TAC Scorpion 16:8:2 Mixing Console
A British mixer built to survive.
In my book, scorpions are small, light and extremely nasty little creatures. This totally inappropriately-named mixer is large, ridiculously heavy and really rather nice.
Being modular, the TAC mixer is available in a number of different formats and with a choice of two sizes of subchassis. The version that we had in for review was a 16:8:2 recording console but in order to be fair to the other variants, I will follow the general description with a detailed look at the available modules.
As intimated in the introduction, this mixer is heavy - really heavy. In fact we thought that someone had welded it to the floor for a joke. In the event it turned out to be easier to bring the studio into the office rather than take the mixer home to test it. One outcome of this rugged style of construction is that the mixer is almost indestructible as well as being virtually burglar-proof.
An all steel chassis houses the modular channel electronics and there is a choice of six different modules, enabling the mixer to be configured for either recording or sound reinforcement applications. The integral meter bridge utilises LED PPM meters; a separate meter being provided for PFL monitoring purposes and 48V DC phantom powering is individually switchable on all the mic inputs.
Gold plated edge connectors are used to connect the channel modules to the mainframe and the separate rack mountable mains power supply weighs more than some mixers I have reviewed. A locking multipin XLR connector joins the power supply to the desk and unlike some mixers I have had the pleasure to audition, the transformer stays perfectly quiet. All the connectors with the exception of the talkback mic are located on the rear panel and the input stage is cunningly configured to accept either commonly used signal level (+4dBv or -10dBv) without switching by providing both the different signal levels on the input/output connectors.
Module type S1000 is a mic/lin input channel with an electronically balanced input stage. Four push buttons at the top of each channel select phantom powering, pad, mic/lin and phase inversion and the gain control range is +20dB to +60dB in mic mode. In line mode, the range is from -10dB to +30dB. The line input is unbalanced but I understand that a balanced version can be provided to special order.
In terms of EQ, this Scorpion module comes equipped with a 4-band filter section, two sweep mid-range controls, and shelving high and low controls. At the high frequency end, there is a ±14dB control range at 6kHz or 12kHz (switchable) and the low frequency range is the same but operating at frequencies of 60Hz or 120Hz.
In the mid department, the range is again ±14dB, the upper mid being sweepable over the frequency range 500Hz to 18kHz and the lower mid 100Hz to 5kHz. Additionally an EQ bypass switch is fitted which is essential for rapid A/B comparisons when you're not sure whether you have improved things or made them worse after a session of frantic twiddling.
Current trends in mixer design dictate that the more auxiliary sends you have the better and the S1000 module incorporates four auxiliaries which are switchable in pairs for pre- or post-fade send.
Rather than provide routing switches for every pair of output groups up to the mainframe's maximum capacity of 16 outputs, the switching is done using four buttons to select the output pair and a further button to select banks 1-8 or 9-16. This is an easy system to use and constitutes a significant saving in terms of cost and panel space. A further button 'ST' routes the channel output directly to the master stereo output for mixdown.
The panpot operates conventionally both for left/right panning and for odd/even routing but it's interesting to note that the circuit utilises a dual pot to give the correct control law; something impossible to achieve by using a single pot and conventional resistive splitting. A latching PFL button allows the channel throughput to be monitored, even when the channel is muted, and both insert points and direct outputs are catered for, the insert points being post EQ and accessed by means of stereo jacks.
You'll be pleased to note that the XLR mic connectors are wired to the currently accepted convention of pin two hot and that the direct channel output is on a stereo jack offering both +4dB and -12dB signal levels.
Finally the channel mute button has it's own status LED and there is also a conveniently placed peak indicating LED to politely inform you when you are running out of headroom.
"It is very logical to use and it gets on with it's job whilst letting you get on with yours."
The Scorpion comes fitted with two of these modules (called S2000), each handling two auxiliary outputs and one input: the send levels are controlled by rotary pots and the return levels by a fader. The master sends have their own AFL buttons and 2-band shelving EQ and the line level returns have the same routing and panning facilities as the S1000 input channel.
Sends are connected to XLR connectors on the rear panel, these being configured to offer a choice of operating level and the returns are again on unbalanced XLRs, wired pin two hot.
Designated as the S3000, this simple module is quite flexible and may be used as a buss output, a monitor mixer, a subgroup or even an extra effects return. There are two auxiliary sends (switchable pre/post), the obligatory buss/tape switching and a monitor level control. A rather unorthodox switching system (at least on such a small desk) allows the functions of this control and the fader to be reversed (using the Rev button). The point of this feature is to allow the monitor mix to be controlled by the fader and the buss output by the monitor level pot. In this way you end up using the rotary pots to set the record levels onto tape and that leaves the sliders free to set up the monitor mix, faders being easier to use than pots in this application. There is also a pan control, a stereo buss switch, mute switch and AFL button configured similarly to the input channels.
Inserts on stereo jacks are fitted and both the buss outputs (XLR) and the return inputs (jacks) and these are again configured to offer a choice of both popular operating levels depending on how they are wired.
This module (type S3002) operates in a similar manner to the S3000 module but incorporates two monitor mix sections. By fitting this module into the 16:8:2 desk, it is possible to have 16-track monitoring and is consequently ideal for use with 16-track machines where no more than eight tracks are likely to be recorded simultaneously. Using the larger mixer chassis (which we didn't have for review), it's possible to configure a 16-output desk to have 32-track monitoring, each monitor section monitoring buss or tape outputs. Both monitor sections boast the full four auxiliary sends with pre/post switching, a level and panpot, AFL and a mute switch.
The connector conventions follow the same basic format as the previous module.
We didn't have any of these modules (S3001) as they really are more applicable to sound reinforcement rather than recording but I'll outline the important features anyway. Without one I can't really comment on how well it works but if it is up to the standard of the other modules, there should be no problems. In effect this is a simplified input channel with 2-band shelving EQ but it has eight auxiliary send pots which are also under the control of a master fader, which has its own mute and AFL buttons. Each such channel has its own meter and this may be switched to monitor the group or matrix outputs. The prime use of this type of module would be to enable up to eight different foldback or monitor mixes to be set up, probably with the desk being used as a conventional on-stage foldback mixer.
Connections are made to the buss output via the rear panel male XLR connector (dual level again) and the stereo jack insert system is again used. The matrix output itself emerges via an unbalanced mono jack and has an impedance of less than 100 ohms.
The S4000 master monitor/stereo buss output module houses the talkback mic section, VU or peak meter switching and a line-up/slate oscillator as well as all the more usual functions. The oscillator can generate tones at 100Hz, 1 kHz and 10kHz, all at a fixed level of +4dB (0VU), and this is activated using the Slate button, a preset being incorporated for level calibration. On pressing the Slate button, the oscillator is fed to all the main output busses including the stereo buss.
Headphone and speaker monitoring are also controlled by this section as is the stereo output buss. All monitoring and mixing activities are performed via the stereo buss; in record the multitrack inputs would be governed by the group faders and the monitor section will feed into the stereo buss. During remix, all the signals are mixed into the stereo buss which is in turn connected to the master 2-track recorder in the time honoured fashion and this is the mix that emerges from the monitors. A second or auxiliary monitor output is provided and this is pre-fade so that it's level is independent of the setting of the main monitor fader. In other respects it follows the main monitor. Monitor selection includes tape one or two as well as the stereo buss and both monitor mute and dim buttons are provided.
"The mixer looks smart with just the right degree of sophistication."
The stereo buss outputs are on XLR male connectors such that pin one is screen, pin two is 0dB and pin three is -12dB. Stereo jacks are used for the insert points (send-tip - return-ring) and the tape inputs are on quarter inch unbalanced jacks. For the stereo tape input, a stereo jack is used and quarter inch jacks are also used for the monitor outputs and the oscillator direct output. The stereo jack on the talkback output incorporates a control line facility on the ring connection which allows the monitors to be remotely dimmed and the low output impedance means that long tie lines can be driven without any trouble.
Many mixers fall down on the flexibility of their routing but this model has obviously been thought out by an engineer who knows what the end user is likely to want to do with the mixer and this is reflected in the lack of significant omissions in this department.
Electronically the mixer is reasonably quiet, again due to sensible circuit design and the EQ operates very smoothly, though there is a noticeable amount of noise added if very high levels of top or upper mid boost are applied. To be fair, the performance in this respect is no worse than some other mixers in this price category and probably better than most.
The concept of making both operating levels available certainly makes life easy and the fact that phantom powering can be switched to individual channels is also very useful though I would have liked to see status LEDs on each channel to remind you that phantom powering is applied. This could prevent the inadvertent frying of any oddball dynamic mics that may be wired in an unconventional manner.
All the controls, switches and sliders had a reassuringly positive feel and none crackled as indeed they shouldn't on a mixer of this standard - but then you have to look for these things don't you?
I was hoping to find all kinds of interesting things to tell you about this mixer, but apart from the fact that it's a sure recipe for a double hernia if you take it on the road, there is surprisingly little to comment about. This in itself I suppose is a positive comment because a good mixer should be fairly transparent in use in that you shouldn't need to think about it. The Scorpion certainly fits in with that philosophy as it is very logical to use and it gets on with it's job whilst letting you get on with yours.
The design must have been the culmination of a lot of effort, both in terms of the circuitry and the mechanical layout and no one could say that this isn't built to last.
By providing both commonly used signal levels on different pins of the input and output connectors, TAC have made this a very flexible mixer but I have a sneaking feeling that someone who is using this mixer live is occasionally going to run into trouble by plugging in the wrong type of lead. This is far less likely to be a problem in a recording environment as most or all of these connections are likely to remain undisturbed once the system has been installed.
In terms of styling, the mixer looks smart with just the right degree of sophistication which is important in a commercial studio as many clients are still more impressed by appearance than by the promise of performance, but TAC offer both.
This range of mixers is a little pricey to fall into the budget category (£2786 for this 16:8:2 version) but for the small commercial demo studio or the audiovisual mixing suite, the Scorpion should offer the right combination of facilities, reliability and value for money. Finally, it's a good job that this is a British product because, weighing what it does, it would probably cost more than a Solid State Logic desk by the time you'd added the cost of overseas shipping.
Further information is available from; Total Audio Concepts Ltd, (Contact Details).
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