The last three or four years have seen a great increase in competition as far as the small general-purpose mixer is concerned, so it's curious that Alesis should come in with what appears to be a very basic product in terms of facilities -- though you could argue that they've decided to focus on quality rather than quantity when it comes to features. Behind the advertising blurb, the Studio 12R is a simple 12-channel, stereo out mixer with basic EQ, a single fixed pre-fade aux send and a single post-fade foldback send. There's no routing, no grouping, and no MIDI, and the master section is very basic, but at least you do get faders on every channel, rather than rotary controls. It could be used in anything from keyboard submixing and small live sound systems to mobile multitrack recording, but in this last application only the simplest operations are possible.
The 3U rackmount unit offers 12 balanced quarter-inch jack inputs, two of which are stereo (line-only pairs on channels 9/10 and 11/12), giving a total of 10 channel strips, each with 60mm faders, running alongside the control knobs. The eight mic/line channels also feature XLR balanced mic inputs with globally switchable 48V phantom power. The mic preamps are capable of accommodating low-impedance input signals with up to 60dB of amplification, which the manufacturers are keen to point out is some 10-20dB more than many other rackmount mixers. All level controls have their unity gain point at the usual three-quarters point of travel, with 10dB of gain at full position. The single Master fader is the only exception, and is designed for unity gain (0) when the fader is up full. Effectively, this places smooth, professional fades within the ability of the shakiest of hands, and I should know!
All connectors are on the rear panel, leaving the front-panel control surface very compact, but at the expense of convenient access to the connectors. Outputs include two balanced aux sends, L/R Main Out and Monitor Out on balanced quarter-inch jacks. Connection to a stereo mastering recorder can be made via RCA tape in and out phonos, which operate at -10dBV. Tape In allows playback of a -10dBV level signal through the Monitor Out and phones jacks only -- this will not be heard via the Main Out. You'd normally use these Tape In phonos to monitor a stereo mixdown, using the Master/Tape Monitor switch on the front panel.
The eight mic/line channels also have quarter-inch TRS insert points, allowing pre-EQ, in-line processing through the use of the usual 'stereo splitter' cables. It is here that the in-line recording capability of the Studio 12R begins to become apparent, as these insert jacks can also serve as direct outputs to, and monitor returns from, a multitrack, providing you only need to record one channel to one track. By using an insert Y lead connected to the multitrack in and out, it's possible to monitor both to-tape and from-tape signals, simply by selecting input or output monitor on the tape machine. You can mix multiple tracks to tape by patching one of the stereo outs to the required multitrack input, so it would be sensible to ensure that you can get at the rear of the mixer easily once it's rackmounted.
In a more comprehensive recording setup, two Studio 12Rs would offer greater flexibility than one. This is described in the manual: one 12R acts as the 'source' mixer and the other as a dedicated monitor/mixdown unit connected to the multitrack outputs. Because the mixers are so small, even two of them combined with something like an ADAT would provide a fairly compact live recording setup.
Each of the 12R's channels is equipped with pan/balance, two aux sends (fixed pre and post-fader), and peak indicators that light 6dB before clipping. These are useful for setting up the input gain control, as you can increase until the indicator just flashes on the loudest peaks -- the type that flashes only when clipping occurs is less useful.
On channels 1-8, the Trim gain sweep on the Line input ranges from 10dB attenuation to 40dB gain, and on the Mic input from 10-60dB gain. The Trim controls on stereo channels 9/10 and 11/12 range from -15dB attenuation to +15dB gain, which is adequate for all normal applications.
Below the Trim is the EQ section, a basic standard shelving affair with two centre-detented pots, offering 15dB of cut or boost at 80Hz and 12kHz respectively. The master section is very sparsely populated, comprising one fader, two knobs and a single button. There's a small indicator LED for mains power and another for phantom power. Beside these are the stereo master LED meters (which Alesis describe as Fast Peak), and the Master fader, single-ganged for matched stereo fades. There's also a Stereo Aux return level and phones/monitor level controls, plus the monitor select switch and a standard quarter-inch stereo headphone jack.
Setting up the Studio 12R is straightforward enough, with everything clearly marked and sensibly spaced given the unit's compact size. Thankfully, the power supply is internal -- no fiddly AC adaptors to lose or break. Once I'd sorted out my good connecting cables from my less-than-good ones, the unit turned out to be very quiet -- as you might expect from such a simple signal path. Undoubtedly the 65kHz audio bandwidth has a positive influence on the audio transparency.
For uncomplicated sound reinforcement and simple home studio use, the 12R behaves very well, with ample headroom (clips at 24dB), though the simplistic design means that you have to apply a little lateral thinking if you want to do anything out of the ordinary.
Ultimately, the Alesis Studio 12R is a very basic rackmount, 12-input module, but it lends itself to a number of different applications in both live sound and recording. The manufacturer's blurb suggests that the unit provides a portable, cost-effective mixing solution for basic 8-track recording systems, which it does if you don't need to do anything too fancy. There's no doubt that it's mobile, with particularly impressive mic preamps for the price, and phantom power means you can use quality capacitor mics with it.
Things can get a little fiddly once the unit is in the rack, though, especially when you're repatching multitrack inputs to the insert points, or feeling around for either the mains or the phantom power switches. Caution needs to be exercised here as they're in close proximity. These are minor gripes, but I'd have preferred to see all the switches on the front panel.
The noise figures compare very well with those of most recording consoles I've come across, and the mixer is very quiet. With a retail price of £375, it has some pretty fierce competition on its hands: it doesn't provide as many features and frills as some of its rivals, but does offer an extremely good quality, minimum signal path for getting mic or line signals into your recorder.
The signal path quality is excellent.
Easy to use.
The simple layout means a lot of repatching, and this is fiddly as all the connectors are on the back.
Seems costly given the very basic facilities on offer.
A useful but very simple mic/line mixer. The very clean signal path is its main advantage.
£ £375 including VAT.
A Sound Technology, Letchworth Point, Letchworth, Hertfordshire SG6 1ND.
T 01462 480000.
F 01462 480800.