Tascam M-216 Mixing Console
A really neat 16 into four mixing desk.
This compact design from Tascam is the epitome of the conventional mixer, yet its impeccable design and electrical performance make it worthy of special interest.
Tascam have designed this mixer to appeal not only to the 4-track user but also to the 8-track operator who is content to record no more than four tracks in one take. This has been achieved by giving the desk eight tape returns whilst the four output groups feed pairs of sockets so that they can be connected to multitrack inputs 1/5, 2/6, 3/7 and 4/8. This means that you select which of each possible pair of tracks to record at the tape machine as tracks 1 and 5 constantly receive the same input and so on. In practice this is very effective as it means that you can engineer a whole session without repatching.
The only unconventional point worthy of note at this point is that there is no stereo monitor output. Off tape signals and Channel inputs are both monitored in mono via the foldback system but this isn't a great disadvantage as you do hear everything in stereo when you come to do the final mixdown.
This is a 16:4 mixer which basically means that the 16 input channels can be routed to any of four output groups. Each channel has the usual complement of Gain, EQ, Auxiliary and Pan controls though in this case, the auxiliaries are limited to one pre- and one post-fade only. Typically of Tascam, there is no Mic/Line switch, just a 30dB pad button. The rear panel provides XLR balanced mic inputs, unbalanced jack line inputs and a stereo jack post-EQ insert point.
On the first eight channels, there are two buttons marked Tape; one by the input Gain control and one by the Foldback auxiliary control. The first one is used in remix to route the tape output through that channel but the second one is rather more novel. This disconnects the channel from the Foldback control and instead feeds it from the off-tape signal so that a cue mix can be set up in mono on the Foldback output.
The EQ section is of the popular 3-band design featuring a sweep midrange control and the frequencies of operation are as follows; High 10kHz, Mid 250Hz to 5kHz and Low 100Hz. High and Low give up to 12dB of cut or boost whilst the Mid manages a generous 15dB.
Routing is also quite conventional in that there are two buttons to select busses 1/2 or 3/4 and the pan pot is used to steer between odd and even numbered groups. Each channel has its own PFL button and an overload lamp which flickers before the onset of clipping. When a PFL button is depressed, the signal passing through that channel is fed to the headphone output and all the other channels are muted so that the phones can be used to examine any signal in isolation during a mix without disturbing the master stereo output. The Solo control on the master section dictates the PFL level going to the phones and a red LED indicates that a PFL button is down.
All the faders on the desk are the 70mm travel type and these all operate smoothly.
The master section is very simple and is dominated by four generously sized illuminated VU meters. These normally monitor the levels at the four programme output busses and built-in peak reading LEDs let you know when fast transient sounds are getting near to clipping. This is a valuable addition because the VU meters read an average signal level and so will not respond accurately to short bursts of sound such as drum beats.
Each of the four master faders has its own pan control and this is used to position the sound during mixdown where you must subgroup several input channels to one or more of the master faders.
Located below the meters are the master send levels for the Effect and Foldback auxiliaries with Level and Pan controls being provided for the two Auxiliary returns though you can of course return effects through any spare input channels to make use of the EQ facilities.
Lastly, at the extreme right hand side of the panel is the master stereo output section incorporating a level control for the headphone monitor output, the Solo level control and the monitor switching.
At the top is a switch labelled simply Meter and this allows meters three and four to monitor the signals selected by the three Monitor Select buttons rather than the main programme busses. With the Meter button set to Mon, selecting Stereo will cause the meters to display the stereo output and in the other two positions the Foldback or Effect mix level can be displayed.
On the rear panel the programme output busses are available on both phono and XLR connectors and there is an additional stereo input buss connection so that the output from a submixer can be fed into the system. The main stereo output is on XLR connectors whilst the auxiliary sends and returns use unbalanced jacks. Internal output level adjustment is available so that the meters and signal levels can be made to correspond between mixer and recorder.
Though this is a basic and fairly conventional desk, it has all the features associated with a quality recording console with the exception of a channel mute switch.
Electrically the desk is as quiet as any other desk in its price range if not more so and all the controls including the switches feel smooth, positive and reliable. Even using a lot of mic gain, there were no real noise problems and cross talk was minimal.
The fact that this mixer has no dedicated stereo monitoring system is a bit odd at first but the adopted mono system is quite workable and is in no way artistically limiting.
Tascam always seem to come up with an effective EQ section, and this one is no exception although it does suffer from the common failing of all 3-band swept mid systems in that there is a problem area between 100Hz and 200Hz that you can't get to and this can be a problem when trying to sort out a drum sound. The midrange does extend down further than that on most other similar designs however and so the dead area is smaller and consequently less serious. In musical terms the EQ is very smooth, and even the High control works without introducing harshness. The frequencies have been sensibly chosen for most types of programme input.
When mixing down, the input channels have to be routed via the four group faders, there is no way to get them directly onto the stereo buss but this presents absolutely no problem and does facilitate easy sub-grouping.
Certainly this is a very conventional mixer design but I was very impressed both by its sound quality and by the superb standard of engineering. If I have any criticism of the design it is that there are not enough auxiliaries to use as effects sends and of the two provided, the foldback control cannot be switched to post-fader for mixdown. However you do get insert points on each channel which is a big bonus if you like to use a lot of effects.
Mute switches should also really be included if the desk is going to be easy to use in a recording environment. At one time I wouldn't have grumbled too much over this point but having lived for a year or so with a desk also lacking this facility, I can honestly say that the lack of mutes is a real pain. However, something has to be omitted to retain the high quality without increasing the price to the point where it would no longer appeal to the budget user.
The last word then is; don't be put off by the small physical size of this mixer, it is well set out, easy to use and would complement virtually any 4- or 8-track system provided you can manage with the limited auxiliary facilities. As with many Tascam products, I'm impressed.
The Tascam M-216 costs £937.25 including VAT.
Further details from: Harman UK, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul White
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