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Alesis Studio 32

Mixer By Paul White
Published July 1998

Alesis Studio 32

Despite their success in most other areas of music technology, mixers have never been Alesis' strong suit. With their new compact model, Paul White thinks that they may just have come up trumps.

Alesis never approach things in the way you might expect. In some areas they push technology to new limits to bring us, say, cheap digital reverb or digital tape recording, while in others they use old technology in a slightly different way to provide specific solutions to specific problems.

The Studio 32 is an example of the latter approach. While everybody else seems to be striving to give us fully automated, moving fader, digital consoles stuffed to the brim with effects and signal processors, Alesis have instead come up with a compact analogue console to complement their digital tape machines (or any other stand‑alone multitrack recorder for that matter). It has to be said at the outset that the one area where Alesis have up to now been less than successful is mixers. Even so, this new model gives every sign of being properly thought out, so it would be a mistake to prejudge it on that score. Similarly, don't let its 'Seattle meets Hamamatsu' styling fool you either: with this mixer, lots of things are done differently from how other manufacturers might approach them.

The Studio 32 is a very compact 16:4:16:2 in‑line mixer fabricated from sheet steel and finished in a textured grey finish. It's supplied with rack ears that you can leave off when using it in desktop mode. Other physical points to note: it's mains‑powered, and metal nut jack sockets are used in preference to the cheaper plastic nut types.

The Studio 32 has six aux send busses, four stereo effects returns and good quality mic amps on each of its 16 main input channels. The use of the in‑line format, combined with 60mm faders for the channel and group output level controls, has enabled Alesis to make this mixer small, without it being cramped. The pre‑fade monitor 1/2 signal path has a Volume and Pan control as well as switchable access to the uppermost of the two channel post‑fade Aux Send knobs, though there is no facility to switch EQ into the monitor channel.

Each input channel has a 3‑band equaliser and, unusually, the mid section is fully parametric, though the high and low shelving sections are otherwise of conventional design. All the inputs are fully balanced on TRS jacks, and each input channel has an insert point plus a direct line out jack, whereas the monitor channel has a tape return jack. The monitor 1/2 output may be linked to the main stereo mix at the press of a button in the Master section. It has its own master level control which enables it to be used either as a conventional pre‑fade send or for off‑tape monitoring, depending on the position of the Tape/Mic‑Line switch. By using this switch, the monitor source may be flipped from tape to the main input channel during mixdown, thereby allowing 16 additional signals to be mixed with the off‑tape inputs.

Having only four mix busses for 16‑track recording may seem a little skimpy, but in reality few people working at home record more than four tracks at a time unless they're mixing an acoustic drum kit. If you do need more tracks, the channel direct outs can be pressed into service, and though this means more patching, it provides the flexibility for serious recording.

All Aboard For The Tour

Alesis Studio 32

No matter how you try to organise a review of a mixer, there has to be a channel and master section tour somewhere, so it may as well start here! In the case of the Studio 32, each of the 16 input channels is identical, with a balanced mic XLR input, a balanced jack line input (+4dBu nominal), a TRS insert point and an unbalanced direct out. While there is no mic/line selector switch on the front panel, plugging in a mic cable cuts out the line input thanks to the use of a switched XLR socket. The advantage of this arrangement is that you can leave your keyboards, modules and other sound sources permanently connected to the mixer, and just plug in a mic whenever you need one. The disadvantage is that if you wire all your mic inputs to a wall box using a multicore, the line ins will remain muted as long as the multicore's XLRs are plugged in.

The Monitor 1/2 control has a tape input (‑10dBv to +4dBu nominal). This is wired unbalanced, making it suitable for use with the new, low‑cost Alesis LX20 ADAT. A common Trim control sets the mic or line gain, while the adjacent Fader Source switch flips the channel source between mic/line and tape. This is used at mixdown to route the recorded signals through the main channel path under fader control. Next, the signal passes via the insert point before encountering a 75Hz low‑cut filter, then it's straight into the EQ section. The EQ section has centre detents as well as a bypass switch. The high shelving control operates at 12kHz and the low at 80Hz, and both offer a +/‑15dB range. The mid section covers the same cut/boost range, but here the frequency may be varied from 120Hz to 14kHz, while the bandwidth can be adjusted from around one sixth of an octave to almost two octaves.

Earlier, I said the console had six aux send busses, but then went on to say there were only two aux send knobs. This is because the Monitor 1/2 outputs are classed as Aux 1/2. So while technically I guess this is correct, by any normal reckoning it means the mixer really has just four aux sends that are usable during recording. The two Aux knobs (both post‑fade) are switchable as a pair to address either Aux 3/4 or Aux 5/6 depending on the setting of the 5/6 button. The upper Aux knob may also be switched to operate in the main (Fader) signal path or the Monitor path. This means that only two physical effects sends can be used at the same time on the same channel, and in a mixdown situation, these may have to be split between the main and monitor paths, which doesn't leave you with a lot of flexibility.

The bottom of the channel strip follows a familiar format with Mute and Solo buttons, plus green and red signal/clip LEDs. When a channel is muted, the red clip LED lights continuously. Conventional routing buttons send the channel signal to buss pairs 1/2, 3/4 or L/R. Finally, smooth action 60mm faders are fitted, though I know many users will bemoan the lack of 100mm faders.

The parametric mid sounded particularly sweet, even when using a lot of boost at difficult frequencies.

Master Section

At the far right of the mixer is the master section where you'll encounter a rocker switch for the global phantom power. A headphone amplifier with two outputs can be switched to monitor the control room signal or the Monitor 1/2 mix, and below are eight master level controls for four Aux Returns. The top row consists of four purple knobs that send the stereo returns to the monitor mix (where it may be used to set up a performer's cue mix). Beneath are four grey controls for the aux level that is fed to the main stereo mix via the L/R buttons. These also function as on/off buttons, allowing unused effects units to be isolated from the mix.

Aux‑to‑Group buttons are arranged so that the first two stereo aux returns can be individually routed to groups 1/2, while the second pair may routed to groups 3/4. Finally in the aux section come four Solo‑in‑Place buttons that allow the effects returns to be checked in isolation over the control room monitors. The master Solo control sets the level of the soloed signal, and a switch beneath permits switching from solo‑in‑place to PFL mode. In PFL mode, the main meters show the pre‑fade channel signal level making it easy to optimise the input gain trim settings.

Moving down, there are four Aux Send Master Level controls and a pair of bargraph LED meters that track the control room signal. Six Source Select buttons allow the control room monitors to 'listen in' on the monitor mix, the aux sends (as pairs), the groups (as pairs), or a 2‑track tape machine. If all six buttons are left up, the monitor reverts to the stereo mix. An overall Monitor Level and monitor Mono button is included, though there's no Dim switch. That leaves just the four group faders, two buttons to route the group pairs to the stereo mix, and two Mono buttons to create mono sums of groups 1/2 and 3/4 if required. A stereo master fader controls the stereo mix level, completing the Master section.

Using The Studio 32

Putting the mixer to the test using a good quality capacitor mic showed me straightaway that the Studio 32 has impressively quiet, transparent‑sounding mic amps. I was also very impressed by the EQ, which had more of the character of a good quality outboard equaliser than a budget console. The parametric mid sounded particularly sweet, even when using a lot of boost at difficult frequencies, and though I am more used to 4‑band equalisers, this one beats most console EQs hands down, both in terms of smoothness and versatility. Operating the EQ and mute buttons revealed that clicks were quite noticeable if the buttons were operated with a signal passing through — certainly more pronounced than on some mixers I've tried. However, as is to be expected, they were silent if operated during pauses.

Using the console for multitrack recording is fairly straightforward providing you keep an eye on the Source Select buttons. Instead of having a single Flip button, both the input and monitor sources can be selected independently, so you can set them both to the same source. This is useful if you are using the console in a live situation where Monitor 1/2 provides the foldback mix, but it can be slightly confusing when recording.

Having four stereo aux returns in addition to the main and tape inputs is a welcome feature, though having only two effects send knobs shared between the input and monitor signal paths is limiting. It's maybe not so serious if you are using the monitor channels to bring in MIDI instruments that have their own effects, but if you're using instruments that need to have effects added, you'll have to deploy your resources carefully.

It seems that Alesis have finally cracked the secret of making really good sounding mixers


In some ways, it's become hard to rate an analogue mixer in terms of value for money, because once you've added on the price of a couple of effects units and a compressor, it can prove cheaper to buy a digital mixer which has all these things built in and the added benefit of moving fader automation. However, at this end of the market, it could be argued that analogue mixers sound better, and there's no dispute that they're easier to use. Furthermore, with analogue mixers, you get the very real advantage of insert points, allowing you to connect your own effects and processors.

Although the logical partner for an ADAT (or two) is a digital mixer with an ADAT optical interface, I have to admit that I really like the sound of the Studio 32. It's also very easy to use compared to even the best thought‑out digital console. Four output groups is half the number you usually get on a multitrack desk, but when you think about the way most people actually work, I think you would agree that these are enough, especially when you also have the direct channel outputs. There's a lot to be said for compact, uncomplicated systems that let you get on with the job of making music, and the Studio 32 is such a device. It seems that Alesis have finally cracked the secret of making really good sounding mixers.


  • Good sound quality, especially the mic amps and EQ.
  • Flexible and clear layout.
  • Compact, yet can be used for 16‑track recording.
  • Affordable.


  • Limited post‑fade effects send facilities.
  • Some users won't like the short 60mm faders.


Considering the Studio 32 is around half the size of some of the consoles it could replace, very few facilities have been missed out, and the sound quality would be hard to better. If you want results in a small space rather than out‑and‑out pose value, this is definitely a mixer to consider for anything up to 16‑track recording.