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Tascam M1600

Series Mixing Console
Published April 1997

Another 8‑buss console hits the streets, as Tascam release an ideal partner for their digital 8‑track recorders. Dominic Hawken takes a listen.

Over the last few years, sales of 8‑buss consoles have increased dramatically. A vast array of new models and a few new manufacturers have appeared to cater for the demand, and anyone currently in the market for a new desk is likely to be faced with a bewildering array of mixers, each one with its own unique set of advantages and drawbacks. Part of the reason for this increase in 8‑buss popularity lies with the development of affordable digital recording systems, with Tascam's own DA88/38 units maintaining their strong position as industry favourites, along with the ADAT system from Alesis. Many studios have opted to use these 8‑tracks in combination with one of the new breed of consoles from manufacturers such as Allen & Heath, Mackie and Soundcraft. Mackie, in particular, have succeeded in capturing a large slice of the market, despite their relatively recent appearance.

In an attempt to redress the balance, Tascam have recently released the M1600 series of consoles. Available in 16 or 24‑track configurations, this desk is perfectly capable of coping with a wide range of musical applications, though most systems will probably end up partnering a digital 8‑track and sequencer‑based setup.


The console is a comprehensive 8‑buss system, complete with six auxiliary sends and 3‑band equalisation. An external meter bridge is available as an option, and the desk makes use of Tascam's own 'Distributed in‑line Monitor System' — effectively including the tape monitors in line with each main channel to double the number of inputs on mixdown. Auxiliary returns are also via separate dedicated sockets, further increasing the available channels. Phantom power is fitted as standard.

Colour‑wise, battleship grey is the order of the day, with the M1600 bearing quite a resemblance to the Mackie and Soundcraft Ghost consoles that make up its major competition. All connections are via the rear of the unit, and the top panel is a 'one‑piece' design, making it impossible to remove individual channels for replacement and servicing. That said, the build quality is high, with a solid and positive response from the faders and controls. The entire desk weighs in at a hefty 26kg — certainly not for the faint‑hearted to carry up the stairs — and a dedicated 8‑channel microphone preamplifier is also available as an option, to aid in level‑matching.

There's currently no provision for adding extra blocks of channels in the form of a Tascam expander unit, although separate stereo sub‑mixer inputs are provided on the rear of the unit so an extra mixer could be added to the system. An automated digital desk (like the Yamaha ProMix, or Korg's new Soundlink system) would make an ideal companion to this console, leaving all 24 inputs to handle sequenced keyboards and other external sound sources.

Channel Functionality

The features on both the 16‑ and 24‑channel versions of the M1600 are identical. The left‑hand side of the desk is dedicated to the master channel inputs, with a comprehensive set of functions associated with each channel. From the top, we have:

  • Tape switch: This flips the channel input of the console between signals from tape (connected via the tape returns), and the channel path (which can be fed from either the microphone or the line inputs). During mixdown, this switch allows the monitor section to be used as an extra input, effectively doubling the number of channels available to the user.
  • Trim control: A rotary fader which adjusts the overall input level to the channel. The built‑in preamp is capable of coping with a wide range of levels, from microphone sources to loud synthesizer inputs.
  • D‑Out switch: This switch offers a useful function which is missing from many other similar units. On any 8‑buss console, the signal from each channel can be sent to any of the eight available sub‑group faders, which are then connected in turn to the eight inputs of a recorder. In this way, any combination of input signals can be mixed and recorded across any of the eight recording channels. This is an ideal situation when using a single 8‑track recorder, but becomes a limitation when more than eight tracks are available. The normal way of wiring an 8‑buss desk to a more comprehensive multitrack system would be to combine the recording inputs, so that the first sub‑group is connected directly to recording channels 1, 9, 17 and so on. The second sub‑group would then connect to recording channels 2, 10 and 18, and so on. This allows recording on any individual tape track, but still limits the number of simultaneous recordings to eight — a major limitation for live performances, where it is often necessary to record each individual instrument on a separate track.
The M1600 is a solid and workmanlike product, well suited to any studio working within a budget, and especially suited to interfacing with ADATs and DA88/38s.

The D‑Out switch makes true multitrack recording possible by routing the output of the channel to its own unique socket on the rear of the console, which can then be connected directly to the tape machine. In this way, each of the 24 input signals sent to the mixing desk can then be recorded simultaneously on its own individual recording track. With careful use of the D‑Out function, it is also possible to combine the two processes, and route some channels individually, and some via the eight buss faders. This makes the M1600 an ideal choice for anyone who needs to record more than eight individual tracks at the same time.

  • Signal Meter: Comprehensive tape and input level monitoring is available as an option in the form of the MU1624 and MU1616 meter bridges. It is disappointing that most manufacturers tend to charge extra for this facility although, on the plus side, it undoubtedly keeps the costs of the standard consoles down to an affordable level. If you don't go for the meter bridge option, basic metering is provided on the desk by a single LED, which glows green when any input higher than ‑12dB is received, and red when a peak above 21dB is detected. This is adequate for everyday use, especially when the tape machine offers its own comprehensive input metering system, but would definitely be a limitation if it was the only form of metering available.
  • Equaliser: This is a 3‑band equaliser with basic cut and boost available on the high and low frequencies, and parametric control over the mid range. The high control is based around a centre frequency of 12kHz (a separate modification is available from Tascam to lower this frequency to 8kHz), and the low control centres on 80Hz (which can also be modified to 120Hz). The mid range sweeps between 10Hz and 10kHz, and can be cut and boosted by 16dB. I particularly liked the inclusion of this wide frequency range, as it worked well in combination with the simpler shelving controls.
  • EQ Monitor Switch: This control switches the equalisation from the main signal path to the monitor section, useful for setting accurate headphone balances when recording vocals or other instruments.
  • Auxiliary Section: Six auxiliary sends are available, designed to route the signal from each channel to any external outboard and add effects to the overall mix. The first two are combined as a single, stereo send, configured via a rotary level control and a pan pot. This is primarily designed to configure separate monitor mixes for listening on headphones whilst track laying, and to aid this, auxiliary 3 can be switched between applying effects to the monitor signal, and acting as an individual send for normal mixing. For headphone balancing, sends 1 and 2 may be switched to 'pre‑fade' (where the absolute signal level is sent, regardless of the position of the master channel fader). All of the other auxiliaries are hard‑wired to operate 'post‑fade', as would normally be the case when mixing.
  • Fader Section: The final section of the channel incorporates a standard fader, together with solo, mute and pan controls, and buss assign buttons that route the signal through to the stereo master signal or to any of the individual group sends.

The rest of the desk is devoted to the eight group faders, effect returns and master volume controls for monitoring the mix. Four individual effect inputs are fitted, each with a rotary level control and solo facility. Each effect return can be routed to the stereo mix, or to the individual group sends so that the signals may be recorded to tape — full marks to Tascam for including this facility, as much of the competition only routes effect returns to the main monitor mix, and setting up complex effects for recording usually means returning their signals via specific channels, reducing the number available for keyboards and tape tracks. Overall studio, monitor and solo level controls are also provided, and the eight group sends can also be assigned to the stereo buss to enable sub‑groups to be set up and controlled via stereo pairs of group faders. It is possible, for instance, to route all of the drum channels to a stereo group, and adjust the overall level of the kit from two group faders, rather than altering each individual channel to achieve the desired result.

Rear Panel

All connections to the outside world are neatly tucked away on the rear of the desk — great if you have a comprehensive patchbay as part of the studio wiring, or if the desk is hard‑wired directly to all of the external equipment. Luckily, the panel is angled slightly upwards, so it should be possible to change patches without spending ages behind the desk searching out the relevant input, although this is not recommended.

I was surprised at how quiet and transparent the desk proved to be, with very little crosstalk to the busses and external outboard.

The first eight channels of the console offer both line‑in connections via standard jack sockets (which auto‑sense balanced or unbalanced signals), and XLR microphone inputs. Phantom power is available when using condenser microphones, and is applied directly to all of the eight inputs, so care should be taken when mixing powered and non‑powered sound sources. All other connections are via jack sockets, or D‑type loom connections, which allow banks of eight channels and tape returns to be connected with a single multicore lead. The inclusion of these sockets will make life much easier when using the desk live, as the whole system can be up and running using only six main connection looms and a power cord.

Summing Up

I tested the desk at The White House studio in Chiswick, which, as luck would have it, already utilised jack‑based looms for connection to the console, so setting up the system was a relatively simple matter. The desk is laid out along very similar lines to the Mackie 8‑Bus, although the EQ section lacks some of the Mackie functionality, and the main effects sends are configured differently. I was surprised at how quiet and transparent the desk proved to be, with very little crosstalk to the busses and external outboard. Personally, I would have preferred all six effect sends to be configured directly for outboard, rather than having the first two geared towards monitor mixing, and the lack of a split equalisation section (where separate EQ may be applied both to the main channel and to the monitor section) meant that headphone balances lacked clarity, but this is a relatively minor gripe. When recording vocals, I tend to send the main mix to the headphones anyway, so that the engineer can hear exactly what the singer is listening to whilst track laying, and in this respect the desk proved an excellent tool. Level matching to the DA88 for recording was spot on, as would be expected with two products from the same manufacturer, and the colour scheme and spacious layout of the controls made adjusting the parameters a simple process. All of the faders and rotary controls performed positively and accurately — Tascam have used quality components throughout.

The equalisation itself is fairly comprehensive, certainly ahead of many desks within the same price range, although I found it was best used as a 'sweetener', rather than a tool to solve any frequency problems associated with nasty‑sounding source material. The mid‑range parametric covers a wide and comprehensive frequency range, but having only one parametric section limits the overall scope of the machine.

That aside, however, the M1600 system is a solid and workmanlike product, well suited to any studio working within a budget, and especially suited to interfacing with ADATs and DA88/38s. The sound quality is good, and the extra features included for multiple track‑laying make it a good choice for engineers looking to record live bands as well as sequencer‑based audio. An extra £1000 opens up a number of other options, most with added functionality and expansion capabilities, but the difference in price would pay for a decent complement of outboard effects, improving the depth and sound of any mix. Overall, I was impressed with the M1600, though, and would recommend it as an option for any studio or pre‑production house currently looking to improve their mix quality.


  • Cheaper than most of the competition.
  • Well thought‑out facilities.
  • Excellent build quality.
  • Good sound quality.


  • Lack of expansion capability.
  • Meter bridge is an optional (and expensive) extra.


Excellent value for money and well suited to the current crop of digital multitracks. Would make anideal upgrade to any studio currently limited by the sound quality of an inferior console.