Yet another ultra‑compact mixer emerges from R&D, to fierce competition from similar models by other manufacturers. David Mellor does a spot of channel‑hopping...
The MX1602 from Behringer may be tiny (you could almost lose it under a copy of Sound On Sound!), but it's not a toy. It is a serious and well thought‑out tool for the professional live or recording engineer, as well as the home recording enthusiast. Since this is the first compact mixer I have reviewed for Sound on Sound, I'd like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all the manufacturers who compete in this section of the market. I have two Soundcraft Spirit Folios and they've done some excellent work for me. I recently set up one in St Paul's Cathedral to record a choir conducted by Sir Yehudi Menuhin while the other was busy downstairs in the crypt as part of a PA system for Prince Philip! The Folios performed excellently, but I wouldn't have hesitated to use a couple of MX1602s, had they been available at the time, or indeed a number of other models of compact mixer that have come onto the market since the Folio.
The MX1602 Eurorack is, as the name suggests, a 16‑input console mixing into a stereo output. If I had been in charge of the naming committee, however, I would have called it the MX1202, since it only has 12 proper channels — the other four inputs come from the auxiliary returns. Having said that, 12 channels in such a small unit is still pretty good going.
The Eurorack is powered by an external power supply, which I normally hate, but since there are good technical reasons why mixing consoles nearly always have external supplies, and at least the connector screws in firmly, I won't list it among my cons (although some manufacturers seem to be able to build mixers that work perfectly well with internal power supplies).
The first four channels of the MX1602 are mono, with mic or line inputs. A wide range of gain is available, from ‑10dB to +50dB, and the common ‑10dBV and +4dBu positions are clearly marked. The mic inputs are nice and quiet, the spec approaching the theoretical minimum amount of noise (although the gain setting at which the measurement was taken isn't quoted). The remaining eight channels are grouped into four stereo pairs, this time without mic inputs. I like the fact that it is possible to plug into the left input only of a stereo channel and, with the exception of the gain control which is switched +4dBu/‑10dBV), it will work and behave exactly like a mono channel: stereo channels usually have reduced facilities, but not here.
The EQ, as you might expect, is basic high and low, with no mid‑frequency control. Of course, it's always preferable to have more control over EQ, but when you have just two bands available, it's amazing how possible it is to become more self‑disciplined and pay much more attention to the mic position or the sound coming from the instrument itself, rather than trying to 'tweak' it on the console. Judging the quality of an EQ section is always best done subjectively rather than from the specifications, but for the record, the specs say that the EQs are both +/‑15dB, shelving at 80Hz and 12kHz, with a Q fixed at an equivalent bandwidth of two octaves. Since the first two mixing consoles I used professionally were both Neves, I'm afraid I'm hard to please in the EQ department, but I did find that the MX1602's EQ was very good at adding sparkle at the HF end and removing 'boom' at the bottom end, and I would rate the EQ as slightly better, for many purposes, than the high and low sections of the Spirit Folio.
Moving down to the auxiliary sends, Aux 1 is individually switchable on each channel between pre and post fade. On some consoles, pre/post switching is global, which keeps the cost of the console down but isn't ideal operationally. Aux 2 here is fixed as post fade. There's a lot of gain available from the aux sends — up to 15dB, in fact — which, as the manual points out, is useful for creating a very 'wet' reverb balance, which is often difficult to achieve with a post‑fade aux. Another point made in the manual is that the pan controls conform to the 'constant power' law. This means that when you have created a stereo mix you can change pan positions without any of the levels changing. This is in contrast to the 'constant voltage' law, which ensures that if the mix will at some later stage be summed into mono, the level of a signal in the mono mix won't then change as the pan control is moved. Constant power is not a 'goodness factor' of any kind: it's just a choice the designer has made, and I would say that it is exactly the right one, and better than the compromise between the two laws that is also commonly found.
The faders on the MX1602 are made by Panasonic, who know a thing or two about electronic design at all levels, from domestic to top broadcast spec. Behringer claim that they are particularly smooth at low levels, and they certainly are smooth in the sense that you can make very precise changes in level even when the fader is close to its lowest position. Smoothness in the sense that you can easily pull the faders slowly down without jerking is unfortunately still unattainable at this price point. The solo/PFL button is latching and has an adjacent LED which also operates as a multi‑point peak indicator.
Over on the right‑hand side of the mixer, we find globally‑switchable 48V phantom power, recessed 12‑segment LED bargraph meters and status indicators, master faders, and a few other goodies that deserve explanation. One of the most interesting features of the MX1602 is that it offers a choice between PFL and Solo modes. PFL is where you hear one individual channel at the level set by the gain control when you press the PFL/Solo button. Solo is where the channel is heard alone, but with its fader and pan positions intact. Both methods have their uses, and it's good to see the choice on such a small mixer. The manual, by the way, says that Solo is short for 'Solo in Place', which doesn't conform to general usage. Solo in Place usually means that channels not solo'd are killed at source, thus affecting the main outputs as well as the monitors, and has certain advantages on a large console. Here, pressing Solo doesn't affect the main outputs, nor does it kill the aux sends of the other channels. For most of the potential applications of a small console such as the MX1602, this is preferable.
The last (but not least) control is the 'Ctrl Room & Phones' knob. Couldn't they just call it the monitor level control, which is what it is? I personally prefer a headphone output with its own level control, that can be used at the same time as the main monitor output, but since on this console the heaîdphone output comes from the same socket as the left monitor output, this isn't possible. Although it's always preferable to have insert points on each channel, at this size and price you wouldn't expect it. There are, however, two insert points on the main output, to which you would probably connect a compressor or equaliser to process the entire mix.
Providing you find all the inputs, outputs, knobs and buttons you need on this console, you really can't go wrong with the MX1602. As I said, it's definitely a professional tool rather than a toy, but I did enjoy playing with it!
Part of good low‑cost mixer design is the provision of extra 'bonus' facilities that are easy to understand and use. The MX1602 has two stereo auxiliary returns, both of which will work in mono, panned centre, if only the left input is connected. These days, having just one type of digital reverb in a mix is often not considered sufficient, and if you have two effects units, this mixer can handle them with ease. As an alternative to using one of these sets of stereo inputs as a second auxiliary return, you can use them as a 2‑track return that is not routed to the mix, to check the output of your stereo recorder. Be careful here, because if you're recording and you do accidentally route the outputs of the stereo machine to the mix, you'll get horrendous 'howl‑round' within the console. On my Spirit Folios, which have a similar feature, I've marked the corresponding button 'Do not press!' in large letters, to remind myself how dangerous it is when doing a live recording.
- Seems chunky and robust.
- Sounds good.
- Good range of facilities for its size and price.
- Switchable PFL/Solo.
- A handle would have been nice.
- The '2TK to Mix' button should be coloured bright red, since it is so dangerous if used incorrectly!
- Unoriginal styling.
A neat little mixer capable of professional performance.