Over the years there has been a steady stream of small portable mixers from many manufacturers. Most of these products are aimed at location sound recording for both film and ENG-style work. New to this crowded field, comes the four-channel, expandable Kamesan KS-342 ($3,850). Kamesan, a Japanese company probably new to most westerners has been making mixers for 30 years, primarily for the Japanese market. Kamesan claims to supply 95% of the market share in Japan. There may be good reason for this – as this is very good piece of equipment.
Product PointsApplications: Field, ENG, film, video
Key Features: Four-channel; compact design; rubberized controls; phantom power; M/S; multiple powering options; optional EQ and submixer modules; optional carrying case
Price: Starts at $3,850 as reviewed $8,365
Contact: Kamesan/HHB USA at 805-579-6490, Web Site.
I liked this machine right out of the box. As soon as I touched it, I sensed the intelligence behind its design. Even the shipping cartons are unusual, floating the contents in a clear suspended polymer film, perfectly shockmounting and protecting the contents from harm with an absolute minimum of material.
The Kamesan KS-342 is very compact (8.5 inches x 6.7 inches x 2.4 inches), light weight (5.3 lbs. with batteries) and logically laid out. Almost all of the primary controls are right on the front, a big plus for me. While this could have created a crowded mishmash, Kamesan has made it a first rate and aesthetically pleasing format.
The first thing I go for on a new mixer are the pots. In such a small space, the tendency is to crowd them together but this has been avoided. While surrounded by useful controls, these pots have just the right size and spacing. There is even enough room if you were in icy conditions and wearing gloves, yet the pots are not anemic and fill your fingers with just enough stuff. They have a good feel both in their rubberized gripping and their resistance and damping. The surrounding controls and switches are recessed enough to not interfere with the primary mixing function, yet are large and accessible so that you can get at them, right away. Each of the four input pots is surrounded by four rotary switches: clockwise from the upper left you have a four-position bus assignment switch with left/center/right and M/S (Channels 3 and 4 do not have the M/S assignment). Next, in the upper right is the Low Frequency Control/PFL. Kamesan has smartly doubled the function of this control by making it a pressable switch to give you PFL on the channel with readout on the right meter. At the lower left of the channel pot is the four-position input selector offering phantom 48V power, dynamic, line level and 12V A-B powering and to the right of this is the input trim control.
I love this whole design. Everything is easy to read and easy to adjust. The M/S capability is useful, simple, and well executed. Other niceties include switchable ganging for pots 1/2 and 3/4 and a built-in slate mic. Master level control, battery check and tone oscillator switches are also right up front, as are compression and auxiliary input indicators.
Three metering options are available when special ordering, VU averaging, BBC scale peak reading or Nordic Scale peak reading. VU metering is the standard configuration from the factory. My review sample came with VU meters. All three styles include analog meters with peak reading LEDs.
Monitoring options are also fully implemented on the front with a 1/4-inch headphone jack and 3.5mm output (on the side). With left, stereo, right, L+R mono, M/S and L-R – all coming out of a terrific sounding headphone amp at 50 ohms.
The left side of the machine is the main input section. Here you will find four three-pin Neutrik gold-plated XLR connectors plus a five-pin XLR for direct inputting stereo microphones so wired. In addition to the coaxial DC power input is a Hirosi four-pin 12V DC power output, very handy for powering wireless receivers right off the panel. There is another Hirosi here for aux input as well as an aux level control and routing switch. Again, uncluttered functionality is the motif.
The output section is on the right side of the KS-342. Here you will find some of the machine’s nicest features. First off are the main L and R analog outputs. These are also switchable to be direct outs of inputs 1/2 especially helpful when using the M/S matrix.
These main outs have level controls right next to the main compressor controls for the onboard compressor. You can choose to trigger the compressor with either the left or right channel, set it for a stereo link mode in which either bus can be set above the trigger or set it so that both busses must be above the trigger level.
Next to the main output XLRs is a five-pin male XLR with a pair of sub outputs, this can also be configured as direct outputs from channels 3/4. These sub outs are level selectable between -20 dB and -60 dB and, like the main outputs are selectable as direct outs or part of the main L/R mix. The four-pin XLR for 10V to 15V DC is on this side as well.
And here’s some icing for this tasty cake, the KS-342 performs A/D conversion and gives digital AES/EBU output at 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz or 96 kHz
I want to mention the detail and attention given to the optional soft case: It is tough, and extremely well thought out. It is truly tailored to the mixer, with front face positioning clips, a smart strap and mounting scheme for the quick removal of the mixer if needed, yet totally secure when properly tightened. Tough reinforcement panels to protect the mixer from hits and bangs, great clear windows for hand access when working in the wet and just the right amount of expandability when you are dealing with the different modules or powering choices for the 342.
To power the mixer, you have a smorgasbord of options. To start off, you have the BP-3/8 battery holder, which takes eight of any kind of AA-style battery. (You get about six hours use from a set of alkalines.) This is a well-built quick release battery holder and can be traded out with a replacement in 3 to 4 seconds. The KS-342 can also accept power from an external source between 10V and 15V DC, max current of 500mA. This is available in two ways, either a tip negative coaxial sleeve type connector or a standard four-pin XLR with the industry standard pin 1 ground/ pin 4 hot. AC supplies are available with either of these terminations. In addition, an NP-1 style battery holder is available and can be traded out with the BP-3/8 in moments with the loosening of one screw thus affording you all the benefits of a unified battery system if your other gear is all NP-1 based.
As if all this was not enough in a little run-around-town mixer, Kamesan offers two expansion modules.
The KS-6001 is a four input submixer that latches on in moments (Kamesan has a theme here of spontaneous adaptability.) Two aircraft type pins just drop into the main mixer’s chassis along with a multipin trapdoor that opens up on both units for all necessary audio and power connections. How cool is this? The tiny sub panel instantly doubles your input capability with all the same features on each input. This includes two pot ganging, bus assignment, PFL etc. It slices, it dices and if you want to use this submodule as a stand alone unmetered unit just go ahead, all it requires is an external power supply and the adapter output cable for distribution.
The KS-6002 is a four-channel integrated EQ/compressor module that just plugs into the KS-342. Switchable two-band EQ on each channel, as well as switchable compression for each input. These can be linked to adjacent channels for stereo situations. The KS-6002 offers independent threshold control per channel, per channel bypass for both the EQ and compressor, compressor indicator lights per channel, compressor linking for odd/even pairs and two-band EQ per channel allowing you to set the center frequency of each band.
Generally, I would consider this a less needed add on compared to the submixer KS-6001, but still, pretty wonderful if your application calls for these capabilities. All of the modules fit the form factor of the 342 and, when used together, lock to each other with integrated pins to create a comprehensive 8-into-2 mixer. Connecting the modules also aligns a power connector so they run daisy-chained.
Kamesan’s documentation was straight ahead with well-written English manuals using clear terms with appropriate illustrations and tips for use. A model of simplicity, the information was easily understood and mirror the user friendliness of the equipment itself. Well done.
The overall build quality is very good. The huge 32 dB of headroom essential for the uncertainties of field recording and most importantly, this mixer sounds fabulous. Neutral and smoothly in control of the signal path, The 342 is clearly a device that is the result of careful listening to the demands of sound people working in the field combined with the design and engineering skills of a very experienced manufacturing team. The Kamesan KS-342 has replaced my ideal of the perfect “little mixer” for film and video location work.