Pearl PM-66 Programmable Mixer
This month we take a break from reviewing large mixers and cast our eyes upon a six channel, programmable stereo device from the Japanese company Pearl, which is certain to pop up in many home studios in the near future, due in no uncertain terms to its plain usefulness!
How many times have you cursed your present mixer when you've wanted to patch in another signal processor, but run out of auxiliary sends? Well now you'll have no problems, as the PM-66 will let you connect several such effects to one or two auxiliaries on your other mixer and switch through them, instantly selecting the necessary effect and mix - but more of this later.
A smart-looking, cream coloured front panel houses the input, output and program controls. Construction is from pressed steel, clearly screen printed and the whole unit measures a mere 13"(W) x 7"(D) x 2½"(H), but is solidly built with a gently sloping panel, that angles the control functions toward the user for improved visibility.
This top panel is neatly divided into input and output sections. As mentioned there are six input channels each with a grey-coloured, rotary Effects knob and four separate, black Volume knobs which set the output level of each particular channel.
To the right of these controls are four large, red LEDs labelled A to D, which correspond to the four rows of input volume controls and which illuminate to indicate the selected bank of input chosen. So effectively with the Volume knobs you have the facility to create four individual mixes of six sound sources and then switch between them.
This is where the four large pushbuttons labelled Program come in. Each one selects the associated mix, and switching is fast and silent with the LED lighting to indicate your choice.
Above these are the six, small Output Select switches - one for each input channel. These assign each channel input to either one of the two main outputs or to both, and the overall level of these outputs is controlled by Output 1 and 2 Volume knobs, situated directly above these six switches. No level metering is provided but two small overload LEDs take care of the peak signals, illuminating at +4dB to warn that 'clipping' and distortion may occur (at +8dB).
Headphone monitoring is provided, and the ¼" stereo jack socket on the right hand side of the front edge is capable of driving a set of headphones with an 8 ohm impedance or greater. When using stereo phones the signals routed to Outputs 1 and 2 appear in the left and right ears respectively. The accompanying Headphone control above the Outputs sets the level of signal in the ears and doesn't affect the output levels of any channels.
The final front panel control is an Effects Return knob which once again is of the rotary type. This determines the overall level of the signal received from whatever device is connected to the Effects send and receive loop. The amount of signal sent to this external effect is governed by the independent Effects send level controls on each input channel.
The recessed panel contains the input/output connections, which are all good quality quarter inch jack-sockets. There are six, unbalanced channel inputs clearly labelled and each with a three position selector switch giving a -50dB, -35dB and -20dB range of input levels. The -50dB position proved best for low level, high impedance microphones and the -20dB setting accepted line level signals quite adequately. Synthesisers and guitars worked best on the centre setting but this was not a hard and fast rule.
To the left of these are the Effects In and Out sockets which are used to patch an external processing device such as a reverb, echo or flanger perhaps, into the effects loop. 'Out' goes to your effect whilst 'In' comes from it. A very useful Effects Return Select switch above this can be used to route the return signal from your processor to either one of the main outputs or to both, so that you could have the original signal on only the left channel whilst the echo, say, appears just on the right.
Above the main outputs is a socket for the optional FS-1 footswitch (why are they always 'optional'?) which basically duplicates the Program select pushbuttons on the front panel. However, because the footswitch is only of the on/off type it cannot switch between all four Programs and so a Foot-switch Mode selector is necessary. This is a two-position switch that lets you choose which of the two pairs of Programs (A/B or C/D) you wish to switch between.
Finally there's an on/off switch and a 15V power socket that accepts Pearl's own AC-120 (12 volt) AC adaptor, which is provided with the mixer as you can't use it without one!
For those readers wondering if there's a Pan control, the answer is 'no' - but stereo positioning can be achieved in another way. What you do is feed your instrument into two channels and assign one input to Output 1 and one to Output 2 using the small switches. Then by setting the Volume controls on the two input channels you can programme up to four possible pan positions according to the relative balance of the two channels ie. setting both channel Volumes equally would position the sound in the centre of the stereo field; decreasing the Volume of one of the channels (left) would cause the sound to be panned right. So, from a simple 6-2 mixer you can get programmable panning as well!
Programmable effects selection is also possible by splitting your instrument's output and feeding one signal straight into a mixer channel and the other through an effect, then into the mixer. All you then do is set the volume of the effect relative to the original signal using the Volume knobs, and reducing the direct signal's volume setting if you want a heavily effected treatment. By switching through the Program buttons you could change between four different mixes of the dry/effected signal, which will prove very useful for any home recordist who already has a mixer with limited auxiliary facilities, but who would love the luxury of more.
Linking the PM-66 into your system partly removes the limitations and increases the scope of treatments available during the mixdown to stereo process. Instead of having to record each track of your multitrack tape with reverb on, just because you haven't got enough reverb units available for each track during mixdown, you can use only one reverb unit linked to the PM-66 effects loop, then set up the necessary mix of reverb using the Effects send level controls and set the channel Volume knobs to 'full' or 'off'. By linking the PM-66 to an existing auxiliary send/receive loop on your master mixer, you can then preset the amount of reverb required using the Aux send level controls and switch in the reverb via the Program select buttons on the PM-66. It sounds complicated but it's not when you actually set about doing it.
One thing becomes abundantly clear when using the PM-66 and that is its functionality and usefulness. It is so versatile and really adds terrific scope to the most basic of recording set-ups. It can be used quite effectively as a programmable sub-mixer for mixing combinations of inputs into two groups, for example, and even to provide a foldback feed to a headphone amplifier whilst simultaneously providing a second feed to a channel of a tape recorder, say; or perhaps divide the main outputs to provide independent 'dry' and 'wet' (processed) input returns to another mixer or tape recorder - the list of applications goes on...!
The specifications are quite impressive too, with an inter-channel crosstalk figure of 65dB and input noise level quoted at -125dB. In use, the noise was never really apparent and the whole unit functioned beautifully.
The three position input gain selector could be improved by replacing it with a variable rotary gain control as it sometimes proved difficult to get a clean, undistorted input signal.
The cost of this unit is £263, which is an awful lot of money for a simple 6 into 2 mixer! However, the programmable nature of the device does turn it into a completely different unit than any other similarly configured mixer, and opens up the applications for which it can be used.
When you consider that with this unit you can increase the sophistication of techniques open to you as a home recordist quite dramatically, the price does not seem at all bad. If Pearl were to cut the cost of these mixers and promote them carefully to the sector of the market that most has use and need for them, then I'm pretty sure they'd have a winner on their hands. Let's just hope they do that!
For further information on the PM-66 mixer contact Pearl at (Contact Details).