We built and then test-drove the world’s first commercially available fully modular console. Here’s what we thought...
Swiss company Schertler already have an enviable reputation for their PA systems, instrument pickups and amps, but with their latest product, the Arthur Format48, they’ve struck out in a radical new direction. There have been plenty of semi-modular mixers arranged around single-channel modules or ‘buckets’ of eight or more channels, and it has recently become fashionable to integrate slots for 500-series modules. But all these are based around a fixed chassis, even if different chassis sizes are available.
In complete contrast, the Arthur has been conceived to be fully scalable, all the way from a single input channel plus master output, to a sophisticated console with up to 80 different modules. The key to this flexibility is a mechanical ‘chassis’, formed as you fasten the modules together; the chassis grows as more channels are added! Thus, the customer can choose how many of which modules to include, and can assemble them in almost any order — and you can see a graphical preview of the specified system via the ‘Configurator’ on Scherter’s web site.
This ingenious mechanical design is only part of the Arthur story, though. Another key selling point is its claimed premium sound quality, courtesy of all-discrete, DC-coupled (there are no DC-blocking capacitors in the signal paths), Class-A transistorised circuitry, which has been designed with ‘zero negative feedback’ (NFB) throughout. It’s extremely difficult to design active circuitry that genuinely omits all negative feedback completely (current- as well as voltage-based), and in my experience most ‘zero NFB’ designs, including this one, turn out to be what I’d consider ’minimal NFB’ designs. But semantics aside, Schertler’s design intention is clear, and the absence of significant amounts of negative feedback is evident in both the mixer’s sound and technical specifications.
Every pro-audio product I’m tasked with reviewing usually has a clearly definable target market, and my review focuses on how well the product meets that market’s needs. Yet, while it’s clear from the outset that the Arthur’s design has been influenced strongly by a desire to satisfy the practical requirements of musicians and small bands (resulting in a relatively simple console architecture), this mixer’s nature means there are multiple and very diverse potential markets, some of which probably haven’t yet occurred to me! In between the one- and 80-channel extremes, there’s potential for building almost anything from a small, on-stage musician’s mixer, to a compact bespoke location-recording console, and there’s yet more potential in larger-scale live-sound, theatre, or studio-recording arenas. It also has attractive possibilities as a DAW front-end or summing mixer. By way of example of a smaller setup, Schertler tell me they’ve recently sold a simple dual input channel configuration to a guitarist who wanted a high-quality recording channel with monitoring facilities.
Here, then, I’ll leave you to imagine the many possibilities and evaluate the Arthur based on its merits in terms of technical performance, ergonomics, functionality, and, importantly for a modular product, ease of assembly.
The only mandatory module is the Master LR Output, which is the only unit containing the stereo mix-bus summing amps, and which also hosts the primary power inlet. For simple applications, where one aux is sufficient and separate monitoring unnecessary (such as for stage source selection or a DAW front-end) you won’t need, or need to pay for, the Aux Master module, but in practice most customers will want to add it: it expands the number of aux outputs and provides basic monitoring facilities.
On the input side, the module options presently comprise two different mono Microphone In channels, an Instrument channel and a Stereo Line input channel. Although systems with as...
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