3G Flite 8
A console for concerts
Sturdy but sophisticated gigging mixers are on the rise. 3G's Flite FPM8 could become a regular on the circuit, but, says Ian Masterson, don't argue if it spills your pint...
When 3G build a mixer, they don't leave much to chance. The design brief for the Flite series must have made impressive reading: components by 3G, design by 3G - construction by JCB. Yes, this unit has been built with seriously angry if not psychopathic roadies in mind. This mixer makes the Thames Barrier look like Lego.
And no bad thing, either. There are countless musicians out there who need a compact, portable PA system that will happily fill their local club with a reasonable level of sound and yet still stow away neatly on the back seat of the Escort. More importantly, the system has to offer the same high-quality audio reproduction, flexible features and potential for further expansion that musicians demand from the rest of their gear - while being able to survive the countless terrors of life on the club circuit.
The Flite FPM8 is one of a series of Flite units, each configured around the sort of mixing desk 3G have built their musician-friendly reputation on. In addition to the eight main input channels, this particular Flite also includes a seven-band graphic EQ, 127-patch effects processor with reverb, echo, flanging and chorus, and a 200watt-per-side power amp. In other words, grab a couple of mics and a pair of speakers, and you have a perfectly formed personal PA. The Flite FPM8 packs all of this into a mere 476 x 390 x 150mm housing - although the unit does weigh a substantial 12kg, largely due to the all-steel construction and sizeable onboard amp. So mind your tootsies...
Of course, packing all these features into a single box seems like a great idea in theory, but what about compromises? Well, I'm pleased to report that few corners seem to have been cut anywhere on the Flite 8. Despite its tiny stature, this beastie is loaded with features.
Each input channel carries both balanced and unbalanced mic and line inputs with phantom power, three-band EQ, two auxiliary/effects sends (internally configurable for pre- or post-fader operation), pan, 60mm fader and true solo-in-place monitoring.
Two auxiliary sends might seem parsimonious in today's world of abundant, cheap effects processors, but you do get a dedicated effects unit actually built into the Flite; this features 127 digital patches, covering both 'bright' and 'dark' hall, room and plate reverbs in around 80 different styles, gated reverb, reverse reverb, flanger, chorus and delays. The quality of the presets is pretty reasonable on the whole, although some of the reverbs do fizz slightly over longer decay times, and the chorusing could do with being beefier. However, the effects still put the nasty 'spring' reverb on so-called integrated PA systems to shame.
The graphic EQ may be assigned to either the main mix outputs, the separate monitor (auxiliary) buss, or left unused. Personally, I favour the latter, unless you're suffering from severe gain-before-feedback problems with your mics, as the adjustment provided by each of the seven bands is too coarse for sensitive EQing.
"Two auxiliary sends might seem parsimonious in today's world of abundant, cheap effects processors, but you do get a dedicated effects unit actually built into the Flite"
The final results of your mix are dispatched through the balanced left, right and summed mono output sockets (the mono feed being ideal for running a separate in-fill system), as well as being fed to the internal amplifier - just in case you decide to use something beefier in the power department outside the Flite. Inputs and outputs are also provided for an effects loop and tape deck, and you can even insert an external line signal to drive the power amp section separately from the desk.
The construction of the circuitry used in the Flite more than lives up to the first impressions created by the external casing. Sure, it might conjure up images of a Fisher-Price 'My First Mixer' with its chunky controls finished in cheerful primary colours, but the Flite's rotaries and faders seem to be of superior quality, operating smoothly and evenly across the board. Similarly, I've never really liked 3G's clunky buttons, but at least these ones are unlikely to snap off or fail mid-gig. It's also worth pointing out that the Flite is not fan-cooled - a massive heatsink on the back panel takes care of the air circulation duties, which can only be a plus in terms of noise and interference.
Of course, hum problems seem almost inevitable when a power amp of this size is bolted directly onto the back of sensitive mixer circuits, but 3G have done their utmost to minimise any potential hassles, sealing the amp inside an "electronically isolated lower chassis member". The effect of this, er, 'member' (grow up - Ed), is to prevent stray magnetic fields from the hefty toroidal transformer interfering with your mix. It's true that I noticed very little hum in the output from the Flite, even when the mixer was driving an external amp - but I did hear quite a bit of hiss when the faders were cranked up to the max. Not enough to make your audience think they're tripping out to an Aphex Twin tune, but noticeable nonetheless.
Hiss aside, the Flite 8 proved to be an extremely user-friendly and flexible desk in the time I spent with it; I left it in the hands of a relative novice to operate for one particular concert, and they reported no difficulties whatsoever. In my own tests, my only complaint (background noise aside) was that the amp seemed a touch bass-light; but this is a minor niggle considering the construction quality and features to be found on this versatile piece of kit.
3G face stiff competition against the Flite in the small-scale integrated PA market - I know of one or two particularly impressive units similar to the Flite about to be launched - but, at the moment, they deserve to hold their heads high. It may not fill the London Arena with thundering bass, but the Flite will happily batter the eardrums off the regulars at your local. Whether you then load it into an Escort or a Volvo is up to you.
Price: £1287 inc VAT
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Review by Ian Masterson
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