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Alesis X2

Studio Mixing Console By Paul White
Published September 1994

The X2 console forms the centrepiece of an Alesis studio that is becoming increasingly up‑market and professional. Paul White checks out the new desk and finds that, despite its apparently high cost, it really does have a lot to offer to the more demanding user.

Alesis have made it clear that their objective is to build as many different items of studio equipment as possible, with the eventual aim of offering an all‑Alesis studio package. With the introduction of the X2, they seem well on their way to meeting that aim, but with the mixer market crowded to the point of bursting, especially in the UK, what, if anything, makes the X2 stand out from the pack?

While most of the UK manufacturers are now slugging it out at the low‑cost end of the mixer market, Alesis have opted to build a mid‑priced desk designed to appeal to the more serious studio user. The X2 is physically larger than most of its UK counterparts, it features modular construction, and the meter bridge is an integral part of the desk rather than being an optional add‑on. Not surprisingly, Alesis have made it easy to team up the X2 with ADAT, and to this end, additional EDAC connectors are fitted to the rear panel, enabling up to three ADATS to be plugged in directly. Standard jack connectors are provided for compatibility with other types of tape machine.

I would have been surprised if an Alesis desk had not been fitted with some form of automation, and indeed mute automation comes as standard, with an add‑on VCA automation package available in the near future (no final details of the optional VCA automation system were available at the time of writing, though as I understand it, it will be a JL Cooper design). Most MIDI mute systems run from external timecode, and this one is no exception, though in addition to MIDI Clock and MTC, the desk can also recognise ADAT's proprietary sync code, which means that ADAT users without a BRC don't have to use up a valuable track on time code.

Despite its modular construction, the X2 is only available in a single format: 24:8:2 with in‑line monitoring. The inclusion of eight stereo returns brings the total number of inputs up to 64, which should be sufficient for most uses, though I'm still surprised that no 32‑channel version is available.

The layout and operation of the console is very straightforward and conforms very closely to what we've come to expect from a UK‑designed in‑line desk, the main difference being that the four‑band EQ on the X2 features two fully parametric Mid controls rather than simple sweeps. The MIDI muting system is particularly well thought out and offers several modes of operation to optimise its use with various types of external sequencer. However, the X2 has an internal 10,000 event memory so an external sequencer is by no means a necessity.

The Hardware

The first thing that strikes you about the X2 is that it looks like a very 'grown up' console, both in terms of size and styling. Being just that little bit larger than a typical 24:8:2 console, the controls feel nicely spaced and there's room for the odd little luxury, such as short faders on the monitors rather than the more common rotary pots. Because of the various ergonomic requirements of a mixer, it's difficult to make one mixer look that much different from another, but in the case of the X2, a nicely curved plastic moulding helps create a harmonious appearance by integrating the arm rest, end cheeks and meter bridge. The use of a blue‑grey colour scheme lends the console a conservative air and makes it easy on the eye when working on it for long periods. Indeed, the whole control layout is excellent and the only obvious area where Alesis have fallen down is the same one that trips up so many console designers — you simply can't tell whether the routing buttons are in or out unless you sight along the desk from one end. Putting a strong light source at one end of the desk to cast elongated shadows of the buttons helps, but you'd think that in this modern era, where the pace of technology seemingly doubles on a weekly basis, that someone would find an elegant solution to this very real problem.

Power from the console comes from a substantial external power supply which features auto voltage sensing, allowing it to be used just about anywhere in the civilised world without the user having to worry about setting the correct mains voltage. Strangely, the power supply isn't rack mounting.

All the console's metering is on LED bargraphs; there are 24 covering the tape inputs or outputs (globally switchable), two monitoring the main stereo output (doubling as PFL), and a further eight for the Groups. As is the case with most in‑line consoles, each channel has its own tape output, which may either be sourced from the Group signal or directly from the channel signal. Because there are only eight Groups and 24 tape outs, each Group feeds three tape outs — Group 1 feeds tape out 1, 9 and 17, and so forth. This is a simple but effective method of enabling the group signals to be routed to all 24 tape outs without the need for repatching.

There are three types of module in the X2: the Input Module (24), the Group Module (4) and a single Master Module which also includes the MIDI muting system, which Alesis have chosen to call Dynamic Mute Automation. The buss system connecting the modules uses flexible ribbon cable, which has proven to be less prone to mechanical failure than solid backplanes fitted with edge connectors. External connections are mainly via jacks, with XLRs being used for the balanced mic inputs and EDACs for the ADAT interface.

All the line inputs are balanced, as are the main outputs and the ADAT feeds, with the ‑10dBV tape out jacks being unbalanced. The tape return jacks are also balanced, with individual push‑button selection between +4dBu and ‑10dBV operation. Unbalanced insert points (the usual stereo jack arrangement) are provided on all channels, Groups and the main outputs, and all the Aux sends and returns are unbalanced, on the basis that the vast majority of effects units in common usage are also unbalanced.

And now the time has come for the mandatory tour around the modules and their key features...

Input Module

Having pulled out a channel module to see what made it tick, I can confirm that the mic input is a fairly conventional arrangement based around a discrete pair of transistors, which yields a very respectable equivalent input noise of ‑128dBu into 150 ohms. Most of the circuitry is built around commonly available bi‑fet op amps. A common trim control is used to adjust both Mic and Line gain, with individually switchable 48V phantom power on each Mic input. There's also a Phase Reverse switch which affects both the Mic and Line inputs, and a 75Hz High Pass filter which may be switched into the main signal path. This isn't affected by EQ bypass and is useful for removing very low frequency noise or for attenuating hum. A single button selects between Mic and Line operation, but there's no pad switch, presumably because most mics that might need one have them built in anyway! Finally in the input section, a Channel/Monitor Reverse switch provides the essential Flip function that gets you into mix mode without having to repatch.

As is the custom with in‑line desks, there's a single equaliser strip which may be split between the Channel and Monitor signal paths if required. The Hi and Lo equaliser, operating at 12kHz and 80Hz respectively, provide up to 15dB of cut or boost and may be switched into the Monitor path by means of the To Mon button. The two Mids, on the other hand, reside permanently in the main signal path and have ranges of 45Hz to 950Hz and 650Hz to 15kHz, enabling them to work over the full audio range when separated from the Hi and Lo sections. The gain range is again plus or minus 15dB, and separate Q controls are provided which vary the EQ bandwidth from a tight one sixth of an octave to a gentle two octaves. To save space, the Frequency and Gain controls share a ganged pot, while the Q control has a control of its own. The EQ In switch affects only the main signal path, which provides maximum flexibility when it comes to deploying the EQ.

When it comes to Aux Sends, the X2 is generously appointed, with a stereo pre‑fade send for cue purposes and four further post‑fade sends for use with effects. The pre‑fade send is fitted with both Level and Pan controls and shares a Chan/Monitor switch with sends 3 and 4. Sends 5 and 6 are permanently in the channel path, though both pairs of sends may also be switched to feed Aux busses 7 and 8 if required. This is a good idea, as it allows up to two effects to be simultaneously accessed by both the Channel and Monitor signals.

The Monitor section of the channel strip comprises a Pan pot, a short level fader and buttons for Solo, Mute (automatable) and L/R routing. There's also a Peak LED which comes on when the Monitor signal is in danger of clipping.

The main Channel section is similarly configured but includes a very smooth 100mm fader and full routing facilities for all eight Groups, the Stereo L/R buss and Direct Out. This all works quite conventionally, with the Pan pot steering the Channel signal between Left and Right or between odd‑ and even‑numbered groups. All the Solo and Mute switches have inbuilt status LEDs so that you can see at a glance what is active.

Group Modules

Each of the four Group modules provides two stereo Returns and two Group masters. The Stereo returns may be thought of as being simple stereo line‑level input channels, and have the same routing facilities as the main Channels, except, of course, that there is no Direct routing button. Basic Hi and Lo EQ (the same as on the main input channels) follows the Level control, and instead of a Pan control, there's a Stereo Separation knob which gives normal stereo operation when fully clockwise and mono when fully anti‑clockwise; in‑between positions produce a progressively narrower stereo image. Additionally, a Balance control regulates the respective levels of the left and right signals, while the Aux 1,2 control allows the return signal to be fed to the Aux 1,2 Cue buss, so that performers can have effects added to their monitor mix.

While most of the UK manufacturers are now slugging it out at the low‑cost end of the mixer market, Alesis have opted to build a mid‑priced desk designed to appeal to the more serious studio user.

Below the two identical Return sections are the Group Masters, each of which comprises a long fader and four buttons. Assign Left and Right buttons make it possible to route any group back into the stereo mix; instead of being stuck with the old system — all odd Groups go left and all even Groups go right — this method allows any Group to be positioned left, right or centre (both assign buttons on). This makes things so much more flexible when subgrouping and saves you having to create stereo subgroups when all you want to do is get the Group signal in the middle. PFL provides pre‑fade listen via the control room Solo system, while Mute may be used manually or via the mute automation.

Master Module

At the top of the Master Module is the Dynamic Mute Automation system, but as this has rather a lot of features, I'll leave it until last. A test oscillator is fitted, which may be switched to provide the essential 100Hz, 1kHz and 10kHz test tones, and an integral Talkback mic may be used to talk either to the tape outputs or to the musicians in the studio. Both buttons are non‑latching to avoid embarrassment! Adjacent to the oscillator is the Solo Level control and a warning LED which shows when one or more Solo/PFL/AFL buttons are down.

A separate Studio monitoring feed is provided, which would normally be used to drive the performers' headphone monitoring system. This has its own level control and may be sourced from Aux 1/2 (the pre‑fade, stereo foldback sends) or directly from the Control Room mix. The fact that only a single stereo pre‑fade send is provided means that there's no easy way to provide different mixes for different musicians, but at a pinch, you could rig one feed from the Control Room outputs of the desk and another from the Studio outputs sourced from Aux 1/2, and set up a different mix on each.

The obligatory internal headphone amp drives a stereo phone jack located on the front edge of the console, and this carries whatever signal is being fed to the Control Room output. Both Phones and Control room have independent level controls, and the Control room may take its source from either the Left/Right mix, the Aux1/2 (stereo foldback) mix or one of two external stereo sources, such as tape machines. Of course, any of the Aux Sends, Monitors, Groups or Channels may also be heard in isolation over the Control Room monitors by using the Solo/PFL/AFL buttons. It's good to see the provision for monitoring two different stereo tape machines, as most people have a serious mastering machine plus a cassette deck, but it would have been a nice touch to include the means to dub directly from one stereo machine to the other without repatching.

The final part of the Master Section is the bank of Aux Masters, arranged as a vertical row of level controls numbered 1 to 8. Each has an AFL button and a Mute button that may be automated via the mute system. It's very useful to have automated mutes on Aux Sends, because when using delay or reverb effects, it always sounds more natural if you can mute the send and let the effect die away naturally, rather than muting the return and cutting the effect off dead.

MIDI Muting

The X2 contains an on‑board, 10,000‑event MIDI mute sequencer which can sync to MIDI Clock, MTC or directly from ADAT timecode via ADAT's 9‑pin sync socket. The On Line button tells the X2 to lock to the chosen sync format, and the flashing red LED comes on solid when sync is established. The nearby Update button puts the X2 into Mute record mode. The mute information relating to any Mute switch on the console can be copied to any other, useful if you decide to swap inputs around halfway through a session. Providing you don't exceed the 10,000‑event maximum, the X2 can store mute information for up to 100 songs; mute data may be copied from one song to another, and each of the 100 Songs can have four Mute Groups, each of which puts any permutation of mutes under the control of one button. An Overlay function is provided which allows more than one Mute Group to be recalled simultaneously.

As with most MIDI Mute systems, the X2 can also be used with an external sequencer; recognising the fact that some sequencers are better equipped to handle mute editing and sequencing than others, Alesis have included a selection of what they call MIDI Maps (see box), which determine how mute data is represented as MIDI information. This may be in the form of note‑ons, controller information or SysEx. Additionally, a suitable sequencer or MIDI data recorder may be used to store the entire memory of the X2 via SySex dump.

The fully‑parametric mid EQs are practically unheard of on a desk of this price, the audio quality is generally very good, and the 75kHz audio bandwidth is something you just don't get on budget desks.

Also featured is a so‑called Destructive Solo mode, which is a kind of negative mute mode. In other words, when you're using destructive solo and you press a mute button, that channel remains active but all others are physically muted. This is quite often used in live sound work when setting up a mix, as it enables sounds to be solo'd over the main PA output, but it may also be used creatively in the studio and the manual offers one or two examples. However, because it actually mutes sounds rather than simply removing them from the Control Room mix, it must be used with care.

At the centre of the MIDI Muting section is a two‑digit LED display, which has four modes selected via the Display button: Song, Sync, Channel and Map. Selected parameters are adjusted using the now‑familiar Inc/Dec buttons, but with a neat feature that allows you to go directly to zero or the maximum parameter value by using both buttons together.

Once the system is on‑line and locked, mutes can be recorded simply by pressing the desired Mute buttons at the appropriate times. Obviously some editing will usually be required, and a multiple Undo button allows you to erase the last mute event recorded. You can keep on doing this until you've erased right back to the start of the song if that's what you want to do.

Another way to erase mutes is to select one or more Mutes and erase all the data forward of the current time location, backwards of the current time location, or both. This works perfectly, though when I first tried it, I thought the 'Er' message in the display meant error. In fact it was merely telling me that the mute data had been erased!

When working with an external sequencer, it is necessary to choose an appropriate MIDI channel and the best MIDI Map for your sequencer. Songs may also be selected via MIDI, which can be very useful, even if you only want to use the different songs to store different Mute Groups.


In most respects, the X2 works in exactly the same way as just about every other desk that combines in‑line monitoring with split grouping, which means that visiting engineers should have no trouble using it. Having fully parametric mids rather than the more usual sweeps makes the EQ very powerful and allows response to be adjusted from warm and subtle to incisive and fierce, encompassing all points in between. I have never been a fan of dual‑concentric pots, but I have to concede that not using them would have made the EQ sections unduly large.

The Aux Send system is adequately generous, though one could question the wisdom of having any dedicated pre‑fade sends, as these become redundant on mixdown. However, the ability to access send busses 7 and 8 from both the Channel and Monitor signal paths makes a lot of sense, as it allows effects units to be shared between them in a very straightforward way. I also particularly like the adoption of short faders for the Monitor level control, rather than the more usual pots. The only area which falls short ergonomically is, as mentioned earlier, the routing buttons, which are as bad as any I've ever seen in that it's very hard to tell whether they're pressed in or out.

The X2's overall routing system is both effective and straightforward, and I particularly like the clearly set out Master section — especially the vertical arrangement of the Aux Send Masters. And the fact that each of the four Group modules includes two stereo return channels goes a long way towards mitigating the fact that this desk is only available in a 24‑channel format.

When it comes to mute automation, Alesis have worked hard to make sure that the X2 will meet the needs of just about any user. The internal Mute Sequencer is excellent and is quite logical to use; the only problem I experienced was that on occasions, the desk didn't pick up the ADAT sync (the On Line LED continued to flash), making it necessary to stop the tape and try again. The four Mute Groups are also a nice touch.

For those who prefer to use an external sequencer, it would seem that most eventualities have been covered by the various MIDI Maps, and though none of these approaches is unique, it's unusual to find a console that offers so many choices.

For the ADAT user, the EDAC connectors make it easy to get up and running, and because these are fully balanced, ground loop hum is unlikely to be a problem. Certainly on the test setup I used, there was no audible hum at all. For users of other tape machines, the individually switchable +4dBu/‑10dBV inputs ensure compatibility with just about anything.

Of course, the main consideration with any desk is its audio quality. I used the X2 with an ADAT and found it very quiet, with minimal crosstalk. Moreover, it has a very neutral, transparent sound which must, at least in part, be attributed to its 10Hz‑75kHz audio bandwidth. This is the kind of figure we might expect from audiophile desks such as Neve, Amek, Trident, MTA and so on, but at the lower‑cost end of the market, it's very unusual. There's also up to 44dB of line input gain available, which is very welcome when you're dealing with low output synth modules and similar gear.

Before summing up, I should also congratulate Alesis on producing a most excellent manual. I don't know if this is another of Craig Anderton's offerings, but it covers everything thoroughly and unambiguously so that even the relative newcomer should have no problem learning to use the desk. The only omission seems to be in the specifications section, where there is no mention made as to what (if any) weighting system was used for the measurements.


The X2 is a very nice desk, both cosmetically and operationally, and the only thing going against it is the dollar exchange rate, which makes it look rather pricey compared to some UK‑built desks, even when you consider that the meter bridge is included in the basic price. Even so, the X2 still has a lot to commend it. The fully‑parametric mid EQs are practically unheard of on a desk of this price, the audio quality is generally very good, and the 75kHz audio bandwidth is something you just don't get on budget desks. In fact my only significant criticisms are the ambiguous routing buttons and the fact that only one format is available. The direct ADAT compatibility, both in terms of connections and compatible metering, is obviously a big plus point for ADAT users, and the overall look of the console is quite imposing, which can be important in a commercial facility.

The bottom line is that you can get many of the X2's features on a UK‑built British desk for less than the cost of the X2 — but what you don't get is the parametric EQ, the high audio bandwidth and the many nice little touches, such as the short faders and generous number of stereo returns, that make the X2 feel so comfortable and professional. The MIDI muting system is also extremely well thought out. Given the overall quality of the X2, the asking price isn't at all unreasonable, but in this very cost‑sensitive market, I think they'd sell considerably more if the exchange rate permitted it to be sold at less than its actual £6,000‑plus price.


If you want to use an external sequencer with MIDI Maps, the X2 must be set Off‑Line, otherwise its internal sequencer will think it's in charge. The Maps are necessary because MIDI sequencers weren't designed with MIDI muting in mind and odd situations can arise when using them for muting — for example, you might start a mix halfway through and find that the mute setup is wrong because the sequencer is only telling the mixer what's happening now, not what happened before. Of course, some modern sequencers with facilities such as Chase Events help get around this, but Alesis are taking no chances.

  • Map 1.1 represents each mute by a MIDI Note On message, followed directly by a Note Off; high velocities are translated as Mute On and low velocities mean Mute Off. The X2 is designed to ignore the All Notes Off message sent when most sequencers stop, as this can lead to an unwanted mute status being set up.
  • Map 1.2 is similar, except that this time a Note On turns the Mute on and a Note Off turns the Mute off. This is a good mode to use with sequencers that support Chase Events.
  • Map 1.3 works in the same way as Map 1.2, except that the roles of Note Ons and Offs are reversed. This mode is included for the benefit of those sequencers that interpret very long notes as mistakes and send uninvited Note Offs to correct them.
  • Map 1.4 uses MIDI controllers instead of Note information to control the Mutes, whereas Maps 2.0 to 2.9 encapsulate the Mute data as bursts of SysEx information. The difference between these Maps is the rate at which the SysEx bursts are sent, and this may be set from 250mS to a maximum of 8S. The reason for the longer spacings between bursts is purely to minimise the mount of MIDI data being recorded, the trade‑off being how long the mute status takes to update once the tape has been started.


  • Excellent sound quality.
  • Versatile but easy to use MIDI muting system.
  • Fully parametric mid controls.
  • Good cosmetics and build quality.
  • Integral meter bridge.


  • High UK price compared with domestic product.
  • Only one format available.


A very well‑specified desk for those who want something a cut above the budget desks currently available, but don't want to be spending five‑figure sums. The ADAT compatibility makes the X2 particularly attractive to ADAT users.