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MTR 16-8-2 Mixer

With 32 inputs available in remix mode, MTR reckon their 16-8-2 mixer has got what it takes to woo customers away from the ever-popular Seck 1882. But is its in-line design as easy to use? Gareth Stuart reports.


With 32 inputs available in remix mode, MTR reckon their 16-8-2 mixer has got what it takes to woo customers away from the ever-popular Seck 1882. But is its in-line design as easy to use? Gareth Stuart reports.


Take a good look at the photograph and you should notice that the channel/group layout of the MTR 16-8-2 doesn't conform to the split desk design found on many other mixers, where different sections are designated to input channels, group outputs, masters and monitoring. This is because the MTR is an 'in-line' desk, meaning simply that the monitor functions (level and pan) are included within the input channel module - ie. they're 'in-line' with the channel module.

The in-line concept, like that of split desks, has its own advantages and disadvantages, the main plus being more efficient use of space. And as you can see, the input channels are all very well spaced out, affording easy access to the controls. The main disadvantage of in-line desks, particularly large studio ones, has traditionally been their extended front-to-back depth. As more and more facilities are added to the channel strip, you can find yourself needing longer and longer arms to reach the distant controls at the top of the channel. However, that problem does not arise on this MTR mixer thanks to its compact layout, which make the desk very comfortable to operate. More advantages and disadvantages in due course, now to the controls...

CHANNEL CONTROLS



Running across the width of the desk is a rather civilised padded armrest and a plastic writing strip for scribbling down notes and/or track names with a chinagraph pencil. These touches are not so much luxuries as necessities in my book, so it's good to see them on a competitively priced desk.

The channel faders glide smoothly up and down their 100mm range and are calibrated as normal from minus infinity to +10. Above each fader is a red peak LED, to warn you when there's too much gain in the input and EQ stages, followed by a PFL (pre-fade listen) button - used to isolate the channel from the rest of the mix when checking the incoming signal for extraneous hums, general level, and EQ settings. A channel mute button, found on few other budget desks, lets you silence channels routed to the stereo buss outputs - the main Left and Right outputs - helping keep extraneous noise to the minimum. When listening to the track monitors, the mute button has no effect — the tape/channel button may be used instead.

Next comes the pan control, used to position the input signal in the stereo image and also to route the input to one or all of the eight group outputs. A tape/channel selector button, working in conjunction with a record/mix button at the top of the channel strip, enables an input to be switched between either tape return and line input 1 or to mix together the tape return with line input 2 using the track monitor level control plus channel fader to blend the two inputs. In effect, this provides you with a mixdown capacity of 32 inputs, although there's no gain control, equalisation, or access to any of the three effects sends for the line 2 inputs. These are intended for connecting synthesized/sampled sound sources (like the D50/M1) or drum machine outputs that you wish to record 'live' direct to the stereo master and which probably have onboard effects and/or equalisation features anyway.

The two track monitor controls - volume and pan - are next up. These are used to create a rough mix while recording, for the purpose of drop-ins, and later to control additional inputs via line input 2 during mixdown. Just below the monitor controls is more space for scribbling down the names of the line 2 input sources.

Located down the right side of the track monitor controls are the routing buttons, which direct the tape return, mic, or line 1 input signals through the stereo or individual buss outputs. Then there are three auxiliary send pots. Auxiliaries 1 and 2 share a pre/post-fader selector switch.

Aux 1 is really intended for foldback mixes, as the talkback is only routed through Aux 1, whilst Aux 2 and 3 are for general effects like reverb/echo (auxiliary send 3 is post-fader only). Each auxiliary return terminates in a single stereo jack socket on the back panel - a sensible space-saving idea.

Then comes the EQ: the Low Frequency control offers 15dB of boost or cut at 45Hz, the Mid Frequency gives 15dB of boost and cut sweepable through 100Hz-6.5kHz, with the High Frequency control offering the same degree of boost and cut but at 12kHz. Nothing special, but competent nonetheless.

Above the EQ are a couple of buttons I mentioned a while back — record/remix and mic/line. Mic/line selects microphone (balanced XLR) or line 1 (unbalanced jack) input as the channel source, and record/remix routes either the tape return or line 1 input through the stereo buss, in 'L-R' mode, or to the monitor buss in 'monitor' mode. (These modes are selected in the master section of the desk.) In order to keep costs down no doubt, the mic inputs have no phantom power feed - so you can put away your condensor mics, or buy separate power supplies. Talking of power supplies, the 16-8-2 has an external PSU which connects to the rear panel. There's no phantom power supply input available on the back panel either, so you cannot connect an optional phantom power accessory, which I consider quite an oversight by MTR.

TAPE RETURN GAIN



Before moving over to the right side of the desk for a look at the master controls, a couple more points about the input channel module. Firstly, there is no gain control over tape return input levels - a major limitation in my opinion. MTR point to the fact that if you want gain control over your tape returns, (quote) "you can replug them into the line 1 inputs." But if you do this you'll lose the advantage of the line 2 inputs (ie. mixing two sounds together on one channel) for a 32-input mixdown, and if you're still recording tracks you will not be able to drop in and out without major hassle. (Incidentally, if you do set up the desk to mix down using line 1 inputs, you'll not find zero marked on the gain pot - so, for the record, the notch below '40' is a pretty close approximation.)

Another deficiency in my opinion is that in monitor mode, when recording and dropping in on tracks, the only mix it is possible to create is flat and dry. This is because the channel's track monitors bypass the EQ and auxiliary sends. This rather unhappy state also exists - but to a lesser degree - in the foldback mix, as Aux 1 can't have an effects return routed to its output, therefore the foldback mix is 'dry'. It is, however, post-EQ-enabling the foldback signal to be tonally adjusted if nothing else.

MASTER SECTION



Over on the far right of the desk is the master section, starting from the bottom with a couple of red 100mm faders which drive the stereo buss outputs. Directly above them are the eight group outputs, each with their own volume pot and left or right buss button for routing into the stereo buss when being used as a subgroup. This function will generally only be required in mixdown. Also the group volume controls, as I mentioned earlier, are probably best left on full and forgotten about; that way all routing and output levels may be controlled entirely from the channels.

To the right of the group outs is a talkback socket (XLR), which feeds auxiliary send 1 for foldback communication. Above that is the headphones level control, feeding a pair of headphones sockets located under the armrest. A series of five pushbuttons select one of four stereo signals - the Left/Right stereo buss (for listening to the main outputs), Cass/CD (for monitoring the quality of your cassette master off tape, or listening to a CD), 2-track (to monitor the stereo master recorder), and Monitor (to listen to the track monitor mix). The fifth button, labelled 'Mono', enables stereo/mono mix comparisons to be made. Finally, in the auxiliary send/return section, both Aux 1 and 2 feature mono sends returning to a single stereo jack.

Below each of the master effects return pots is a pan control, which should be rotated fully left when stereo signals are returned. Aux 3 is more flexible than the other two auxiliaries as it may be routed to virtually any destination using one of the eight buttons (positioned parallel to the left/right stereo bargraph meters). The manual states that one possibility is to route reverb to the monitors using this system, but this appears only possible for signals connected to line input 1 or the mic input. It is not possible when making a track monitor mix of tape returns to have any effects from Aux 3 routed through using this method.

CONCLUSION



I spoke at the start of the 'in-line' concept, and how the MTR 16-8-2 fits into that bracket. However, as an in-line desk it lacks several major facilities which I feel it really can't afford to be without. I'm talking about the ability to transfer EQ from input channels to the track monitors, and reverse the channel fader/monitor pot - not to mention having the track monitor feed at least one of the auxiliary sends for reverb on the monitor mix. One of the major advantages of an in-line desk over split desks is their ability to take an input, feed it to a multitrack recorder (flat), then monitor the signal coming back off tape (still on the same channel) and add EQ and effects to it at this stage. This can't quite happen on this MTR desk... and it's a great shame.

The utilisation of space on this desk is exceptionally good. The layout and blue-grey colour scheme is very attractive, and all controls are generously spaced out. In this respect, the 16-8-2 is great to work with. But for normal recording and drop-ins, because it's impossible to have any control over EQ, gain or reverb in monitor mix mode, the sound produced when track-laying is less than inspiring. Also, since it is not possible to route reverb into the foldback mix, I certainly wouldn't enjoy laying down vocals completely 'dry'.

What can I say? If the desk's performance matched its looks and operational ease, it would be a real winner.

FURTHER INFORMATION

£1235 inc VAT.

MTR Ltd, (Contact Details).

MTR ACCESSORIES

As well as mixers, MTR produce some useful recording accessories such as the DI 1 direct injection box and the GB 1 'Gain Brain' mic/line booster. Both units are housed in diecast metal boxes and may be powered by a 9-volt battery, but the DI box can also run on phantom power.

DI BOX

The DI box takes a signal from an instrument (guitar, bass, keyboard etc) and allows that input to be directly connected to the mixer's mic input at the optimum impedance. The input has a three-way (float, ground, and lift) ground switch to eliminate hum loops, and a three-position attenuator: 0dB, -20dB, and -40dB. Experimenting with the different settings soon establishes the optimum sound quality. It's interesting that switching between 0, -20, and -40 makes a significant difference to the 'body' of the sound: 0dB is very full but a little woolly; -20dB is crystal clear and had me playing for ages as the sound was so good; and -40dB is rather tinny. Using this box really brings the input signal to 'life', and makes quite an amazing difference to the presence and brightness but adds no noise or hiss.

Conclusion: this DI box is absolutely fantastic and for just £30 (inc VAT) it's terrific value for money.

GAIN BRAIN

The Gain Brain is a device for boosting unbalanced or balanced microphone/line signals up to line levels of -10dB, 0dB or +4dB. Suggested uses are for boosting the output level of an acoustic guitar pickup 'bug' for feeding into a guitar combo, or when plugging a mic directly into an effects unit.

In changing between mic and line inputs you may have to adjust the unit's gain, and to do this you remove the top cover and use a tweaker (or 1.4mm screwdriver) until the optimum setting is achieved. As the four top cover screws have to be undone before you can get inside to make these adjustments, the operation is a little time-consuming. Shame that there's not a gain pot on the unit's outer shell.

As with the DI box, the Gain Brain is ultra quiet in operation, and once adjusted to suit your requirements you'll find it an extremely useful 'extra'. And at £27 inc VAT, it's light on the wallet too!



Previous Article in this issue

Steinberg Cubase

Next article in this issue

Inside the Synclavier


Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

 

Sound On Sound - Aug 1989

Gear in this article:

Mixer > MTR > 16-8-2

Review by Gareth Stuart

Previous article in this issue:

> Steinberg Cubase

Next article in this issue:

> Inside the Synclavier


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