For their new range of mixers, Korg enlisted the help of two of the biggest names in console design.
The Korg SoundLink mixers were conceived to offer the immediacy of a traditional analogue mixer, but with enhancements that are only practical when handled digitally. The range currently comprises the MW‑1608 and MW‑2408, depending on whether you need 16 or 24 channels. Both are eight‑bus, stereo‑output mixers and are built around a steel chassis with moulded wooden endcheeks. The MW‑2408, which is the model we had in for review, measures 480 x 187 x 530 mm, making it deeper than it is wide, and it can be rackmounted via a pair of optional brackets.
In designing these mixers, Korg turned to industry luminaries Greg Mackie and Peter Watts. Greg Mackie founded the brand that still bears his name, while Peter Watts has been involved with the design of numerous consoles (including the classic Trident design), preamps, guitar amplifiers and even synthesizers over the past few decades.
While the design brief was to create a live‑sound‑oriented mixer, the traditional eight‑bus format also makes these consoles well‑suited to recording setups. The mixer is largely a traditional analogue affair providing direct, intuitive control, but to that is added a DSP section that not only offers effects but also anti‑feedback processing, a nine‑band paragraphic EQ, a 31‑band spectrum analyser, a test‑tone generator and dynamic processing in the form of gating, compression and limiting. The DSP EQ, dynamics and anti‑feedback are available on the main mix and on two of the aux sends, simultaneously and with different settings.
Sound quality was apparently a key consideration in this mixer’s design, to which end Peter Watts designed the new HiVolt mic preamps used here, the aim being to offer a genuine improvement in headroom while maintaining the lowest possible noise. Peter also designed a new one‑knob analogue compressor, one of which you’ll find at the top of each mic channel. Other notable components including Velvet Sound A‑D/D‑A converters, and the use of ALPS pots and (60mm) faders.
Even the effects, which are editable and footswitch recallable, are a cut above the conventional, and run on Korg’s own 32‑bit custom chip. Sixteen effect types are available, with the option to store up to 30 user presets. Of these six are reverbs, and each of those includes an alternate Warm version. DAW users will also appreciate that both versions of the mixer come with a bundled copy of iZotope RX Elements software.
While the analogue section of the mixer looks fairly conventional, there are some niceties here that tend to be found only on much larger and more costly consoles. For example, there’s a function added to two of the aux buses, called Musician’s Phones Monitor, which makes it possible to adjust a musician’s phones mix without necessarily having to rebalance either the aux or main mix. Essentially this is a single knob that sends the complete left/right mix to auxes 3 and 4, in addition to whatever else you’re sending to those outputs.
There are also four mute groups, again something you don’t expect to see on a mixer in this price range, which are an invaluable feature when you need to switch between sets of active channels such as when changing between acts or running an open mic night.
Both Peter Watts and Greg Mackie originally come from an analogue mixer background and so are familiar with the frustrations of having to access digital processing from within an arcane, nested menu structure. Thankfully they have managed to avoid such complexity here. To streamline the workflow, the DSP section starts out with individual L‑R, Aux 1 and Aux 2 assign buttons for both EQ and dynamics, so as to get you to the necessary adjustment screen directly. Buttons below the display are then used to select from what is shown on the screen above them, while an encoder changes the value.
Looking a little more closely at the hardware, with the exception of the monitor headphone jack and a stereo mini‑jack input, all the audio connections are on the rear panel, which is quite deep because of the mixer’s wedge shape. On both versions the first eight channels are mono mic/line channels, whereas the remaining channels are organised into stereo pairs for line inputs or, alternatively, they can be used as mono mic inputs. In other words, if you want to use only mic inputs, the 24‑channel version can accept 16 microphone inputs, and the 16‑channel version can accommodate 12 mic inputs. Note that on the first eight channels, the mic and line inputs can be used at the same time.
There’s also an XLR talkback mic input (with switches for talking to the L‑R and aux outputs, and a footswitch on/off jack), monitor output jacks, and main outputs on both jack and XLR. You’ll also find a USB port, eight group output jacks and four aux outs on balanced XLRs, with auxes 3 and 4 doubled up on jacks for feeding musicians’ headphone mixes. All the jacks are of the metal nut type. The USB port can be used to return stereo audio from a computer to the highest‑numbered channel pair (channels 23‑24 on the MW‑2408, channels 15‑16 on the MW‑1608), while the USB feed from the mixer duplicates the main stereo mix.
Anyone who has used an analogue mixer before will find the channel controls very familiar, with a gain control at the top of the strip and a high‑pass filter switch below it. Next, on the mono channels only, comes the one‑knob compressor followed by a three‑band EQ comprising high‑ and low‑shelving filters plus a swept mid that goes from 250Hz to 5kHz. All bands have a gain range of ±15dB, and there’s no EQ bypass switch. Coloured knobs are used to designate the various mixer functions: EQ in blue, aux controls in yellow, effects in red and so on. The stereo channels are broadly similar but have a mic/line selector button in place of the one‑knob compressor, a four‑band EQ with two fixed mids at 2.5 and 5 kHz, and the pan control operates as a stereo balance control.
Many smaller analogue consoles are let down by their paucity of aux send controls, which limits the number of monitor mixes that can be set up. These mixers have four aux sends, two fixed as pre‑fader and two switchable as a pair from pre‑ to post‑fader operation. You don’t have to use up a precious send to address the internal effects, as these are fed from a separate effect send knob just above the channel pan control. The illuminated mute button is just below the pan control, and muting a channel kills its output and all of its aux and effect sends.
Alongside each channel fader is a set of red and green LEDs that act as basic level meters (post‑EQ), and routing buttons for bus pairs 1‑2, 3‑4, 5‑6, 7‑8 and L‑R. Below the fader is a PFL button for pre‑fader soloing.
The master section hosts both the analogue and digital master controls, including four stereo group faders and routing buttons to assign the bus pairs to the main left‑right mix. Four Mute Group buttons labelled A through D can each be used to store and recall a different combination of mute button permutations. To help guide you, the channel mute buttons turn from red to orange when in group assign mode. If you make a mistake, you can press and hold a Mute Group button while adding or removing channels from the group simply by pressing their mute buttons. In practice this feature is brilliantly simple to operate, and you can still use the mute buttons to mute/unmute channels that are part of the currently selected mute group. The effects return has its own fader and mute button, plus there are two separate rotary controls to route some of the effects to auxes 3 and 4.
A Break button can be used to mute all of the inputs apart from the top‑panel mini‑jack, and there’s a separate level control for material coming into it, which makes it ideal for playing interlude music and the like. The monitor and main headphone outputs have rotary level controls, as do the headphone outs associated with auxes 3 and 4. Each aux has an AFL (after‑fade listen) button, and there’s a pair of LED ladder meters that can show the main output level or the level of any channel or bus with PFL/AFL activated. Two further LEDs show when phantom power is activated (via a switch on the rear panel), and whether PFL/AFL is active.
Turning our attention now to the digital processing, the display may be a fairly compact monochrome LCD but the buttons around it make it very fast to use. If you want to go to the dynamics page (compressor, limiter or gate) for the main output or the first two aux outputs, three buttons take you there directly. A similar set of buttons to the right handle the EQ assignment.
Adjusting the effects themselves is also very straightforward. The nine‑band paragraphic EQ, for example, can be navigated using the nine individual buttons below the display for selecting the band to be adjusted via the encoder. The EQ comes in two flavours: Wide, in which the frequencies are fixed and have a Q of approximately two octaves per band, and Narrow, which uses third‑octave bands. In Narrow mode the user can select which frequencies to target for adjustment based on a third‑octave spacing, which is much like being able to pick any nine bands from a 31‑band graphic equaliser.
Adjusting the EQ is via on‑screen sliders controlled by the encoder knobs, much like a conventional graphic equaliser, and EQ settings can be saved as user presets, as can dynamics setups. It is also possible to save global scenes, which store all the digital options in one preset. Other global settings relate to LCD contrast, analyser mode, system update and saved power‑up/down functions.
Feedback suppression deploys seven‑band narrow notch filters that automatically lock onto the feedback frequency. There’s no user‑adjustment here, it is simply turned on or off, but you can apply it separately to the main L‑R output and to aux sends 1 and 2, so that stage monitor feeds can be controlled independently. Left to its own devices it hunts for and locks onto feedback but, if you prefer, you can lock its filters after ringing out the system.
The effects have their own selection button, as well as a tap‑tempo button for use with the delays (though if you change to a different delay effect, the tempo setting reverts to its default). Editing the effects and processors is easy, as the buttons take you directly to the page you need to edit, and the number of controls is mercifully small. If you can operate a basic effects pedal you’ll have no trouble with these. An overview page, again selected via a single button, shows what processors are assigned to the main and aux 1‑2 outputs, as well as showing the currently selected effect.
I’ve already mentioned the six reverb types and their Warm counterparts, but there’s also delay/echo in standard, tape and analogue flavours, as well as an emulation of the Korg SDD‑3000. This makes a refreshing change from those mixers that offer endless robot voices, rotary speakers, fuzz, ring modulation and other arcane effects, when what you really need most are delays and reverbs! In the modulation section of the list you’ll find just one chorus, one flanger, one exciter and a sub‑bass generator. You’ll also find various useful test tones and noise sources lurking at the end of the effects menu.
There are some niceties here that tend to be found only on much larger and more costly consoles.
If you read through the manual for this mixer, you’ll find 65 pages of detailed and clearly illustrated information including a blow‑by‑blow account of all the analogue and digital control functions and a signal‑flow block diagram. Though this is very clearly presented, I found that I barely needed to look at the manual as the analogue side of the desk does pretty much what you’d expect it to do, while pushing the buttons to access the digital features reveals on‑screen information showing which of the buttons below the screen you need to press in order to access the parameter you need to adjust. In this respect I think that Greg and Peter have succeeded in their quest to make the digital part of the mixer as easy to use as the analogue part.
Sonically the mixer is clean and, as promised, has plenty of input headroom, with the mic inputs able to handle signals up to +12dBu. On the output side, +26dBu is available at the main and aux outputs, and +22dBu at the monitor and bus outputs. A noise figure of ‑128dBu is quoted from the mic input to the main output, and with the main fader turned down the residual output noise is better than ‑94dBu. For headphones, both the main phones out and the two musicians’ phones outs can deliver up to 100mW into 32Ω.
The three‑band EQ on the first eight channels is very positive‑sounding and gets the job done with the minimum of fuss, though given the choice I’d have liked a mid control that could go lower than 250Hz as it is sometimes necessary to address boxy frequencies in the 150 to 250 Hz range. An EQ bypass button can also be useful so that you can confirm that your adjustments really have made things sound better, but clearly some compromises have to be made to keep the mixer both compact and affordable.
Having four aux sends plus a dedicated effects send is a big plus on a mixer of this size, and the ability to mix in some of the main stereo mix with sends three and four is a welcome addition that allows a musician’s personal monitor mix to be given a bit more or a bit less of everybody else using a single knob. The four mute groups could be a life saver in some situations and are implemented in a very elegant way. Peter’s one‑knob compressor also works extremely well in thickening vocals and smoothing out level changes, and if that isn’t smooth enough for you, then there’s also the opportunity to add compression or limiting to the overall mix and to aux sends 1 and 2 via the digital section. However, for every dB of compression you add, the feedback threshold is lowered by a dB so in my experience you have to be sparing with the amount of the compression you add, especially in situations where the PA is running close to feedback. The in‑built feedback suppressor will help you claw back a few dB before you start to hear ringing though, and could be a big help in difficult venues.
I was also impressed by the quality of the reverbs and delays, the Korg SDD3000 emulation being a welcome bonus, though I found that the Vocal Reverb preset also had some delay added, which I wasn’t expecting. The default reverb decay time is also quite long when you first call up a reverb so tweaking to taste and then saving that as a user preset is probably the way to go. The exciter is effective in adding an edge to singers with inherently dull voices, but then if you use the effects section for that purpose, you can’t add reverb or delay.
To put all of this into perspective, although this isn’t the cheapest compact mixing console out there, it does have a lot going for it. It is solidly built and the general sound quality is all you’d expect given the provenance of the designers. A lot of work has clearly gone into making the mixer easy to use in both the analogue and digital sections — most users should barely need to glance at the manual. It is also the case that most compact mixers don’t give you enough aux sends, they don’t offer mute groups and you don’t get the useful digital EQ and dynamics output features available here. True, you can get most if not all of these features in a faceless digital mixer controlled from a tablet, but the analogue approach, for many users, is still more intuitive and quicker to navigate. And while most of the added features are of the greatest benefit to the live sound engineer, there’s no reason not to use this desk for recording and mixing in a DAW environment providing you have an audio interface with enough separate inputs and outputs.
There are numerous compact analogue mixers on the market, from companies like Soundcraft, Allen & Heath, Mackie, Yamaha and others, but none offer such a comprehensive digital processing section, and if you want mute groups on an analogue console you’d probably need to find an old, enormous and expensive Midas console or similar.
- Very easy to use.
- Clean sound with plenty of headroom.
- Useful range of digital effects and output processing options.
- Mute groups.
- Four auxes plus a dedicated effects send.
- EQ more limited than on some designs.
- Only one effect at a time.
These Korg SoundLink mixers offer analogue simplicity augmented by worthwhile and easy to operate digital effects and output processing.