Review: API 1608 Analog ConsoleVINTAGE-STYLE MIXER WITH DAW-CENTRIC FEATURES 10/01/2008 8:00 AM Eastern
The API Model 1608 analog recording console retains the same design philosophy, build quality and — most importantly — the same sound as the company's revered '70s-era mixers. It also includes modern updates that broaden its usefulness in this age of multiple recording and mixing formats, and the ubiquitous DAW. The 1608 has everything necessary to take any project from conception to final mix.
Truly a small-footprint studio mixer, the 1608 measures 37.6×33×18 inches (W×D×H), weighs 228 pounds, and is built on a solid-aluminum frame. Its external linear power supply module connects via a 15-foot cable and mil-spec, multipin connectors. The 1608 has a 90-pin Elco connector for adding the 16-channel API 1608 Expander, which completely integrates program, summing and aux buses, mute group and solo facilities.
The 1608 uses all-discrete audio signal paths with fully balanced inputs/outputs. Also standard are: LED-lit push buttons for all functions and custom-made LED backlit VU meters, with no FET switches or VCAs anywhere. For group muting, low-distortion, light-dependent resistors are used; otherwise remote switching is by way of Panasonic TN Series relays with gold/silver contacts.
The rear panel is packed with XLRs, ¼-inch TRS and DB25 connectors. This gang of I/O ports takes care of the usual cast of console characters including direct outs, inserts, mic/line/instrument inputs, echo sends and more.
To keep costs down, the console's module order is fixed — you cannot freely swap modules around. The standard module order is: 16 mic/line 548B input modules; four E1608 echo send/return modules; one 168B summing bus module; one 268B program bus output master; one 845B control room monitor; and a 840B Central Facilities module. The meter bridge has VUs for eight buses and/or 16 channels, stereo program level, eight echo send/return meters, plus talkback mic and power supply monitor LEDs.
The first 12 channels include 3-band 550A EQs, and the last four channels have 10-band 560 graphics, but you can order them any way that you like. These are API's famed proportional Q equalizers, where only a few clicks change their sound from smooth and subtle to cranky and extreme.
The 548B input modules are arranged in two buckets of eight long-throw 100mm mono Alps faders. The 1608 has all the offerings you'd expect from a big desk, including switches for mute, solo, mute group and solo safe, plus the mic/line input preamp controls, polarity flip and more. There are also some interesting extras, including a double-duty LED that shows peaks in red on line input but changes to blue with lavender peaks while in mic input mode.
The 1608's ties to API's past are in evidence with the desk using mostly API discrete 2520 op amps, while the mic preamps use a circuit similar to those found in the API 3288 console. The same mic transformers in the company's 512C mic preamp are also used. A nice new touch is the addition of direct inputs (DI) for instruments on every channel.
The console's eight echo sends are broken up into four concentric stereo pairs, with the option of sending 7 and 8 simultaneously to summing buses 1, 2, 3 or 4. This nice extra allows the user to employ the bus system to expand send options beyond the eight outs.
Lighted buttons atop each input module route a channel's audio output to the stereo program bus and/or any of the eight summing buses. The direct output (post fader) is always active. While the pan pot always feeds the program bus, the Pan button will connect it to an assigned odd/even busing matrix. The channel's output level is reduced by 3.3 dB while in center pan position.
The Fltr button inserts a gentle -3dB highpass filter with a 6dB/octave slope starting at 50 Hz, while the Insert button breaks the signal path coming from the equalizer for patching an external processor.
The 1608 has plenty of ins and outs for monitors. Besides the main control room monitor speaker output with cal pots, are two paths for small speaker systems (also with individual cal pots). The control room monitor module has a L+R Mono monitoring button and the master volume control — the same customized 2-channel Alps unit that API converts to a six-channel version used on its Vision console. Also standard are: a Monitor Dim button with level control; Speaker Cut, which mutes any speaker set selected; and Main speakers select for choosing between two sets of small monitors.
Extravagant 6-channel external monitoring facilities allow for selecting between four different sources beyond the stereo program bus. Although the stereo program bus is normaled to the monitor, the eight buses used in surround mixing are not. Mixing in surround would necessitate either patching multitrack buses to the monitor or selecting your surround master recorder as one of the four playback sources and monitoring through it.
I felt a strange sense of “déjà vu all over again” when I first sat at the 1608 — everything was located exactly where I'm used to, just like when using a vintage 2488 or 3288 console. But the 1608 can also be configured to work with DAWs in ways that are not possible with older consoles. For instance, you can use the 16 mic pre's to record while using 16 of the long-throw 100mm channels to monitor/mix your DAW returns at the same time. Or, you could use the mic pre's, EQ and direct outs to record while using the 100mm channels to monitor/mix DAW returns, and if required, also send a mix of the direct outs to other DAW tracks. Another scenario is to use the entire console for recording and the echo returns to monitor an “in-the-box” mix from the DAW. This also allows for complete cue system feeds to be sourced from the 1608 and/or DAW at the same time. All of this makes the 1608 very DAW-compatible.
I began testing the console by mixing songs I had recorded in Pro Tools. The 1608 lined up in perfect calibration when I played -18dBU reference tones out of Pro Tools. With faders at unity and playing full-level tracks from Pro Tools, the 1608 had loads of headroom and did not distort even though the stereo program's meters were pinning.
To better measure the stereo bus level and operate the console realistically, I lowered all faders somewhere south of unity. If possible, I'll change Pro Tools' HD 192 I/O setting to -20dB reference playback level to use more of the console's huge reserve of channel gain. Right from the first rough balance and before using any equalizers, the sound was wide, deep and expansive — identical to using a large-frame API.
Recording on the 1608 is like any in-line console. For full sessions, I played my monitor mix on the faders using the EQs, echo sends for monitor effects and cue mixing and, at the same time, patched out of the mic preamps directly to outboard processors and on to Pro Tools. Those extra eight Series 500 slots full of mic pre's, EQs and compressors are a must for this engineering style.
I tried recording a Martin D-28 acoustic guitar track using a stereo X/Y pair of Mojave 201 FET condensers patched into channels 15 and 16. A pair of Distressors patched after the 1608 helped to produce an aggressive sound, and the console's 560 graphic EQs let me shape tonality to fit this rock track. Due to the gain added by the compressor and with Peak Threshold set to +4dBu, I got occasional flashes on my playback faders but none on my recording channels — a good thing — and I was recording and playing back “all” of the sound, including its peak information.
I found no sonic difference between using the direct outputs and the buses — although I had to calibrate the buses so they all matched each other. Using too much mic gain makes it easier to overload the buses than the direct outs but, at proper operating level, there was no change in sound. In addition to bus peak indicators, my wish list includes eight 100mm faders for controlling/riding bus levels.
Another classic in the making, the 1608 has the same honest, clear, punchy and tight sound of its vintage predecessors. But it's not just a great old console in a new box; it's packed with forward-thinking features not found in older consoles, such as versatile ways to connect it to a DAW, sufficient headroom to send a full +24dBm RMS signal into DAW inputs, direct inputs on every channel, and +4dBu to +24dBu peak meter threshold settings.
Couple all this with API's legacy, operational efficiency and wonderful proportional Q equalizers and the 1608 provides the best and fastest track to sonic nirvana I've seen in years.
Barry Rudolph is an L.A.-based recording engineer/mixer. Visit www.barryrudolph.com.