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Phonic Digital Mixer 16


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Digital mixers were supposed to be “the next big thing.” But while Yamaha made a pretty good go of it, they never quite took off as expected when the world went virtual. Mackie’s D8B stalled out early on, as did offerings from several other companies. Panasonic did reasonably well with their DA7 console – which frankly, I thought was a genius piece of gear and I still have mine – but they overprojected how many they would sell, and there never was a follow-up.

 

So here we have Phonic trying to get traction with a digital mixer in a virtual age. If you’d told me two years ago “Hey, Phonic has a digital mixer” my reaction would be have been “Yeah, whatever.” But that was before I did a Pro Review on their PAA6 audio analyzer, which while perhaps not the sexiest product in the world, surprised me with its functionality, user interface, and original thinking. Then I did a Pro Review of their Firefly 808 interface, and was very impressed not just by the cost-effectiveness, but the specs – in some respects, it outperforms far better-known, and definitely more expensive, products.

 

The Phonic Digital Mixer 16 goes for a street price of under $1,900. That link takes you to the Digital Mixer 16 page on the MF site, where you can check out the basic specs and such to get an idea of what we’ll be covering. I was rather taken aback by the 102-day wait from order to shipment; maybe this means they’re selling enough to be back-ordered. In any event, it’s a pretty eye-raising price for a mixer of this type, so it will be interesting to see how it shakes out on the test bench.

 

There's a LOT to cover here - it does USB and FireWire interfacing, has moving faders so you can switch among various layers and have the faders return to where they were on any given layer, includes effects, and the whole thing is controlled by a lot of physical controls as well as a full-color touchscreen. Let's take a look at the main view.

 

IY7F3.jpg

 

The layout is fairly conventional - a row of faders along the bottom, a patch bay along the top, output section to the right, and a variety of controls and buttons. I probably should have chosen a more exciting screen to show off the touch screen, but we can take care of that now...

 

u7FYR.jpg

 

This is the screen for a channel strip, which has EQ, dynamics, delay, the various sends, and so on. You can also dive deeper into individual effects; here's the dedicated compressor screen.

 

5pNE6.jpg

 

If you look around the back, you'll see a bunch of connectivity. We'll get deeper into each section, but this will give you an overview.

 

LLEqE.jpg

 

So...indeed, it's a digital mixer. As to how to cover it, probably the best idea is to go through the functionality first - what's the I/O, what does it do, how many fader layers does it have, and so on. Then it would probably make sense to get into the effects and the touch screen, then into the computer interfacing. But of course, pro reviews tend to sort of follow their own path, so we'll see what happens.

 

There are two limitations I want to get out of the way from the outset. First, the moving faders are solely for restoring levels when you switch layers; there's no internal sequencer you can sync to a DAW for automated mixing, nor is there MIDI I/O so don't think of this as a controller - it's a mixer. Second, the touch screen is cool for reasons we'll see later, but it's generally used for selecting parameters, and you use a data wheel for varying the actual value - it's not like the touch screen on, say, a Korg M3 where you actually change the values on the screen. However, the data wheel is detented, so this approach has the advantage of making it easy to dial in settings.

 

Anyway, it's late - I did a ton of pictures, and prepping them always takes time, so that's it for now. However, this should give you a taste of an interesting mixer, and we'll find out why it's interesting as we proceed.

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Off to a nice start Craig. Nothing to comment on at this point, except perhaps that MIDI I/O and internal sequencers are things we're interesting in doing somewhere down the line. Probably not for the next generation, but we do have some ideas we're throwing around.

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Hi Grant! Welcome back. Your participation is always welcome, because you don't seem fluent in marketing-speak. smile.gif

I have to apologize for the slow start, it probably wasn't a good idea to start this just before Messe. I've uploaded 27 Messe videos so far, and still have some more to do...but I'll be getting back to this early next week. I try to get all trade show videos uploaded with 7-10 days after any given show closes.

I will say that you seem to have packed quite a few features into a well-constructed unit. I don't think I'll drop it to test it, but I think that if I did, aside from some cosmetic damage it would probably still survive.

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Finally...I'm back! The firmware is updated, the drivers are installed, Windows XP and Windows 7 are both humming so I can test on 32- and 64-bit platforms, and the mixer's looking pretty darn good. I'm in the process of running tests, but let's get more of an overview of what's up with the general mixer architecture. Let's start with the inputs.

0VDyS.jpg

Inputs: 16 mono mic/line inputs, with phantom power that can be enabled for groups of four mics. Instead of using combo jacks, you'll find separate XLR and balanced TRS 1/4" line inputs. Having inserts for each of the 16 ins is welcome, but even more welcome is that there's a discrete wiring diagram for the inserts that shows the tip is output, and the ring is input. If elected president in 2012, one of the first laws I'll propose to Congress is having this kind of diagram shown on anything with an insert jack. Well, I guess that wraps up the pro audio vote smile.gif Finally, again for each input, there's a -20dB pad switch, gain control with up to 16dB gain, and a red LED peak indicator.

Here are the rear panel phantom power selectors.

9VnYX.jpg

Buses: There are eight Aux and eight (sub)Group mixes to which the faders can be assigned. Of course there are master outs, but there are also eight "multi" outs - ideal for cue mixes for different performers, or sends to hardware effects; these can be fed from the Aux or Group mixes.

Faders: Depending on what layer is selected, these set the level of the currently selected Channel, Aux/Group (both fit on a single layer), or Main mix. As they're automated, they snap to the positions when you choose the different layers. They don't relate to mix automation as there's no internal sequencer or synchronization; this is mainly about recall for live performance. The faders aren't silent by any means, but the sound level isn't objectionable. This closeup shows their calibration and labeling.

Rwdmv.jpg

One important general point is that the buttons are big enough to make good targets, with enough space around them to prevent accidentally hitting one button when aiming for another. The faders are close enough together that you can easily move groups of faders easily (sometimes automated faders need a fair amount of space between them because of the space taken up by the fader mechanics), but easy to move individually. This closeup shows what I mean about the button spacing.

MDgtJ.jpg

Outs: The Main and Control Room outs are XLRs, while the multi outs are balanced 1/4" jacks. The 2TR RCA phono in and outs seem like an anachronism in today's 1/8" iPod minijack world, but the ins are handy for popping in a CD player for pre-show music (I don't even do seminars without pre-show music, so I'm a fan of not having to give up two inputs for this purpose). In terms of digital I/O, there's AES/EBU and word clock, as well as USB and dual FireWire ports if you have the optional USB/FW card. There's also an SD card slot on the back, but no MIDI I/O - if you're expecting scene or preset changes via MIDI, it ain't gonna happen. These two pictures show the rear-panel I/O.

Q568B.jpg

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Effects: Phonic touts the two effects processors, but these are actually multi-effects processors that can be used as inserts in channels or with buses. We'll get into these deeply later, as they're a major selling point of the mixer; for now, suffice it to say that one has eleven effects that feature reverb but also have modulation effects, while the second has eight effects that feature echo but also include other modulation effects. Furthermore, each channel includes dynamics, EQ, and delay. Unlike some mixers where delay is included only to tune out timing differences between channels, this can tune out delays in 0.1ms increments but also work as a delay effect with balance and feedback controls.

So that gives you a basic idea of what the mixer is about. The main points to discuss in future posts, in addition to the specs, are navigation and the depth of features you can access via the color touch screen.

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Now that we have an idea of the mixer’s general design philosophy, let’s check out the performance. Bear in mind that these are true, real-world specs where the output loops back into the input – so it includes all of the signal chain, including the mic pre, summing bus, and output stage.

Consider the A-weighted noise first.

4SMRv.png

The performance is surprisingly good – most noise sits just above -130dB, except there’s a gentle rise starting below 200Hz or so that lands at around -120dB at 30Hz. This is actually interface-quality noise performance, which is a good thing given that the mixer is also designed to serve as a 16 x 16 audio interface.

Next up: frequency response.

a39JZ.png

Again, we have excellent overall performance. Response is essentially flat down to 20Hz, down 0.2dB at 10Hz, and down 1dB at 5Hz. You want low end? You got it. This ranks up there with the best interfaces I’ve tested so far in Pro Reviews for low-frequency response, the Roland Octa-Capture and Avid Mbox Pro.

At the high end, there’s a slight rise that starts around 10kHz, reaching +0.2dB or so at 20kHz. If this was done deliberately to add a little “air,” I seriously doubt that anyone could possibly hear any difference . . . if it’s a function of the filtering that’s used, then I also doubt that it would have any deleterious effect on the sound. So, as far as I’m concerned it’s basically a non-issue, good or bad.

And let’s move along to Total Harmonic Distortion.

UAbhN.png

The 2nd harmonic component is down -70dB, and the third harmonic sits at -90dB. You’ll also see fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eight harmonic distortion components that average around -105dB. While this isn’t as good as something like the Mbox Pro’s spectacular THD specs, given that we’re dealing with a digital mixer that has a lot of I/O and you’re going to be pumping a fair amount of signals through it, I doubt you’re going to be too concerned with a single component at -70dB, and everything else lower than -90dB (which for reference, is sometimes considered a ballpark figure for the maximum amount of attenuation with an analog potentiometer).

While we’re on the subject of distortion, let’s investigate the intermodulation distortion specs.

yCyRC.png

Here you can see the prominent 60Hz and 7kHz spikes used to create intermodulation distortion, and the distortion products that result. The highest distortion component is around -70dB, while the remainder average around -110dB. Again given that this is a full-function, low-cost mixer, these are surprisingly good specs.

We’ll close out our journey into geek-land with a look at crosstalk.

euVp3.png

These specs are considerably better than average, with crosstalk sitting mostly below -90dB. Only below 100Hz is there a very slight rise, but even then, the worst-case spec is -84dB at 20Hz, and only for one of the channels – the other remains pretty close to -90dB.

Overall, I have to say these specs are much better than I expected, especially given the Phonic Digital Mixer’s price and intended function. If nothing else, it helps to support my contention that these days, the art/science of making converters and preamps is pretty evolved – to the point where even reasonably-priced gear offers specs that not that long ago would have been considered the top of the high end.

So, now that any questions about audio performance are out of the way, let’s turn our attention to the effects. Why? Because the rest of the mixer is quite straightforward, and in all the interfacing I’ve tried (which we will cover in more detail later), everything works exactly as expected. However, a mixer with a serious roster of effects is a bit out of the norm, so it seems like the topic is worth “front-loading” in the review – particularly because I’ve taken lots of screen shots so you can see the depth of parameters that are included, and also, recorded a bunch of audio examples in case you’re wondering “but do they sound any good?” Well, we’ll find out.
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Hi Craig

Thanks for your valuable inputs. wave.gif I have attached some graphs for more information about the THD+N % Vs. Frequency and Frequency Response. The mixer stand alone mode had much better performance.

Best Regards
Larry Lai
Phonic Corp.

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Hi Craig, one thing that an engineer here has asked me is if you've tested this via the FireWire/USB? We were looking at your test results and he thinks so. Apparently you get even lower THD and such directly through the unit itself (plus it's something we've previously improved via firmware updates). I pointed out it could just be a different testing standard (not that I'm an expert on testing), but thought I'd mention it anyway.

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Quote Originally Posted by grant_phonic View Post
Hi Craig, one thing that an engineer here has asked me is if you've tested this via the FireWire/USB? We were looking at your test results and he thinks so. Apparently you get even lower THD and such directly through the unit itself (plus it's something we've previously improved via firmware updates). I pointed out it could just be a different testing standard (not that I'm an expert on testing), but thought I'd mention it anyway.
Yes, I did indeed test with the mixer running as a USB 2.0 interface, as the RightMark analyzer runs within my computer and does loopback measurements, which is the way I test all the interfaces here.. BTW I did update to the latest firmware, but I'm wondering if someone who knows more about testing and interfaces could explain in terms a guitarist can understand smile.gif how USB affects performance. For example, are the interfaces that can also work as standalone mixers for, say, a keyboard rig capable of offering better performance when used as a mixer than as an interface? Or does this apply only to particular types of circuits and applications?

I never object to being educated...I'd find this interesting, and probably some other people reading this thread would as well.
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Okay, there was a misunderstanding somewhere along the way. The engineer is now telling me that it’s not the USB interface itself that changes the THD results, it’s the test signal source. The quality of the test signal impacts the accuracy of the measurement. When he told me he got better measurements in standalone mode it’s because he used a more precise test signal (Audio Precision 2700). But, I mean, if you use the same test signal for all reviews you do, then all the results on your tests will be relative to one another. I think that’s all the customer (or the reader of your review) will care about in the long run: What kind of THD they’ll get when in actual use.

So, in short, sorry I interrupted.

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Hey, no problem! Wish I had an AP 2700... smile.gif

But yes, I do use the same procedure for all the units I test, so at least everybody is subject to the same potential inaccuracies! However, I did go back and check out the THD and IM figures for the 808, which are considerably lower. Just to make sure there wasn't an error in the testing procedure, I'll re-test those two aspects of the performance and make sure that some control wasn't misset somewhere. I'm pretty sure everything was well within the headroom of the mixer, but if not, I'll find out. In any event, the specs were quite good anyway - especially given the fact that the product is a mixer with lots of inputs and a very cost-effective price. And as I pointed out, unlike some companies, these were full input-to-output specs, so it's taking into account any changes taking place anywhere in the signal path - input, preamps, summing bus, and output.

I can't run the tests right now, as I'm away from my studio for a few days. I also have some audio examples of the effects I haven't posted yet, so I'll do those first. But, I have zero problem with re-doing tests, especially because the mixer is still fairly new to me and it's possible something was misset somewhere, or perhaps an effect was inadvertently not bypassed. So never be concerned about "interrupting." The object here is to present the most objective, useful information possible.

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Uh-oh, more gremlins...I "soft" deleted Larry Lai's duplicate posts, and when I did, for some reason the screen shots Mr. Lai attached got unlinked!! When I used the undelete function, the links never came back mad.gif

Could he please re-post them? I wanted to make a point about the frequency response graph - I zoomed in much further with mine, so each division was only 1dB. This made it easy to see the 0.2dB rise at 20kHz (insignificant, yes, but it was measurable). The graph Mr. Lai attached was zoomed further out, and I think if he zoomed further in on the vertical axis, he'd see the same rise. On the other hand I zoomed out further on the horizontal axis, which is why I showed frequency response down to 5Hz. If you look at the same part of my graph that was shown by Mr. Lai's graph, as far as I can tell, the frequency response is for all practical purposes identical.

But I'll still check out the THD specs just to make sure.

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Quote Originally Posted by formula428

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I'm curious how these specs compare to other interface/mixers near this price, namely the SL16.4.2 and 01V96VCM?

 

I don't have them here, so can't run any tests. However, I did pro reviews of the Mbox Pro, Roland Octa-Capture, and Phonic Firefly 808 Universal, as well as a review in the content side of the site on the Mackie Blackjack. I think you'll find that these days, most units in the same price range are comparable but one might have a little more crosstalk but less noise, or a little less distortion but slightly higher noise, etc. Based on what I've tested so far, the Phonic mixer has extremely low noise and crosstalk, typical frequency response although with more low end response than some, and slightly higher THD and IM specs - but I plan to re-test the last two, just to make sure.
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Let's move along to the effects, as they're a unique aspect of the mixer. There are two multieffects, and each has a slightly different roster of effects. Effect 1 emphasizes reverb, so presumably, you would tend to use that as a bus/aux effect although you're not limited to that. Here are the various effects it offers.

3X2iW.jpg

When you tap on the big blue "algorithm square" (the one that currently says "Reverb Room") the above menu shows up, where you can select the effect you want.

Effect 2 works similarly except it has no reverbs, only echo and modulation. This is something you might use as an insert effect on an individual channel, or as an aux bus effect.

N23t9.jpg

Next, let's look at the reverb in depth, and include some audio examples.

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Just so you get some background, I'm not a huge fan of digital reverb. I was raised using acoustic spaces and EMT plates for reverb, and those are my standards of comparison. So when I say I think the Phonic reverbs are unusually good, that's saying a lot.

Each reverb type offers multiple algorithms. Here are the ones for plate reverbs.

xesxN.jpg

Now, just because I say I really like the reverbs doesn't mean that as soon as you call up a preset, you're going to love the sound. Of course, reverbs need to be tweaked for different instruments - for example, adding a lot of diffusion for drums, and dialing it back for sustained sounds like string pads. Again, the Phonic reverbs are great in this respect, offering enough parameters so that you can totally shape the sound for the desired end result. For example, I really appreciate the inclusion of a highpass filter so you can keep kick drums and bass out of the reverb, as well as a high frequency ratio control. Density (very much like diffusion) is also key to getting a good reverb sound.

Here are the parameters for the room reverb.

3Nq86.jpg

Of course, the proof is in the listening. If you're thinking "how can the reverbs in a mixer at this price point be any good? What was Anderton smoking?," listen to the audio examples of Hall and Room reverbs. I used drums to best expose any periodicity or graininess, and let the tail decay so that you can hear how it remains smooth until it disappears. Check out the examples, and see if you don't agree with me that these are some really great sounds. I'll wait while you listen to them...

...
...
...

See what I mean? I went for the smoothest possible sound as that's the hardest to get with digital reverb, but rest assured it's possible to get more irregular or grainy sounds if that's what you want.

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Hi Craig

Thanks for your valuable inputs. thumb.gif

Here you are. wave.gif

Figure 1. THD+N Vs. Frequency - AP2700

Figure 2. Frequency Response - AP2700

Figure 3. FFT Spectrum - AP2700

Figure 4. Summit's internal SG - RMAA

Figure 5. RMAA Looptest - RMAA


Best Wishes
Larry Lai
Phonic Corp.

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Let's look at some more effects. This shot shows the chorus parameters, which like the reverb, are quite comprehensive. In addition to the "standards" (Initial Delay, Depth, LFO Frequency, and LFO Type [waveform]), you also have LFO phase as this is a stereo effect.

Vx9SX.jpg

Now let's look at the Phaser. What's interesting about this is that you can determine the number of stages in the phase shifter. Few stompboxes offer this option, and surprisingly, not a lot of plug-ins do either.

P5aO9.jpg

The Tremolo is your basic tremolo with Depth, Frequency, and Waveform.

R8tk4.jpg

And of course, what good are screen shots without audio examples? Check 'em out...I find the chorus quite luscious, and the phaser is nice and thick.

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You may be able to revisit the effects before the review is done. We've got a new firmware coming in the next couple of weeks and it will add one new effect, plus slightly change the way that input and outs are assigned. The new system may be better or worse depending on your preferences, but the new effect is definitely going to make live performances better (ok ok, you twisted my arm, it's a 31-band GEQ).

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Insider info smile.gif Thanks Grant! Yes, the 31-band EQ is a great idea for live.

BTW, not sure why, but my previous post showing the Chorus, Phaser, and Tremolo was treated as a "moderated post" so only moderators could see it (it's an anti-spam thing). It should be visible to all now.

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Now let's look at some more effects, and of course, we'll lay on some audio examples.

First up: The Auto-Pan.

1kH9O.jpg

This is fairly standard, but it's unfortunate there's no tap tempo (remember, the mixer has no MIDI I/O, so you couldn't sync to MIDI clock). But Grant from Phonic reads this thread, and they do update the unit, so...hey Grant! How about tap tempo on Tremolo, Vibrato, Auto-Pan, etc.?

Now let's look at Echo. This one doesn't have tap tempo, but there is a tap tempo echo effect.

EuqwM.jpg

Note that this is a stereo echo, with separate delay times and feedback for the left and right channels. I also really like that there are highpass and lowpass filters - great for, saying, keeping kick drum out of the mix, or dulling the highs so echoes don't "step on" the dry sound.

Next up: the flanger.

XRNtk.jpg

Interesting aspects here are LFO phase for the two LFOs, and a lowpass filter.

Finally, there's a vibrato -shades of those old Magnatone amps smile.gif

Wo0cS.jpg

Pretty straightforward...it's a vibrato.

Next, check out the attached audio examples so you can get an idea of what these sound like.

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It's a little difficult to figure out how to explain what's going on, as this is a sophisticated mixer with a lot of options. There are also multiple ways to accomplish similar functions. For example, you can adjust delay parameters when you're viewing an individual channel. However, there's also a screen where you can see, for example, the delay parameters for channels 1-8 simultaneously. Why is this important? Because if you're working in one channel and you want to make a tweak, it's easy to do. However, if you want to set up delays on multiple channels, it would be more time-consuming to flip through the different input channels than to just go to the delay page and do everything there.

Basically, we're not dealing with a linear product where you can start at the input, work your way to the output, and discuss everything in between. Instead, it's more like "parallel processing" and the way you'd work with the Digital Mixer 16 depends very much on how you like to work, what you need to do, and the context (for example, live performance vs. recording).

So what I'm going to try and do is go from the more universal features to the more esoteric ones.

The operating system segregates the mixer into various options, which you can select for display in the touch screen. We'll start with the View option, as this gives results that are most like a traditional mixer.

For example, if you have an input channel selected, View shows you the equivalent of a "virtual input channel." If you're looking at the individual outs ("Multi" outs), you can see what kind of processing and other functions are available. View the auxes, and you see which channels have auxes enabled, and metering. For now, let's view an input channel.

KqFAv.jpg

The left-most section has the basics - fader, panpot, enable, solo, phase invert, whether the meter to the right of the fader is pre- or post-fader, whether interfacing is active, and whether sending this to the main output is enabled. Oddly, the "virtual fader" isn't touch-sensitive, but hey, that's why you have physical faders! If you want, you can also adjust it using the data wheel.

The EQ has no adjustable parameters on this page, but shows the graph resulting from editing it in the EQ screen - which you can get to by touching the graph, as that opens up the editor.

Similarly you can't really adjust the dynamics on this page, although it's worth noting that the dynamics section has independent Gate, Expander, Compressor, and Limiting. You can enable these individually on the channel view page, and the gate even indicates when it's closed or open - a very helpful touch.

As the delay has a lesser number of parameters (Time, wet/dry Mix, and Feedback), you can adjust all of them on this page. Note that this delay is not just for tuning out timing differences, but with delays up to 1 second, wet/dry mix, and a feedback control, it's eminently suitable as an effect.

Now take a look at the Channel and Order buttons. As these have little triangles, it means you can touch them and open a pop-up menu with more options. In the case of Channel, you can jump immediately to any other input channel (1-16)...as you can by hitting a hardware channel Select button (that's the kind of thing I mean about having multiple options). The Order button opens a menu with six different routing orders for the EQ, Dynamics, and Delay processors. So yes, you can have EQ before or after dynamics, compress echoed sounds or echo compressed sounds, and so on. This is another feature that's much appreciated, because I've found there's no one-size-fits-all solution when deciding, for example, whether EQ should go before or after dynamics.

Toward the bottom, there's a strip of Aux send controls. Again, there's a screen where you can see more details on what's happening with the Aux controls, but also again, it's handy to see this info here. Aux pre/post is less intuitive, as you need to press the Enter button when an Aux is selected to toggle between pre and post. However, so far this is one of the few situations where you really do need to go to the manual to figure out what's going on.

Below the Aux sends, you can see whether a channel is being assigned to a Group or not. One helpful fine point you can't see in this picture: If a group fader is turned up, these buttons will show the associated levels for the groups. This is great for why you're wondering how come you can't hear anything from Group 3 - if the button shows Off (as it does here), it means the fader is down all the way.

Now let's look at the EQ and Dynamics sections in more detail.

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First of all...I added in several more photos back at post #4 if you want to see some closeups of various parts of the mixer.

Anyway, as mentioned in the last post, if you touch the EQ display in the Channel view (or anything else with EQ, like the Multi or Main outs), you open up the full EQ where you can edit the settings. This is a full-function EQ with multiple options.

9rvWo.jpg

There are four fully-parametric bands, although the low band has low-shelf and low cut (highpass) options. Similarly, the high band allows for high-shelf and high cut along with a parametric response.

The frequency range for each band is 20Hz to 20kHz, with boost up to +18dB and cut to -18dB. You can enable and disable each band individually, and jump to the EQ on another channel by touching the CH button and choosing a channel from the pop-up menu. There's metering for the EQ input and output - very convenient and useful.

You can adjust the EQ curve using the touch screen, but I find it far more precise to touch the EQ parameter and use the data wheel to dial in the value. I could use the touch screen to do general settings, but for detailed work, the data wheel is the way to go.

I also think the data wheel acceleration curve may need to be tweaked. It's very easy to make precise adjustments with the data wheel, which is great. But if you want to move rapidly from, for example, the lowest to highest filter frequency, the display lags a bit if you move the data wheel rapidly. This isn't necessarily something I find bothersome as my priority is making fine adjustments, but I would make the acceleration curve a little less drastic for quick data wheel motions.

Aside from that, one other very important point is that you can save, load, and delete presets (you can also reset the curve if you want to start over). This is of obvious value if, for example, one of the channels comes from a singer who always uses a particular mic. You could store a preset like "Cheryl_SM58" and recall it whenever Cheryl is using an SM58. Of course, you don't have to be that specific; you could store a "point of departure" preset for something like acoustic guitar, and do minor tweaks depending on who's playing, and which guitar they're using

Next up: the dynamics section.

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It's not unusual that a mixer would include dynamics in a channel strip, with compressor, expander, gate, or limiter. But what's unusual about the Phonic Digital Mixer 16 is that it offers compressor, expander, gate, and limiter--simultaneously. So yes, you can gate out low-level hum, apply downward expansion to hiss, compress the signal, and add the limiter so that if you choose, for example, a fairly long compression attack time to get through transients, the limiter will capture them. Dynamics as a whole can be enabled or bypassed, but you can also enable or bypass each of the four dynamics processors individually. This makes it easy to, for example, set the four processors as desired but enable/disable only the compressor for individual songs.

As you'll see in the shots of the mixer touchscreen, you can see all the curves simultaneously as well, so while you're adjusting something like the expander you can see how the threshold relates to the gate. As with the EQ, you can save, load, rename, etc. presets.

First out of the gate is, well, the gate. smile.gif

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This is pretty conventional: Threshold, Range (reduction amount, i.e., how much the signal is attenuated when the gate is closed), Attack, Hold, and Release. The gain reduction meter shows the gating in action, but one cool feature is that the gate button flashes to show when the gate is opening and closing.

Take a close look at the graph: You can see the overall curve (in red) the represents expansion and compression. The small blue ball indicates the gate threshold. So, you can see that expansion kicks in at around -40dB, while gating happens when the signal goes below -53dB or so.

Now let's look at the expander section.

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There's nothing really unexpected here - Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release, and Gain Reduction meter.

Onward to compression.

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You'll find the usual compressor controls: Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release, and Makeup Gain. You don't get more esoteric options like a choice of knees or different compression curves, but given the dual studio/live emphasis, this is all you really need in a live situation and there's advantage of rapid setup.

For our final dynamics processor, let's look at the Limiter.

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Not surprisingly, this has the smallest number of controls: Threshold, Attack, and Release. Note the little blue ball at the top that is the mirror equivalent of the gate - it shows where limiting occurs, and how it relates to the compression curve.

So, how does it all sound? To my ears, these are very smooth dynamics processors. Of course, you need to set the parameters properly, but for typical situations you won't really hear them in action except with more extreme control settings.

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Some of you may be aware that New Mexico is going through its worst forest fire in recorded history. Well, it’s just across the valley from me, and it’s been happening for a week. The week before that, there was a smaller fire just north of here, and before that, smoke from the Wallow fire in Arizona that started at the end of May was being carried up through central New Mexico. So basically, we’ve been suffocating for over a month.

Here's what it looks like across the valley from my house.

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So what does that have to do with the Phonic Digital Mixer? Well, my family relocated out of the smoke, and the Phonic was sitting in my office instead of the studio because I was taking photographs of it for this pro review. One afternoon I left the house with the office window open (definitely a mistake) and when I returned in the evening, smoke had basically permeated my office and there was a fine layer of ash over everything, including the Phonic Digital Mixer.

I was wondering if all that fine ash would cause problems with the faders, pots, or switches, but I blew some compressed air on it, and everything seems to be fine – no sratchiness or crackles. This also made me notice something I hadn’t noticed before – the motorized faders have small, flexible strips (rubber, perhaps?) on each side of the slider, and meet in the middle (there’s no gap) to protect the insides of the fader.

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This is kind of hard to see in the photo, so I circled the place where it’s most obvious that the two flaps meet; note the line, and that there’s no gap. When the slider moves up and down, it opens up a space between the flaps, which closes up behind it. If you look closely, you can still see some pieces of white ash that my cleaning didn’t remove.

I looked at some other gear I had with motorized faders, and none of them had these flaps. Hmmm...in the future, I’m going to check for this and give props to companies that have faders with this kind of protection, the same way I give props to companies that mount jacks and pots with nuts and lockwashers instead of just mounting them to circuit boards and having the jacks or shafts protrude through a hole (the Phonic uses lockwashers and nuts for the jacks, but not for the gain trim pots because obviously, they get a lot less use compared to the channel faders themselves).

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