Studiomaster powered mixer
Just add speakers and go
Recording or live - with this new Studiomaster desk, the mix may be different but the mixer stays the same...
As part of a band 'paying its dues' around the grotty live venues of Cambridge, I could never comprehend why, whenever we went on stage, our carefully rehearsed sound was reduced to such a cacophonous din. And that was just the foldback. Never mind what aural mush was released upon our faithful fans.
I soon realised that betwixt stage and front of house there were demonic forces at work. Many came disguised as unreconstructed Neanderthals from the local PA hire company who had mixed their first gig in 1971 and hadn't changed the desk settings since. Others came as gremlins lodged in the in-house sound system introduced by the thrash metal outfit which had trashed it the night before. No wonder live performances always lead to bitter recriminations in the pub afterwards.
It might have been a different story had we had the Studiomaster Powerhouse, which allows musicians to reclaim their live sound as their own. The Powerhouse is a 12-channel mixer (or eight if you go for its baby brother) which also packs a 250 watts per channel (at 4 ohms) stereo power amp and a digital reverb unit into its relatively compact frame. Add a couple of speakers and you've got yourself a versatile and self-sufficient PA capable of filling (in terms of volume rather than bums on seats) any small to medium-ish local venue such as a pub, club or (God forbid) karaoke bar.
Compact it may be, but don't get the idea you can just pop it in your handbag and go. Weighing in at 27kg (that's nearly 60lbs for Eurosceptics), the 12:2 Powerhouse is only portable in the sense of Volvo estates and roadies called Cruncher. The 8:2 version is only marginally less heavy. Still, if weight can be equated to sturdiness, as is usually the case, then you can assume that either of them have got the stamina to survive the slings and arrows, not to mention the peanuts and beer glasses, of life on the road.
Whether it's eight or 12, the mixers work in the same way. Controls per channel comprise gain, three-band EQ, sends for foldback, the inbuilt reverb and auxiliary effects, plus pan and volume fader. There are no mute/solo buttons, though. All channels are equipped with inputs for line (quarter-inch jacks) and balanced mics (female XLRs). You can also switch in 48V phantom power to all mic sockets for condenser microphones.
For precise input trimming, the gain control gives a range of 45dB, with a clip LED to warn you against overload. The three-band EQ section offers shelving-type controls for both High and Low, with 16dBs of cut and boost at 12kHz and 60kHz respectively. The Mid range is a peak/dip type of control offering +/-16dB at 2kHz. Further equalisation possibilities are offered by a switch next to each channel fader which allows you to route any or all of the channels (post fader) to a stereo graphic EQ. This is placed just before the stereo masters in terms of the signal path.
Talking of acoustics brings us to the inbuilt digital reverb. Signals are routed to this via the reverb control, with the overall level of the mix going into the reverb under the control of a master reverb fader next to the stereo masters. While the reverb is a preset-only device, you do get 112 programs to play with. These are divided into banks and programs which are selected using a combination of three switches. A fourth button switches the reverb on and off, and this can also be achieved via an optional footswitch. The algorithm types are clearly marked on the panel and there's a system of LEDs to keep you informed of your progress.
The quality of the reverb is very good indeed. This came as a bit of a surprise since I was expecting (unfairly) something akin to the spring reverbs you find in guitar amps. But no. A plague on my preconceptions. Having passed a whole load of different instruments, vocals and entire mixes through it, I found there was nothing it couldn't handle. And there's certainly plenty of choice when you're looking for a particular type of reverb for a particular situation.
The only criticism is that changing reverb patches, even without any signal going through, often produced some rather alarming grunges. Definitely not one to try during a live set without turning the reverb off first. For extra or alternative effects, you can, of course, turn to the auxiliary send/return and connect up an external unit. The send signal is postfade and emerges in mono, but the return journey can be made in stereo if you wish.
The overall output of the auxiliary send is controlled by a rotary master, though there's no separate control for the return signal which connects directly to the left and right mix bus. An alternative here would be to patch in the return as a conventional input - in which case you'd be able to equalise the effected sound using the channel EQs and the graphics.
As you might expect for a small mixer aimed at live work, particular attention has been paid to the design of the foldback section. Eadh channel has prefade mon(itor) control, and like the rev channel, the mix is controlled by a master fader before being sent to either the monitor output socket or the headphones - or both. Tap a button and you can also effect your foldback mix with the inbuilt reverb.
Another option allows you to send monitor signals to the amplifier in place of the stereo master mix. You'd want to exercise this option if you were driving the PA with a more powerful amp, and using the Powerhouse's amp just to power the foldback. The stereo line outs used for sending the master mix to external amplifiers are placed before the built-in amp, but they don't break the signal path when you plug something in, so you could also use the built-in amp in tandem with a second system to blow your audience from the bar to the saloon.
For recording to tape in either the studio or during performance, the Powerhouse also has a pair of phono out sockets wired in parallel with the stereo line outs. There are two phono socket inputs for tape playback, with two associated volume controls - one of which sends the tape signal to the monitor output.
Round the back you'll find the speaker outputs, which on the 12-channel version are both XLRs and jacks. Here too are the left and right insert sends and returns which come just before the power amps in the signal path. Their main purpose is for patching in the preamp/crossovers which come with certain speaker systems, but you can also use them for effects if necessary.
In terms of operation, the Powerhouse is a piece of cake - primarily because it's an extremely flexible piece of kit. The mixer section isn't squeaky clean: turn the gains and faders up full and you'll hear hiss and some mains hum. Just like a lot of other mixers. Under normal operating conditions, though, this is hardly noticeable. And with plenty of control over the EQ of both individual channels and the master mix, there's no excuse for not cooking up a decent sound.
The output of the amplifier section seemed pretty clean (distortion is quoted at 0.02 per cent, signal-to-noise ratio at better than 100dBm) although I have to admit was unable to test the Powerhouse at anything like full volume (OK, you're excused - Ed). The quality of PA sound will, in any case, largely depend on the speaker system used with it, speaker placement, room acoustics and so on.
If you're primarily a gigging musician then the Powerhouse could well prove to be one of your best investments. And since street prices are somewhat lower that the official RRPs, it's better value than you first might think. There are a few quibbles, but the Powerhouse more than makes up for this in terms of its versatility. It would, for example, make a good submixer/stage amp for keyboard players, or even electronic percussionists who usually have loads of instrument outputs to accommodate.
And while it's not intended as an all-singing, all-dancing studio machine, its extensive features would make it ideal as the centre of any recording set-up for demos and the like. Particularly if you prefer recording direct to two-track, as many people do these days. There's a certain virtue in using the same equipment for live work, rehearsal and recording, since it gives you a chance to really get to know and make the most of your equipment. You certainly won't be sorry you got to know this desk.
Prices: 12:2 - £1088 plus VAT 8:2 - £880 plus VAT
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Review by Nicholas Rowland
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