Paul White turns up the volume, and discovers that Spirit's PowerStation delivers both quality and quantity.
Spirit's rackmountable PowerStation powered mixer is unambiguously targeted at the live sound market, and will particularly appeal to those users needing a one‑box solution to mixing, sound processing and amplification. Even so, musicians who split their time between live performance and home recording will also find the PowerStation clean and versatile enough to mix to tape, and with the added bonus of an on‑board Lexicon reverb unit (of which more in a minute), it's possible to do a very respectable mix with little or even no additional sound processing equipment.
The PowerStation's mixer section features eight mono mic/line channels, plus two stereo, line‑only channels, a stereo return, and a dual 7‑band graphic equaliser. This is normalised into the signal path between the mixer outputs and the on‑board stereo power amp. The equalisers may also be accessed directly (via front panel jacks), so they can be patched wherever the user wants, even into external equipment.
The mixer section is very conventional, with 3‑band EQ on all channels. The mic/line channels have a sweep mid control, and the stereo channels have a fixed mid operating at 1kHz. The high and low equaliser sections are conventional shelving filters, and the mono channels have the additional benefit of a switchable, third‑order, 100Hz high‑pass filter, for attenuating unwanted low bass. A global, switchable, 40Hz subsonic filter is also provided in the master section, and used in combination, these filters offer a useful degree of driver protection at low frequencies, as well as optimising the available system headroom.
Each channel has two Aux sends, the first of which may be switched pre or post by means of a global switch in the master section. Aux 2 is post‑fade, and the adjacent Lexicon button is used to route the Aux 2 signal either to the internal effects or to the Aux 2 send output. It's a nice touch that you can individually select which channels use the internal reverb unit.
All channels, both Left and Right outputs, and the Lexicon effects level are controlled with short faders, and all input channels have PFL (Pre Fade Listen) buttons directly below the pan pot, allowing individual channels to be solo'd in the headphone output. If the Monitor Source button is set to PFL, the PFL level also comes up on the meters, but because this is essentially a live desk, the power amp feed is not interrupted. Insert points are fitted to all the mono channels, and all the inputs (both mic and line) are balanced. Globally switchable 48V phantom power is available to all mic inputs.
The mixer and graphic EQ outputs are impedance balanced — in other words, they use a pseudo‑balancing system effective in minimising hum and noise pickup. All the connections, including headphones, are available at the top edge of the front panel. All the mic inputs are balanced XLRs, the line ins and outs and inserts are on stereo jacks, and the tape ins and outs are on phonos.
The PowerStation's signal path is normalised at several places to provide the user with maximum flexibility. For example, the mixer main outputs can be re‑routed to the outside world rather than to the graphic equaliser. The graphic itself may be isolated at either or both ends (simply by plugging a jack into the graphic input or output), or you could even be patched into the side‑chain of an external compressor. Even the power amp inputs can be accessed directly, so you could use a bigger mixer with them, or even use one power amp for the foldback and another for the main PA (in mono). You have almost as much flexibility as you'd have with a 'separates' system, as Figure 1 illustrates.
The rest of the master section controls are pretty standard and very straightforward to understand; stereo meters are used to show the mixer output level, separate controls are used for the two aux send master levels, and a rotary control is used for the stereo effects return level. Monitor Level affects only the headphone output, and Monitor Source is used to select the headphone and meter source from either the main output or the PFL signal.
A tape output is available, taken from before the mix fader but after the master insert points, which means you can record live gigs without worrying about adjustments to the overall mix level affecting what's going to tape. However, this means that when you're doing mixes to tape at home, any fadeouts will have to be done using the input level control on your tape machine.
The stereo tape return can be fed either into the main stereo mix or into the PFL mix, and again this has both pros and cons. On the one hand, it means you can mix your off‑tape signals with whatever else is going through the mixer, but on the other, you have to be careful not to have the tape return routed to Main when you're recording, otherwise you'll create a feedback loop. You'll soon realise if you do this!
One advantage of Spirit by Soundcraft's position within the Harman group is that they have access to other Harman companies, one of which is Lexicon. The built‑in Lexicon reverb in the PowerStation's mixer section is a real plus point of the console. One great advantage of the built‑in reverb processor is that you don't have to patch in an external unit, you don't have to find a mains socket for it, and you don't have to try to stop the punters from standing beer on it. Though the Lexicon's effects are mainly reverbs (selected by means of a 12‑way rotary switch), an Effects setting is included, and this has a further eight variations courtesy of another rotary switch. These variations include delays of different lengths, two Inverse Reverb settings and three Resonators, which could be fun if you're creating dance music. The regular reverbs range from Small Room and Small Plate to Huge Hall, and include a couple of convincing gated settings (see the separate panel elswhere in this article for the full rundown on the effects settings).
A single rotary control sets the effect input level, and there's a Clip LED to warn of impending overload. The only other control is a Bright/Dark switch, which switches the effects tone from bright to warm. Aside from the Huge Hall preset, the majority of the other settings are suitable for general mix treatment, and the overall quality of the reverbs is excellent. My only negative comment here is that the marker line on the rotary switch caps is too dark to be clearly visible in gig lighting conditions, so you might not end up with the reverb preset you thought you'd chosen.
Contained within the mixer are two well‑protected power amplifiers, continuously rated at 265W into 4Ω, or 300W tone burst into 4Ω. As music isn't (or isn't supposed to be) a continuous sine wave, this means that you can run the amps at 300 Watts per channel, as long as they're not driven into hard clipping.
The built‑in Lexicon reverb in the PowerStation's mixer section is a real plus point of the console.
By their very nature, power amps get hot, and in the case of the PowerStation, cooling is aided by a variable‑speed fan, which is linked to the output signal level. This ensures that the amplifiers don't overheat before the fan starts up, and that the noise is kept down during quiet passages or pauses in the music.
I particularly like the loudspeaker connection provisions — these allow up to four different types of connection to be made. There are standard terminals which accept banana plugs or side‑entry bare wires, and there are also Speakon/jack connectors, which can accept either standard jacks or the now‑popular Speakon plugs.
Before starting on the sound quality of this unit, it's worth mentioning the very high quality of design and construction. If you don't intend to mount the mixer in your rack, you should consider fitting the optional end cheeks, otherwise you'll almost certainly have a painful accident involving your shins and one of the sharp corners of the rackmount flanges, but apart from that, the design offers exactly the right combination of strength, style and sensible layout.
As you might expect, the mixer behaves very much like any Spirit mixer, though the inclusion of two stages of high‑pass filtering is probably more valuable than you may realise when it comes to protecting your drivers and making the most of the available amplifier headroom. The signal path is very quiet throughout, and that includes the excellent on‑board reverb, which sounds to me as though it may be based on the same technology as the Lexicon Alex unit [reviewed in May '93's Sound On Sound]. Furthermore, I found the EQ to be both positive and well‑focused, and that also applies to the graphic section, which has been sensibly restricted to a cut/boost range of 6dB.
There is no significant hum or noise from the power amplifier, and only the slightest hint of sound from within when the signal level is low. At higher levels — well, who knows, all you can hear is the music!
I always feel a little guilty when I can't find anything much to criticise about a product, but in the case of the PowerStation, I guess I'll just have to live with it. It's by no means the only powered mixer with on‑board effects and graphic EQs, and neither is it the cheapest, but it's the best implementation I've yet seen. It's certainly up to doing the odd mix onto tape between gigs, and it's also well set out for live recording. There's plenty of power in hand for small‑ and medium‑sized club or pub gigs, and about the only trick that's been missed is the provision to slot in a crossover card for feeding a sub‑bass output, something that Studiomaster's Powerhouse includes.
Most significantly, I think that the PowerStation has finally got the message across that powered mixers can be respectable, so if you want something suitable for gigging that can also be used for basic recording, and you don't wish to be troubled by separate monitor amps and effects, you need look no further than your bank balance!
- Small Room.
- Medium Room.
- Large Room.
- Large Chamber.
- Large Hall.
- Huge Hall.
- Small Plate.
- Medium Plate.
- Large Plate.
- Small Gate.
- Large Gate.
- Short Delay.
- Medium Delay.
- Long Delay.
- Short Resonance.
- Medium Resonance.
- Long Resonance.
- Inverse Reverb 1.
- Inverse Reverb 2.
- Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) Better than 0.009% at main ouputs (+20dB)
- Crosstalk Fader attenuation 100dB at 1kHz, Stereo Separation 70dB at 1kHz
- Noise Better than 80dBu at Main Outputs, 20Hz to 22kHz
- Equivalent Input Noise Mic inputs, maximum gain with 150Ω termination, ‑129dBu
- Max Mic Gain to Outputs 74dB
- Max Line Gain to Outputs 54dB
- Max Stereo Input to Outputs 32dB
- Max Output Levels +22dB
- Metering 10‑segment LED meter
- Overall Dimensions 437.4mm x 442.5mm x 172mm
POWER AMP SECTION
- Power Output for 1% Distortion 175W into 8Ω, 265W + 265W into 4Ω, 300W into 4Ω tone burst
- THD at just below clipping Better than 0.025% into 4Ω or better than 0.015% into 8Ω
- Very clean, powerful sound.
- Good EQs and filters.
- On‑board Lexicon reverb.
- Ruggedly engineered.
- Flexible patching system.
- Clear, comprehensible manual.
- Hefty price, but what you see is what you pay for, I suppose.
Not the cheapest powered mixer around, but still excellent value, and almost certainly the best in its price range.