Soundtracs consoles

Soundtracs Topaz

 

 

First here's an original Independant REVIEW of TOPAZ 8 / PROJECT 8

The Soundtracs Topaz Project 8 replaces the original Topaz mixer, but the changes between the two consoles are largely cosmetic. The body of the Project 8 is now a dark gray Nextel finish. (Nextel resembles a "fuzzy" paint look.) Additionally, the garish pastel knobs of the original Topaz have been replaced with dark knobs for a more professional look, and bushings have been added to the knob shafts, providing a solid feel. Other than these and a few other minor alterations, there are no major feature or performance changes between the discontinued Topaz and the new Topaz Project 8.

The Project 8 is an analog 8-bus mixer designed for multitrack recording that comes in 24- and 32-channel (48- and 64-input) versions. Because it's an in-line design, the Project 8 has two inputs (Channel and Monitor) for each channel strip. Generally , the Channel is used for recording live tracks during tracking and overdubbing and for tape tracks during mixdown. The Monitor can be used to monitor previously recorded tape tracks (or virtual MIDI/workstation tracks) during tracking/overdubbing and for sending any other line input source to the 2-track bus during mixdown.

Channel Inputs

Starting from the top of the input channel, the Project 8 has a scribble strip and switches for phase reverse, phantom power, flip and bus (more on flip and bus later). The gain pot has a 10dB to 60dB range for mic and a -20dB to 30dB range for line-level signals.

The channel EQ section has a high-shelving band at 12 kHz, low-shelving at 80 Hz, and two swept-mid EQs. MF1 EQ is sweepable from 350 to 8k Hz, and the MF2 EQ is sweepable from 50 to 1k Hz. All EQ has a +/-15dB range and a center detent. EQ bypass switches are provided. A dedicated 2-band EQ devoted to the Monitor input consists of high-/low-shelving EQs (80 and 12k Hz), both with a +/-15 dB range.

The aux section uses a four-of-six arrangement, meaning that there are six aux send outputs, but only four can be used on a channel at a time. Aux 1 is a pre-fader channel send, and Aux 2 is a pre-fader monitor send; unfortunately, these cannot be switched for post-fader use. Auxes 3 and 4 are post-fader sends and can be switched for use with either the Channel or Monitor input. Switches allow routing Aux 3 to the Aux 5 output and Aux 4 to the Aux 6 output.

Connection

All of the jacks, except for headphone and talkback, are located on the back of the mixer. The mic inputs are XLRs; all others are 1/4-inch phone jacks. Inserts are TRS, requiring Y-cables for sends and returns.

Each channel has five jacks: mic, line, insert, monitor/tape in and tape out. There are separate mic and line input jacks, but as there is no mic/line switching, only one source should be plugged into these jacks for each channel. Whatever is plugged into the mic or line jacks is by default routed to the channel input. The insert jack (post-EQ) allows you to process each channel individually. The monitor/tape in jack is routed by default to the monitor input section on the channel strip. You will normally connect your tape returns here, but you can connect any other line-level source. Pressing the Flip button reverses the channel and monitor assignments. Whatever is connected to the mic or line inputs will now be routed to the monitor section, and whatever is plugged into the monitor/tape inputs will now be routed to the channel section.

Project 8 employs an elegant floating-bus scheme, which allows you to record using direct outputs or the group bus, without repatching. The tape out jacks connect to your tape inputs and serve double duty as both direct outs and group bus outs. These work in conjunction with the bus switches on the channel strip. When the bus switch for a channel is not depressed, that channel's tape out jack functions as a direct out.

In addition to the floating-bus scheme, Project 8 has eight dedicated Group Out jacks. The rest of the back panel contains eight TRS insert jacks for the groups, Aux 1-6 output jacks, four TRS stereo effects return jacks, control room A and B L/R jacks, studio L/R jacks, main L/R jacks, main L/R TRS inserts, monitor mix L/R jacks, 2-track A and 2-track B L/R input jacks, and connections for the outboard power supply, optional meter bridge and automation. Although non-rackmountable, the power supply's convection cooling does not require a fan and provides silent operation.

Options

The optional meter bridge contains the same type of LED metering that is used on the Topaz and has one meter for each channel, as well as two standard VU meters for the L/R Mix. The meter bridge plugs into the connectors provided for it on the back of the Project 8. The 24-channel meter bridge is $849; a 32-channel version is $949.

The optional VCA fader/mute automation consists of a 1U rackmount unit, one ribbon cable for each 8 channels of automation, automation software for Windows, and a manual. If you buy the Project 8 with the automation, the VCAs will already be installed in the Project 8 for you. If you buy the automation afterwards, the VCAs will have to be installed, which involves taking apart the Project 8. (For further information about the Project 8 automation, please see the sidebar, "Project 8 Automation.")

Opinions

The Project 8 has a nice feature set. Besides individual phantom power on each channel, it has phase-reverse switching, which is not commonly found on mixers in this price range. Project 8 also offers dedicated 2-band EQ for the monitor section, so you don't have to worry about splitting the main channel EQ. I also liked having both Mute and Solo switches in the monitor section. Using its Merge button feature, you can treat the monitor section as an independent submixer or merge it with the L/R mix. Having the peak LEDs near the channel faders makes them very easy to see.

The studio and control room monitoring sections are flexible, with provisions for playback of two tape machines without repatching. If you have near-field and main speakers, the two sets of speaker outputs allow you to switch easily between them. Combine this with a flexible talkback section, separate headphone level control, extensive group assignment capability, and a master Solo LED with level control, and you have a potent set of features that make the Project 8 an excellent mixer for any project studio.

The Project 8 sounds fabulous. From the moment I first heard it, I was impressed by its sound quality. Even with the EQ set flat, I liked what the Project 8 did to the sound. With virtually any signal that I tried with it, the Project 8 imparted a very pleasing, slightly "compressed," yet natural sound. It tended to make all my mixes sound like a "record," even with the EQ set flat. So yes, the Project 8 does have a distinct tonal quality, but I like it. I felt it improved the sound of my recordings and mixes.

Another major plus for this board is its so-called "British EQ." Soundtracs has a winner with the EQ used on the Project 8. I can't say enough good things about it. The lows were tight without being boomy. The highs were crisp and airy, yet not shrill. The two mid-bands were well-defined without being muddy or harsh. In a word, the Project 8 equalization is musical. And you get six bands of it! The EQ is a standout in this fine-sounding mixer.

The Project 8's mic preamps were very quiet. I used them with dynamic and condenser mics, and I was perfectly satisfied with them for a mixer in this price range.

The Project 8 also has plenty of headroom. I could always get ample gain for any signal I fed to the Project 8, yet I never encountered any distortion problems. The board is very quiet and is particularly well-suited for digital recordings. However, there was one slight problem. The peak LEDs on each channel tend to light at too low a level (that is, even though the peak LED was lit, I could still increase the gain quite a bit without hearing any distortion). The manual states that the peak LEDs should light 5 dB before clipping, but in fact they light at a much lower level. For example, when recording kick drum, the peak LED would be continuously lit, yet no clipping was present.

Ergonomics

The Project 8 is attractive and well-laid- out, with overall good construction. The board is raised in the rear and slopes down toward you, making most of the channel legends visible while providing adequate space to operate the controls. All the buttons on the board snap into place with a reassuring click and the height of the buttons makes it easy to determine whether a button is up or down. One nice touch is that all Solo and Mute buttons light up when depressed. The actual buttons themselves light up, making it very easy to see exactly what has been pressed.

I also liked the feel of the faders. They were smooth, but not too loose-feeling. However, there are no rubber coverings in the fader wells. Soundtracs said this was a design decision--if the rubber warps, it could interfere with the fader's travel. The knobs feel a bit flimsy, and sometimes it was difficult to find the center detents.

Also, I would have liked the metering to have better resolution. I found the meters to be a bit finicky at times. When setting levels, I would be at -3 dB, and just a slight increase in the level would light the 0dB LED and would cause the +3 and +6 LEDs to flash on peaks. I also had a slight problem with my meter bridge, but Soundtracs assured me that the problem would be corrected when the final units shipped. I have now verified that the units that I have seen in stores have had the problem corrected. All in all, the Project 8 has a good look and feel for a mixer in this price range.

I have a few minor complaints about the Project 8. First, there is no built-in talkback mic. Second, there is no Solo In Place. Third, you can only assign the effects returns to their local groups. Fourth, the +4/-10 settings for the tape ins and outs can only be changed internally. But these are minor problems, and you can work around them. However, I did find the Aux Send section to be somewhat limiting.

As I mentioned, there is a dedicated channel cue send and a dedicated monitor cue send. But only two (out of four) post-fader effects sends are usable at one time. And if you assign one of these to the Monitor section, you only have one post-fader send for the channel during mixdown. With the low cost of today's effects units, I think that many people have more than two effects units available at mixdown, yet Project 8 only provides two simultaneous post-fader sends. I think a minimum of four post-fader sends should be available at mixdown for a board in this price range.

However, Soundtracs says that future Project 8s will be designed with internal links, configurable to use Aux 1 and 2 as pre- or post-fader sends, although Aux 2 will still be devoted to the monitor. And further, they will be set from the factory as post-fader sends. So according to Soundtracs, future Project 8 units will have 4 post-fader sends, with one dedicated to the channel, one dedicated to the monitor, and two that can be individually split between the channel and the monitor, and the first two can be internally configured as pre-fader sends. But changing the default settings will involve disassembling the Project 8 and either cutting or soldering the links. Other than the limited number of post-fader sends, I found the Project 8 to be a very well-thought-out board with a host of useful features.

The manual is relatively thick, but about half of it contains parts lists and schematics. Some of the information in the feature section is sketchy. For instance, the entire description of the phase button states, "The phase button reverses the phase of the input signal to cancel out-of-phase conditions." But no information is given as to when the input signal might be out of phase and why you would want to cancel out of phase conditions. I realize the manual is not intended to be a primer on multitrack recording, but since the Project 8 is marketed toward the project studio market, more thorough descriptions are warranted, and a tutorial would be a nice addition. However, the manual has excellent sections on the principles of sound recording and hooking up, and technical information, as well as a helpful block diagram.

Home Stretch

The bottom line is that the Soundtracs Topaz Project 8 sounds great, has a good feature set, is attractive, ergonomic and well-built, offering an optional meter bridge and VCA fader/mute automation, all at a very attractive price. But how vattractive? U.S. retail pricing is as follows: 24-channel Project 8: $3,995; 32-channel Project 8: $4,995. I would recommend the Topaz Project 8 to anyone interested in a solid analog 8-bus in-line recording mixer. If you're looking for an alternative to the Mackie 8-Bus series of mixers, the Topaz Project 8 may be just the ticket.

(Special thanks to Danil Dreger, the manager of the Queens, NY, Sam Ash store, for loaning me power cables when my review unit arrived with cables, but no plugs.)

Project 8 Automation

For those who need additional horsepower, an optional automation package is available for the Topaz Project 8. Combined with your Windows computer, this option adds $2,200 to the retail of a 24-channel board, or $2,500 to a 32-channel mixer.

The Project 8 Automation was a snap to install because the VCAs were already installed in the review Topaz I received. The VCAs, according to the manual, are the latest trimmable versions from Analog Devices. It took about ten minutes to hook up the hardware and five minutes to install the software. I received V1.01 software for Windows. The Project 8 automation is controlled through the software only and not through the faders and mutes on the mixer. The software has an attractive user interface and was relatively reliable in operation. The manual was a bit sketchy, but it tells you what you need to know to get started. I was up and running in no time.

The automation records and synchronizes mixdown events using MIDI Time Code (MTC), and it supports MIDI Machine Control (MMC). The frame rates supported are 24, 25, 30 ndf, and 30 df. The automation allows control of channel fader levels and channel mute on/off. You cannot control monitor, Group or L/R fader levels or monitor mutes.

There are three main windows: Main Fader, Group, and Mix File. The Main Fader window can be configured for 24 or 32 channels, and it displays a replica of the mixer faders and mutes. Fader and mute levels are controlled by pointing and clicking and dragging these controls. However, the actual hardware mixer's settings do not move. You can put either the faders, mutes or both in Record mode, which records all your fader and mute moves; in Play mode, which replays those moves; or in Trim mode (faders only), which allows you to record events on-the-fly, while the mix is playing back. An Isolate mode allows you to mix "live," without recording your mix moves. In addition, a Safe switch prevents you from accidentally changing any settings, and there are stereo channel links for locking any two adjoining channels into a stereo pair. Any changes made to one channel affect the linked channel. Master channel controls put all channels, except those in Safe mode, into Play, Record, Trim, Isolate or Safe modes. You can also set all channel fader levels to 0 dB (nominal level) or off, and you can change the view of the Main Fader window from small to large.

The Groups window allows you to group any number of channel faders, controlled by a single fader. These virtual software groups bear no relation to the 8 group outputs on the Project 8.

The Project 8 automation supports both real-time mixing and offline editing. That is, you can make changes to your mix after you have recorded it in real time. Snapshot automation is also available, which will reset all faders and mutes to the positions they were in when you took the snapshot.

Offline editing takes place in the Mix File window. Here you can insert, delete, move, copy, join and nudge events using a timeline. There is also an Undo button and numerous zoom levels. You can also automatically fade the mix out (but not in) and save, load and name individual mixes. There are many other ways to edit your mix events, but space prohibits me from mentioning them all.

There is also a Notes window for writing comments about the mix and a very nice Tracksheet. You can select numerous options and save them. There are nine menus consisting of File, Edit, Tools, Snapshots, View, Console, Options, Window and Help, as well as a Toolbar. There is a timecode display window with transport controls, for use with MMC, that is always visible. It can be moved, but not closed or placed behind other windows. I found that this window tended to get in the way.

Using the automation was generally a pleasure. The software has extensive online help. Everything worked as it should, and the system only crashed once. The software was intuitive and easy to use. Although I've been automating mixes with MIDI sequencers for years, this was my first time using software to control a hardware mixer, and the results were quite satisfying. The Project 8 uses dynamic frame-accurate fader and 1/4-frame-accurate mute automation. I had no trouble with zipper noise, but there was a small problem with the end of the faders' taper: When I manually faded out a track, the sound would be totally faded out when the software fader was not fully down. Other than that problem, the automation worked remarkably well.

There is no hardware fader pack to control the automation so, to the best of my knowledge, all mix moves have to be made through software or through some kind of third-party fader pack. But for software automation, it did a fine job and I recommend it. --DJF

Dominick J. Fontana, an attorney in New York City, is the owner of Studio di Fontana, a multitrack/MIDI recording studio. He is also a Sysop in the CompuServe MIDI/Music Forum.


I'll let the users do the promotion...

November 2008:

Hi Tim,

I just went through the internet and came across your great website.
I am still running two TOPAZ (24 and a 32) in our Studio here in germany.
They are working as one :o)
I thought I let you know that I sold more than 6 million records since 1993
And all of my hit records were mixed on those great mixers.
And I still do !
Anyway... I wish you a great Sunday .. And TOPAZ forever ;o)

Respect from germany,
Thomas

PS. Our Studio is 5 min. away from the Dortmund-Airport (that’s why it’s AIRBASE media).
And Porsche is our neighbour... So if someone want’s to buy expensive cars, he can do both:
Recording & Shopping :o)

http://www.myspace.com/thomasdetert
http://www.airbase-media.com

well I am gobsmaked , what I always thought to be a Project console ceratinly does the business here!


August 2008: Got an email from Olley in Southampton ,his psu board had blown and needed to send it in for repair , I just had to post this as a confimation of how great these desks are :

Hi Tim,

"Thanks for getting back to me. Will get the PSU off to you on Monday with a cheque for £70 adn send another e-mail to confirm posting.

I agree, we've get to keep these desks going; I bought my Topaz new back in 1995 with the meter bridge, £3500!!, and this is the first time I've ever had a problem in 13 years!!! I love the analogue sound and having all those knobs and sliders in front of me, much more tactile and intuitive, I even like the pastel colours. So anything you can do is marvellous.

Have a great weekend, and again sorry for waking you this morning.!!

All the best,
Olley

A week later...

Hi Tim,

PSU arrived today, a Sunday, I know, evidently the Post Office are very busy hence deliveries on a Sunday; put the board back in and voila, I've got all my power LED's on and wonderful audio coming out, thank you very much!! I'd forgotton how good the desk sounds, the silver lining in this cloud was having to use another desk for a while, gave my ears a comparison!!

Thanks again,

All the best,
Olley


TOPAZ PROJECT 32 sold to Malcolm from OXFORD here is his return EMAIL:

Thanks for the drop off, very much appreciated!
As for the mixer? Wow! Love the low noise of the desk and the Eq is unbelievable. Once I have it setup proper I will send you some pics.

Thanks again
Malc

and a follow up email:

Its excellent Tim, I cant keep off the damn thing! I was up till gone midnight last night, you know how time flies when you get in to it!
I know I said that I liked the EQ section last time we spoke, but now I’ve had a chance to use it proper and I really am impressed. I can get an amazingly broad spectrum out of it and it almost sounds like a filter when swept. Love it!
I have all the groups setup to various Comps and Dynamics, I didn’t have groups on my last mixer, so that has really added a lot of quality to the mixes. I still only have the mixer temp setup at the moment because I haven’t been able to wire up all my instrument individual outs, but I should be able to get that all finished next week which I’m looking forward to.

Thanks for sorting me out Tim!


Last year a PROJECT 24 to Tom at The Yard. Heres his Email:

Hi Tim

I hope you're well. Just to keep you upto date with whats going on our end. Firstly the desk is working lovelly, (i think it feels at home now.) Also we have a website up and running now www.yard1.co.uk if you want to check it out. Again hope everythings well, keep in touch Tom

The yard 1 Project, Unit 1 Nuttaberry Yard, Nuttaberry Hill, Bideford, Devon EX39 4EA


I think the following two Emails just about wrap it up for how good these little devils really are :

Hello Tim,

Love your geat site. I'm a longtime engineer from Chicago. I lived in Highgate a couple years when I worked for the Kinks and Ray Davies.

I also work with Tim Powell from Metro Mobile Recording in Chicago. He suggested I write to you.

I have a Topaz that I picked up and stored 2 years ago. I now have it in service in my new home studio. I have one input that is 6db down in both the line and mic inputs. The tape return is ok however. Any ideas? I'll be in there soon to change the two track return levels to
+4 so Ithought I'd ask the expert first.

I love these little desks. I even recorded the Rolling Stones on one.
It was for their small blues stage in the middle of the Soldier Field stadium. Ed Cherney was cutting the main stage with Metro Mobile's Neotek Elite. When I got my crack at it with the Topaz I kicked his ass! He even admited it and couldn't believe how good the Topaz sounded. Of course he left in a limo, and I wrapped cables until 4am!

Thanks alot!
Mike Konopka
mikekonopka.com

PS: Can I send you a virtual Guiness?


More glowing TOPAZ users !

Hello Tim,
How are you doing? Please allow me to introduce myself, since I feel as though I already know you (I've been looking at your website and your posts for many years now). My name is Greg and I'm a professional audio engineer and sound designer here in good ol' Los Angeles. To make a long story short, I've been using a Topaz 24 for about 7-8 years in my personal studio. The Topaz has been amazing, always sounded fantastic and I've actually mixed a huge number of projects through it. I also have a TAC which gets used (sometimes) for synths but is a pretty noisy....this E mail went on about how he would like to buy a SOLITAIRE on the back of the Topaz' excellent performance ::Best Regards,--
Greg Ripes
Audio Engineer
20th Century Fox & Fox Digital


http://noradstudios.com


Also: hate to blow my own trumpet but there is a great thread about the Topaz Projects on the SOS Forum


And theres KURT in Hawaii , did a really nice repair job on his TOPAZ that got damaged in transit :

Hi Tim
A few weeks back I bought a 24-Channel Soundtracs Topaz. Unfortunately the seller did a poor job packing it. It got damaged during transport. One of the side-rails got crushed and the meter-bridge case cracked. I started repairing the console in gluing back the parts and patching the cracks. After doing all the cosmetic work and a new paint job the Soundtrack looks like new again

I also repaired the VU-Meter's backlight, replace two regulators, and straightened the front rail. The new color chosen makes it look more like a Solitaire. Having the same color for the sides and the meter-bridge looks stunning.

Since there have quite some caps for the jacks missing I replace all of them (138) with brand new Neutrik gold plated NJ5FD-Vs. Now I like to modify the Auxes for post fader operation. The console has been modified for +4dB operation, but I like to double-check that as well. It is time to purchase to user manual! Please let me know the total including the shipping to the USA. I live half around the world in Hawaii. I do have a PayPal account.
My Topaz was built in 1994(?). I believe that recapping is overrated. No need to do this for my Mixer another 10 years. But I like to hear your opinion!
Regards, Kurt

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