In (and arguably because of) our modern DAW-dominated recording world, there are increasingly fewer large-format console manufacturers. Fortunately for tactile mixing fans, a few U.S. console companies have adapted to the market — this includes Harrison Consoles. Best known for its large-format, audiopost consoles, Harrison has been designing and building audio consoles for over 40 years. Today, the company offers a new, purpose-built mixer, the 950m, for the unique era we live in. The 950m is a compact, modular and retro-styled console designed to work perfectly in any DAW-based studio or location recording rig.
The 950m may look small in pictures, but its dimensions are definitely “midsized”: 37.4 inches deep, 10.2 inches high and 32.1 inches wide in its 16-channel frame configuration. As a result, the 16-channel 950m I utilized for this review (priced slightly under $30k street) weighs in at 125 lbs., while its suitcase-sized power supply adds another 40 lbs. The 950m is available in 12-, 16- and 24-frame input models, built on a frame of steel and aluminum.
Inside the 950m reside gold-plated switches, “no-ribbon” cable summing and double-sided PCBs (printed circuit boards). With its modular design, you can choose to load it with mic channels or stereo line-in channels; both channels options include four aux sends, three-band fixedfrequency EQ, high and low filters, a 100mm fader, input meter, pan and gain controls as well as a large channel “On” switch that automatically mutes when the fader is at the bottom of its travel. On the back panel, there is XLR I/O for most items while the inserts, line-ins and channel direct outputs are handled via DB25 (D-Sub) connectors.
The master section includes real VU meters, two stereo mix busses with compression on each: one mix bus is transformer-balanced, and the other is electronically balanced. Two studio outputs are provided for headphone sends with full talkback facilities. Finally, the large front bolster area — created for placing a computer keyboard with room for a mouse or trackball — also fits certain fader controllers.
During the Harrison 950m’s brief stay at my studio, I was able to track several sessions with it. Instrumentation through the mic preamps and out the busses included lead vocals, Hammond B3, acoustic guitar, electric guitars (with dynamic and ribbon mics bussed together), kick drum, snare drum and choir mics. Mic preamps used for direct comparison on some sources were all high-end units: the Amek 9098, LaChappell 583e, and Millennia Media HV35; the sonic results of the 950m’s signal path was right in the middle of these choices. For example, the Amek 9098 produced the most compression, the Millennia the least and the other two in between.
EQ-wise, midrange frequencies were slightly meatier via 950m; it reminded me somewhat of “the API sound,” but admittedly I didn’t have API hardware for comparison. The EQ points are fixed at 10k, 4k and 100 Hz. The mid-band 4k worked nicely for adding edge to electric guitars, and the 10k top-end EQ added a nice, airy quality to vocals. The low- and high-filter section (100 Hz and 10k, respectively) did their job on B3 mics as well as low roll-off duties on vocal mics. The mix bus compressors added just the right amount of spank for electric guitars and for keeping the B3 in check.
It also helped rein in gospel choir vocals; the vocals hit a second round of compression just before the DAW for that last bit of protection. At this point in my evaluation, I became completely satisfied with the headroom of the 950m; these were quite dynamic (i.e., loud) singers. The red LEDs of the 950 were getting a full workout, but the results sounded stellar.
For those needing a summing mixer, the 950m’s line inputs provide access to the console’s twin mix busses; stereo modules upping the input count for summing use. To be honest, I didn’t initially hold high expectations for the 950m’s mix bus compression; there are just two knobs, threshold and speed. However, after using it on B3, electric guitars, and then on a mix, I have to say I was quite pleased with the results: predictable and good-sounding compression.
Getting around on the 950m — EQ’ing, blending mics, adding compression, all while staying in the sweet spot — can be quite satisfying. No matter what the sound source was, the 950m’s results were always punchy and pleasing with lots of headroom and low noise floor. The one upgrade I would like to see for this price range is a more flexible EQ with variable frequency points: something for carving up drum sounds without the help of an outboard EQ. [Harrison confirms that they are working on an more extensive EQ-optioned mic input module. — Ed.] Its mix-bus compression may have only two knobs, but it sounds good. I’m sure most engineers will be using an additional compressor/limiter somewhere in the mixbus chain while mixing.
If you’re looking to add some extra mic inputs or a summing mixer to your DAW configuration, check out the Harrison 950m. I think you’ll like it, just add a sturdy desk underneath it!
Price: $20,000 - $39,000, depending on configuration
Contact: Harrison Consoles | harrisonconsoles.com
Randy Poole is a Nashville-based producer, engineer and mixer.