two respected British manufacturers, Brenell, who have been producing tape machines since the 1940's, and Allen & Heath, whose long pedigree in the manufacture of modular mixers made a marriage between the two companies a logical extension of their marketing activities.
Around this time a basic decision regarding design philosophy had to be made. Digital technology appeared to be the vogue, yet A&HB's reputation had largely been made in supplying high-quality, low-cost 'workhorse' mixers at the middle and budget end of the market. The solution was, to some extent, a compromise which has paid off handsomely over the last few years. A&HB continue to manufacture their cost-effective 'workhorse' mixers, but have entered the higher end of the market with the fully modular Syncon system. This system can be expanded at the user's discretion, so the initial outlay need not be excessive, and can be retro-fitted with computer automation features if and when required to bring it into line with the highest technology currently available.
Brenell's tape machine side of the business has similarly kept in line with modern trends. Their Mini 8 1 inch 8-track caused a stir when first introduced, and was widely used by Genesis, Andrew Lloyd Webber and many others as a semi-portable machine for the demo or small professional studio. Now the Mini 8 has been upgraded, and features logic switching along with three head operation and various mechanical innovations designed to make it vibration-free, reliable and easily maintained.
To match the top of the range Syncon mixers, Brenell produce the Masterclass series 2 inch multitrack unit. This is a pinchless 16 or 24 track machine with speeds of 15 or 30 inches per second, which gives a 65dB signal to noise ratio before any noise reduction is used. Again the emphasis is on logical modular construction for ease of use and maintenance. The head blocks can be changed from 16 to 24 track in a matter of seconds, and optical sensors feed information on reel diameter to a microprocessor which calculates the required tape tension. Since this tension is automatically minimised, the capstan motor itself has very little work to do, acting largely as a highly accurate quartz-locked speed control, and so a pinch wheel is not necessary.
The Syncon M's control unit uses a multicolour LED matrix together with an eight digit numeric display to give information on tape time, tape speed and local tape time, and available system memories, in a form which is visually appealing and easily assimilated.
The matching Syncon B mixing console also uses LED indicators and modular design, the basic building block being the SB12 input/output module with an EQ section developed from the Syncon A series. There are two sweep equalisers covering a total range of six octaves with an octave overlap at midrange, and a low-cut filter which can reach from sub-audio to lower midrange. The basic design is post fader, which allows cue mixing while the microphone input or track is muted, and there's a solo function allowing highly flexible options in muting microphone and group inputs during recording, or of tracks and effects during mixing.
Other modules include the SB21 Auxiliary Master and SB31 Monitor Master units. All the modules are fully self contained in terms of wiring, electronics and connections, and servicing is therefore extremely straightforward. Automated modules from the Allison Fadex range can be supplied, or any other automated system can be retrofitted.
A&HB claim that cost-saving has been achieved by streamlined production, design and purchasing rather than by cutbacks on quality control. Although A&HB don't usually manufacture their own components, they exhaustively test samples from component manufacturers and carefully select each slider, resistor and IC. The company has always kept an unusually large R & D staff, which is currently managed by Ted Rook. A typical day might see him carrying out ballistics tests on a selection of VU meters, using for instance the TR808 drum machine to provide the rapid transients needed for this kind of testing.
The same sort of care and quality control goes into the production of A&HB's other ranges of mixers. Their products can largely be divided into three categories, with the Syncon series ranging from £17,000 to £40,000, various professional and semi-professional studio and broadcast mixers in the middle price ranges, and budget price mixers such as the re-introduced Minimix 6:2 starting at £165 plus VAT.
The small studio mixers include the Modular 3, developed from the popular Modular 2 as a workhorse mixer with basic EQ controls. Its main attractions are reliability, price and good reputation, and if a graphic equaliser is felt to be necessary it can be connected very easily. A reliable and simple VU system of metering is retained despite the trend towards PPM's, which can be added if required for mastering.
The Modular 3 still uses discrete components, and has an optional as opposed to the earlier integral patchbay for economy. If a patchbay is required this can be fitted into a 19 inch rack; although almost five years old, the Modular 3 is still very widely used in many home and professional studios, and is privately referred to as the 'Morris Minor' of the mixer business - it just keeps on running!
A&HB have an affiliated company known as MBI, which makes broadcast mixers for radio stations and provides a complete interior design, acoustic engineering and installation service. One recent job was the construction of the studios of Centre Radio, Leicester's new independent station.
The final range of mixers is the budget range, comprising the Minimixer, the 4:2 range and the new 2:1 range which falls somewhere between the two.
The Minimixer is a 6:2 design with continuously variable gain from microphone to line level, bass, treble and mid lift controls, post-fader echo send and pre-fader cue send, pan and sliding fader controls. Two auxiliary line level inputs, intended for stereo echo return or linking mixers together, also have individual level, bass and treble controls, and so the specification is very flexible. Power supply is external and the styling is clean and functional, with symbols rather than full legends below each control and unusual flanged rotary controls which are very easy to grip.
The 4:2 mixers can have a wooden trim for studio use or an integral flightcase for mobile use. Each is designed using an in-line concept, so that any channel can be an input, an output, or a subgroup.
A&HB's latest product is the 2:1 series, suggested by their American subsidiary and ideal for studio use or stage use, as in addition to a stereo PA mix it can also derive a mono foldback mix. First advertised in E&MM, the 12:2:1 is the subject of this month's competition.
The mono mix is equally suitable for foldback, cable radio transmission, or video sound channels, and is a facility rarely offered by any UK manufacturer. In addition the mixers use a tie line or bus extension system which allows them to be interconnected in virtually limitless series, as their power supplies (also capable of phantom powering) are external. Recording levels can be matched to the major international standards at the user's discretion.
Now A&HB are turning their attention to the five models of the System 8 series, which are designed to incorporate every feature likely to make life easier in the 4-, 8- or 16-track studio The top of the range 1616 costs around £1400, and includes two independent mono auxiliary sends, headphone/foldback monitoring and 16 channel monitoring and VU metering. The range includes the EX8 expander which can be used with any of the mixers, and the entire range should be available before Christmas.
Allen & Heath Brenell's future looks bright. In a time of recession, it's good to see a British firm in a position to expand while maintaining the high standards which have given them a world-wide reputation.