ACES 12-4-2 Mixer
The ACES company have been producing audio equipment for about six years now and have recently moved into a spacious factory unit in Shrewsbury. The firm originally produced budget studio and PA related equipment but their range now extends to sophisticated inline mixing consoles and multitrack recorders of up to twenty four tracks.
The mixer under review here falls nearer the bottom end of the range and is aimed at the budget PA and multitrack market.
Weighing in at 20kgs the 12-4-2 measures 33½" x 25" x 5" and is finished in the distinctive ACES dark brown with solid wood end cheeks. Knobs are of the standard push-on type with caps coloured according to function and all faders are 100mm long-travel carbon types. The very light coloured wood used for the end cheeks however does not flatter the rest of the colour scheme and the cosmetic aspect could be much improved by attending to this type of detail.
All the metalwork is sheet steel and the front panel is modular to increase flexibility and reduce production costs. All the metalwork and painting is done in-house, as well as the screen printing for the panels which enables retail prices to be kept as low as possible. There are six illuminated VU meters which monitor the four output groups and the stereo mix, whilst meter four may be switched to monitor PFL when required.
The headphone socket is sensibly mounted along the front edge of the case which is covered in a lightly padded leather cloth material.
My overall impression is one of solid, simple construction rather than streamlined elegance and I get the feeling that this mixer would stand up well to the rigours of on-the-road PA work. It is probably fair to say that the large physical size would put off a lot of home studio enthusiasts who now have a choice of several high quality mixers which are physically small and reasonably priced.
Power is supplied via a separate PSU which connects to the back panel by means of a locking plug and socket, and should result in very low background hum. All inputs are electronically balanced on stereo jack sockets and insert points are provided on the four output channels. Separate monitor and mix outputs are also provided and I am informed that future models will have insert points on all input channels at no extra cost.
Extensive use is made of TL071 operational amplifiers and the EQ section is unorthodox in that it consists of five separate bandpass filters based on the 'gyrator' circuit common to most budget graphic equalisers. The frequencies chosen are 13kHz, 5kHz, 2kHz, 300Hz and 80Hz which is a fairly well thought out arrangement.
The cut and boost levels are more than adequate (38dB at 13kHz!) but care must be exercised not to produce a nasal sound by overboosting one particular band. One disadvantage of this wide range is that it is difficult to locate the 'flat' position due to tolerances in the linearity of the pots. Interestingly, the pots and sliders are imported from Japan as this is much cheaper than buying British. The pan pot is a ganged log-antilog type and provides a smooth, natural pan.
The VU meters on the review model are driven with a half wave rectified signal which can be misleading on asymmetrical waveforms, but this shortcoming is being rectified (pun) on future models.
Calibration is to the 0dB standard (0.775V) but may be easily altered by means of presets to match any professional or semi-professional tape machine and a 1kHz line-up oscillator is provided to assist with this procedure.
Routing is achieved by means of pushbutton switches and a choice of outputs 1 and 2, 3 and 4, or left and right is provided. One feature that could cause problems in the three position switch which selects PFL, normal or mute. It is very easy to accidentally mute a channel.
Three auxiliary sends are fitted, one pre-fade and two post-fade, whilst the two auxiliary returns have pan and routing controls for maximum flexibility.
All input channels feature a peak reading LED which indicates the onset of clipping.
Although the front panel is modular, the individual channels cannot be removed without desoldering the bus bars which run the full length of the mixer, but servicing the PCBs in position should be possible.
The equivalent input noise quoted is 124dB or better, which is a typical figure for budget mixers. In practice, noise only becomes a serious problem when using a lot of input gain. ACES will supply this mixer with input transformers at an extra cost of about ten pounds per channel. This is very inexpensive considering the substantial improvement in noise performance.
The EQ is easy to operate and should prove particularly effective in a live PA situation where it can be employed to cope with awkward room acoustics without the need to resort to a separate graphic equaliser in many cases.
One surprising omission is the lack of any subgrouping facility which would be useful for both recording and PA work where it is often convenient to route the drum mix, for example, via one of the output faders.
On selecting remix, the inputs from the tape recorder are routed to the last four input channels and in this mode, the channel input gain controls are bypassed, the reasoning being that any off-tape level will match the circuitry without further adjustment.
The headphone output is capable of very high sound levels and the source may be switched between PFL and the master mix. A talkback XLR mic socket is fitted above the output faders so that a gooseneck mic can be conveniently plugged in.
This mixer has a lot of stiff competition in this section of the market and ACES recognise that its main use is probably as a PA mixer due to its simplicity and solid construction.
The lack of subgrouping detracts from the overall usefulness but the design has many positive attributes.
The five band EQ and long faders are definite plus points and I am glad to see three auxiliary sends. P.F.L., peak reading LEDs and line-up oscillator are fitted as standard, not optional extras.
The most positive feature however seems to be ACES' willingness to modify individual mixers to customers requirements (within reason) so you can specify transformer inputs, XLRs, or whatever, and know that you aren't going to pay through the nose for them.
Not content to rest on existing designs, director Peter Keeling is shortly to launch a budget 12 into 2 PA mixer featuring a more conventional three band EQ for less than £400 inclusive of VAT. Also in the pipe line is a series of rackmounted effects and signal processors similar to the Rebis system but at about half the price. Peter confided that he has a new sixteen track recorder using half inch tape due for release this summer which will retail at an inclusive price of less than £2400 and is fitted with noise reduction.
The 12-4-2 mixer sells for £837 inc VAT.
Further details from ACES (UK) Ltd, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul White
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