RCF M 18 Digital Mixer
By Phil O'Keefe |
RCF M 18 Digital Mixer
Can a digital mixer be musician-friendly enough for live use?
by Phil O'Keefe
Digital mixers aren't new, and many musicians have become more comfortable using them in a live setting. However with their wealth of features and comparative complexity, some of them can still be a bit overwhelming for those who are less experienced at playing soundperson. As compensation, they often do offer features and capabilities that ordinary analog mixers can't match, such as saving presets and recall capabilities. There's also a trend towards tablet-controlled mixers, and of course, if you want to run your instrument direct, digital mixers usually offer effects processing you won't find on analog mixers.
But what if there was a digital mixer designed to be easy enough for the band to use without requiring a dedicated soundperson, that can be controlled from your tablet, and offered excellent processing for running your instruments direct - without requiring a dedicated amplifier? Sound interesting? If so, then Italy's RCF has a new unit for you to consider. Called the RCF M 18, there are several appealing aspects to this compact digital mixer. Let's see what it's all about.
- Packed into a very nondescript and compact box measuring only 13.386" W x 7.087" D x 3.465" H and weighing in at just a hair over 5 1/2 pounds, the RCF M 18 is easy to transport and doesn't require a road crew to haul around - or operate.
- The RCF M 18 is an 18-input (20 counting the USB stereo playback inputs) digital mixer with tons of digital effects and processing capabilities. All control is handled through a free tablet app, and literally everything can be saved and recalled.
- The RCF M 18 features 24-bit AD/DA converters. It has 32-bit floating point internal processing, and operates at a sample rate of 48 kHz.
- I tested software version 1.77, and later updated (via an easy to do firmware update using a USB drive) to version 2.21, which added new features and fixed a few bugs. At the present time, only iPads and Android tablets can control the RCF M 18 digital mixer. For iPads, you'll need iOS version 8.1 or later. I tested it using my trusty iPad mini 2. Android tablets running Android 2.3 or later are also supported.
- The wifi router is built-in, so you don't need to connect to an external router as with some other wifi-controlled digital mixers. The wifi is dual band and supports both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz operation on multiple channels. There are also two antennas - one internal, and a removable external one. All of this helps ensure that you can connect and stay connected, even in fairly "noisy" environments with lots of RFI.
- The M 18 has a internal power supply that will operate on 100V - 240V and it draws a maximum of 40W. I was happy to see that the power supply is built-in - no external adapters means less to lose at a gig, right?
- All of the I/O is located on one side of the RCF M 18. This includes 6 XLR Mic Inputs, two additional combo Mic/Line inputs (with combo XLR / 1/4" TRS jacks), as well as 10 1/4" TS Line Inputs. Unfortunately, with the exception of the two combo XLR / 1/4" TRS jacks on channels 7/8, all of the line inputs are unbalanced (but they can be set for either +4 dBu or -10 dBV operation).
- Line Inputs 9/10 can be switched to high impedance (1Mohm) for plugging in your bass or guitar direct. Once you do, you can use the onboard amp emulations from Overloud and various effects to get a very respectable and polished sound. The Overloud amp sims sound very impressive, and add considerably to the M 18's capabilities.
- Each digitally controlled mic input has up to 60 dB of gain, and preamp settings can be stored and recalled. 48V phantom power is switchable in four-channel blocks, so you can turn it on and off on channels 1-4 and 5-8 independently.
- There are six aux sends, each with a dedicated standard 4-band parametric EQ and 1/4" TRS balanced output jack capable of pushing +22dB levels. These can serve as external effect sends or monitor sends. The software allows each band member the ability to control their own monitor sends individually via their own tablet.
- A 1/4" jack supports single and dual footswitches, which can be used for various control functions such as muting effects and recalling effect presets. Both momentary and latching type switches are supported, but momentary switches need to be of the normally open type (Boss FS-6, etc.).
- A stereo 1/4" headphone jack allows monitoring the main mix, the PFL, as well as a "Personal Mix" that can be dialed up independently.
- A LAN port lets you use an external wifi router if desired. The LAN port is also slated for "future applications," so the possibility of a dedicated hardware controller for the M 18 exists.
- The rear panel has 5-pin DIN MIDI in and out ports.
- The software GUI is a thing of beauty. Not only are the graphics impressive, but it's very musician-friendly, easy to figure out, and very importantly for a live mixer, you can get around fast on it.
- Each input channel has its own gate, compressor and four-band EQ.
- The EQ features high and low shelving bands and two fully parametric midrange bands. Additionally, you can select from different EQ types, with Standard, Vintage and Smooth types available.
- The M 18 has is a wealth of effects processors - 19 total. Three dedicated effects sends are included, and multiple effects (up to four per channel) can be chained and assigned to individual channels using the 16 insertable effects. In addition to the usual delays and reverbs there are also amp sims and other effects from Overloud that are ideal for processing a direct-connected guitar or bass - no need for an external amplifier and effects pedals. And these sims really do sound good!
- Additionally, the main stereo output has three dedicated "mastering" type effects - Valve Warmer, Xciter and Maximizer. There's also a stereo 31-band graphic EQ on the main stereo output. The Main Output jacks are on a pair of standard XLR connectors, and have +22dB maximum output levels.
- This mixer can save and recall literally everything, from the mic preamp settings to individual channel settings to the effects. If you return to the same venues on a semi-regular basis, this can save you loads of setup and soundcheck time.
- The RCF M 18 has a USB Type A port for connecting an external FAT 32 formatted USB hard disk or thumb drive, which is handy for playing backing tracks or making a stereo recording of your live set. A playlist function comes in handy here. Recording times of over three hours are supported. Recordings are saved as 48 kHz WAV files, and WAV, MP3 (up to 320 kbps), and AIFF stereo file playback is supported. The recorded signal taps off the main output, just prior to the 31-band graphic EQ, and includes its own dedicated 4-band parametric EQ. The playback is assignable to the main outputs, as well as to the effects and aux sends.
- Currently, the only way to control the RCF M 18 is through the app, which means you're at the mercy of Apple and Android for the control surface unless RCF decides to make a LAN-based hardware controller.
- You have to reconfigure your tablet to select the RCF wifi any time the signal between the two is lost…unless it's set as your only default wifi connection.
- The RCF M 18 does not have enough mic preamps for some situations, such as multi-miking a full drum kit. You could use a four-mic setup (leaving four more mic preamp channels for everything else in the band) or you could use a submixer for the drum mikes, or an electronic kit. RCF does say on their site that other versions with different channel counts are in the works, and a smaller version (the RCF M 08) has already been announced, so there's hope that a version with more channels may be forthcoming.
- Out of the box the wifi connection is password-free and unrestricted. That's great for helping you get connected as easily as possible, but leaves you wide open if used this way at a gig to anyone who wanted to download the M-series MixControl app and mess with you. I'd recommend assigning a wifi password before using the M 18 at a gig.
- There are no gain reduction meters on the compressors.
- No feedback eliminator processors are included. Hopefully they'll be considered for inclusion with a future software update.
Overall, there is a lot to be said for the RCF M 18. It's packed with features such as multiple EQ options and gobs of effects, it sounds very good for an inexpensive live board, and with its intuitive software and musician-friendly OS, this small format digital mixer could be a very good solution for the needs for many small groups who lack a dedicated soundperson. The iOS control is reliable and easy to use; the onboard wifi lets you adjust your mixes from practically anywhere in the venue, and lets everyone adjust their own monitors too. The sound quality of the onboard effects is very good - particularly the Overloud processing. You really can run a guitar and a bass direct and leave your amps at home. You'll never have to cram your bass amp onto a small stage again.
The main limitation is the number of mic inputs, but there's plenty here for smaller groups and for those who need line inputs as much or more than they need mic inputs. For example, I could see this as being a very cool board for a DJ who wanted to sum a couple of controllers and multiple audio sources, and with its abundance of (unfortunately, unbalanced) line inputs, it would also be a great choice for keyboard-heavy bands and electronic musicians, as well as groups that use electronic percussion and pad kits, singer/songwriter duos, jazz trios - you get the idea.
While I do wish the M 18 had balanced line inputs and more mic channels, not everyone needs a board with 24 - 32 inputs, and there are plenty of channels here to fit the needs of many different potential users. Besides, those channels are chock full of useful features. RCF says their goal was to make a mixer that was designed for musicians, have great graphics, and would be easy to use, even while playing. I'd say they admirably achieved all of those goals. -HC-
RCF M 18 Digital Mixer ($999.00 MSRP, $899.00 "street")
RCF M 18 Manual and Quick Start guide
RCF M 18 Specifications (web link)
You can purchase the RCF M 18 Digital Mixer from:
Mixer Software Features video:
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.