Hybrid Mixers – Analogue Punch, Digital Flexibility

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In an age where digital technology seemingly consumes the planet, reminiscing when analogue technology reigned supreme seems light-years in the distant past. With many users shying away from digital equipment and preferring the tactile immediacy of analogue gear, thankfully (at least in the world of audio gear) certain manufacturers have heard the crying calls.

Analogue mixers that include digital effects are by no means a new thing, this analogue and digital integration has been around for decades. However, when the Tascam MODEL 24 was released back in 2018, many “old-school” audio folk wept tears of joy at the sight of this beautiful retro-styled analogue board. And whilst its heart and the overall vibe is very much analogue, its brain is digital, and all the better for it. So why now? Did Tascam employ the uses of some crystal ball to see into the future of audio? Or did they simply recognise that there’s always a place for the hybrid mixer? Let’s explore what’s out there.

Keeping Things Simple

If having a large channel count and the ability to record absolutely every channel on your mixer simultaneously isn’t necessary, then a small format hybrid mixer may just be what you require. Typically starting with a USB I/O of 2×2 and making their way up to 4×4, compact options such as the Soundcraft Notepad Series or the Allen and Heath ZEDi family are great options. Offering good quality preamps, EQ, routing and FX for the price, mixers like these allow for simple analogue workflow for small live application but also crossover into small studio/content creators and podcasting applications. The Notepad’s control panel software (which includes a built-in ducking), paired with its and flexible USB routing and built-in Lexicon FX engine (8FX and 12FX only) make them a winner for me. Specs below.

Brand – Model: Soundcraft – Notepad 12FX Allen and Heath – ZEDi 10FX
Inputs: 12 (4x XLR/1/4” combo, 2x 1/4″ stereo line, 1x RCA unbalanced, 1x 1/4″ stereo external FX return ) 10 (4x XLR or 1/4″ mono, 2x 1/4″ stereo line)
Outputs: Main LR, Aux, HP* Main LR, Monitor LR, Aux, HP*, FX
Auxes: 1 1
Headphone Outs: 2 (Aux switched to 2nd HP* out) 1
EQ: 3-band 3-band
HPF: Yes – all mic preamps Yes – all mic preamps
Phantom Power: Yes – global Yes – global
Hi-Z Inputs: 2 2
FX: Yes – Lexicon engine Yes
USB Interface: 4 in x 4 out 4 in x 4 out
Software Control: Yes – USB I/O and ducking o

* HP = Headphones

Stepping up the Multitrack Count

Sometimes you’ll be faced with needing more than a handful of inputs and outputs and stepping up to a slightly larger mixer is required. Whilst there are plenty of larger input analogue mixers which offer USB connectivity, often these are limited to just 2×2 USB interfacing, but what if you want to multitrack record into your DAW, whilst still enjoying all convenience and feel of an analogue board.

The Soundcraft Signature MTK mixers offer this type of connectivity with the smaller Signature 12MTK up to the fully-fledged Signature 22MTK. These mixers boast a whopping 14 in/12 out and 24 in/22 out USB I/O respectively, which is pretty nuts! Not only can you record every single input source separately but you also can record the main LR stereo mix. Being able to return individual or groups of tracks from your DAW back onto a channel strip on the mixer allows for good old-fashioned analogue mix down and summing. Can you hear that sigh of relief from the old-school analogue engineer in the distance?

Key Specs: Soundcraft Signature 12MTK Soundcraft Signature 22MTK
Inputs: 12 (8x XLR or 1/4″ mono, 2x 1/4″ stereo line, 1x RCA unbalanced) 22 (16x XLR or 1/4” mono, 2x 1/4″ stereo line, 1x RCA unbalanced)
Outputs: Main LR, 2x group, 3x Aux, 1x HP* Main LR, 4x group, 5x Aux, 1x HP*
Groups: 2 mono (1 stereo) 4 mono (2 stereo)
Auxes: 3 5
Headphone Outs: 1 1
HPF: Yes – all mic preamps Yes – all mic preamps
EQ: 3-band (swept midrange) 4-band (2-bands swept midrange)
Dynamics: 2x dbx limiters 8x dbx limiters
Phantom Power: Yes – all mic preamps Yes – all mic preamps
Hi-Z inputs: 2 2
FX: 1x Lexicon engine 2x Lexicon engines
USB Interface: 14 in / 12 out 24 in / 22 out
Bit Depth / Sample Rate: 16/24-bit, 44.1/48kHz 16/24-bit, 44.1/48kHz

* HP = Headphones

Hybrid with a Twist

When a new mixer gets announced in 2020, one wonders what features can be so different. And with Greg Mackie and Peter Watts at the helm of their design(s), it can only mean good things right? Well, the announcement of the Korg Soundlink MW1608 and MW2408 hybrid mixers was certainly a bit of a surprise and these two mixers offer some rather unique features not yet found in a hybrid, until now.

Putting aside our discussions of USB multi-track capability for a second, these mixers certainly are not designed with this in mind, but what they do offer features live engineers will find incredibly appealing indeed. Mute Groups in the hybrid mixer, why not! Yep, something usually only found in a fully digital mixer allowing for lightning-fast grouping of tracks to muted and unmuted at the press of a button for efficient workflow for all types of mixing scenarios. Nifty feedback control great for novice users is offered, as well as a 31-band spectrum analyser, multiband paragraph EQ, 32-bit Korg FX and dedicated EQ and dynamics for Main LR and Auxes. The list continues, but these beasts are truly hybrid, in all senses of the meaning. Definitely worth checking out when they land later this year.

Key Specs: Korg Soundlink MW1608 Korg Soundlink MW2408
Inputs: 16  (8 mono + 4 stereo + 1 Talkback + 3.5mm stereo) 24  (8 mono + 8 stereo + 1 Talkback + 3.5mm stereo)
Outputs: Main LR, Monitor LR, 4x Aux, Group Outs, HP’s* Main LR, Monitor LR, 4x Aux, Group Outs, HP’s*
Group Outs: 8 8
Footswitch: Yes Yes
Phantom Power: Yes ( global on all mic preamps) Yes ( global on all mic preamps)
High Pass Filter: Yes (first 8 channels) Yes (first 8 channels)
EQ: 3-band (swept mids) 3-band (swept mids)
Dynamics: 8x single knob compressor on inputs + dynamics for Main LR & Auxes 8x single knob compressor on inputs + dynamics for Main LR & Auxes
FX: 32-bit processor (30 presets) 32-bit processor (30 presets)
Tap Tempo: Yes Yes
ParaGraphic EQ: Yes (32 bands) Yes (32 bands)
Auto Feedback Canceller: Yes Yes
Mute Groups: 4 (digitally controlled) 4 (digitally controlled)
Scene Recall: Yes (digitally controlled) Yes (digitally controlled)
USB Interface: 2 track recording 2 track recording

* HP’s = Headphones

Hybrid Mixers – Analogue Punch, Digital Flexibility

Korg Soundlink MW2408

Fully Featured Hybrids

So we’ve looked at hybrid mixers both big and small, some with the ability to multi-track record into a DAW, whilst others sporting some sophisticated features typically only found in full digital consoles. What about a mixer that can capture recorded sound internally without needing a laptop or computer? Enter the Tascam MODEL 24 as mentioned at the start of this article (and its more compact siblings).

Tascam has a strong history is audio recording gear dating back to the 1970s with their reel to reel tape machines, through to the coveted all-in-one Portastudio range of portable recorders. Taking much of this heritage and blending with the requirements of modern production, recording and mixing, the MODEL series of hybrid mixers allows one to simply take one of these mixers, pair it with an SD card and of course some “talent” and voila, you have yourself a full multitrack recording setup. The beauty of a system like this is that it allows you to leave the laptop at home and just focus on dialling in sounds, utilizing all the analogue goodness a mixer like this has to offer and capturing this direct to SD card. Handy features like punch in/out recording give you the convenience of performing quick overdubs without the need to pull out the computer. The MODEL series also offers multitrack USB recording functionality as well, for those who prefer to record directly into their chosen DAW. You’re also able to return individual or groups of tracks from your DAW back onto channels on the board for analogue mixing and summing if that’s your preferred workflow.

Other similar featured mixers in the Presonus ARc range offer stereo main mix SD card recording functionality and they sport a multitrack USB interface for each mixer in the family. For me, the Tascam’s ability to multi-track record to either SD card or USB, make them a winner in this category of hybrid mixers. Here’s the rundown of specs on both the Tascam Model 16 and Presonus AR16c.

Brand – Model: Tascam – MODEL 16 Presonus – AR16c
Inputs: 10x XLR or 1/4″ mono, 2x 1/4″ stereo line, 1x RCA or 1/8” unbalanced, Bluetooth 12x XLR or 1/4″ mono, 4x 1/4″ stereo line, 1x RCA or 1/8” unbalanced, Bluetooth
Outputs: Main LR, Sub LR, Control Room LR, Headphones, 2x Monitors, FX Main LR, Control Room LR, 2x Aux, FX, Headphones
Auxes: 2 + 1x FX 2 + 1x FX
Headphone Out: 1 1
EQ: 3-band (swept midrange) 3-band (swept midrange)
HPF: Yes – every mic preamp channel Yes – every mic preamp channel
Inserts/Dynamics: 2x inserts, 8x single knob compressors 2x inserts
Phantom Power: Yes – global Yes – global
Hi-Z Inputs: 2 2
Digital Effects: Yes – 16 presets Yes – 16 presets
USB Interface: 16 in / 14 out 16 in / 4 out
Bit Depth / Sample Rate: 16/24-bit  /  44.1/48kHz 24-bit   /   44.1/48/88.2/96kHz
SD Card Record: Yes – multitrack Yes – Stereo main mix
Bluetooth: 5.0 5.0
Other Features: Punch in/out recording

A taste of Hybrid for everyone

Whether its simplicity you’re looking for, something with a wealth of digital flexibility or keeping your workflow as true to analogue, there’s is a hybrid mixer out there for everyone. Not only will these type of mixers appeal to the old-school engineer, but for modern engineers, producers, musicians and content creators the flexible I/O, analogue charm and digital flexibility make hybrids alluring for both live and studio applications. I for one have found myself pining for the tactile immediacy of an analogue mixer in both live and studio environments, it’s a hands-on workflow that just feels right. When you add in the ability to record multi-sources simultaneously to this, I find myself thinking, why would you have anything else?

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