If you are like me, you are likely always on the look out for things you can do to make your performances or recordings better. Sometimes that augmentation is on a grand scale (a new guitar, anyone?); but often one can make small changes that have a big impact. One of those changes just might the addition of a small tool to your audio arsenal: a small-format PA mixer.
Using a portable PA for the intimate gig is all the rage these days; however, plugging your instrument or your voice directly into many of these admittedly very helpful devices can nevertheless produce a less-than-desirable outcome. There’s only so much tweaking of your sound you can do with the minimal EQs and limited (in quantity and quality) effects provided on most of these units.
Ok, so hopefully you’re convinced of the wisdom of taking on a sidekick mixer to augment your main portable PA. One temptation might be to pinch your pennies and get a bargain model. But wait! You don’t have to “settle.”
Soundcraft, long one of the leading manufacturers of studio and touring mixing consoles—the kind you see supporting some of your favorite international acts at their stadium shows, or helping them produce their latest top-10 smash-hit album—also offers a line of compact, portable PA mixers. One of the most recent to be released is the Soundcraft Notepad 124FX.
The Notepad 124FX has 12 inputs, the first four channels providing line and mic inputs on separate connectors (XLR for the mics, TRS jack for the lines) and gain-controls. Each also has a three-band EQ (note: all level controls except the main volume are rotary pots) plus a push-button 100Hz high-pass filter. An effects send level, L-R pan, and channel level knob is also provided fro each channel.
The other eight input channels are arranged in stereo pairs of TRS. These don’t have EQ, only effects send and output level controls, and pan, but do offer a two gain levels by push button (4dB and 10dB). Beyond the channels are found: two balanced main and two monitor 1/4” outputs; a TRS effects send output; two pairs of RCA jacks, for input (returns) and recording. A minimal dual four-LED indicator setup gives you a visual level above the main fader.
The on-board digital effects section is made up of a small screen with two rotary pots and one button. The first knob chooses the effect and doubles as a tap-tempo switch for the beat-linked effects, while the second knob adjusts the effect level going to the main mix. A basic but solid selection of effects is provided, including reverbs, delays and choruses as well as some other weirder effects.
Upon plugging in and turning up the Notepad 124FX, I was immediately reminded of Soundcraft’s reputation for high-quality audio. Even in a small, affordable package, the quality was top-notch, with no noticeable noise or channel crosstalk. Both vocals and electrified acoustic guitar came through crisply, with no unwanted coloration. To add our own tone colors, it was easy to get a quick EQ mix, dial up some tasteful reverb for the voices, and some chorusing to broaden the guitar sound, thus achieving a rich, full sound, overall.
The Notepad 124FX almost qualifies as the perfect example of a small utility mixer. An internal USB audio interface is the only thing that seems “missing,” only because of the plethora of other mixers that contain that now-standard feature to serve the computer-based recording / performing user. However, you’ll be hardpressed to find a mini-mixer that has BOTH Soundcraft-level audio quality AND a built-in sound card for a street price just under $150. – Dan Walsh
Video: Soundcraft NotePad Mixers introduced at Winter NAMM 2010