RAM Micro RM16 Mixer
A new name to conjure with, Recording Audio Mixers, or RAM as they prefer to be known, have just launched two new mixing desks in their Micro RM Series - the RM10 (a 10-4-2 design) and the RM16.
The latter, reviewed here, offers 16 input channels, 4 routable subgroups and 8 track monitoring, thus making it suitable for either 4 or 8-track recording set-ups, such as Tascam and Fostex.
Housed in a compact (2'6" x 2') ABS moulded plastic chassis with a steel facia panel, the controls are neatly divided into two sections by an angled meter hood running the full width of the mixer. All connections are located behind the hood, with channel, group and master functions to the front.
The aesthetic appearance of the mixer is very striking, having silver-grey panel sections and brightly coloured controls, whose colour-coding is functional as well as appealing, helping you familiarise yourself with related operations on the mixer. This is a pleasant change and a great improvement over the dowdy, black look of most competing devices.
Following the trend of other manufacturers, RAM utilise an external power supply which also provides a source of 'phantom power' for capacitor mics if required. This helps reduce hum pickup by the mixer, and maintain a good signal-to-noise ratio, which is a healthy -126dB on the RM16. One small quibble is the short length of power cable supplied, which terminates in a latching XLR female plug, for insertion into the rear panel mixer power socket - it could do with being longer than its present 1 metre or so.
Designed to operate at the conventional -10dBV 'budget' level, the rear panel features a good selection of connections. Electronically balanced XLR sockets are employed for the Mic Input on each input channel, and a stereo jack Insert socket can be used to patch an effect directly onto any of the 16 channels or alternatively provide a direct channel output (with some re-wiring) as these unfortunately are not fitted by the manufacturer.
Channels 1-8 each have a mono Line level input socket that can accept a direct feed from a guitar or keyboard. I also tried it with a Roland TR808 drum machine which worked admirably. Channels 9-16, on the other hand, have been selected as the tape return inputs by RAM and are thus fitted with phono sockets, for connection of up to eight output signals from a multitrack recorder. The choice of phonos is a logical move, as they are virtually standard on all semi-pro recorder tape outputs these days.
Behind the group section there are four pairs of phono sockets for group outputs 1 to 8 (which connect to the line input of a multitrack recorder). Four further insert sockets are included along with four 'Auxiliary Upper Monitor/Input Break Jacks' which effectively enable an additional four input signals to be accommodated when using a 4-track recorder.
All remaining connections are via jacks and include Left and Right master outputs, two Inserts, Auxiliary 1 and 2 Returns, Aux 1/2 Outputs (Sends), a stereo Monitor Output (for connection to an amp and control room speakers) and finally Tape Monitor, which accepts the combined left/right recorded signals from a stereo master tape recorder for playback and A/B comparison checks of the original versus recorded mix.
Beginning at the top of an input channel, a black square pushbutton selects either Mic or Line level signals (channels 1-8 only) or Mic/Tape signals for the others. The Gain control varies the input signal level for both mic and line inputs and affords plenty of range. An additional Pad button can introduce a further -30dB of attenuation to microphone signals which are often fairly high. The red Peak indicator LED also helps when setting levels for optimal signal-to-noise ratio.
The blue coloured equalisation section below this offers control of three frequency ranges - two fixed (treble, bass) and one swept (middle). Treble and bass act at 10kHz and 60Hz, whilst the dual concentric pot for 'middle' ranges from 600Hz to 10kHz - quite a good overlap of frequency actually. Signals at these frequencies can be boosted or cut in level by 15dB maximum, and the apparently wide bandwidths on the top and bottom EQ help to ensure a smooth, not too biting or harsh equalisation.
Two auxiliaries enable a pre-fade foldback 'mix' of the various input signals to be set-up, as well as an echo send mix to an external effects unit.
The pair of pushbuttons below these are used along with the Pan control to route the input to the desired output group (and thus to a tape track), or to the main master outputs, as when in final mixdown mode. The top button selects groups 1 and 2, the lower one groups 3 and 4. With both buttons pressed the input goes to all four groups simultaneously, or to Left and Right if no buttons are pressed at all. It's not, unfortunately, possible to route to output groups as well as main outputs at the same time, which prevents a 'safety' copy mix of tracks from being made whilst a multitrack recording is in progress.
Another small pushbutton activates the pre-fade listen (PFL) circuitry and isolates the selected signal in the monitor mix (without affecting your recording mix levels) so that EQ or effect adjustments can be facilitated.
The inputs are completed by a 90mm long fader which could have offered a little extra resistance to movement for my own taste, but does the job satisfactorily.
What is missing from the channel layouts is somewhere to identify each channel's signal - there's no scribble pad provided and not enough room to lay down a strip of masking tape on which to write yourself. This really should be rectified on a mixer of this calibre.
The RAM RM16 has four routable subgroups with an 8-track monitoring system. The four group faders actually double for groups 5 to 8 also, and signals routed to, say, group 2 are automatically routed to group 6, as they are simply wired in parallel (at the outputs also). So if you wish to record on track 6 of your multitrack, you route to group 2 but select record mode for track 6 on the recorder itself and away you go.
What this means in practice is that you are limited to recording a maximum of four different things at any one time. Not too much of a problem you might say for multitrack recording, but it does prevent you from doing an 8-track 'live' recording.
Each of the eight subgroups share common controls, these being individual Auxiliary 1 level controls for foldback/effects, an Input Level control, a stereo Pan, and PFL feature. A Group/Tape selector button determines the function of this section, but on the upper 4 groups, it also allows the monitor groups to be used as extra channel inputs - effectively expanding the format of the mixer to 20 into 4 into 2 channels.
Between the upper/lower groups are four pushbuttons that designate the signal source being displayed on the four group VU meters, so that all 8 outputs can be monitored if need be.
Directly above the master output faders are the Aux 1 and 2 return controls, which are the same for each auxiliary and virtually duplicate the facilities of an input channel, apart from a second auxiliary send. These features thus allow you to EQ the effects return signals (definitely a plus factor) as well as route them to any/all subgroups or master outputs. The PFL facility, in addition, lets you check the quality of your effects return signals in isolation (another plus point).
The final controls are a phantom power on/off button with a (dimly lit) LED, a volume and on/off control for the Talkback to Auxiliary 1 circuit so that musicians can be directed/cued and tracks on tape identified. A female XLR socket is fitted to accept an external microphone especially for this function. Master Level controls for both auxiliary returns with associated AFL buttons determine the overall volume mix of the relative auxiliary signals sent on each input channel.
The Stereo Tape to Monitor pushbutton below these can be used after final mixdown (or during) to direct the off-tape stereo mix to the main monitor speakers, for in-progress quality checks or pure reference. A Monitor Dim pushbutton alongside the headphone volume control attenuates the monitor mix, which is necessary during talkback or when you wish to converse with fellow band members without moving any faders.
The RM16 is completed by two headphone sockets on the front right panel. Somewhat shamefully, these offer only a mono monitor mix which is not to be expected for the asking price and must be changed immediately by RAM for stereo operation!
On brief acquaintance, the RM16 seemed to be a particularly good mixer. Spec-wise it couldn't really be faulted, and it performed very well with minimal crosstalk between channels, quiet operation and a healthy array of usable routing facilities.
It is only let down by the silly mono headphone sockets, but I would have liked to have seen direct outputs fitted to at least some of the input channels, as well. Even so, the RAM mixer is still a very good buy at £750 and is a creditable first offering from a promising new company. One to watch for sure!
RM16 £750, RM10 £550 including VAT
Further details from RAM Ltd, (Contact Details).
Review by Ian Gilby
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