Seck Model 1882 Mixer
Following on from the Seck 122, the new 1882 mixer offers a vast range of facilities housed within a compact case that even the Japanese would be proud of. Paul Gilby takes a look at this British thoroughbred and discovers a mixer that's happy both in the studio and on the road.
From time to time you receive a piece of equipment for review that makes you ooze with excitement. After jostling with the box you take a quick look at the features and that's it; an immediate impression is formed before a more thorough testing is performed at the time of writing the review.
In the case of the Seck 1882, you're presented with a very thin mixer that's visually striking and smartly laid out across its one metre width (39 inches for British readers). It is often said by the designers of this world that when a product looks good, its form and structure are usually an integral part of the design. So, in general terms what looks good performs well - just take a look at the Lotus Esprit.
The Seck 1882 is a perfect embodiment of those ideals, for which the design team involved must be congratulated. When you use this mixer your hand seems to go in search of a particular control and there it is at your finger tips. What's more you keep finding features that are so useful you wonder quite how they fit them all into such a small space, yet manage to retain an open feeling that isn't cramped. Ergonomics is the keyword and this is a splendid example of its application.
As I'm so taken with this mixer, I thought that I would present you with the conclusion now so that you don't have to wait to the end of the review; something to catch out all of you who jump straight to the end of equipment reviews and spoil the story.
The Seck 1882 mixer is, without doubt, one of the most versatile and compact units on the market today. Its facilities offer almost everything you would desire including a slightly unorthodox EQ stage that surprisingly, sounds better in reality than it looks on paper. The icing on the cake, however, has got to be the mixer's routing system which has certainly taken a leaf out of the big boys' book; Soundcraft, Harrison and the like.
As a recording mixer, it's not far short of perfect and even in a PA situation any sound engineer will certainly find it a pleasure to use. Usually, when a product like a mixer starts life on the designer's drawing board, everybody involved sits around saying things like, 'it must have this' and 'it must have that', until it becomes prohibitively expensive and grows to a monster of a size. Well, they did give it that and the other, built it in a small case and called it the 1882; quite remarkable.
The Seck 1882 is an 18 input channel mixer with 8 subgroups that may be switched between two sets of outputs which would normally be wired directly to a 16 track tape recorder such as the Fostex B-16, or equally so to an 8 track like the Tascam 38. A stereo master output is also provided which may be configured to act as two additional subgroup outputs, or when in a PA situation they can be used as the master output feeds to the PA stack.
The mixer follows some of the 'in-line' design philosophy where each input channel has its own monitoring controls (18 in all) rather than the usual approach of taking the monitoring off the subgroup outputs. This arrangement can initially be overwhelming for some people but Seck have laid the mixer's controls out so well that its operation is straightforward.
Each input channel is identical so, diagram at the ready, the rundown goes something like this. As the mixer is thin and flat all connections are mounted along the top of the mixer, each channel having its relevant sockets clearly distinguished from the next. We start with the microphone input which is via a latching XLR three pin socket riveted into place and wired pin 3 hot. The line input is a standard jack socket wired for balanced operation though it may be used unbalanced. Tape return is via a -10dBV input and there's one on each of the 18 channels which is unusual when you consider this to be a budget-priced mixer.
Last of all, is the insert point socket which is wired to accept a stereo jack plug and uses the tip connection to send a signal out and the ring for receiving the returned processed signal. This insert point is accessed prior to the EQ stage and, therefore, any noise picked up from external processing units may be tackled with the EQ on its return to the channel. With no plug inserted, the signal runs straight through the channel. Next in line, is the input gain control and its friend, the mic/line selection switch. Pretty self-explanatory. Immediately under the input section comes the monitoring but we'll skip over this for the moment and head for the auxiliaries.
Although the mixer has a total of six Aux sends (each identified by a white coloured knob), the main recording signal path only uses three of them: one for foldback (prefade) and two for echo send (postfade) - Aux 1 & 2. The three further auxiliaries are all part of the monitoring system and when in the remix mode are cleverly utilised to provide the luxury of six auxiliaries for the final stereo mixdown. More of this later.
Positioned just above the Aux 1 control is the channel status switch which selects either the line input or tape return as the sound source that travels through the channel. The EQ section comprises a cluster of four buff coloured controls: one for treble which operates at 11kHz; a midrange section with one control for boost/cut and another to sweep through the midrange frequencies from 300Hz to 6.5kHz; and the bass control which operates at 45Hz. All signals may be varied by +/-15dB which is sufficient for most equalisation jobs. Those with more ambitious tonal requirements can always patch a graphic equaliser into the insert point for really detailed work.
The choice of EQ frequencies is quite interesting and so deserves a little more attention. The treble control has been fixed at 11 kHz, higher than the standard 10kHz found on most mixers but, in practice, it works well and is useful for cutting out quantisation noise of digital sound sources and sorting out vocal presence. At the bass end, the chosen frequency again is somewhat strange at 45Hz. Great for cutting out bass rumble but you wouldn't think it could be useful on the upper bass frequencies. Well, in use it proved to be good and far outstretched its modest paper specifications. A look at the EQ curves in the handbook would seem to confirm this and shows the bass and treble to have fairly shallow cut-off slopes which extend over a broad range.
Well that's all the sound shaping controls dealt with so onto the signal routing. The pan control is blue and although situated close to the EQ the contrast in colour alone makes it easy to locate. The control itself is of the centre detent type which is always a nice feature and has enough space around it to allow your fingers room to move freely.
A further five routing options are available by using the selection buttons located beneath the pan pot. The first button selects the Left-Right master output and the subsequent buttons below it select pairs of groups labelled 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 and 7-8. Any combination of buttons may be selected at once allowing you to route the same channel to more than one subgroup. With no button selected the channel is switched out of the mix providing a crude sort of channel mute facility though it doesn't, of course, mute the auxiliary bus. The Solo function is strictly not in the recording signal path and is related to the monitoring section. As the name implies, selecting this button will solo the sound on that particular channel while simultaneously muting all other channels without affecting the recorded sound. A nice touch here is the red 'solo active' light which illuminates when any solo switch is selected, showing at a glance whether any of the 35 individual solo buttons have been pressed - a real panic saviour!
Finally, at the bottom of the channel is a 100mm smooth travel, long throw fader which has a dB scale marked down the side. Immediately under the faders and running across the entire width of the mixer is a pale yellow wipe strip on which write the channel identity names.
Each of the eight groups is fed from any of the channels which have been routed to it ie. channels 1 to 4 may have a selection of microphones connected to them which you want to mix into stereo onto a couple of tracks on the tape recorder. By pressing the 1-2 routing button on each of channels 1 to 4, the sounds will all arrive at group outputs 1-2 where you can proceed to set the overall recording level. Alternatively, if you have already recorded the sounds and it's time to produce the final mix, then you could route say the four drum tracks you've recorded onto groups 1-2, the three keyboards to 3-4 and a host of sound effects onto groups 5-6. With the rest of the instruments routed directly to the master left-right group you can then route the instruments on groups 1 to 6 into the master mix by pressing the subgroup buttons labelled 'groups to master' above the actual subgroup faders.
Each group has its own dedicated insert point to allow external processors to be patched into the final mix and you can monitor what's happening on any of the subgroups by pressing the relevant solo button above each of the faders. The final part of the group output section is the tape track routing. Eight track select buttons are provided and these are located above each of the group output faders; each switch toggles between the lower and higher tape tracks ie. track 1 or 9 with individual LED status showing the selected group destination. This facility allows instant switching between tape recorder tracks without the need to re-patch the mixer so you can send any 8 group signals to any of the 16 tape tracks at the push of a button.
If you require more than 8 outputs at any one time then a single instrument may be taken straight from a direct output keeping the groups free for their true purpose. But where are these direct outputs? Well, you can use the insert points as direct outputs by wiring together the jack plug's tip and ring. This looks like a continuous signal path to the mixer channel allowing you to tap off some of the signal to feed another tape track, the only drawback being that Seck's decision to place their insert point before the EQ stage means no tonal adjustment of the sound is possible and so this has to be attended to during the mixdown stage.
Located at the extreme right of the mixer are the auxiliary master send controls. Foldback 1 provides overall level control of the monitoring foldback mix, whereas Foldback 2 provides a similar facility but on the input channels. Each foldback master may be soloed onto the monitors to check the mix prior to sending it out to the musician's headphones. Directly below these is a button which combines the separate mixes on Foldback 1 & 2 to produce a composite mix at both foldback outputs. Auxiliaries 1 & 2 are fed from the channel aux controls and give overall level control of these echo send busses.
At the bottom of the Aux master section is a dedicated monitor echo send control. This stereo send, derived from the monitoring mix, allows you the option of creating echo effects on the monitor mix without committing them to tape. Another nice feature is that Seck have provided separate left/right sockets for both echo send and return giving the possibility of either plugging in a stereo signal processor like a stereo digital reverb or two different mono effects like an echo and a chorus. All auxiliaries have a solo feature too, so you can check out the mix being fed to any external signal processor.
Four dedicated aux returns are provided and may be used in two ways: either as effects returns or as an additional four line inputs if the 18 you've used so far aren't enough! Working down, we have a simple two band EQ giving control of the treble at 11kHz and bass at 45Hz, followed by the level control for adjusting the amount of returned signal to the mix and finally the pan control for the stereo positioning of that returned sound. Parallel to the aux controls are a total of six buttons, five for signal routing to the groups and one for soloing the return onto the monitors for quality checking.
On a mixer with such comprehensive routing you would expect the monitoring system, both aurally and visually, to be just as good; well it is. Across all of the 18 input channels are individual monitoring section which comprise a switch for selecting the source that's to be monitored ie. the sound in the channel or the sound coming off tape; a monitor level control, echo send (stereo), foldback and a pan pot. Each of the separate monitoring sections feed into the master monitor level that provides overall control of the sound being sent to the speakers. Attached to this control is a Dim button which, when pressed, attenuates the monitor level.
Other interesting features of the monitoring system are also located next to the master control, namely three buttons that route either the channel monitor mix to the left-right master output or the 2-track tape return to the speakers; the latter being fed from the 2-track tape return input sockets. 'Monitor echo to foldback' allows you to vary the amount of echo on the foldback mix whilst 'monitor echo to monitors' performs a similar function but on the monitoring only. Having this kind of independent control over the monitor echo is very useful particularly when overdubbing a vocal track where the vocalist wants plenty of echo on the headphones but you want less on the monitors mix. Any sound routed to the monitors also appears on the two stereo headphone sockets and plugging a set of headphones into one of them doesn't cut out the main monitoring.
Only two bargraph meters are provided on the Seck and some people who are used to dozens of flashing lights may feel a little deprived. Fear not, for the meters can be used to show any signal in the mixer whether it be a channel, group, foldback, aux send/return or a soloed signal. The metering possibilities are both comprehensive and excellent, and what's more, a peak hold facility may be actuated to help you keep an eye on fast moving levels registering in red up to a maximum of +10dB. If you still can't come to terms with only two meters then you could buy Seck's optional meter bridge.
No mixer of this quality would be complete without a talkback microphone and the 1882 is no exception. The small built-in omnidirectional mic allows you to talk to tape via the group outputs for track identification purposes. This is achieved by pressing a non-latching button which simultaneously activates the monitor Dim function to stop howl-round (feedback) from occurring. Another button marked foldback allows the engineer to talk into the foldback mix and hence to the musician's headphones. Again this is a non-latching button so no embarrassing looks when the vocalist comes back into the control room and he's heard you slagging him off over the headphones, oops! The final button on this section is marked 'slate' and sends a 30Hz tone to the group outputs to audibly mark the beginning of a song. This helps to quickly relocate the start of a track when the tape recorder's in the fast wind mode, since the tone is raised in pitch along with everything else - very clever.
Unmentioned so far is the power supply unit housed in a separate box external to the mixer thus reducing the possibility of general mains hum pickup to a minimum. Power is drawn into the mixer via a six-way connector that plugs into the top right-hand corner and delivers the necessary +/-15 volts plus the 48 volt phantom power supply which is separately switchable. A tilt support bar runs the entire length of the mixer's rear and may be adjusted to any desired working angle or used as a carrying handle, and yes you really can carry this mixer in one hand. Construction is very strong yet simple and when access to the inside is required, a minimum of screws need be removed.
You can't have everything on a mixer of this price and credit must be given for the amount of facilities the 1882 does include. However, a couple of useful features are missing; the most obvious being a peak indicator light on each of the input channels. As the mixer only has two meters it would have been nice to have had individual back-up warning of overload on each channel. This is even more important when using such a mixer in PA application. Certainly a small point but one worth mentioning, though you shouldn't let it put you off this mixer as its host of other features more than make up for this minor deficiency. Another absent feature is a test tone oscillator which is a real shame as the mixer already incorporates a 30Hz slate tone and I'm sure it couldn't have been that difficult to expand this circuit to do two jobs.
The Seck Model 1882 mixer is an excellent desk that makes recording with an 8 or 16 track machine simplicity itself. The clearly-written handbook contains some very useful diagrams and setting up procedures for both studio and live work plus a few tips on wiring cables.
The mixer is quiet in operation (input noise better than -124dBu) and has very low distortion figures and a wide frequency response. One surprising feature of the mixer is that its operational output level is +4dB - a little strange when you consider that this is primarily a semi-pro mixer that would no doubt be used with budget equipment running at the -10dB level. This could prove problematic and it would have been nice to see a switchable output level. However, simple level matching devices are available so there's nothing to worry about; incidentally, the Seck optional meter bridge includes a level matching circuit of its own as standard.
Unfortunately, I had to return the mixer as none of my excuses about the studio door being bricked up or the mixer getting accidentally superglued to the bench were believed by the manufacturers who came around and took it away. Life can be hard sometimes...
The Seck 1882 retails for £1493.85 inclusive of VAT. No price for the meter bridge was available as we went to press.
Seck mixers are distributed in the UK by Atlantex Music Ltd, (Contact Details).