The Fat Bustard: a 12-channel valve summing mixer (with two additional auxiliary inputs, so potentially a 14-input channel summing mixer) that includes some very special equalization, harmonic distortion and frequency-specific stereo spread control. More than just a summing box, then…
The rear of the large 4U enclosure of the Fat Bustard ($5,025) gives the user 14 XLR main and auxiliary inputs—all unbalanced connections.
The front of the Fat Bustard is a retrofest of knobs and switches. The first eight channels are arranged in four stereo pairs with level knobs and on/off toggle switches for each. The next four mono channels also have an associated pan control. The two auxiliary inputs have no level control and are simply switched in or out, hard left and right or summed to center. As you increase the level of the global Attitude rotary control, you get more distortion, which becomes more focused on the highs with each click, with an elevation in the level as well (+14 dB at maximum).
The EQ on the Fat Bustard’s summed output is characteristically original. The controls labeled Bass and Top lift are Thermionic Culture varislope passive equalizers— one control for both amplitude and frequency.
Bass and Top cut switches select 6 dB/ octave slope high-/low-pass filters, with three turnover frequencies, or three filters with shelving characteristics. The final EQ control—Bass to Center—has a bypass mode, a second position where all frequencies below 100 Hz are summed to mono, a third to mono frequencies below 200 Hz and finally, full-spectrum mono. The stereo width section’s Spread Filter switch chooses which part of the frequency spectrum is affected (full spectrum or frequencies above 100 Hz, 250 Hz or 3 kHz). There is also a main Stereo Spread control.
The Thermionic Culture Fat Bustard is certainly not the usual type of summing unit. For starters, there are a lot of valves inside, to comprehensively color one’s audio. Being unbalanced, the unit is susceptible to some additional noise and, as a tube device, the general specs might seem fairly average. However, this is a unit that demands to be run very hot to fully extract its character, and this, in turn, means the inherent noise is not an issue.
The attitude control, even at low levels, has a pleasing harmonic character that becomes increasingly aggressive with each click of the red rotary control. At higher levels, the interaction with the high frequencies and elevation in overall level broadens and makes the Fat Bustard almost bark at you.
The equalizer section of the Thermionic Culture Fat Bustard is far more flexible and complex than it first appears. The Lift and Cut controls have been very cleverly designed and work together well with complementary ranges and frequency selections.
The Thermionic Culture Fat Bustard is a summing device of fabulous quality, both in build and the sheer variety of sonic results one can achieve.