The no-nonsense Folio SX has an external power supply so you can make it work, there are sockets so you can connect things to it and there are controls -- so you can control things [been watching that Toyota advert again, have you? -- Assistant Ed]. There's no driver's airbag, or air conditioning, but you do get 12 fully-functional Mic/Line channels, two comprehensive stereo channels, and a two further general-purpose stereo inputs with a choice of Main or Sub mix buss routing. Add these 20 inputs to lots of powerful EQ, a generous aux send system, and a convenient carrying handle (which also serves to prop the mixer up at a jaunty angle when in use), and you have a mixer quite obviously designed to muscle in on the Mackie 1402VLZ market (check out the review of the Mackie in last month's SOS).
Because of its topography, the Folio SX is well suited to simple multitracking, live recording, PA or keyboard use. All the channels are controlled by full-length faders, and there's global phantom power for capacitor mics, plus phono inputs for a 2-track recorder such as a cassette deck or DAT machine. Each mic/line input has a switchable 100Hz, 18dB/octave low-cut filter, a gain Sensitivity control, and a TRS jack insert point. Channels 1 to 8 are fitted with ground-compensated (pseudo-balanced) direct output jacks. Recessed switches next to the fader enable the direct output to be set pre- or post-fader. Post-fader is the default option, but you can switch to pre-fade if you prefer.
There are three aux sends in all; Aux 1 is fixed pre-fade, and Aux 3 is fixed post-fade. Aux 2 may be switched to pre- or post-fade operation via a master switch, and all three sends have master level controls. The 3-band EQ fitted to all 12 mono channels has a sweep mid control providing up to 15dB of cut or boost over the range 240Hz to 6kHz, plus HF and LF shelving controls operating at 12kHz and 60Hz. There's no EQ bypass, but the controls are centre-detented. Routing comprises a conventional Pan control (or Balance on the Stereo channels) and Mix/Sub switching, which sends the channel signal either to the Main stereo buss or to the Sub stereo buss. Separate channel On buttons are provided in a fetching shade of lilac, and ample scribble space is provided below the fader. All input channels have PFL buttons, aside from the phono inputs (channels 13,14 and 17,18).
The aux sends have AFL soloing, and, as usual, the channels input gains can be set up using the PFL buttons and the meters. A master Solo LED indicates when one or more channels are solo'd, and any solo'd sources are heard in isolation over the Monitor output and the headphones. Plugging in headphones disconnects the Monitor output, which I feel is a trifle restrictive. At any time, the tape input can be monitored by selecting the 2Tk button.
The Stereo channels are similar to the mono channels, except that they have no mic inputs, no insert points, and no mid-band EQ. At the very top of the channel strip are Level controls for the final pair of stereo inputs, which are on phonos, and these may be routed to either the Main or Sub mixes. As these have only level controls and no access to EQ or sends, they are probably best used as effects returns, though they can handle any line-level signal.
Separate fader pairs are used for the Main Mix and Sub Mix output, while the Monitor output and Phones level are set using the same rotary control. A separate level control is provided for the 2-track return. Metering is via simple 10-section peak-reading LED ladders. A Mix/Sub switch swaps the meters and phones output from monitoring the Main mix to monitoring the Sub mix, and for simple subgrouping, the Sub mix can be fed into the Main mix using the Sub to Mix button. Separate insert points are provided for the Main Mix, and there's also a mono, summed output for mono PA applications, governed by a separate rotary control. With the exception of the inserts, direct outputs and phono inputs, all the signal connections are electronically balanced, with a nominal operating level of +4dBu. Status LEDs are fitted adjacent to the 48V Phantom Power switch and a green LED shows when the mixer is powered up. A further red LED shows that one or more channels are solo'd.
Interestingly, surface-mount technology has been employed in this model to optimise both size and cost, and the performance of the SX is typical of the rest of Spirit by Soundcraft's Folio range. The signal path is quiet, the EQ is positive (and about as musical as you can get in this price range), and the routing options are adequate to meet a number of different requirements. The dual buss system isn't quite so flexible as true 'something into four into two' routing, but by using both the Sub outs and the Direct channel outputs, multitrack recording is quite possible.
Physically, the console is both compact and light, but it isn't in any way cramped, and the use of full-length faders gives it a very professional feel. The old knob wobble syndrome has clearly been consigned to the past, though some controls are noticeably stiffer than others; perhaps they'll run in with use?
I also like the rather bold colour scheme, which somehow works, unlike some competitors' attempts to be visually distinctive. The manual is worthy of mention too, as it is refreshingly concise yet very informative, with practical examples of wiring systems for PA, recording and so on. There's also a useful section on cable wiring conventions.
As I've said before, I don't know how long mixer manufacturers can go on exploiting what was originally a niche market for small mixers, but as long as there's a demand, Spirit look set to remain somewhere close to the top of the pile. The SX is a neat addition to the Folio range in all senses of the word.
The XLR mic inputs, TSR jack line inputs, aux sends and main outputs are all electronically balanced, although unbalanced connections can also be used with the right leads. The Direct channel outputs employ a pseudo-balancing system know as ground compensation, whereas the phono connections are obviously unbalanced. A rather light-duty, moulded non-locking 3-pin socket connects the power supply to the rear panel of the mixer -- all other connections, including the Phones output, are at the top of the front panel. The power lead does have a moulded locking lever, but this doesn't seem to work -- you can still pull the power cable out quite easily. The headphone output should be used with phones of a 200(omega) impedance or greater.
Mic Input Impedance: 1.8k(omega)
Line Input: 10k(omega)
Headphones: 150mW into 200(omega)
Frequency Response (any input to any output): 25Hz to 30kHz within 1dB
THD: @ 1kHz, (+20dB at all outputs) 0.006%
RMS Noise (16 inputs routed, faders down): better than 85dBu, 20Hz to 20kHz
Overall dimensions: 479 x 511.5 x 80mm
Sensible range of features.
Clear, well-thought out manual.
Using headphones mutes the Monitor output.
A well-specified mixer offering simple 4-buss operation with very few restrictions.
£ £611 inc VAT.
A Spirit by Soundcraft, Cranborne House, Cranborne Industrial Estate, Cranborne Road, Potters Bar, Herts, EN6 3JN.
T 01707 665000.
F 01707 660482.