Sony DMX-P01 Digital Portable Mixer

I had the pleasure recently to review a product from Sony that is sure to make broadcasters and other portable mixer users sit up and take notice; a state-of-the-art digital mic/line level mixer with a full set of professional features that will give old style analog mixers more than a run for their money the Sony DMX-P01 ($2,800).
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If you have been into professional audio for any amount of time, you are sure to have come across the ubiquitous Shure M67 mic mixer, and its more modern cousins, the M367 and FP42. These venerable workhorses have "been there and done that" in the pro audio world for decades, and have pretty much been the portable "mixer of choice" for those of us in radio and television broadcasting.
Product PointsApplications: Field, broadcast

Key Features: Four-channel; 24-bit; 48 kHz, 96 kHz sample rates; battery operation; onboard limiters; choice of metering; linkable

Price: $2,800

Contact: Sony at 800-686-7669, Web Site.
With that said, I had the pleasure recently to review a product from Sony that is sure to make broadcasters and other portable mixer users sit up and take notice; a state-of-the-art digital mic/line level mixer with a full set of professional features that will give old style analog mixers more than a run for their money the Sony DMX-P01 ($2,800).

Features

The DMX-P01 is a portable four-channel mixer designed for electronic field production (EFP) and electronic newsgathering (ENG) applications. The mixer's stature is modest; just 10 1/2 inches long, by 8 1/8 inches wide, and 2 3/4 inches high. Weight is just a touch over 5 pounds, with eight AA batteries installed in the internal battery pack.

The Sony DMX-P01 supports both analog and AES digital operation, and as such bridges the last analog gap in an otherwise modern all-digital television news/EFP environment. Radio broadcasters, electronic cinematographers and other field users will want to have a look at this mixer, too; the feature set on the DMX-P01 is perfect for many of their applications as well.

The mixer accepts up to four analog microphone or line inputs, and is equipped with dual outputs - stereo analog and AES/EBU. Audio processing is 24-bit, with sampling rates switch selectable between 48 kHz and 96 kHz. Menu-selectable digital limiters are available for each of the inputs, and a fully adjustable, built-in compressor/limiter can be applied to the output signal as well. Inputs and output connections are made via professional-grade XLR connectors, with each of the mic inputs capable of providing phantom power to microphones that require it. Power for the mixer can come from either an external 10 - 15VDC power supply (Sony provides both a conventional DC power jack and four-pin XLR male connector), or from eight AA batteries, which fit inside the unit. In my tests, the battery pack lasted more than four hours, and Sony provides two battery holders with the unit, so extended operation with batteries is definitely a viable option.

In perusing the detailed instruction manual included with the unit, I found this little mixer to be literally filled with neat features. One of the more interesting ones is the "Cascade" option; Sony has provided a means of linking together multiple mixers via a digital interconnect, for field mixing applications that require more than four inputs.

The DMX-P01's LCD panel displays audio levels, battery status, and cumulative time in use, and provides the user interface to the mixer's built-in control menus. The level meter can be configured to display standard VU, dBF or one of several PPM weightings. In order to assure accuracy during cold weather operation, the liquid crystal display is automatically heated - just one of the nice attentions to detail that is reflected throughout the mixer.

Today's digital technology allows manufacturers to really pack in the features, even in a device this small. Utilizing a four-position Function switch and a volume control-style digital encoder knob, the DMX-P01 gives users extensive control of almost every mixer parameter. The menus allow users to store and recall mixer setups via internally stored scene files, monitor camera return output (when the mixer is connected to a camcorder), adjust low-cut filter settings, switch on the built-in limiters and output compressor, select the type of meter for audio monitoring and more.

A panel lock feature allows you to lock out individual (or almost all) controls, which makes this unit a great one for sending out with less experienced personnel.

Ruggedly built, the Sony DMX-P01 mixer is made of heavy-gauge anodized aluminum, with bump-protected switches and knobs. This is one tough unit that will easily be able to stand up to the rigors of news and field production use.

In Use

Begin by plugging mics or line sources into the XLR inputs on the left side of the mixer. Mic/Line switches are located just below each input jack. On the front panel, input gain controls are located just below the main level knobs. The main level controls for each of the four channels have a range from • to +10 dB. Next select the sampling rate - either 48 kHz or 96 kHz - with the switch located just below the external power connector on the right hand side of the mixer.

If you are operating in a high-noise environment, you may want to switch in one of the built-in low-cut filters. Accessing Menu 4 from the Setup display, users can adjust low frequency cutoff between 50 and 400 Hz. There are both "A" and "B" settings available on the front panel LCF switches, so two different filters can be configured simultaneously to meet individual miking needs. Filter rolloff is fixed at 12 dB per octave.

Submenus 6 and 7 under the Setup heading give users access to the mixer's input limiters and output limiter/compressors, respectively. The four input limiters are individually adjustable between 0 and +20 dB (0 and -20 when the display is set to dB FS). The output compressor is completely configurable, and allows adjustment of threshold, ratio, attack and release.

Next, access the Meter Select sub menu from the main Setup menu, and select the type of monitoring desired. Users can select from six different settings. Default setting for the mixer is dB FS; PPM1 provides BBC-type weighting, while PPM 2 yields DIN-style metering. Conventional VU ballistics are available as well.

When you change the metering function, the front panel scale needs to be changed as well. Sony provides six different scale templates with the mixer. Two screws over the LCD display hold the scales in place; once again Sony gets high marks for using mounting screws that are captured, so they cannot be lost. Changing scales is super easy; the plastic templates just drop in.

Next, just below each pair of level controls is a switch labeled "Link/M-S." This switch, in conjunction with the CH LINK/M-S submenu (under Setup) allows the mixer operator to link two channels together as a stereo pair or to configure the mixer for Mid/Side recording (useful for adding stereo presence when recording).

Finally, set the output levels. Master output levels are adjusted with two small potentiometers, located just below the LCD display. Peak reading LEDs are mounted above each of the controls. At the analog output jacks, (located on the right-hand side of the mixer), switches allow you to select either +4 dB, -20 dB or -60 dB for 0VU.

After loading eight AA batteries into the mixer, I selected Setup mode on the front panel Function switch, then dialed up menu 11, Hours Meter, which tracks battery time. Turning the multifunction control one click to the right highlighted the Reset command in the LCD display. A push of the knob, and the meter was reset. The Sony manual says that users should get approximately five hours of operation off of the internal battery; my experiences with battery operation were close to that figure.

For its first test, the DMX-P01 was taken out to cover a press conference. At the location, a single microphone was mounted on a podium, with its output fed to a distribution amplifier/breakout box for reporters' use. The podium mic was fed to Input 1 on the mixer, a reporter's wireless mic attached to Input 2, and a third omnidirectional microphone connected to Input 4 for nat (ambient) sound. In this case, I used the discreet L and R stereo outputs of the mixer to feed the photog's camcorder. (Sony provides a special multipin connector with the DMX mixer that allows the user to make up a custom audio cable for interconnecting a professional camcorder to the mixer, but I did not use this during my testing).

With all controls set properly, we began the shoot. The press conference went off without a hitch. Recorded audio was crisp and clear, and the ability to mix wild sound with the podium and reporter mics added a sense of "presence" to the recorded piece.

Next, the DMX-P01 mixer was substituted for a venerable old analog mixer in a studio sound booth. This booth is manned each morning by two professional translators, who interpret a television morning news broadcast in Spanish for real-time insertion on the station's SAP (Secondary Audio Program) channel.

I removed the old mixer and its associated A/D converter from the booth, and installed the DMX-P01. The AES output of the mixer was then connected directly into the station's digital router.

As the users of the mixer are not particularly "technical," I utilized the device's Parameter Lock feature to "lock out" adjustments they would not normally require. This was actually appreciated by the announcers, as it gave them one less thing to worry about while doing their translating! Input limiting was enabled on each of the two microphone inputs, along with a modest amount of output compression and limiting. After the morning's newscast, both translators reported a perceived improvement in the overall quality of their audio, compared with the old mixer. The only issue the announcers mentioned was the difficulty in viewing the LCD display off axis; even when viewed straight on and backlit, the display is less than sharp.

Summary

With the exception of the LCD display issue, I found the DMX-P01 to be simply an outstanding audio mixer. Rugged and feature-packed, this mixer is sure to become a favorite with the EFP and ENG crowds, and will probably become the new "mixer of choice" anywhere high quality and portability are required. If you have made the jump to digital recording, be sure to give the Sony DMX-P01 a try.