Soundtracs 16-8-16 Mixer
The 16-8-16 is another good example of a solid state mixer designed to cater for both the 8- and 16-track recording markets. Apart from Allen & Heath's System 8 range of mixers, there are very few competitors offering the number of features to be found on the Soundtracs for a similar price. These will be highlighted as we progress through the controls.
An immediately endearing feature of this unit is its size. At 930 (W) x 750 (D) x 175 (H) mm, it is compact, yet none of the controls are cramped. Construction is an all-metal chassis finished in an appealing stove enamelled grey/blue colour with nicely finished ash (?) wood end cheeks and a black, cushioned vinyl armrest along the front edge. This slopes away underneath, allowing anybody with long legs to tuck them comfortably under when the mixer is overhanging a bench, for example.
A rectangular pod running the length of the mixer houses 18 ten element, bi-colour vertical LED meters which are aligned with their corresponding master and monitor/group output channels to the right of the pod for quick visual reference and convenience. Unlike most other mixers these meters are configured as follows: meter 1, 9, 2, 10,... to 8, 16, which means there's a space between successive meters further increasing legibility - a nice touch. The 'bi-colour' terminology refers to the fact that the top three LED elements on each meter (0, +4, +8dB) change from yellow to red dependent upon signal strength whilst the lower seven remain green. This system proved extremely easy to get on with and far more preferable than standard VU meters.
Power to the unit is provided by an external, free-standing supply with switchable mains input (100, 120, 220, 240 V) and a master on/off switch for the +48V phantom power which comes as standard on all sixteen mic inputs. The voltage being supplied to the mixer is even indicated on the meter pod in the form of three yellow LEDs.
The mixer panel itself slopes gradually towards the front and is arranged in three sections:
Two pushbuttons at the head of each of the sixteen input channels provide a phase reverse facility to correct for cancellation in multi-microphone set-ups (a rare feature in this price bracket), and a -30dB attenuation 'pad' which reduces the input gain to accommodate excessively high mic levels.
The Input gain control is used to optimise the signal-to-noise ratio and should be set for as high an input level as possible without inducing front-end overload. This control works on both mic and line signals dependent upon the position of the line pushbutton below it.
Three band equalisation in the form of two fixed frequency controls for treble (10kHz) and bass (50Hz) is available, with a swept mid control covering 350Hz to 8kHz. All three offer a handy 15dB of cut or boost which is plenty for even the most drastic of tonal corrections. If greater control is required you'd do better to patch in an external graphic or parametric via the insert jacks on each input channel.
Three auxiliary busses on a mixer in this price range is a rare luxury, but the ability to determine whether they are pre or post-fade as well as pre or post-equalisation is a real boon. Aux 3 is always a post-fade send and is best suited for use with echo and signal processors. Aux 2 can be internally modified to change from a pre to postfade send control, whilst Aux 1 is a pre-fade, post-EQ that can be modified for pre-equalisation. This flexility is very welcome, so why not go to the trouble of providing front panel buttons to select the functions more easily? I'm sure the price difference would be worth it.
Five pushbuttons are next in line and these route the input signals to the four pairs of group outputs and/or the master left/right outputs in conjunction with the Pan control. It was not at all easy to determine the status of these routing buttons as the difference between the raised and depressed states was minimal. Why don't manufacturers use dual coloured buttons, with the top half one colour and the bottom another, so that when the button is depressed you'll know exactly what state you're in?
Solo and Mute are next, and these let you hear the channel input in isolation, with the level displayed on the main meters (like prefade listen), or cut the channel output completely - useful if you have a mic that happens to be feeding back for some unknown reason. The channel functions are completed by a peak overload LED that fires 5dB below the onset of clipping and a very smooth action 100mm travel Alps fader that is hard to distinguish from a Penny & Giles unit.
This section houses the eight subgroups and sixteen track monitoring facilities which can be switched for tape returns from the multitrack recorder or can act as additional inputs during mixdown, without the need to repatch any leads.
The groups are divided into two banks of eight. The top eight each have three auxiliary send knobs which route the amount of group signal, determined by the send level settings, onto the respective auxiliary busses. Due to the fact that the lower bank of groups only have one auxiliary each, a button is provided on the top bank of each group to route Auxiliaries 2 and 3 to the lower eight groups, because these have equalisation which is often required when used for tape return functions. Alternatively, they could be used as individual effects returns instead of using up valuable input channels, or to set up a separate 8-way monitor mix with EQ and three auxiliaries available on each.
Both upper and lower groups have individual Level and Pan controls. Level determines the amount of signal coming from the group that will appear on the main stereo outputs. The Pan control lets you position the tape return or group signal spatially in the main stereo image, so you can be setting up your final stereo mix as you are actually recording, to get an advance idea of the final result.
The Tape button allows the monitor channel to get assigned as a group output monitor or tape return channel. Solo, once again permits post-fade/pre-Level control monitoring of individual groups.
As previously mentioned, the lower eight groups all have two band shelving equalisation at 10kHz and 50Hz +/-15dB of potential gain available. They also have the added facility of a 'fader reverse' button. This is a very useful bonus (not available on any other mixer in this range) which lets you change over the functions of the lower monitor Level control and its fader. In tape return mode the Level pot governs the volume of the off-tape signal going to the main faders. It's most likely that this level will need to be continually altered during mixdown which is not an easy task using a small rotary pot - it's far better to push a fader up or down. Thus, by depressing 'fader reverse' the control of that function is given to the group fader, thus allowing for very fine level adjustment if required.
This section is located between the inputs and groups and is distinguished by its two blue faders. At the top, directly below the Left and Right PPM meters is a pushbutton which activates the 1kHz oscillator whose level is set by the Talkback/OSC gain control. This can be slated to groups 1 to 8 for mixer/recorder line-up purposes or to Auxiliary 1 for talkback, as Aux 1 will most probably be used for musician's foldback where talkback facilities can provide audible cueing, such as on song count-ins. This cueing is possible via a low impedance balanced mic plugged into the locking 'talkback' XLR socket located in the centre of the Master section. This is a poor place to have the mic, though, it would have been better mounted on the meter pod housing, pointing toward the user.
Three auxiliary master send controls located adjacent to the mic XLR, each have an AFL (pre-fade listen) facility for checking signal quality on the auxiliary busses.
Above these is a pushbutton marked '2T Return' which allows the replayed programme from a stereo recorder to be monitored, for direct A/B comparison against the main Left and Right outputs. 'Monitor' controls the overall level of signal being sent to the control room speakers, and the 'Headphones' pot serves a similar function for any 8 ohm stereo pair of headphones plugged into the jack socket above the master faders. As with the talkback mic, this is a strange place to locate a socket, as it means that the headphone cable will dangle across the faders. Why not place it at the side or on an edge out of harm's way?
Finally, there are two identical return channels with full pan and routing facilities, allowing an unbalanced line level signal access to all eight groups and masters, as well as a send facility to Aux 1 for effect processing or monitoring of the master return signals. Individual Solo selectors complete the features, and if depressed cause the solo 'on' status indicator lamp, (below the headphone volume control) to illuminate. Once again, a preferred place for this would have been on the meter pod, where it would be readily visible.
The clever design of the mixer provides a rear panel that is both accessible and comprehensive, as all connections face upwards instead of away from you. To this end, the socket legending is also written so that it can be read by leaning over the back of the meter pod. All rear panel connections are via ⅛" jack sockets apart from the balanced mic inputs which are latching XLRs.
This is one of the best mixers around - I might even be tempted to say 'the' best, for its price. It sports a host of 'user friendly' features (as Soundout call them), that increase the ease with which the unit can be operated, and reduce the time required to come to grips with the beast. Overall construction is highly commendable as is performance. Tested with an MXR Drum Computer, the inherent noise of that machine was more evident than any contributing noise from the mixer itself. The semi-modular construction utilises PCB edge connectors making removal and replacement of problem boards a relatively simple task if a fault ever occurs.
The ability to inject 16 line inputs plus the 16 monitors makes 32 track mixing a reality. The fader reverse facility is obviously a good one, and makes me wonder why more manufacturers haven't adopted it yet.
All in all, a highly recommended package that is ideally suited to 8-track with the built-in capabilities to handle full 16-track recording if it is required.
Thanks to Don Larking Audio Sales of Luton for their cooperation in this review.
The recommended retail price of the 16-8-16 is £1,836.35 inc VAT.
For further information contact: Soundout Laboratories Ltd, (Contact Details) or Don Larking Audio Sales, (Contact Details).
Review by Ian Gilby
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