It all started simply enough…the earliest “sound recordists” needed a way to combine 2 or more sources (microphone or line) into a single destination (a mono recorder in the beginning). These units had volume controls for the sources and a selector for choosing what kind of input was coming in to the mixer. With the advent of multi-channel recordings, it was now possible to take the output of the individual tracks and process them back through the mixer, thereby giving the sound engineer the ability to change the levels of the recorded tracks AFTER they had been recorded..pretty revolutionary. Of course, this opened up a whole new range of possibilities..what if there was a way to be able to change not just the volume but also the TONE of the recorded tracks (after they had been recorded)…so simple BASS and TREBLE controls were added. Enterprising engineers kept pushing the envelope, adding ways to to process tracks with effect units (reverb and delay) and compressors and limiters. They soon discovered that it was possible to radically change the sound of the original recording by having control of all of these elements. You could have a really soft singer with an acoustic guitar actually be LOUDER than the drums in a mix..something that is not possible in an actual unamplified environment. You could use a compressor in such a way that it made it sound like the room was exploding with drums…and you could manipulate (some would say “abuse”) the compressors and limiters to make the recordings REALLY LOUD.
As things progressed, console manufacturing became an actual business (most of the earliest recording mixers/consoles were hand built to order) and the race was on to make a console that had EVERYTHING in it (SSL/NEVE). These consoles grew in size and complexity (and cost) but they were popular because they were the shortest path to getting a professional sound.
It was expensive for the “home recordist” to compete with the major studios. Semi pro tape machines (TASCAM/FOSTEX) didn’t have the headroom or dynamic range to compete with a Studer Tape deck and early home consoles suffered from poor mic pre amps and mixing facilities (I know..lots of people made records on these semi pro units at the time). There was also the race for more and more tracks..linking multiple 24 track machines became common. But the digital revolution was about to change everything, starting with the “DAT” stereo recorder. It was reasonably priced (compared to a half inch tape mixdown machine) and promised many things that the tape machines could not deliver on such as low cost and small medium (the DAT tapes were half the size of a regular cassette), no tape related hiss,no alignment and maintenance headaches and zero generational loss when copied (digital to digital). The reality was that the “Analog to Digital” convertors in the early DAT machines didn’t sound very good and the tapes were not very robust and frequently eaten by the DAT machines..in fact, most DAT tapes from the late 80’s/early 90’s will not play back without significant distortion and/or drop outs.
A company called Alesis figured out a way to put 8 Digital tracks on to a VHS cassette and make the machines linkable, so that it was possible to have 24 (or more) tracks of digital recording for a significantly lower price than an analog 24 track machine. Meanwhile,a small company was putting together a computer based recording system called Pro Tools that didn’t use tape at all..and the mixdown console was built in to the software. Many other hardware and software companies developed similar products (I refuse to get in to the “DAW War” discussion) and it became possible for home recordists to have a Pro Tools set up that was VERY similar to what the pro studios were using.
It soon became apparent that the home recordists needed a better signal chain to get in to Pro Tools (ie.better microphones,pre amps,compressors,etc) and a cottage industry of high end, boutique “single “units came to market (Avalon/Universal Audio/Vintech) as well as more budget lines (MXL/Focusrite). But as the need for more inputs,control room monitoring,talk-back (and something to alleviate the CPU drain from using many internal plug ins) arose, it looked like the time had come for an “integrated” console again (think of a really low budget SSL). Yamaha had some success in this area in the mid ’90’s with their “02R” console but at $ 12,000., it was out of reach for most home recordists.
Two companies are currently offering reasonably priced (around $ 3,000) multi-input (16/32) digital consoles with computer connectivity (with all of the major software DAWs) and an incredible array of features. The Presonus Studio Live Board is compact,easy to set up and offers almost all of the facilities you would need. The Behringer X-32 is a similar console, the main difference being that this console promises to utilize the high end technologies from 2 of the companies under the same corporate umbrella (Midas and Klark) in the all important deciding factor for ANY console..how are the mic pre amps?
It will be interesting to see what kind of impact these kinds of consoles will have in the home and pro sector.
The “name” value isn’t great for either manufacturer…but the proof will be in the recordings.