MTR series III
John Renwick gives in to the temptation of the MTR Series III mixer
John Renwick gets tempted by the MTR Series III Mixer.
Let's assume you have a home studio and your equipment includes a drum machine, a sampler, a multi-timbral expander, maybe a guitar and a microphone. The drum machine might have eight audio outputs for individual channels; the sampler eight; the expander eight; then there's the odd inputs for the mike and so on. In the recording process you may well want to apply different equalisation, effects and volume control to each audio signal. Unless you want to compromise by using single or stereo outputs from the MIDI instruments, that comes to over twenty audio channels. What on earth are you going to plug them all into?
Decent quality audio mixers have always been amazingly expensive; the complicated wiring and multitude of knobs and sliders is mostly to blame. But with eight- and sixteen-track tape recorders, and multi-timbral MIDI instruments, becoming more affordable, there's an enormous demand for an inexpensive, decent quality audio mixer which is designed to work with modern MIDI equipment.
Cue MTR, a relatively small UK company which has taken a close look at the competition and come up with the Series III mixers.
Although it's becoming increasingly popular to record your master mix live, using sequencers and stacks of multi-timbral modules, mixers are still designed largely in terms of multi-track tape recording. Accordingly, the Series III mixers so far include two models; the 12:8:2 at £995, which is intended for eight-track recording, and the 16:8:2 at £1235 for sixteen-track. Apart from the number of input channels the mixers have most features in common.
While the Series IIIs are relatively inexpensive, the economies have been made without compromising either their audio quality or their important facilities. With an external power supply (important to minimise mains hum), scribble-strip, padded elbow-rests and black end-pieces, the deep blue Series IIIs look every inch professional products. The wedge-shaped design is fairly deep but surprisingly narrow; this is because the "group output" faders you'd expect to find have been replaced by a small cluster of eight knobs. This saves space and money, and in the end causes no hardship; once you've set the group output level, you don't really need to move it up and down with a fader.
You'll also notice that the Series IIIs don't have individual level meters for each channel; instead, you use the dual LED ladders on the right, which can be switched to monitor the main stereo outputs, any channel which has PFL (Pre-Fader Listen) selected, or the PFL from Aux channel 3. Again, not much sacrifice when you can just as well monitor levels with the VU meters on your tape recorder.
All the input and output sockets are mounted on the mixer's rear slope. I found this a bit difficult to cope with; shove it up against a wall, and basically you can't get at the sockets without moving the mixer. Still, the most important ones - the channel inputs and insert points - are towards the top and relatively easy to get at.
Perhaps the most useful facility for users of multi-timbral modules is the provision of a complete second set of Line In sockets. Say you have already laid down seven (or fifteen) tracks of music, using a SMPTE or FSK code on the eighth (or sixteenth) track to synchronise your sequencer. Just switch the Record/Remix button to Remix, and the Line 2 inputs are routed to the Left/Right outputs. You can then mix down your seven or fifteen tape tracks, and at the same time run a whole new set of "virtual" sequencer-controlled tracks direct into the mix. You don't have any level or equalisation control over the Line 2 inputs, so as much as possible must be done in the synths/samplers/drum machines themselves.
Using this "virtual track" system you should be able to build up incredibly complex pieces without having to "bounce down" tape tracks from one to another, losing sound quality and mixing options in the process.
Let's run through the facilities on each individual channel of the Series III. First off is Gain; this boosts the input level pf either the XLR Microphone or quarter-inch jack line input. Choose between the inputs with the Select switch below the Gain knob. The record/Remix button selects either a channel input or a tape return for remixing.
The audio equalisation section is very good, boasting 12KHz high frequency, sweepable mid-range variable from 100Hz to 6.5KHz, and 45Hz bass. There's something very warm and flexible about the EQ section; it's easy to tailor any input sound to your exact needs.
There are two effects auxiliary channels, which can be switched to pre or post-fade (so that the effect level is either dependent on the slider position, or independent). You can also use these as stereo foldback mix channels for live stage monitors. The third Aux channel is fixed post-fade, and this is the only one which can be routed to tape when you record; if you want to do this with the other two, you have to bring their outputs back into spare mixer channels, a process I've always found impossibly complicated. Of course, when you're remixing the story is different; all three effects channels can be applied to the mix. All the levels and pans for the auxiliaries are set in the Output section on the right, which also includes controls for the studio monitor and headphone level. The two stereo headphone sockets are located under the front right of the mixer.
The Channel Mute button, as you'd expect, cuts off a channel's input, while the PFL does the opposite, routing the signal straight to the master outputs without passing it through the fader or EQ. There's a red Peak LED to warn you if you're about to blow your windows out. The channel faders themselves are nice long 100mm jobs, which makes the task of remixing much more pleasant.
The Series III includes a couple of nifty extras like a cassette channel which allows you to listen to a rough mix or demo through the monitor channel; and a Mono option on the monitor so you can hear how the final mix will sound on Top of the Pops.
At the moment the obvious competition comes from the Seck 12:8:2 (£1279) and 18:8:2 (£1599). Although these are very well established, and have some small advantages over the MTR, they're old-fashioned designs and notoriously "noisy". With a stack of MIDI equipment and a Fostex B16 recorder to support, I was incredibly tempted by the MTR Series III, and since I can resist anything but temptation, I gave in and bought one. Take a look and a listen and you may feel the same way.
Product: MTR Series III 12:8:2/16:8:2 Mixers
Supplier: MTR, (Contact Details)
Review by Chris Jenkins writing as John Renwick
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