On the face of it, Soundcraft's new Rac Pac is just another compact mixer, but look beneath the surface and you'll find an unusually versatile desk which can double as a miniature recording console or PA mixer.
Mackie certainly started something when they launched their little 16:4 mixer; they identified and met the needs of a significant niche market, and as soon as it became obvious that their mixer was a success, every other mixer manufacturer wanted a piece of the action. Whether the market is big enough to sustain them all is another matter, but as far as the end user is concerned, the fierce competition has meant keener prices, better quality, and more features.
The Spirit Folio range represented the first wave of Soundcraft's attack on the small mixer market, and the latest addition to the range is the Rac Pac, a rackmount, general‑purpose mixer featuring 4‑bus routing, which is obviously designed to take a share of Mackie's 1604 market. One particularly Mackie'avellian feature is the movable connector panel, which allows the inputs and outputs to be positioned at either the rear or the underside of the mixer.
The format of the mixer is pretty straightforward, with 10 mic/line channels and two stereo line channels. For those working with capacitor mics, global 48V phantom power may be switched to all mic inputs, but unlike the Mackie 1604, power comes from an external PSU. Unusually on a mixer of this size, there are also four stereo effects returns (which can double as tape monitors for multitrack use), and the master section includes facilities normally found only on recording consoles, such as a control room section and the provision for connecting a stereo mastering recorder. A further two effects return inputs are provided, which may be used to accommodate two separate mono effects or one stereo effect output. So far, that makes 24 ways into this mixer — but that's not all; the 2‑track return can also be run into the stereo mix, which knocks the running total of inputs up to 26.
Physically, the Rac Pac is a conventional wedge shape, fitted with rack‑mount flanges. All the panels are made from a respectable gauge of mild steel, and the controls are spaced far enough apart for easy access and operation. The overall styling is in line with the rest of the Folio range, and colour‑coded control caps help to break the control surface down into logical areas, such as EQ, gain, pan and so on.
Each of the mic/line channels has a Trim control accompanied by a 100Hz high‑pass filter switch; the stereo line channels have only a +4/‑10dB gain selection switch. No mic/line switch is needed, though the manual warns that mic and line signals shouldn't be fed in simultaneously, as the sound quality will suffer due to the increased loading.
All the channels are fitted with a three‑band equaliser; the mic/line channels have the benefit of a sweep mid‑range control (250Hz to 6kHz), and the stereo channels have three fixed bands. The high and low equalisers provide up to 15dB of cut or boost at 12kHz and 60Hz respectively. There is no EQ Bypass switch, but the EQ controls are centre‑detented for easy zeroing. The mic/line channels also have insert points plus a channel direct output socket.
Few small consoles are so well provided for in the send department as the Rac Pac, where four aux send controls feed six aux buses. Aux 1 is pre‑fade, pre‑EQ whereas Aux 2 may be selected to operate in the pre or post position, by means of a switch in the master section. This affects all the Aux 2 controls, so it isn't possible to have some set for pre‑fade and some for post‑fade.
Aux 3 and 4 are always post‑fade for use as effects sends, and these may be switched, as a pair, to feed aux buses 5 and 6 if required. Directly beneath the aux send section is the Pan control and routing button, which toggles between the two pairs of groups 1, 2 or 3, 4. It isn't possible to unroute a channel, and you can't route a channel directly to the left/right mix — it has to go via the groups, which, in turn, may be routed into the left/right mix. On the stereo channels, the Pan control is replaced by a Balance control, but the routing arrangements are otherwise identical.
The channel level is controlled by a short fader, and each channel is fitted with a Solo button; depending on the setting of the master Solo mode switch, this can work as PFL (Pre‑Fade Listen) or as SIP (Solo In Place). The red solo status LED also doubles as a peak warning LED, to show that the channel level is getting close to clipping.
Mixing And Metering
The master section includes the four stereo returns, each of which has controls for Aux 1, Aux 2, Level and Balance, as well as a PFL button. Returns A and B may be routed either to buses 1, 2 or the left/right mix, whereas returns C and D go to buses 3, 4 or the left/right mix. For multitrack use, these can be routed to the left/right mix for use as monitors, with the input signals being fed to tape either via the groups or the channel direct outputs. The Groups to Mix button should be off when working in this way. At mixdown, the tape outputs should be fed into the main channel line inputs in the usual way. Four separate group faders control the levels of the four group outputs, and when the Groups to Mix button is down, these control the overall level of the group signals added to the stereo mix.
Other than the channel peak LEDs, the only form of metering is the two LED bargraph displays at the top of the master section. These normally monitor the level of the stereo mix, although the right‑hand meter shows the PFL level when one of the PFL/Solo buttons is depressed. This is quite conventional, and is the ideal way to set up the individual channel gain Trim controls prior to recording or mixing.
FX1 and FX2 are the level controls for the two dedicated effects returns, and these may be muted (as a pair) using the Cut button, which can be useful when bringing effects in and out of a mix. All six aux sends have their own PFL buttons, but the aux send master level controls are conspicuously absent. However, this doesn't really matter, as most effects units have their own input gain controls. At the bottom of the section are the four group faders, which are the same short‑travel type used for the channel and master faders. The Groups to Mix button feeds all four groups into the stereo mix for use as subgroups when mixing.
I mentioned earlier that the 2‑track return feeds can be switched to feed into the stereo mix, and this can be a mixed blessing. On the plus side, you have two more line inputs into the mix, and for live use, a backing tape could be mixed in with your performance. On the other hand, if you don't keep a check on what you're doing with the 2‑track to Mix button, you could end up feeding the output of your 2‑track machine back to its input, with the inevitable result of screaming feedback. A little thinking prior to button pressing will get round this, but I bet you'll do it at least once! The 2‑Track return has a separate level control, which is a welcome touch.
The control room section determines the source of the monitor outputs. If headphones are plugged in, the monitor outputs are muted and the monitor signal is fed to the phones instead. The Control Room/Phones control sets the overall level of the monitor mix, which may come from any combination of either the 2‑track machine, groups 1, 2, groups 3, 4, or the stereo mix. When a PFL/Solo button is pressed, the PFL signal overrides whatever source is currently selected. A single ganged fader sets the main left/right output level, and insert points are provided on the main stereo outputs — but not the group outputs.
For routine mixing applications, the Rac Pac is absolutely conventional, except that the input channels have to go via one of the pairs of groups in order to reach the stereo mix. But it's when you come to multitrack recording that things get interesting. With a little lateral thinking, almost any small mixer can be used for basic multitrack work, but a lot of thought has gone into the Rac Pac, so that it can be used for serious 8‑track work with very few limitations. Perhaps the biggest inconvenience is that you do need to repatch between recording and mixing, but when you only have eight tracks to worry about, that isn't really a big deal. Using the stereo returns for monitoring is also a bit of a compromise, because to set the levels of adjacent tape returns, you have to use one Level and one Balance control rather than the more usual two Level controls. I think I would have opted for two Level controls, instead of one Level and one Balance. That minor point aside, there really are very few restrictions. The four buses can be used to provide four simultaneous submixes where two or more instruments have to share the same track, and the channel direct output can be used when one signal is lucky enough to get a tape track of its own. You could record most live gigs using the Rac Pac in this way, and if more submixes are needed, Aux 1 and 2 (with Aux 2 set to pre‑fade) could also be pressed into service, by turning the appropriate channel faders right down and sending the Aux Outs to tape.
The EQ is flexible enough for most jobs (though I always prefer sweep mids to go down to 150Hz if possible, rather than the 250Hz minimum provided here), and the master section provides the basic monitoring and 2‑track facilities needed for conventional recording. The pre‑fade sends can be used to set up performers' cue mixes in situations where the control room monitor mix isn't suitable, and the generous provision of effects sends means that at mixdown, up to three effects sends per channel are available, routable to five buses. If you're desperate, you can even use Aux 1 as an effects send, so long as you keep in mind that any pre‑fade‑driven effects won't change in level if you move the channel fader. When you come to mix, the stereo returns are free for use with effects or sequenced MIDI instruments, and with up to 26 inputs available at mixdown, the Rac Pac is capable of far bigger mixing tasks than it might first appear.
Sound‑wise, I was impressed with the Rac Pac; it's quiet, there's no noticeable crosstalk, and the overall sound quality seems accurate and transparent. Though the faders are short, they provide adequate control resolution, and I appreciated having a decent Solo/PFL system on so small a mixer.
When I first opened the box, I thought that the Rac Pac might be just another general‑purpose mixer, but it turned out to be rather more than that. It is actually a very good multitrack recording mixer for 4‑ or 8‑track work, and if you are faced with the prospect of having to build a studio under the stairs while still leaving room for the vacuum cleaner and ironing board, this is probably the mixer for you.
The extensive provision of balanced inputs and ground compensated outputs is surprising when you consider that many mixers in this price range are entirely unbalanced, apart from the mic inputs. Furthermore, the reconfigurable connector panel makes life easier if you need to fix the mixer in a rack. On the whole, the Rac Pac must be considered a successful design, whether for routine mixing, multitrack recording, or as the heart of a MIDI setup, and though there are compromises, none of them really get in the way of operation or are detrimental to audio performance. In the light of all this sophistication, it's gratifying to discover that the Rac Pac is also relatively inexpensive — check one out and I think you'll be impressed too.
As shipped, the Rac Pac comes with the movable connector panel mounted on the rear of the case, which makes it possible to use the mixer on a table or desktop. When the console is rack‑mounted, the connectors can be left in this position, but that would mean leaving several units of empty rack space directly above the mixer, to accommodate the connectors and wiring. A tidier alternative is to relocate the connector panel to the underside of the mixer, and because all the internal wiring is made up of ribbon cable, this requires little more than a screwdriver. Only a handful of screws need be removed and replaced, and none of the internal wiring has to be unplugged, or otherwise disturbed.
- Dimensions 146.8 x 354.6 x 482 mm
- Equivalent Input Noise ‑120dBu (150R source)
- Output Noise ‑83dB (mix output with groups routed to mix)
- Distortion Better than 0.005%
- Crosstalk Better than 92dB between adjacent channels at 1kHz
- Frequency Response 20Hz to 20kHz +/‑ 1dB
- Max Input Level Mic +16dBu, Line +28dBu
- Max Output +22dBu
Inputs And Outputs
Apart from the balanced XLR mic inputs on the Mic/Line channels, all other signal connections are made via quarter inch jacks. The Line inputs can take balanced or unbalanced inputs, while the effects returns, 2‑track returns and stereo returns are all unbalanced. The main Stereo, Group, Direct and Aux outputs are ground‑compensated, and when used in conjunction with a correctly‑wired stereo jack lead (as shown in the manual), many of the benefits of fully balanced outputs can be realised, the most noticeable being that hum‑inducing ground loops are less likely. Of course, unbalanced leads may also be used.
The insert points are presented on stereo jacks, wired so that the tip sends the signal, and the ring returns it. The headphone feed comes from a conventionally‑wired stereo jack, where the tip carries the left channel and the ring carries the right channel.
- Compact format.
- Up to 26 inputs.
- Generous aux send system.
- Designed to accommodate 8‑track recording and mixing.
- External power supply.
- Rack ears not removable.
An able and compact general purpose mixer, especially well‑suited to budget multitrack recording, or where space is at a premium.