The Alesis 1622 Monolithic/Integrated Surface Audio Console
This month’s Test Drive veers a little off the norm and down a road radio producers are getting more familiar with. That road is called For-The-Musician Avenue and it intersects with Radio Production Boulevard on the poor side of town. The Alesis 1622 is a lightweight, sixteen channel mixer. It’s not the kind of mixer you would expect to find in a radio production room, though it is probably more mixer than many of you have seen in some production rooms. The reason we chose to take a closer look at the 1622 is because its price tag breaks a barrier for comparable mixers; and while we wouldn’t recommend the 1622 for any production room with a healthy budget, for those of you planning to gear up a home studio, the 1622 fits the bill like a glove.
If you’ve shopped around for a small mixer to start that home studio with, you probably started considering a used console quickly if you didn’t have at least couple of grand to spend. Tascam’s M-216 16-channel mixer for $1,850, and Yamaha’s MC-1604 16-channel mixer for $3,295 are two popular examples of modestly priced 16-channel mixers. Many of you with home studios probably settled for more affordable twelve or eight channel mixers. Now, compare those prices to the Alesis 1622 16-channel mixer at the low list of only $799. Naturally, you ask, “What DON’T you get for $799?” Granted, there aren’t lots of lights and meters on the 1622, but you DO get what you need, and even a little more.
It is the new Integrated Monolithic Surface technology utilized on the 1622 that drastically reduces production costs and enables Alesis to offer sixteen channels of clean audio at under a grand. Conventional mixer faders are self-contained mechanisms usually enclosed in some sort of metal housing. Everything the fader needs to function is part of this self-contained unit. The fader unit is then plugged into appropriate receptors on a console chassis much like a computer card, or a few wires from the fader unit are simply attached to the appropriate connectors inside the console. The faders on the 1622, on the other hand, are not self-contained. Inside the 1622 is a large PCB or printed circuit board. The fader contacts ride on tracks of carbon elements that are screened onto the PCB. In fact, almost all of the controls on the 1622 use this technology including the sends, returns, EQ pots, pan pots, and switches. As a result, manufacturing costs are greatly reduced. This technology is not all that new. It is widely used on remote controls for your favorite CD player or television set. The Integrated Monolithic Surface technology is also used on the faders of the Alesis M-EQ 230 equalizer. What is new is the application of this technology on such a large scale as a 16-channel mixer.
A look at the specs of the 1622 show that the mixer hardly suffers from the new technology. The specs are actually quite impressive for such a low cost mixer. Frequency response is 20Hz to 20kHz. Crosstalk is at a low -91dB channel to channel at 1KHz. The signal to noise ratio is 100dB on a single channel at +10dB, and residual output noise is reportedly -104dB. In plain English, the 1622 specs stand up well to mixers priced much higher.
There is one obvious dissimilarity between the faders of the 1622 and the faders of a console which doesn’t employ the monolithic design. You don’t get that smooth, quiet slide of a conventional fader. The feel is more like that of plastic sliding against plastic, and there is a definite scraping sound that could prove to be a problem if you were laying a voice track with a mike over the console and had to quickly move any of the faders during the recording. The faster you move them, the noisier they are. Please note that this is mechanical noise, not electronic noise. This mixer is plenty quiet from a technical point of view. Similarly, the EQ pots, trim pots, send and return pots, and pan pots all have a rough “feel” to them, and they will make that “plastic against plastic” sound if turned quickly. These mechanical characteristics of the monolithic technology take some getting used to if you’re accustomed to handling expensive faders and pots, but this is not to say that the controls are cheap. They handle the audio just as well as conventional pots and faders; it’s just that the “ride” can be compared to that of a Corvette versus a Mercedes.
Enough of the integrated surface stuff. When you get past the initial impression of the 1622, you find a sixteen channel mixer with quite a few features. Taking a look at the back panel of this 16 X 2 X 2 mixer, the 1622 offers sixteen unbalanced line inputs using ¼-inch phone jacks. Channels one through eight, however, also offer balanced XLR inputs. The XLR inputs are defeated when the ¼-inch jacks are used. Channels one through eight also have direct outputs that are after the fader and EQ section. These could be sent directly to an 8-track machine, and you could then select your inputs to each track by patching that signal to any of the first eight channel inputs. This bypasses a lot of circuitry and offers the cleanest signal to the multi-track.
The next stop on the back panel is the row of channel inserts. All sixteen channels have their own insert point accessed via a stereo, ¼-inch jack. The tip of the stereo plug is the send, and the ring is the return. There are three stereo outputs: the master output, the sub-master output, and the monitor output. The master and sub-master outputs also have insert jacks.
At the bottom of the back panel are the jacks for the sends and returns. The 1622, having been manufactured on For-The-Musician Avenue, comes with quite a set of sends and returns. There are six sends and eight returns, more than you’ll need for that pawn shop commercial, and plenty if you plan to use the 1622 to mix a band in your spare time.
Finally, on the back panel, you find a stereo “tape” input, ideal for inputting your 2-track mastering machine. This input is quickly routed to the monitors via a “tape/master” switch on the front panel. There is a headphone jack, a power switch, and another switch that selects the main output level between -10dB and +4dB.
Moving around to the front (or top) of the 1622, we find a very nicely laid out mixer. The sixteen channel faders are full length and fit snugly in their individual, recessed and partitioned cavities. Above each channel is a pan pot with a detent for dead center. Above the pan pots are the on/off switches for each channel. The top switch assigns the channel to the stereo master bus. The second switch assigns the channel to the sub-master bus. The third switch is the mute switch which shuts the channel down with the exception of any signal on sends 1 and 2. The bottom switch solos that channel. The white switches are on when moved to the right and off when left. There are no on/off LED’s on these switches, and if you have quite a few things going on, it’s a little difficult to see what is on and what is off. It wouldn’t be a surprise if present 1622 owners have already used some Day-Glo fingernail polish to paint over the part of the switch that is exposed when it is on. This could really help one know what’s on and off at a glance, and it’s strange that Alesis didn’t slap some brightly colored paint on these switches in the first place.
Above these switches are the six sends for each channel. Sends 1 and 2 are pre-faders sends, and sends 3 through 6 are post-fader sends. To the right of each row of 16 sends are the send master pots, nicely labeled to indicated which are pre and which are post-fader.
Above the send pots are the EQ pots for each channel. The EQ of the 1622 is shelving EQ with the bottom “shelf” at 100Hz and the top “shelf” at 10kHz. Most production consoles utilize parametric EQ. Basically, the shelving EQ of the 1622 boosts/cuts frequencies below 100Hz with the bottom pot or boosts/cuts frequencies above 10kHz with the other pot. This EQ is sufficient for touching up the EQ of a music track or sound effect, but more precise EQ is desireable on voice tracks. For this reason, any serious EQ-ing should be done with outboard EQ. There is no midrange EQ on the 1622.
At the top of the mixer are the trim pots for each channel. The range on the trims is +30 to -10dB which will accommodate both line and mike input levels. Note that there is no phantom power available on the 1622 should you plug mikes directly into the unit.
On the right side of the mixer panel, starting at the bottom, we find the master faders for both the stereo master and the stereo sub-master busses. Above the sub-master faders are two pan pots. The left and right sub-master faders can be assigned to any point in the stereo spectrum. This comes in very handy in several applications. The sub-master buss, for instance, could be used as a mono mix buss which would turn your sub-master outputs into two separate mono mix outputs. A “Sub-Master to Master” assign switch above the pan pots sends the signal on the sub-master to the master buss. Let’s say you were mixing a spot with three separate voices on three separate tracks of your multi-track. By assigning those three tracks to the left sub-master, flipping the Sub-Master to Master switch on, and setting the left sub-master pan to center, you can have control over the overall level of the three voice tracks with just one fader. The sub-master can also be set up so that the mixer, in effect, becomes a four buss mixer.
On the far right hand side of the mixer are the controls for the returns. The 1622 has a healthy eight returns. The first four can be panned anywhere in the stereo field. Returns 5 and 7 are hardwired to the left master buss, and returns 6 and 8 are hardwired to the right master buss. Since these returns are actually additional inputs to the master buss, coupled with the fact that there are so many, you could use them for things other than the standard effect returns. For instance, since returns 5 through 8 are pre-assigned to the left and right channels, they could be used as inputs for a second 2-track, a CD player, or any other stereo device. Because of the extreme versatility of the 1622, there are limitless setups available depending upon your application.
Moving up to the top right corner of the mixer, we find the Monitor Volume control which controls the level at the Monitor Outputs on the back as well as the headphone level. To the left of this control are two switches. The Tape/Master switch switches the monitor output between what is on the master buss and whatever you have plugged into the Tape Input on the rear panel, such as your 2-track mastering deck. The Control Room Defeat switch mutes the output of the Monitor jacks on the back panel, but leaves the headphone jack active. This would be your “speaker mute” switch when opening a mike in the same room as your monitors are in.
Above the Monitor Volume pot are two LED’s. The Power LED is exciting and red. The green Solo LED illuminates whenever a channel is assigned to solo. Above these LED’s are the two 15-LED meters for the stereo master buss. These LED’s are the only lights on the mixer. What? No peak LED’s? Right. When a channel is soloed, the meters will show the level of the input to that channel. This is how you set your trims, by soloing each input and adjusting the trims accordingly.
The shell of the 1622 is made of hard plastic. This, along with an external power supply and the fact that there is much less weight involved in all the faders and pots, brings the 1622 in at a lightweight fourteen pounds. The 1622 sits on a flat surface at a convenient angle or is ready to occupy fifteen spaces of an equipment rack, if so desired.
The 1622 is designed to easily meet the needs of someone who might haul the unit around to mix a live band, and it will nicely do the job of handling the mixing needs of someone doing some music recording in a studio. For broadcast multi-track production, the 1622 offers features you might not ever use, specifically the large number of sends and returns. Since each channel can only support one input, you can’t set the unit up like many multi-track radio production rooms where you can easily switch from tape monitoring to buss monitoring with the flip of a switch or two. You can use the 1622’s direct outs on the first eight channels to feed an 8-track, then bring the 8-track’s outputs to channels nine through sixteen. The ideal setup in a home production studio would include the use of a patch bay. Properly wired, the potential of the 1622 would be at its fullest, and you could easily perform most any console function needed for even the most demanding promo.
The manual for the 1622 does a good job of explaining the various functions of the unit. It even goes so far as to give a general overview of multi-track recording, monitoring, and mixing. Several pages are devoted to explaining in detail how to set up the mixer for applications ranging from sound reinforcement to video post-production. There is even a glossary of recording and console terminology that even the experienced producer could learn a few things from.
If any part of this review has you saying, “Gee, a plastic console?” or, “Wow. Faders and pots that make a ‘scraping’ noise when you turn them?” consider one very important fact. This sixteen channel, very versatile mixer lists for ONLY $799. When you look at the price first, and the mixer next, the value is unbeatable. The technical quality of the unit is comparable to mixers priced much higher, and, in many cases, the 1622 comes in quieter and with less crosstalk that the others. If you have five or ten grand for a console, don’t even consider the 1622. But if you’re on limited funds, want to gear up a home studio, and want enough inputs to accommodate an 8-track recorder and several other things, you simply must check out the 1622. It may well be the fix you need to get your home studio off the ground and leave funds for things to plug into it.
Regarding the Integrated Surface technology, only time will tell the true story on its value. It definitely lowers the manufacturing costs, but how durable the faders, switches and pots are is a standing question. Repairing a fader won’t be a simple job of just replacing it. Half of the fader exists on the PCB! Still, since this is the same technology used in remote control switches and other smaller applications, it may never need repair. How many remote controls have you had to replace because one of the buttons stopped working? The technology actually provides a positive byproduct. Since most conventional faders and pots are sealed, self-contained units, they tend to collect dust and ashes that can’t be easily cleaned out. You get a truly noisy pot just like that volume control on your old stereo system. The surface of the 1622’s PCB (which contains the conductive tracks for the faders, switches and pots) can be easily cleaned, rendering the faders, switches and pots as good as new with little effort.
When it all comes down to the wire, the bottom line is that you just can’t beat a mixer with all the features of the 1622 for only $799. We tip our hats to Alesis for keeping with their past record of providing high quality equipment and low prices. And we once again tip our hat to all the starving musicians in the world. Without them, companies like Alesis wouldn’t be making mixers for $799!