Does the world really need another multi-purpose, compact mixer? I guess how you answer that question depends on how satisfied you are with the current crop of boards. There certainly are many choices out there. Now, Soundcraft has decided to stir things up with its line of Spirit M Series mixers. I received the M12 ($849), the largest in the group, for evaluation.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, broadcast, post production, location recording, live sound, educational, multimedia
Key Features: Twelve full-featured mono channels; 4 stereo line channels; numerous analog outputs and a digital output
Contact: Soundcraft at 615-360-0471, Web Site.
I hate to start a review by talking about cosmetics but this board mandates that I do. The M12 is the sportiest looking board I have ever seen. Its aerodynamic edges and brushed aluminum side extrusions make it look like one of those GT cars whipping around the track at the 24 hours of LeMans. You could raise your studio rate just by having it on the coffee table in the lobby. If you want to hit the road, just take off the extrusions and the M12 can be rackmounted. Enough talk about show, how about the go factor?
The M12 is 19.04 inches tall (11 rack spaces), 4.65 inches deep, 19 inches wide (19.93 inches in tabletop mode) and it weighs 19.7 pounds. It is a 16×2 board that packs 12 mono channels, four stereo channels and four stereo returns. The mono channels feature XLR mic inputs, 1/4-inch line inputs (TRS), 1/4-inch direct outputs (TRS) and 1/4-inch insert jacks. Additionally, each mono channel strip has controls for input gain, high-pass filter (switchable at 100 Hz), highs (12 kHz), mids (sweepable from 240 Hz to 6 kHz), lows (60 Hz), two prefade aux sends, two post-fade aux sends and panning. These mono channels also have pushbutton controls for mute, PFL and Direct Pre (to send a prefade signal out of the channel’s direct output). Below the pushbuttons are LEDs for signal present (green), peak (red) and a long-throw, 100mm fader.
The stereo channels have dual 1/4-inch (TRS) input jacks, high EQ (12 kHz), low EQ (60 Hz), two pre and two post-fade aux sends, pan, mute, PFL and the same LEDs and 100mm fader as the mono channels. The stereo returns have dual RCA female inputs, gain controls and a peak LED.
The Master section of the M12 has attenuators for returns master, playback level, mono sum output, monitor, headphones and the four aux returns. Also, there are pushbutton controls for returns mute, P/B PFL, P/B replace Mix and AFL for the four auxes. This section is also home to a 12-step stereo LED ladder, L/R main faders (100mm) and a headphone jack.
Considering its compact size, the M12 has an impressive array of outputs. There are two balanced XLR main outs, a 1/4-inch mono sum out, a stereo pair of 1/4-inch outs for monitoring (a.k.a. control room), a pair of main mix inserts (1/4-inch unbalanced), 1/4-inch outs for the four auxes and a S/PDIF output (44.1 kHz) that carries the main mix. Also residing in the output section are playback returns (RCA), the four stereo returns (RCA) and a switch for global phantom power.
With regard to function, the M12 works almost as well as it looks. It is very sensibly laid out, no manual really required. It has a remarkable feature list for a console of this size and price. Surprisingly, all 12 mono channels have inserts and direct outs, making it a snap to do sound reinforcement and multitrack recording at the same time. The inclusion of a S/PDIF output is a big plus too.
I used the M12 on a remote recording session where I was working on a project with pianist/composer Tony Bernardi. Tony does improvisational classical music in a 20th century vein. His piano is a Steinway Grand that has a dark, warm sound and it sits in an all-wood room that is very reflective. I used the M12 to facilitate a direct-to-digital two-track recording and it worked superbly. The mic preamps in this board are clean and quiet and the EQs (which I used conservatively) are very powerful. Using a pair of Audix SCX25s on the piano and an Audio-Technica 4051 in the room, I was able to get an image with which we were both very pleased. It was very detailed, capturing all the warmth of the Steinway, with just a hint of the room sound. For monitoring, I used the M12’s P/B outs to a pair of powered monitors.
The M12 seems ideal for live sound work too. There are enough XLR inputs to mic a small band and with all those inserts, dynamics control is attainable. With four auxes there you can have a couple of stage monitor mixes and some effects sends too. There are plenty of inputs for effects returns and external devices such as CD, video audio and more. I also liked the fact that Spirit has used an internal power supply, unlike their FX series boards which use an in-line, external supply. My only beef with this board is that it does not have 16 mono channels (for use with two MDMs). However, given the space constraints, Soundcraft has done an excellent job at packing this little console full of useful features.
I think the world really does need another compact mixer, especially if it is as competent and stylish as the Spirit M12. This little board packs many features and Soundcraft quality into an affordable little package. The M12 would be right at home just about anywhere – recording studios, nightclubs, schools, you name it.
Audix SCX25, Audio-Technica ATM4051 microphones; TASCAM DAP1 DAT recorder; Mackie HR824 powered monitors.