Hands-On Review:Phonic Digital Console

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Yes, the Phonic Digital Console is a mixer—but it does a lot more than just mix

By Craig Anderton
Editor in Chief, Harmony Central


Phonic Digital Console

I'm a big fan of physical control surfaces. When I see people who mix  with a mouse and ask them why they use this approach, they say it works  fine for them. But if I sit them down in front of a control surface,  it's a revelation: They realize that being able to move lots of faders  at once gives a much more vibrant mix than assembling it with a mouse,  one automation curve at a time.


For this review, I think it's crucial to cover the Phonic Digital Console's  applications rather than just going through the specs, which you can  find online (where you can even download the manual). Then we'll  describe the user experience.

Yes, it's a mixer

There are 16 inputs (all with XLR and 1/4" connectors, as well as  inserts) that cover basic live performance applications. For recording,  there's an optional FireWire/USB 2.0 card that converts the Phonic into a sophisticated audio interface with 16 ins and outs. If you're  recording an ensemble, or a multi-miked drum set, you're covered: You  can send each input to its own DAW channel.


Solo recording artists might feel they don't need a mixer; but with the Phonic serving as a mixer/interface, you can leave everything you need set up,  normaled, adjusted for levels, and ready to go. This saves considerable  time compared to re-patching—when recording vocals, bring up the mic  channel and send it to your DAW. Time for guitar? Solo that channel, and  record it.


When mixing, you can send individual tracks (or "stems," like a drum or vocal subgroup) through this mixer and record the mix (via analog, in case you want to use some cool  vintage processor, or via XLR AES/EBU for digital clarity) into two DAW  tracks. This gives your mixes a real control surface—don't mix with the  mouse (although you can always use it for editing). This approach also  consolidates the final mix as part of your project.


The sixteen 100mm faders do triple duty as channel level controls,  aux bus level controls, and level controls for eight "multi" outputs  that can send audio to external gear. As the faders are motorized, they  remember their positions as you switch among the various layers; they  also react if you move the equivalent touchscreen faders.


There is no internal sequencer, or response to MIDI timing data, so  with the current software revision you can't do traditional automated  mixes. However, the Phonic can save and recall scenes, so you can change  the mix any time with the touch of a button. Scenes are invaluable not  just for studio mixing but for live performance, conferences, and  theater groups.

The user experience

Although the Phonic is a digital mixer, the user experience feels analog—but better. The  color touchscreen is a great addition so you don't have to fumble around  with deciding what button controls what function—just touch and go—and  the "operating system" is super-obvious.


Even more important, the Phonic is loaded with processors: Delay, EQ,  and dynamics on all ins and outs. To do all this with outboard analog  processors would kill your budget; what's more, they're all accessible  through the touchscreen. Going one step further, the Phonic Digital Console includes aux bus effects too—reverb, echo, chorus, flanger, vibrato,  phaser, etc. You can record through these if desired, so when recording  individual tracks, you have the equivalent of a pretty cool effects  rack.


For live performance, these processors are a fantastic addition. For  recording, you can of course use plug-ins on DAW channels if you're  using the Phonic faders for mixing. However, the Phonic Digital Console's internal  processors are very high-performance, in some cases better than  plug-ins—particularly because the Phonic can run at 96kHz, and not all  plug-ins work properly at higher sample rates. By offloading a lot of  the CPU's work to the Phonic's hardware DSP, you free up CPU power for  devices like virtual instruments, and will likely be able to mix with  lower latency.


Nor are these effects simplistic. The EQ is four-band, and you can  change the processor order if you prefer, say, EQ before dynamics or EQ  after dynamics. The intelligent touchscreen makes all of this  surprisingly easy to use, and delivers great metering options too.


Several years ago digital mixers were supposed to be "the next big  thing," but the market went soft when the world went virtual-crazy. As a  result, not enough people have experienced digital mixers to understand  just how helpful they can be live or in the studio, and how they can do  much more than old-school analog mixers can. The Phonic Digital Console folds in several digital advances, such as touchscreen operation, into a  mixer with the comfortable feel of analog—it's all about combining the  best of both worlds.

Features & Specs

  •   •  16 motorized faders with triple control function
  •   •  Clear, easy-to-use color touchscreen
  •   •  Insert jacks for all channels
  •   •  Optional FireWire/USB 2.0 card converts the mixer into a digital audio computer interface
  •   •  Dynamics, EQ, and delay processors for all ins and outs
  •   •  Popular aux bus effects are built into the mixer
  •   •  Compact footprint without a cramped feel
  •   •  "Multi" outputs for sending audio to external processors and other analog devices

The Phonic Digital Console folds digital mixing technology and a super-friendly touchscreen  interface into a compact package with a truly "analog" feel. Order today  with the complete assurance of Musician's Friend's 45-Day Total  Satisfaction and Lowest Guarantees.