You might think you can't afford 32 inputs and eight busses — but a look at this cost‑effective console might just change your mind. Derek Johnson goes on the busses...
There are many candidates for "most important component" in your studio: it could be the mic, that first point of contact between real‑world sound and your recording medium, or it could be the monitor speakers, which have such an effect on how you perceive your finished work. You could also choose the mixing desk, which sits firmly in the middle of everything, routing your sounds to tape or hard disk and back again to the real world, as you mix. (Many might vote for the recorder itself, but that would spoil the flow of my intro!)
In any case, few could disagree that the mixing desk is central to the modern multitrack studio, whether bijou back‑bedroom or multi‑room complex. The suitability, or otherwise, of your mixer to your circumstances can make the difference between a smooth‑running session and a disastrous waste of time; a desk's audio quality is also critical to the finished result. This is one case (to paraphrase part one of our 'Into Gear' series last month) where you really should buy the best you can afford.
Luckily, you may now be able to afford rather more than you at first thought. How does a 32 input, 8‑buss desk with a wealth of features, for under £1600, grab you? Read on...
What It Is
What we're discussing is Behringer's Eurodesk MX3282, a straight‑ahead, no‑nonsense, 32‑input desk with a clear and stylish layout. Not only is the desk capable of 8‑track recording — or more, given a flexible patchbay — but it's also pretty compact for the facilities on offer. Behringer are aiming the MX3282 at both live and studio markets, and although there are only a few dedicated live features — up to four pre‑fade aux sends are available, and a handy 75Hz low‑cut filter can help cut out stage rumble, for example — the desk should prove suitable for a wide range of applications. It might also be just about compact enough for a group to use both in the studio and on the road, especially if said band is interested in getting flexible multitrack recordings of their live work. In the studio, you'll welcome the low‑noise balanced mic preamps (with a claimed bandwidth of 5‑100Hz), the flexible solo system (Pre‑Fade Listen or Solo‑In‑Place are available), the built‑in talkback and the generous eight auxiliary sends.
When it comes to giving compact mixers the maximum number of inputs, the in‑line design rules; channel strips provide both input and monitor signal paths, with the monitor section magically providing extra inputs at mixdown, effectively doubling the total. Surprisingly, the MX3282 doesn't take this approach, being more of a traditional split console, with the inputs and outputs (subgroups, monitor and master fader) fully separate. And though an in‑line console design wins out in the number of inputs at mixdown, the split MX3282 still manages a creditable 32 inputs (plus four stereo aux returns). Where in‑line desks often compromise by sharing EQ and aux sends between input and monitor signal paths, each input on a split desk such as the MX3282 has the advantage of access to all EQ and aux sends.
A split desk also offers simplicity of monitoring, since the signal path is easily followed: input signals are routed to multitrack tape (or hard disk) via the subgroups, and the returns from your recorder are routed to input channels. I evaluated the MX3282 with an analogue 8‑track recorder, and routed the eight tape outs (or seven, when using track 8 for a sync code) to mixer inputs 1‑8. During the course of a session, what was my monitor mix almost seamlessly became the final mix, with no repatching.
The lack of bulk may be a surprise, but otherwise this new Eurodesk is pretty traditional: it's a greyish slab of metal covered in knobs, switches and sliders. The exact layout consists of 24 mono channels, four stereo channels (that's eight inputs, folks, making a total of 32), and a master section offering the subgroups, auxiliary send/return controls, monitoring options and master faders. It's customary in reviews such as this to provide a rundown of what each channel offers — and we're not about to disappoint. Let's check out the mono channels first:
<img src="https://web.archive.org/web/2015..." width="6" height="6"> Gain control — offering 10dB to 60dB for a mic input or matching any line‑level input of between10db and ‑40dB.
<img src="https://web.archive.org/web/2015..." width="6" height="6"> Equalisation — 3‑band, with 12kHz high and 80Hz low, and a swept mid with a range of 100Hz‑8kHz; 15dB of cut or boost is available in each case, with the swept mid gain control obviously on its own pot. A 75Hz low‑cut filter switch is also available — useful for cutting out stage rumble picked up by mics on stage, or for getting rid of unruly low frequencies in the studio.
<img src="https://web.archive.org/web/2015..." width="6" height="6"> Auxiliary sends — there are six knobs addressing eight send busses. Aux sends 1 and 2 are fixed pre‑fader (for monitoring), 3 and 4 are fixed post‑fader (for effects processing), while the last two pots feed aux sends 5 and 6 or 7 and 8, via a switch; these last sends are also switchable for post‑ or pre‑fader operation, giving you the choice of more monitor sends.
<img src="https://web.archive.org/web/2015..." width="6" height="6"> Pan pot — for placing your sound in the stereo field, or, in combination with the subgroup switches and faders, routing the input signal to the subgroups.
<img src="https://web.archive.org/web/2015..." width="6" height="6"> Activity LEDS — next to the pan pot; the green LED glows when there is signal present, and the red one flashes when you're overloading the channel.
<img src="https://web.archive.org/web/2015..." width="6" height="6"> Solo/PFL — switch and LED. Depending on the state of the Solo switch in the main master section, this routes either a Solo‑In‑Place or Pre‑Fade Listen; for the record, the former solos a channel with its pan position intact, whereas PFL simply solos the channel in mono for gain checking.
<img src="https://web.archive.org/web/2015..." width="6" height="6"> Mute — switch and LED.
<img src="https://web.archive.org/web/2015..." width="6" height="6"> Routing buttons — four for subgroup pairs (1‑2, 3‑4, 5‑6, 7‑8) and one for the main stereo mix.
<img src="https://web.archive.org/web/2015..." width="6" height="6"> 60mm fader.
The stereo channels, which are ideal for connecting stereo sources to your desk (synths, samplers, radios or whatever) are also pretty comprehensively specified, echoing many of the features and routing possibilities provided by the mono channels. The auxiliary sends, subgroup and mix routing switches, solo and mute switches, activity LEDs and 60mm fader are identical. Controls that differ include the ‑20dB to +20dB gain control, balance pot and 4‑band EQ. The balance pot, not surprisingly, takes the place of the pan pot found on the mono channels; should you connect a mono source to a stereo input, this knob will behave as a pan pot. The EQ offers 15dB cut or boost at 12kHz (high), 3kHz (high mid), 500Hz (low mid) and 80Hz (low).
The master section looks busy at first glance, but is actually straightforward:
<img src="https://web.archive.org/web/2015..." width="6" height="6"> Auxiliary send masters — a strip of eight, next to the last stereo input channel; each knob has a Solo button for level checking, with a single red Solo indicator LED for all eight switches.
<img src="https://web.archive.org/web/2015..." width="6" height="6"> Auxiliary returns — there are four altogether, and all have a Solo switch; auxiliaries 1 and 2 also have a full set of routing switches, allowing two sets of effects returns to be easily submixed with the main audio mix, for recording direct to multitrack tape, for example.
<img src="https://web.archive.org/web/2015..." width="6" height="6"> Monitoring — both headphone and control room options are provided. The control room monitor out can monitor the 2‑track return or the main mix, and has a mono switch; with the headphones, you have a choice of monitoring the main control room/monitor mix, or the signal from auxiliary sends 1/2 or 5/6.
<img src="https://web.archive.org/web/2015..." width="6" height="6"> Bargraph level meter — doubles as main stereo mix meter and PFL/Solo indicator. LEDs indicate whether you've selected Solo or PFL operation.
<img src="https://web.archive.org/web/2015..." width="6" height="6"> Solo section — with a knob for monitoring the level of solo'd channels, and a switch for selecting Solo or PFL operation.
<img src="https://web.archive.org/web/2015..." width="6" height="6"> Talkback section — the in‑built talkback mic, activated by a momentary switch just above the master faders, can be routed to aux 1/2, aux 5/6 or aux 7/8.
<img src="https://web.archive.org/web/2015..." width="6" height="6"> Subgroup faders — across the bottom of the master section, each with solo switch, main mix routing switches and pan pot.
<img src="https://web.archive.org/web/2015..." width="6" height="6"> Main mix faders.
And I mustn't forget to mention the BNC connector provided for an optional gooseneck lamp. If you're still with me, let's look at the connectors, laid out neatly at the rear. Each mono channel offers a balanced XLR mic, balanced quarter‑inch jack, and a quarter‑inch insert connector. The stereo inputs are simply pairs of balanced quarter‑inch jacks. The eight aux sends and eight subgroup outs are all balanced quarter‑inch jacks, as is the monitor/control room output pair; there are also eight subgroup insert points. Two pairs of phono sockets are provided for 2‑track record and playback, and the main stereo outs offers a choice of XLRs or balanced jacks, with insert points. Thoughtfully, Behringer have provided two headphone sockets, although the back panel may not have been the best place for them. The last connector is the 7‑pin power socket for the external 2U rackmounting power supply (the main power switch is on the external PSU), and the last switch is that for the global 48V microphone phantom power supply.
The suitability, or otherwise, of your mixer to your circumstances can make the difference between a smooth‑running session and a disastrous waste of time; a desk's audio quality is also critical to the finished result.
Sonically, the MX3282 is more than satisfactory, with quiet mic preamps, musical EQ, and no audible crosstalk. Operationally, it's a breeze to use. Sessions during the review period went especially smoothly, and I encountered no visibility problems, with knobs and switches, for the most part, perfectly accessible. The controls and faders themselves are good quality, and smooth in use, though the faders are perhaps a little sticky. I found that it required a certain knack to get a completely smooth fade with both master faders. The routing switches are also perhaps a bit too close to the main channel faders. Some might find the front panel to be a bit dark and lacking in contrast, especially when used in the low‑light conditions of mixing or recording a live concert. But you could always add a gooseneck lamp — the connector's there! — and there is just about enough in the way of colour caps on pots to help you if lighting's a problem.
There are a few other features that are missing or strangely implemented, but keep in mind that this is a £1600 desk with an otherwise generous feature set, that does its job brilliantly. One of the desk's most notable omissions is a scribble strip, the plastic strip used for identifying the various signals going through a mixer, which is found at the bottom of the channels of many desks. Curiously, though, there is sort of a recessed half‑inch‑wide channel across the bottom of the mixer, which looks as if it should have a scribble strip stuck in it. In fact, I improvised by cutting thin strips of paper and Blu Tacking them into this channel; even Behringer's brochure shows the desk with a long piece of masking tape stuck in place! (I didn't use tape because we at SOS take care of our review stock.)
There is also no internal option for adding MIDI control; a MIDI‑controlled fader system could, of course, be added via the desk's insert points, but this isn't as tidy as the fully integrated approach. Another feature that can't be added is a full meter bridge; the metering is adequate for such an affordable desk, but it'd be nice to be able to add to the few flashing LEDS and the main stereo bargraph meter. And while I'm whingeing, some users may have preferred an EQ bypass switch to a 75Hz cut option. I was about to disparage the 60mm faders, but I realise the desk wouldn't have been quite so shallow with full‑sized 100mm faders. In any case, 60mm is quite long enough
At the end of the review, it all comes down to price and facilities, and on both fronts the MX3282 scores highly. The feature set is virtually unbeatable for the price.
While acknowledging the need for a reliable power source in order to maintain the desk's headroom and operating efficiency in all situations, I feel that more could have been done to minimise the noise produced by the 2U rackmounting power supply. Size constraints may have made an internal power supply an impossibility, but I feel a little more attention could have been paid to the noise question. A desk of this size — and price — is going to be very attractive to the bedroom musician, and users such as these need one more fan (and another resonant case housing) sitting in the room where they record everything about as much as they need a hole in the head.
On the auxiliary send front, it would have been nice if sends 1 and 2 could have been switched to post‑fade operation. Not all users of this desk are going to need any pre‑fade (monitor) sends, and even with six effects sends to choose from, only four per channel are available. Of course, the pre‑fade sends could be used for effects, but remember that when you move the channel's fader, the send will still be feeding your effects unit. One mod that you can make, internally, switches the aux sends from post‑EQ to pre‑EQ; this requires the cutting of one and the soldering of another link for each send on each channel. Perhaps a similar mod could have been provided for post/pre‑fader operation of auxiliaries 1 and 2.
At the end of the review, it all comes down to price and facilities, and on both fronts the MX3282 scores highly. There are tons of inputs, loads of aux sends, and plenty of flexibility; the sound is also very good. The desk's size would suit the project or bedroom MIDI studio perfectly, especially one equipped with the new breed of digital 8‑track, yet the feature set is perfect for semi‑pro full multitrack performance.
There is no shortage of mixers on the market at the moment, and you'd be forgiven for a certain ennui at the thought of yet another one. However, Behringer's new Eurodesk really is worth a look. Essentially, it's hard to seriously fault this desk; the feature set is virtually unbeatable for the price.
Also in the Eurodesk family is the MX2442 4‑buss desk, priced at £999. As you might guess, this is equipped with 24 inputs (16 mono and four stereo) and four subgroups. In most respects, the specification is identical to the MX3242 discussed in the main review; the principal difference, apart from fewer inputs and sub‑groups, is that there are only six aux sends, on four pots, with two stereo returns. The EQ is identical, there are high‑quality mic preamps on all mono channels, and inserts where you need them. So if space is even more tight, or you could do with saving a bit more cash and can get by with the reduced feature set (although 8‑track recording shouldn't be terribly difficult to arrange), you might want to have a look at the MX2442.
If you've used virtually any mixer before, you may find that the MX3282's manual remains in the box, since the desk is so easy to use. This is just as well, since the manual is not terribly good; all the facts are included (just about), but the organisation is confusing, with no attempt to introduce and explain the desk's features in a logical and thorough manner. Needless to say, there's no index. Beginners will welcome the fold‑out front panel and rear‑panel connector layout diagrams, and keep them folded out during their early days with the desk. Some mixer manufacturers provide practical examples (Mackie are very good at this), but those provided here are not entirely useful, although they might help the complete newcomer to figure out how to wire in a patchbay or start a session from scratch.
- Compact and very affordable.
- Comprehensive feature set.
- Good sound.
- Flexible routing.
- Auxiliaries 1 and 2 fixed pre‑fade.
- No scribble strip.
- PSU a bit noisy.
What can I say? Anyone in the market for a cost‑effective 8‑buss mixer ignores the MX3282 at their peril.