Yes, this is your father’s mastering console, confirms PAR’s Technical Editor.
In this day and age where “throwback” colas are the rage and young people call themselves hipsters and try to figure out how to get “that 70s sound,” it’s clear that there’s a panache and mystique about those early electronics and the fidelity they represent in our convenience-oriented MP3 age. That’s where the MTC-1 fits in perfectly.
When I first saw the MTC-1, I had to check my calendar. Sure enough, it’s still 2012 and everything from refrigerators to cars and coffee machines has LCD displays, touch screens, multi-level menus, computer control, Wi-Fi and USB ports. Miniaturization, digitalization and compromise are the new standards. By contrast, this console is a complete tribute to the past and, as such, a welcome treat.
This is the mastering console that many mastering engineers would have appreciated back in the 1970s. I love that each button on the MTC-1 has one function. Each large metal knob serves one purpose. It reminds me a lot of the simple early British consoles like Helios and Trident (like the 80B I purchased back in 1983). From its black-anodized front panel (which will never wear out or the markings ever fade) to the oversized knobs and precision-stepped attenuators, it seems built to last a very long time. Yet even with all its elegant simplicity, there is surprisingly little compromise in function and absolutely no compromise in sound. With the exception of the LEDs illuminating the pushbuttons, instead of miniature light bulbs, this unit looks as if it could have been designed 40 years ago.
The front panel is laid out extremely well, with logical signal flow from left to right. On the inputs, I can select from two sources, invert the polarity of either left, right or both, Hi and Lo Pass “cut off” filters are switchable with six frequencies each (20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 27k, 22k, 18k, 16k, 14k, 12k respectively), followed by +-5 dB gain trims per channel in 0.5 dB steps and a 5 dB boost switch.
For the inserts, six of them, I can select all simultaneously in series or 1 and 2 can be flipped (reversed in the sequence to 2 then 1) as well as 4 and 5 (5 > 4). On Insert 1, a pushbutton enables an internal M-S matrix, allowing whatever is on that insert to operate in M-S (Mid-Side) mode, with a knob that allows Insert Balance to be adjusted (turning down the Mid or the Side return by up to 1 dB in .1 dB increments). Next to Insert 4, a pushbutton allows the return of that unit (or of the sum of Units 2 through 4) to be added to the sum of the previous inserts, enabling parallel processing. Alternately, selecting the Add button allows the Insert 4 signal to be added to the main signal, for adding reverb or an effect to the main stereo program.
The output of the mastering section allows for +- 5 dB adjustments in 0.5 dB steps and mute. In the Image Section, there are two controls that were new to me: Elliptical Filter and Stereo Width. The Elliptical Filter is a holdover from the vinyl record mastering days and it sums low frequency signals below the cutoff frequency, variable in 20 steps from 40 Hz to 360 Hz. Stereo Width varies the signal from -100% to +100%, with -100 being completely mono, 0 is no change and +100 being extremely wide stereo. A Post Output 6 button enables the use of a peak limiter last (after the output faders and amplifiers) in the signal chain, just before the output XLRs.
The monitor section allows switchable monitoring of 4 stereo sources or Input or Output, with Main/Aux speaker select, a detented 55 dB-range monitor knob, with Dim or Left/Right Cut switches. The output can be monitored as Left only, Right only, Stereo, Mono and Difference, which came in very handy. The metering output can be switched from 0 to -6, -8 or -10 dB.
Instead of the common DB-25 connectors on the back panel, there are 42 gold-plated XLR connections (22 male, 20 female) that offer 4 Monitor sources, 6 insert pairs, Main and Aux speaker outs, Main and Aux line outs and a Meter Feed for external metering which allows meters of the user’s choice. Those and the IEC power connector, fuse, ground post, mains power switch and voltage selector (115/230) take up the entire back panel.
For the listening tests, I enlisted the help of Joe Palmaccio (Michael Jackson, Heart) at The Place…For Mastering in Nashville (http://www.theplaceformastering.com) since he has several mastering EQs and compressors and the ears to help me accurately assess the MTC-1. His Eggleston monitors with Pass Labs amps allowed very critical listening. Joe has been using a multi-box solution for routing and monitoring but was intrigued by the compact MTC-1. His take was that it’s quiet: very quiet. “I can hear things that I didn’t hear before. I didn’t measure it but that was definitely my first impression.” We both agreed that having the routing flexibility is really nice for quickly auditioning signal path alternatives.
How does the MTC-1 sound? Well, that’s a trick question. It doesn’t really have a sound–precisely what you want from a transfer console. The purpose here is to allow easy and flexible functionality without hindering creative options. In that respect, the MTC-1 gets straight A’s. Being able to easily implement parallel processing and Mid-Side processing at the touch of a button is wonderful. Being able to have six processors hardwired in and swap them around so easily (albeit with limitations) is also delightful. It was a treat being able to swap three different brands of EQ in and out of the circuit and try different compressors and combinations with the touch of a button or two (or six).
The Image section is what really intrigued me though. While I’m not sure I’d ever use the Elliptical section (those doing disk mastering will), the Stereo Width control held my interest for quite a while. I doubt I’d ever need 9 steps of control between stereo and mono (0 to -100); the other end of the scale (0 to +100) was extremely useful. Being able to push the width of the stereo image out to extremes was amazing. Even more amazing was the fact that, as I switched from Stereo to Mono, I was unable to detect a difference between extremely wide (+100) and just plain stereo when monitoring in mono. What? Usually broadening the stereo image, such as in M-S processing, allows bringing up the sides (Left and Right) at the expense of the middle. While this technique is great for making a mix seem wider, it effectively drops the center image where the vocalist/soloist usually resides. So there’s a compromise: wide vs. a solid spotlight. Not so with the Stereo Width knob. You can have all the width you want and the center image is still loud and proud. Interestingly enough, it’s not an “outside the speakers” width, like the old Q-Sound would allow, but it sounds more like pushing your speakers farther apart on the meter bridge: an amazing effect. I inquired about how in the world that was accomplished, but a wry smile was the only response. Being able to spread a mix wider can be very useful these days, since more and more mixes I hear span a stereo width from 9 to 3 o’clock. Fewer people these days are exploring the outer edges of the stereo field. This is by far the most unique feature about the MTC-1, and it’s borrowed directly from the $19,000 big brother MTC-2 transfer console.
If you need transparent control of your routing, this is a serious contender. It would work equally well as a monitor controller or a final stage for mixing too. And when I use the word transparent, I offer the specs as proof. Bandwidth? “Better than 0.5 Hz to 1 MHz.” It would be DC to 1MHz except for the high quality film capacitors on the input to block DC. Noise from input to output with gain at unity is better than -97 dBu, 20-20 kHz, unweighted: -99 dBu A-weighted. Headroom is > +29 dBu and dynamic range is > 126 dBu. Those are very impressive specs.
The limitations of the MTC-1 are all deliberate design choices. There is no recall, no automation, no DSP, no digital inputs, no external control. Showing its true “old school” colors, there is only a single acknowledgement of the existence of digital audio at all: the Monitor Source 4 button labeled simply “DAW.” This is an old-fashioned STEREO analog transfer console with all the functionality one needs for that job. If surround control is needed, look elsewhere, like the MTC-2.
All in all, this is a rock-solid, purpose-built premium unit that didn’t get distracted from its primary goal in the design phase. I like things like that. I suspect there are other engineers who will, too. Sometimes there are compromises made when incorporating too many functions and options into a product: sonic compromises. Not so here. Kudos to designer Leif Mases for another excellent product. And, just to plant a bug in someone’s ear, while I can’t afford a mastering transfer console that costs as much as my whole workstation (nearly $10k), I’d surely pay money for that single mystical Width knob on a black box.
Lynn Fuston is the owner of Nashville’s 3D Audio, Inc. and is the Technical Editor for Pro Audio Review.
Price: $9,950 list
Contact: Prism Sound | http://www.maselec.com