HIGH-RESOLUTION ANALOG MIXING CONSOLE
These days, new professional analog consoles don't appear very often, especially in the price range for mid-sized studios. There are reasonably priced used models available. If you search the Internet or Mix magazine classifieds, you'll find plenty of old warhorses priced between $30k and $80k, but on more than a few of these, repairs/restoration and installation can easily push the real price tag well past the $100k mark. Recognizing the gap between the compact (and ubiquitous) 8-bus boards carried by music stores and the elusively priced used high-end consoles, UK-based Audient offers a solution in the form of the ASP8024. Priced from $33,120 (in standard 36-input configuration), the ASP8024 is a good fit for smaller studios or large studios' “B” and “C” rooms, and this console's sonic quality rivals that of many boards found in high-ticket “A” rooms.
NEW PARTNERSHIP, OLD PARTNERS
Audient was formed in November 1998, by the original founders of DDA (Deardon Davies Associates), David Deardon and Gareth Davies. DDA manufactured mixing consoles in the early 1980s. The design of the 8024 reflects the depth of experience present at Audient. All controls are well laid out, and the color-coded surface makes the signal path easily recognizable. Intelligent ergonomic design seems high on Audient's priority list. For example, the input module of each channel shares some tilt with the meter bridge, facing the engineer at a more visible angle.
The ASP8024 is an in-line design, with two faders per channel strip, 24 bus outputs and a well-equipped center section featuring a stereo bus compressor. The fader housing accepts many of the popular moving fader automation systems, such as Flying Faders or Uptown. ASP stands for Analogue Signal Processing, and 8024 refers to 80 inputs and 24 outputs (available with the 36-channel configuration). The console can be shipped in 24, 36, 48 or 60-channel versions. Channels are arranged in buckets of 12, which hinge up for testing. In terms of repair, this is an advantage over the common 8-bus consoles where, if one channel goes down, the whole board needs to go in for repair, though it's a disadvantage when compared to the high-end modular consoles, which can still operate while one channel is removed for repair.
The Audient frame is sturdy and a stand, complete with built-in cable boxes and adjustable feet, is included. The power supply for the board is refreshingly quiet, as it uses convection cooling instead of a fan. The meter bridge offers 20-segment peak-reading bar graph LEDs and a simpler, three-segment meter; these two can swap duties metering input or off-tape. The 20-segment meter divisions follow the digital convention, with zero at the top, corresponding to -18 dBFS.
The input section of each channel is tilted at about 60∞, nicely placed facing forward, which brings these knobs within reach of a seated engineer. The input controls include switches for phase, phantom, low cut, insert and mic/line. There is no pad, and the gain runs from 6 to 60 dB. After the mic pre, the signal hits the short fader, which then sends it on to the buses and aux sends, with or without EQ. Normally, the long fader monitors the track returns from the tape machine, but these duties can be swapped at the touch of a button.
After the short fader, the signal can be sent to the 24 bus outputs. There is a switch to select either 1 through 12 or 13 through 24, and panning between buses is available. Another luxury: Before the EQ section, the Long Fader Source switch lets the long fader feed into the short fader, allowing use of the bus outputs as extra effects sends at mixdown.
The EQ provides ±15 dB in four bands: two parametric midbands, and high and low shelving. The mids, with bandwidths variable from 0.4 to 2 octaves, overlap (60 to 1.5k Hz and 450 to 20k Hz), and the shelves can switch between 50 and 100 Hz for the highpass and 10 and 18 kHz for the lowpass. I would have liked more choices here, such as a 15kHz shelf. The EQ can also be assigned to both the long and short faders, and there are separate insert points for each.
On each channel, a switch sends the signal either to aux outputs 1 through 6 or to auxes 7 through 12. So, although 14 aux sends are available (sends A and B are intended for the band headphones), one channel can only reach a limited number of sends. Fortunately, with numerous routing possibilities, it is difficult to imagine this becoming a problem. And Audient has implemented yet another helpful feature for the tired engineer: red knob caps for aux sends A and B. Unfortunately, the pre/post switches affect pairs of sends, which is the only aspect that might cause a few extra seconds of thought during an effects-laden mixdown.
Both short and long faders have Solo and Cut buttons. Depending on the selection made in the center section of the console, Solo can be heard in one of three modes: PFL, AFL or SIP. Solo-In-Place is an extremely useful feature, one that is strangely elusive on some consoles. In addition to a Solo Level control, there is a Solo In Front control, which allows a customized balance to be set between the soloed channel and the rest of the mix.
The center section also contains an oscillator, with tones at 40 Hz, 1k, 10k or 15k Hz. Extensive monitoring options appear in the spacious center section, as well as the auxiliary send masters and 24 bus trim controls. Aux sends leave the back panel via XLRs, while the buses are output through three D-Sub connectors and wired using the popular Tascam DA-88 format. Four pairs of effects returns input through balanced ¼-inch jacks and appear, with versatile routing options, in the center section. The eight subgroup faders each have insert points, Solo and Cut switches, and Pan controls.
There is also an insert point for the main stereo bus, as well as a dedicated stereo compressor. It cannot be patched into anything other than the stereo output of the board. There has been no skimping in the design of this compressor, useful both for approximating the sound of the mix on the radio and for managing the headphone mix that the band hears in the studio (as well as simply “premastering”). There are controls for attack, release, make-up gain, threshold and ratio (2:1, 4:1 or 10:1). Gain reduction is visible with a 12-LED meter.
RACE TO RETROFIT
I got a chance to run an ASP8024 through its paces recently. One of a growing number of Audient consoles that have made it overseas thus far is located at Retrofit Studios, in sunny Sacramento, Calif. The facility's large tracking room and multiple isolation booths are well-complemented by the Audient console. Playing back a 2-inch master of an acoustic group I recorded and mixed years ago (Harmony Grits), the tracks sounded much better than I remembered. Having passed these very tracks through an Amek and a Neve, I was impressed by the sound quality of the 8024. I had long ago completed mixing the song but felt compelled to mix it all over through the Audient console.
In general, the audio quality was clean, but not brittle, and was free of any undesirable character. When I engaged the EQ, I was able to add some undesirable character, but only through stupidly exaggerated amounts of gain. The parametric midbands performed well in the act of notching out offending frequencies. Controls are easy to see and read, and there's enough room around the knobs to work comfortably — no squeezing here! I sometimes wanted an additional frequency band, but, in general, the Audient EQ was more than adequate.
With a familiar microphone, I recorded mandolin through one of the Audient preamps. The results represented the microphone and the mandolin extremely accurately. There is rich detail in the midrange and an airy quality to the top end.
My only real complaint about the console concerns the feel of the knobs. They turn smoothly and feel fine to the touch, but they seem to afford quite a bit of side-to-side play — not solid. This is to be expected with multichannel circuit boards. However, I anticipated a much more solid Control Room Monitor knob, which gets used every few minutes. Of course, this objection is outweighed by the affordability of this great-sounding console, but I had to nitpick.
This is a fine board that is reasonably priced. The grounding, routing and layout are extremely well-thought-out. It's easy to use, because most controls are within reach of a seated engineer, and there is an optional built-in TT patchbay. It is very quiet, yet its sonic qualities are warm and brilliant, and for the user who demands more, it can accommodate third-party moving fader systems. The 8024 will not add a certain tone to your sound the way a Trident or Neve will; instead, it provides a transparent signal path — clean and free of the strident top end found in lesser consoles. If I were starting a studio right now, I would rather purchase a new Audient than an old fixer-upper.
Audient, dist. in the U.S. by Audio Independence, 2140 W. Greenview Dr., Middleton, WI 53562; 608/831-8700; www.audient.co.uk.
David Ogilvy, an engineer/producer in Northern California, wishes the latest generation of music listeners knew the joy of good analog recordings. And big thanks go to JR and the staff at Retrofit Studios for their assistance and insights.