Speck Electronics XTRAMIXcxi
Ultra Compact 8 Bus Synth/Line Mixer
By Mark Farmer
Compact size in electronics these days has become a big player in the field of so many others. Speakers, microphones, computers have all followed suit as well as mixing consoles and rack mixers. Each month dozens of electronics become outdated in some way or another. In order to design a great product the proper gathering of smaller pieces must reflect the end result. With this in mind, Speck Electronics has designed a compact mixer that is an unrivaled product with all the right smaller pieces. Speck Electronics has been in the pro-audio field since 1973 manufacturing recording consoles and is now concentrating on compact audio mixers.
The ice blue Speck is a four-rack space unit, weighing in at a mere 33 pounds with the external power supply. An International IEC/AC cable, a power supply interface cable and rack ears are included inside the box with the XTRAMIXcxi. Consuming only four rack spaces the XTRAMIXcxi is one of the smallest 8 Bus mixers seen by these eyes. A possible 76 input and 18 outputs maintain this piece as a highly flexible product. Still have your attention? By ordering off of Specks web site a price just under $3000.00 this product can be acquired saving the average consumer over $1000.00 from retail prices. A 16-channel rack EQ unit with 3-bands of sweepable equalization is also available for more input control.
Speck has allocated roughly half of the unit for 20 stereo line (1/4") inputs making up forty of the possible inputs. Within these stereo inputs, are the 8 Bus assignment, 8 effect sends, a pan (balance) knob and a solo button. At the bottom of each input module is a stacked set of input control knobs. The top knob is a Stereo Level Control and the bottom outside knob controlling the Input Balance or Pan Control to the Subgroups. Four small white, finger size, pushbutton switches allow appointment to any one of eight individual Subgroups or in-groups of four. As with any small console or mixer, using a combination of the Subgroup assignment switches and the Pan knob allow the user to distribute the signal anywhere possible. To the right of the Subgroup assignments, four black small pushbutton switches attend to Stereo Effect Send designations. Yes, that is correct, Stereo Effect sends. Sticking with a similar assignment principle, a dual stacked knob controls the amount of Input sent to odd or even sets of Effect Outputs. Speck also installed a switch on the rear of each Input Channel labeled Stereo/Mono that will sum the right and left channels creating a mono signal for the Effect sends out of each channel. When Stereo/Mono is selected in the rear a yellow LED becomes lit on the front panel next to a small M. Two other LEDs are present on the Input channels. An input Signal LED and a Solo LED light up when activated. Each channel is also numbered with large easy-to-read white numbers.
Moving over the right side of the XTRAMIX shows off the Stereo Effects Return Channels, Subgroups and the Master Section. Within the Stereo Effects Return section are eight stereo returns. A set of five white buttons allows assignment to any of the eight Subgroups, Mono or Stereo. Again, a Solo button with its own red LED has been installed to monitor each Stereo Effect Return from the headphone jack. Panning and Stereo Return Level are controlled by two separate knobs below the assignment buttons. A Mono switch among the five buttons links the Stereo inputs as a combined Mono signal and lights up the yellow Mono LED.
The Subgroup and Monitor Channel section gathers and controls all information sent and allows adjustment of the Stereo mix, Monitor outs and Headphone output. Three buttons and three knobs have been set up for distribution and signal control. A Buss/Line switch manipulates the Subgroup in the Buss mode or the Line signal when the 1/4" rear line jack is in use. As with the other sections of the XTRAMIX, a Solo button and a Mute button are standard in the Subgroup/Monitor section. Additionally, a green LED glows when the Mute button is depressed. The master Buss Level is controlled by a potentiometer at the bottom of each Subgroup section. The Monitor Level control knob is a dual use knob in this section. It controls the Monitor level from each Subgroup master in the Buss mode and the overall gain of the external mono or stereo (rear) Line input. The third knob is a Monitor Pan, which guides the Monitor signal to the left or right.
Speck Electronics have done their homework by simplifying the entire signal direction into a compact easy-to-understand Master Section. This section on the far right of the unit is grouped into eight sectors. The 1/4" Headphone jack and its level control has been conveniently placed on the front panel for monitoring. One little ditty in this section that could be handy in some situations is the omni-directional Talkback microphone. The Stereo Program Master volume controls the gain to the stereo program feed. This can also be set up so the source of the Monitor and Headphone are post Master Program Level Control. Two other leading gain knobs are located within this Master section, the Stereo Monitor Master knob and the Aux. Return Level. The Monitor Master guides gain to the main Monitor outputs that could be connected to a near-field monitor system. The Aux. Return Level regulates any outboard device plugged into the Aux. stereo inputs and sends this signal to either the Headphone and or Monitor leaving the Stereo Master and 8 Subgroups untouched. A pushbutton Kill switch below the Monitor Master knob and Aux. Return each have a corresponding LED, giving the user instant on/off access and monitoring capability. Although, when muting the Monitor Master, it does not effect the Program Master or Headphone outputs. A Cue Return Level and Pan knob have been designed to allow, for instance, a master headphone mix from a recording console or click track pushed through the Specks Headphone and or Monitor sends. An Aux. Mute switch is again available for signal loss on or off to the Headphone and Monitor mixes. Completing the Master section is a series of multi-colored meters, monitoring the Stereo and 8 Subgroup outputs. A pushbutton switch and a nifty select system allows for versatile meter monitoring capability. A dual color LED recessed into the top of the Master section serves a dual purpose. When the Solo/Power LED is green the unit has been powered up and when red, one of the specific Solo buttons has been pressed. This is a nice touch and shows Speck has put thought into designing the XTRAMIXcxi.
I must agree with Speck after using this product, this is the Swiss army knife of mixers. I enlisted the help of OATH Studios/GBS Records to test out the Speck in one of its popular applications. The studio owner and I set up the mixer to blend keyboards and send effects from the Speck prior to reaching the mixing console. Using the manual and a supplied flyer as reference guides, we used the Subgroup assignment buttons to assign the keys to Monitor/Buss 1 and 2. We employed the Program Master outputs for sending signal back to the studio-mixing console. The inputs can not be assigned directly to Program (Stereo) Master Outputs and must be assigned to a Subgroup first. We used the Input Channel Solo button and the V.U. Select button to achieve a proper signal without distortion. Depending on where the effects are getting their send depends on which Effect Assignment Switch is depressed. We left the 1/3/5/9/ (odd) button out since our reverb unit was testing Effect Output send 1. With the XTRAMIXcxi, the Odd Changeover Switch must be left in the up position for Effect Buss 1 and 3 to be operable. We advanced our keyboard signal from Channel Input 1 and 2 to a reverb unit using the smaller top Effect Send (odd) knob. One last step in adjustment allowed us to blend the reverb and dry key signal together. The reverb return had to be assigned to a Sub-Mix, we choose Monitor/Buss Channels, 1 and 2, the same as our keyboard assignments.
Playing along on the keys with the ADAT was all that remained. We spent a few minutes blending the keyboards and reverb prior to reaching the studio console and achieved great results. The mixer was dead silent, no noise, no distortions or coloring of the keyboard and reverb were heard. Stereo separation of the keys was deep and wide even without the reverb. As complicated as this set-up may appear it only took about a half an hour out of the box to make noise. This includes our references to the manual and finding the correct cables. In a recording studio, this piece could be an invaluable resource rather than purchasing a small console mixer. It is light enough to be transported to gigs for keyboard players, disc jockeys, or even live remote recordings. Permanent installs and convention centers could easily employ the eternal versatility of the XTRAMIXcxi.
A feature of note is the green channel LEDs which light up when signal is present. All 20 channel inputs have LEDs which light even without channel input assignment. No mention of channel overload could be found in the manual, which for example, might change this LED red. Adding a dual color LED here it would save two steps of having to Solo the channel and change the V.U. metering, but this is nitpicking. Looking over the Speck, it is amazing the compactness of all the features and connectors arranged into such a small blue box.
Technology, especially electronics have been on an extreme upswing the last five years. This product from Speck Electronics is definitive example of a giant step for electronic kind. The principle is this, develop a rack-mounted mixer, improve the tonality, versatility, quality, functionality, and allow it to be expanded and call it the XTRAMIXcxi.
Mark Farmer is a sound engineer with Live Technologies in Columbus, Ohio and a regular contributor to Pro Audio Review. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
+Packed with features
+Hordes of inputs and outputs
-Pan, Return and Mon knobs too close
-Power supply interface cable connectors
A unrivaled, coherent product,
with more inputs and outputs than
most mid size mixing consoles.
Speck Electronics Inc.
341 E. Alvarado Street
Fallbrook, CA 92028