The name may not ring a bell, but Phonic has, for decades now, manufactured
good products for some very well known professional
audio firms. Today, Phonic's own Helix Series of small analog mixers
is a best buy considering it is affordable, flexible, and offers features
of very good quality. In this line, Phonic's standout product is the
Helix Board 18 Universal ($799 list).
Key attributes of the Helix 18 include
18 inputs with eight XLR mic/line
inputs and 10 TRS line-level inputs; two
aux sends; USB 2.0 and two FireWire
interfaces for streaming up to 16 channels
to and from any DAW (Steinberg
Cubase LE is bundled); low-cut filter
and EQ, selectable pre/post fader, per
channel; two-channel monitoring via
FireWire/USB 2.0 interfaces with up to
24-bit/96 kHz audio conversion for 16
channels of output; S/PDIF output (24-bit/44.1 kHz only); 100 program multieffects
processor with tap delay and
test tones; three-band EQ with sweepable
mids on first six channels, fourband
EQ for next four channels; phantom
power; and included rackmounting
Over the past few months, I have
had the pleasure of using the
Helix 18 in a wide variety of applications.
I put it through paces that
proved its worth as a small multipurpose
mixer in live and/or project studio/rehearsal room-based settings.
To begin, I mounted the Helix 18 in a
rolling rack for some travel time.
Successfully serving my FOH/monitor
needs in a half-dozen small- to medium-sized
rock club environments, the Helix
18 supplied clean audio and sufficient
I/O for typical 4-5 player rock band gigs.
For these events, the Helix easily
allowed for the following: large powered
mains and subwoofer for FOH; dual
amp-driven stage monitors and in-ear
monitor for lead vocals, each with its
own mix; compression for the first six
channels (thanks to channel inserts
looping in outboard compressors); surprisingly
great-sounding digital effects;
and sine wave and pink noise test tones
for system setup (very handy).
For one of these live gigs, I utilized
the available connectivity options to
send our two-track main mix to Bias
Peak on my MacBook Pro (users can
also choose to record stereo out from
Group 1/2 or Aux 2/3 via FireWire or
USB). If I wanted, I could've recorded all
18 discrete input channels and the
main L/R mix via multitrack DAW at 96 kHz, with the option of selecting pre/post fader audio, per
channel; later, I did just that, utilizing Apple Logic during a full
band rehearsal. It worked like a charm (you gotta love the
simplicity of Mac audio drivers)!
I found a great audio production-based use for the Helix:
auxiliary studio mixer. In my own home studio, I use a Mackie
Onyx 1640: a very good-sounding, value-packed mixer, yet
limited to 16 channels. Because I most often track to an
Alesis HD24XR 24-track hard-disk recorder (before dumping
to Apple Logic for editing and mixing), playback while in tracking
mode can become a problem once you hit Track 17.
Thus, Invention's mother, Necessity, called, and there was
the Helix to take place of my normal option, a classic,
American-made Mackie 1202. I sent all six drum tracks and
two bass guitar tracks to channels 1-6 and 7-8 on the Helix,
respectively, patched in some channel compression for the
drums, adding some of the Helix's built-in #8 "room" reverb to
the overheads, created a decent submix, and even patched in
a world-class stereo compressor, routing the mix through it
and, finally, to channels 1-2 on the 1640. Voilà! Playback
channels increased to 22, plus (as easy as opening Bias Peak
and pressing record) a ready-made, awesome-sounding
bass/drums submix went home with the guitarist for wood
shedding purposes. Guerrilla, I know, but it's the kind of thing
that makes project studio recording a blast.
Finally, I must note the Helix's superb build quality. Pots
and faders move with smooth and appropriately tight resistance,
and the chassis feels like a solid chunk of steel. In other
words, Helix 18 hardly feels like a feature-chocked mixer that
streets for $599!
The Helix Board 18 Universal is a bargain considering its
feature set, build quality, routing flexibility, and surprisingly
high quality built-in effects. If you don't have one, you couldn't
go wrong in buying this capable, well-built little workhorse.
Strother Bullins is the reviews and features editor for
Pro Audio Review.