Hands-On Review:Alesis MultiMix FireWire Mixers
Mixers made for studio and stage
By Oscar Sommers
You're in a band. You want to play out and record. You're willing to throw your time and money behind your music, but both are in short supply. Breathe easy, intrepid musician, the new MultiMix FireWire mixers are here to help you balance it all. While they can't help with your lack of time, they can be the center of a live and computer recording setup without burning up the available balance on your credit card. Each MultiMix FireWire mixer provides high-quality analog mixing and computer recording via an integrated FireWire interface.
The MultiMix line from Alesis has only been around for a few years, but in that time Alesis has taken it from the analog to the digital age at warp speed. When the line debuted, the small-format MultiMix FX mixers provided all the mixing basics plus high-quality 28-bit digital effects at a very reasonable price. With the addition of the USB models, Alesis gave them a stereo mix USB output. Now Alesis has introduced three FireWire models: the MultiMix 16 FireWire, MultiMix 12 FireWire, and the MultiMix 8 FireWire. These may be the perfect mixers for a band. You get an analog mixer and all its benefits to use for practices and live shows; then when you want to record, it's a simple one-cable computer connection to start tracking.
All the right moves
I received a MultiMix 16 FireWire to check out for this review. I like how Alesis didn't try to reinvent the wheel on the analog side of things. They simply used the proven MultiMix circuitry which incorporates key components adapted from high-end Alesis mixers and studio gear. While the MultiMixes are definitely compact, they also have plenty of features, such as XLR and 1/4" inputs on most of the channels; phantom power; and an aux bus, a post bus, PFL/solo buttons, mute/monitor buttons, and smooth faders on each channel. Separate 1/4" balanced main, monitor, and control room outs plus a headphone out give you all the output options you'll need. And Alesis packaged it all in an industrial-strength metal chassis.
On the analog side, I was definitely surprised by how good the MultiMix 16 FireWire sounded. I connected a Shure KSM44 to the first channel and was impressed with the clean, clear, and unhyped frequency response. There was also plenty of smooth gain from the preamp. The three-band EQ offers judicious cut/boost in the lows and highs with a sweet-sounding bandpass/reject mid control that I liked. Mixing in effects using the Post bus was very satisfying, as it added no discernible noise and the effects delivered everything from subtle shading to vivid colors. The 28-bit effects section offers 100 presets with ten selections of gorgeous hall, room, plate, and chamber reverbs as well as ten presets each of chorus, flange, and delay. The last 30 are vocal harmony effects and multi-effect combinations.
I was really excited to test out the computer recording performance of the MultiMix 16 FireWire. Like the other two MultiMix FireWire models, it allows you to send each channel - plus the stereo mix - to your computer for recording with two channels returned for monitoring. Even better, all the processing you apply to the signal from the preamps to the outputs is recorded as well. The idea of combining quality analog processing with flexible, pristine digital recording in one unit really intrigued me.
Installation of the drivers was easy, with the Alesis website providing a fresh, up-to-the-minute download. I easily installed the drivers and the copy of Cubase LE that ships with the MultiMixes and opened Cubase. After I imported a drum track I had built in LinPlug's RMIV virtual drum machine, I laid down some guitar and vocals tracks. I loved the power that having a full analog mixer as my computer interface gave me. Instead of trying to develop the sound I wanted with my mouse on a computer screen, I was able to get it right the first time with the MultiMix. It made using several different mic setups a cinch too. Instead of having to plug and unplug various microphones as I did with my old two-channel USB interface, now I could set up a variety of mics and simply pick up the one I wanted when I needed it. It seems to me that for live recording - say of a band in its rehearsal space or at a gig - the MultiMix 16 would really kill.
Alesis has a hit on their hands with the MultiMix FireWire models. As analog mixers they provide all the features you need to run a band rehearsal or a club gig. As FireWire interfaces they successfully pull together the analog and digital worlds to give you the quality and flexibility you need for great recordings, live or in your home studio. Their dual functionality and level of quality far exceed their prices. The MultiMix FireWire mixers are a tremendous value and a real asset for any musician.