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Outside The Box

I'm writing this shortly after returning to work after the Christmas holidays and I'm currently cut off from the outside world by snow, so am using my time for problem solving, both musical and domestic. For example — and I admit that this has nothing to do with music or recording — I've long been frustrated by the difficulty of cooking a fried egg in minimum fat without having to turn it over to cook the top. My experiments so far using a hot‑air paint‑stripper gun have been quite encouraging! It's not that I don't get out much, but with this amount of snow I can't, and, to quote popular parlance, I do like to try to think outside the box! In fact, sometimes I go so far outside the box that I need a sat‑nav to find out where the box was.

The biggest change I've made in my studio over Christmas it to plumb in a Mackie Onyx 1640i Firewire mixer so that I can experiment with external analogue mixing to see if there is any real advantage in terms of sound and workflow. Of course, I was brought up entirely on analogue, but in recent years I've been mixing entirely inside my DAW. There's been a lot of talk about the sonic benefits of mixing outside the box using an analogue mixer, so when I've used the system for a few weeks I'll let you know how I get on. If it works out, it will allow me to utilise some of my retired hardware again, but the down‑side is the loss of full recall, which we take for granted with our DAW mixes.

One practical issue when working with hardware mixers is labelling the mixer channels, something we used to do using masking tape and marker pens on smaller desks and chinagraph pencils on larger consoles fitted with plastic scribble strips. I'm toying with the idea of making up some 'preset' labels for guitars, basses, keyboards, vocals and so on, using magnetic rubber strips with printed labels glued to them, as they stick fine to the Mackie's steel chassis. If this works, it might even be viable for somebody to produce it commercially, though the kit would have to include a self‑adhesive steel strip for those using alloy or plastic mixers.

While I love working in the studio, I also enjoy playing live, and the weather didn't prevent us getting to our New Year's Eve gig. Here we came across a problem I couldn't solve on the spot, but feel strongly enough about it to mention it here, in the hope that the manufacturers will do some out‑of‑the‑box thinking of their own. I have, in the past, complained about consumer‑style power supplies on audio equipment and we fell foul of this ourselves at the end of our gig. Our keyboard player had already had to replace the external power supply for his instrument once, as the cable had fractured close to the connector, due to flexing. A new one cost him around £40 and put him out of action until the replacement arrived. Anyway, towards the end of the gig, he switched to guitar, walked around the front of his keyboard and brushed against the PSU connector, this time resulting in the power socket breaking inside the instrument, rendering it useless and leaving him with the prospect of a very costly repair bill.

I can see why external PSUs are necessary to get around some of the issues involved with exporting the same instrument to multiple countries, but surely it isn't unreasonable to expect these to be fitted with good‑quality cable and robust connectors? Perhaps the designers could explore the possibility of properly fixed metal connectors that don't put all the strain on the printed circuit board, or even magnetic connectors such as the ones Apple use on their laptops? An accidental disconnection is still preferable to a busted piece of gear. Maybe we should end every review of such products with the comment, 'Not suitable for live performance' and see if that makes a difference?

Paul White

Editor In Chief