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By Craig Anderton
Editor in Chief, Harmony Central
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'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.
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 theinto 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 theserving 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) throughand 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.
Although theis 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, theincludes 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 thefaders 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. Thefolds 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.
Thefolds 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.