Hands-On Review:Access To Power
By Michael K. Dennison
Lately, I've been looking for a compact digital mixer for live recording. I've been using a popular analog mixer, but I've become spoiled by the power and flexibility my studio's large-format digital console gives me. Since my portable recording rig is based on Tascam's MX2424 digital recorder, I decided to check out their new DM-24. I gave my buddy at Musicians' Friend a call, and set up a little hands-on time to evaluate the unit. The demo DM-24 arrived a couple days later, complete with the optional MU-24 meter bridge.
Bird's eye view
At its heart, the DM-24 is a 24-bit eight-bus digital mixer with 32 input channels and six aux sends. Each channel features dynamics control, 4-band fully parametric EQ (with dedicated knobs), and access to the built-in effects from Tascam, Antares, and TC Works. The sixteen long-throw channel faders and one master fader are motorized, touch-sensitive, and can be completely automated. The DM-24 offers plenty of analog and digital I/O connections right out of the box, and two expansion slots provide additional options.
A large LCD screen in the center of the DM-24 provides a clear visual display of virtually every parameter, and the surrounding knobs and buttons give you easy control of internal functions. The integrated transport section gives you control of external recording decks, making the DM-24 a very complete machine!
AI/O on top
On the top of the DM-24 there are sixteen channels of balanced mic/line inputs, with inserts and input trim on every channel. Switchable 48-volt phantom power is also provided in banks of four.
Other I/O jacks on the top panel include studio and control room monitors outs, master left and right output (with inserts on each channel - perfect for limiters or EQ), aux sends and returns, plus two headphone jacks.
EI/O in back
The backside of the DM-24 is dedicated to digital I/O and control ports. Three TDIF connectors provide a total of 24 channels of digital audio I/O at 44.1kHz and 48kHz sampling rates, or 12 channels at 88.2kHz and 96kHz sampling rates. ADAT I/O gives you eight channels of optical digital. The sound quality provided by the internal 24-bit converters of the DM-24 is absolutely beautiful! Thankfully, those harsh A/D circuits from the early days of digital mixing are well behind us!
Two pairs of AES and S/PDIF inputs and outputs add a lot to the flexibility of the DM-24, as you can configure them to send or receive a wide variety of signals. For example, if you have a digital reverb you can configure one of the digital outputs to function as an aux send, feed the reverb, and return the effect to a digital input configured as an aux return. Or you can take the stereo digital output of your synth and feed it to the digital input configured as a channel in. MIDI in, out, and through jacks are provided for the DM-24's MIDI machine control features as well as bulk data dumps.
Also featured on the back are word clock I/O BNC connectors, an analog SMPTE input, footswitch jack, a 15-pin DTRS connector for remote control of digital recorders, plus two 9-pin connectors - a GPI (general purpose interface) and RS-422 port designed to allow remote control of other devices attached to the DM-24.
One of the potential pitfalls of small digital mixers that cram in so many features behind an ubergeek interface is that it takes an engineering degree just to turn the thing on. So it's nothing short of impressive that Tascam managed to fit an incredible amount of power into such a compact footprint and still made everything easily accessible to the user. They've achieved balance among dedicated physical controls that do one job well; soft knobs and switches that accomplish a variety of tasks; and a visual interface that is clear, concise, and visually appealing.
The input faders are divided into three layers - channels 1-16, channels 17-32, and a master section that includes the eight bus channels and the aux returns. Flipping among them is as simple as punching the clearly labeled buttons in the Transport section to the right of the fader bank
A large LCD screen in the middle of the DM-24 displays the relevant data for whatever you're currently editing. Up to four pages for each edit operation are supported using a tabbed interface. Below the screen are four rotary soft-knobs that Tascam calls PODs, and four soft-switches that let you directly access each page. To the right of the LCD is a bank of buttons that call up various system parameters such as automation settings, digital I/O configuration, MIDI functions, and more. Dedicated cursor, enter, and undo keys combined with a large jog wheel make navigation and editing a breeze.
Channeling made easy
Each channel features a dedicated select button, track arming button, and switchable mute/solo button. Four large rotary encoders provide hands-on control of EQ, pan, and aux send parameters for the selected channel.
The LCD screen provides in-depth info for the selected channel, divided into four pages. The Dynamics page lets you choose a gate and compressor from the preset library, or lets you roll your own. The EQ page provides visual feedback of all your settings using knob positions and numeric indicators for all parameters, plus a complete graphic representation of your EQ settings across the top of the display - incredibly intuitive (and visible on EVERY page)! The Aux page not only lets you see your send levels at a glance; it also lets you configure each send as pre-fader or post-fader. The Setup page is a virtual patchbay, letting you adjust and configure the components in the selected channel. A block diagram at the top of the page provides a clear graphic representation of your routing.
Also common to all channel pages is the level meter, fader display, and channel routing displays; gate, compressor, polarity, and insert assign switches; digital trim and pan controls; channel status; and time code display. No matter what else you're doing, all this information is never more than one button press away!
Trust me on this - once you've had your hands on an automated board, you'll be hard-pressed to go back to faders that just sit there. While some automation schemes are hard to fathom (I'm being kind, here), the DM-24 is a real pleasure - it was so easy that I didn't even crack the Automation manual until after I had created my first mix!
You can easily automate everything from simple mutes and channel level changes to aux sends and EQ settings. After you've created your basic mix, you can fine tune levels using the Trim control. You can save up to eight separate mixes, which means plenty of freedom to experiment, and when your project's done, you can use the bulk data dump to permanently archive your mixes.
As if all of the above weren't enough, the DM-24 comes loaded with top-quality effects. Three different sources - Tascam, Antares, and TC Works cover the whole gamut of effects. Tascam contributes a plethora of time-based effects including delays, choruses, phasers, and flangers, plus effect compression, distortion, and pitch shifting programs - 128 presets in all, plus room for 128 creations of your very own. TC Works adds another 100 lush reverb presets that include rooms, halls, plates, ambient spaces, exciters, and special effects. Perhaps the most intriguing possibilities come from the two Antares presets - the AMM-1 mic modeler, and the speaker simulator.
The AMM-1 takes the output of a source mic - say, an SM-57 - and applies the characteristics of a different mic - say, a Manley Gold Reference - to simulate how that different mic might sound. Of course, you can't make a $100 mic sound just like a $5,000 mic, but it does vastly expand the capabilities of your existing mic locker.
The speaker simulator operates in a similar fashion. You dial in your existing monitor setup, from "Cheap Near Field" to "Large Studio," and your target speaker, which includes options such as boombox, car (sedan or SUV!), home stereo, and TV.
The DM-24 has many personalities - a mixer, a multi-effects rack, a patch bay, and for those of you with DAWs, a full-featured MIDI mixer! An entire bank can be set up to output fader level, pan, and mute settings that will control your workstation's on-screen mixer. In addition, the DM-24 has a dedicated setting to emulate Mackie's HUI controller, making it easy to interface with software such as ProTools, Digital Performer, and Nuendo. Pan, sends, faders, and mutes are supported, as are the transport functions. The first four characters of the track names from the DAW are echoed on the DM-24's display - a very nice feature when you're not right in front of the monitor or when the monitors are turned off (something I regularly do when recording my old single-coil guitar to eliminate monitor-induced hum).
In the few hours I worked with the DM-24, I came to find it an excellent piece of gear. Its ease-of-use, combined with very flexible routing, elegant and exciting effects, plus its multitude of inputs and outputs make it a real winner in my book. Considering that it's capped off with stellar sound and a space-friendly footprint, I'm going to have to convince Musician's Friend to let me keep this one!
Features and Specs
- Sixteen long-throw motorized channel faders layered to allow control of up to 32 inputs
- Input channels feature complete dynamics and 4-band fully-parametric EQ
- One dedicated, motorized long-throw fader for the stereo out bus
- Eight bus sends plus six aux sends and returns
- Eight fader groups and eight mute groups
- Support for TDIF, ADAT, AES/EBU, and SPDIF digital formats
- Modular expansion slot facilities provide further flexibility
- Sixteen integral high-quality microphone pre-amplifiers with switchablephantom power
- Internal processing is carried out at floating 32-bit resolution
- All popular surround formats (2+2, 3+2, 5.1) as well as stereo are supported
- Link to another DM-24 console using an optional cascade slot card
- 24-bit A/D conversion
- Standard sample rates of 44.1kHz and 48kHz are supported
- Double sample rates of 88.2kHz and 96kHz also supported
- Functions as a remote controller via DTRS remote or MMC protocol
- Synchronization to SMPTE and MIDI timecode
- Graphical user interface with large, backlit LCD
- Integral effects including Antares AMM-1, TC Works reverbs, and Tascam multi-effects
- Snapshot and moving-fader automation