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Test Bench:Carvin StudioMate SM162 Audio Mixer

Test Bench:Carvin StudioMate SM162 Audio Mixer

Carvin StudioMate SM162 Audio Mixer

$495
Carvin Corporation
12340 World Trade Drive
San Diego, CA 92128-3742
(800) 854-2235
www.carvin.com

There comes a time in every video editor's life when a realization occurs: a good video production environment requires more than just quality, affordable video gear it also requires quality, affordable audio gear. Realizing this, companies like Mackie, Nady and Carvin have made the attempt to offer audio mixers that perform well, offer a number of useful features, and don't put too much of a hurt on the pocketbook.

Carvin's StudioMate SM162 16-channel stereo mixer is a viable contender in this growing marketplace. We had high hopes when we heard of this mixer, because Carvin, a serious player in the musical instrument and audio production marketplaces, seldom fails to impress in the bang-per-buck department. Intended for a wide range of applications from video editing and production solutions to home audio recording and live sound-reinforcement applications, the SM162 combines versatility, solid performance, compact design and ease of use, with a price tag that's far below what you might expect.

To test the SM162, we staged a video shoot of a live performance that utilized two phantom-powered condenser microphones arranged in a stereo pair configuration, a wireless lav microphone and a CD player for background music on the RCA Tape inputs. Also connected to the mixer were a pair of headphones and an Alesis Microverb reverberation unit on the effects send channel. The stereo output of the mixer was then sent via two balanced audio cables to the XLR inputs of a Sony DSR-200 Professional DVCAM camcorder.

First Looks
At first glance, the SM162 looks fairly conventional. While it seems to share many visible traits with other inexpensive mixers in its classlike (e.g. cheap-looking knobs, pots and flimsy-appearing XLR input jacks) the actual performance of the above mentioned components was more than adequate. The input jacks, for example, turned out to provide a snug, secure fit, and the control knobs gave just enough resistance for good tactile response. Also, the active circuitry behind each equalization control knob provides smooth, inaudible operation, unlike the passive circuits often used on cheaper audio gear. The buttons, LEDs, RCA jacks and other essential components of the mixer's operation also performed well. The mixer physically wobbled a bit on a flat surface, but this was really only a very minor annoyance.

If you're a videographer who has tried setting up an audio mixer in your production or editing ensemble, but were confused by the number of esoteric features offered and the amount of information provided in small print all over the mixing board's surface, then the SM162's simple, straightforward approach will please you. Only essential information appears on the board, making the SM162 very easy to operate. Kudos to the designers who planned the look, feel and operation of the SM162.

The SM162 is about the size of the DVD player in your living room. It would be a fine permanent addition to your studio and would be entirely comfortable in a roomy edit bay. This isn't a tiny mixer that you can tuck into your camera bag, but it is portable enough to roam with you on studio and event shoots.

Features
The range of features that the SM162 provides goes well beyond what most professional videographers will ever need. All of the essentials are present: three bands of active equalization per channel, tape input, phantom power for condenser microphones, input gain controls and two master send channels. We especially liked the 1/4-inch input that sits between the main input and the 3-band equalization (EQ). There are two ways to use this input: if you plug a 1/4-inch plug in it all of the way, it provides an input between the microphone pre-amp and the equalization circuits. This is an important feature if one intends to process just that channel's signal (e.g. with a compressor) before modifying it with the 3-band EQ. Alternately, pushing a 1/4-inch phone plug only half way in provides an output for that channel while still allowing the channel to work normally.

Sounds Good
Even if we ignored the SM162's excellent set of features, the quality of sound that this board produces would be enough for us to recommend it. Not content to make a product that merely sounds clean, Carvin created a mixer in the SM162 that has a nice, warm tone reminiscent of older tube-based equipment. The board's headroom (the ability to turn up loud and still deliver a clean, undistorted sound) was very impressive, something that audio mixers in this class seldom provide.

Musicians and audio professionals have long known of the quality craftsmanship that goes behind the Carvin name, such as the copper-shielded double-sided circuit board, the Micro Toroid power supply (which effectively rejects noise) and the high-quality microphone preamps. Together, all combine to make the SM162 a fine achievement, a real gem in the video production audio mixer market.

If the price seems steep to you at first, consider that this is a piece of technology that will last for years without becoming outdated. We wish could say the same for our computers and camcorders.

TECH SPECS
Inputs 16 total:
8 Mono Mike/Line inputs (XLR or
1/4-inch monaural)
4 Stereo (x2 1/4-inch monaural each)
Stereo RCA audio in
2 Effects returns (1/4-inch monaural)
Outputs Stereo Line Out (Balanced XLR or 1/4-inch monaural x2)
Headphone Jack (1/4-inch monaural)
2 Effects sends (1/4-inch monaural)
Stereo RCA audio out
Level Indicators LED VU meters
Other Features Phantom power, 3-band EQ, 1/4-inch
pre-EQ channel inserts, Micro
Toroid power supply
Dimensions 16(w) x 12(d) x 3(h) inches
Weight 7 pounds

STRENGTHS

  • Clean sound
  • Lots of headroom
  • Solid construction

    WEAKNESSES

  • Didn't sit entirely flat

    SUMMARY

  • Excellent in the studio, solid in the edit bay and portable enough for the road.
  • Tags:  May 2003
    Joe
    McCleskey
    Thu, 05/01/2003 - 12:00am