Fix Audio Designs Console – A Real-World Review

The 64-channel Fix Audio Designs Immersive Console in Ronald Prent and Darcy Proper’s Valhalla Studios, Auburn, N.Y. Each side is made up of four eight-module buckets, with a two-bucket center section for both stereo and immersive mixing and monitoring.

Paul Wolff’s spirited and inventive design aesthetic is reflected in his well-known products from API and Tonelux, and through a diverse collection of custom-designed compressors, channel strips, mic preamps and summing systems. The Fix Audio Designs Console is the culmination of this aesthetic and utility, expressed in a modern, analog audio console.

The Fix Audio Designs Console, available in stereo or immersive versions, is based around a modular design with flexible frame architectures that provide “platforms” for customizable mixing/ recording systems to fit the particular workflow, needs and style of the owner.

Each Fix console is purposely designed, built and delivered precisely to the customer’s needs, with anywhere from 8 to 96-plus channels in an expandable frame, loaded in “buckets of eight” filled with any combination of channel strips, bus and/or send submasters, and master/monitor sections.

Each 12-inch-wide bucket is an independent system, with 14 DB25 connectors and its own power supply hookup on the rear panel. It can run as a standalone mixer and/or as an 8-channel sidecar, with or without connections to the rest of the console. Each bucket comes ready to integrate with two-way logic communications between modules and master sections, with all line-level audio signals conveyed using standard DB25 analog (Tascam) pin-out connectors.

Personal choice and customization runs deep; you could specify particular transformers, choose another company’s op-amps, and pick your own style of VU metering. You may designate different “tone card” summing amp/ transformer and booster amp combinations for each of the console’s three stereo buses. During final systems testing and “burn in,” all consoles achieve a flat 10 Hz to 60 kHz frequency response and near-zero bus noise.

ERGONOMIC OPTIONS

The console’s surface tilt angle is fully adjustable, with adjacent metal side panels determining the “rake” of each bucket of eight. The chain of individual channel strips can be reordered in any way you like. For example, you may prefer to have an EQ module just above the F01 Fader module (100mm Alps) and closest to the mixer’s position. That’s how that bucket would arrive.

Typically, just above the F01 module is either an 802a Stereo or 812i Immersive module, each 14 inches long; all other in-line channel strip modules are standard 500 Series rack-sized units.

That also includes the VU meter module, which holds eight (four over four) VU or LED meters. In addition to the longer 802a or 812i modules, up to three 500 Series modules can be inline to make up a complete channel strip. The expandable console frame design supports more inline 500 modules if you have the vertical space/height available.

While no two consoles are exactly alike, there is enough commonality between all Fix consoles that an engineer/producer will be right at home sitting down and using one in any studio in the world. They all share the same innovative audio design and, depending on your particular choices, have similar feature sets, routing options and sound quality.

The built-in system flexibility means that a user can convert or expand a stereo console to fully immersive without replacing the frame or the motherboards. The Fix can be converted and/or enlarged in the field, long after the initial installation, with completely matching sections.

STEREO AND IMMERSIVE MODULES

The single bucket of eight channels sent for evaluation was powered from a small power supply connected via a rear panel five-pin XLR cable. It came with two stereo 802a and two 812i modules. I connected DB25 cables to route eight channels in/ out of one of my Pro Tools HDX interfaces. For these tests, I monitored the Pro Tools’ mixer out using the digital Enclosure AES/EBU output connected to the DAC in my Crane Song Avocet 2 monitor controller.

Next I used a set of DB25 fanout cables to connect XLRs directly to a pair of outboard compressors in my rack to Fix channels 1 and 2. I wanted to test the Insert/Blend feature, the DAW Loop function, and External Input feature (More later).

Both the 802a and 812i modules feature Solo and Cut buttons with SIP (Solo-in-Place), PFL or AFL switches. The FDR=0 button replaces the current fader level with a calibrated setting for consistent analog summing levels when mixing back in the DAW. These functions are locally and remotely controlled and configured in the console’s Master section.

All buttons are colorfully lit and all pots are dual-layer for reliability, with no audio signals passing through switches; audio is switched using relays. Both modules can have three switchable inputs available at the same time that will sum together with -10dB to +8dB of adjustable overall Trim output level. Pretty handy when you have a small number of channels and a large number of tracks—you can just group the tracks together quickly and adjust their relative balance back in the DAW.

CLASSIC SIGNAL PROCESSING

Both modules have a red-lit polarity flip button and a switchable one-knob Baxandall-style EQ called TQ. It has a 700 Hz pivot point with a solid-feeling detent, like all the detents on all the controls. On my evaluation unit, I found TQ great for tracking because it is gentle; as I turned the control clockwise, the sound got brighter and the bass frequencies less so. CCW produces the opposite effect.

There are also sweepable, second-order, 12dB/ octave highpass (30 Hz – 1.5 kHz) and lowpass (230 Hz – 10 kHz) filters with separate controls. Common to both modules is a switchable Insert in/out button with a unique Blend or Wet/Dry mix knob. This is fully adjustable parallel processing on every channel without extra patching; mix between the channel’s (Dry) audio and the outboard (Wet) processor you’ve inserted.

This worked most excellently in my evaluation units. I patched a UA 1176LN conventionally on an insert and had plenty of usable level—even to the point of overdriving it easily. The fun started when I intentionally cranked up the level into the 1176LN and then turned the Blend knob down so only about one-third of the finished sound was the distorted 1176. This is an incredibly useful feature that I now cannot do without!

For tracking large sessions, I especially liked the DAW Loop mode (available on the 802a module only). With one button push, the main fader channel level goes to the Direct Outs DB25 connector for recording and also routes the DAW Return (i.e., Pro Tools Out) to either the small fader (actually, a knob) or the main fader (in FDR Flip), and then on to feed the pan pot and your choice of any of the three stereo mixing buses. You may use all three stereo buses simultaneously.

In this way, you can have an inline, “in-thebox” monitor mix with console panning, but keep the TQ and filters in the recording path. This function is always available for building monitor mixes inline, leaving the main fader free for recording.

Both the 802a and 812i have Channel Safe solo isolate buttons, while the Cut buttons have color-coded logic to indicate the status of that channel relative to the rest of the console. Cut buttons also “pulsate green” in response to audio signals present in a channel.

At the top of the 802a module is the Send section, with two mono sends (A and B) and one stereo send (C). These can be assigned to one of three buses, so you have six additional sends available.

Sends can be used for cue feeds, effects or buses; each Send has a Cut and Pre-fader button. Also in this section is a switchable path for an External input signal that mixes with the channel’s signal. Its level is controlled by Send C’s pot.

812I IMMERSIVE MODULE

A Fix console will support both the 802a and 812i modules running at the same time, but similar modules should be in the same bucket of eight. For consistency, the 812i module uses the same physical locations and functionalities as the 802a for the filter and TQ sections, Insert and Blend control, and the three input selectors with Trim control.

The 812i Immersive module will accommodate mixing in any current surround or immersive format, be it Dolby Atmos, Sony 360, Auro3D, etc. The 812i immersive module also includes the ability to do a simultaneous output of a stereo mix while mixing in surround, using the 2Mix button with its separate level control knob.

A close-up look at a bucket of eight 812i immersive modules, each customizable in its layout and options.A close-up look at a bucket of eight 812i immersive modules, each customizable in its layout and options.

The top section of the channel is for controlling object panning between the front and rear in both the Upper Horizontal and Lower Horizontal Planes. Signals going to the front are routed down to the bottom of the module where there are pan pots and enable switches for conventional stereo pan, LCR panning, and Rear/Side/Front (RSF) panning.

The 812i uses eight channels for object panning, with the other four channels split between the LCR and LFE channel, each with its own Cut and Send control.

The Ext input on the 812i now feeds audio to the Upper Horizontal Plane. This can also be used as a separate mixer if you are mixing in stereo only.

STEREO, IMMERSIVE SUBMASTERS

There are three 500 Series-sized modules used for effect sends, bus assignment and master and metering. The 808 Send module is for setting up effect sends for six mono sends and one stereo send with pan pot. These are also used for objects, cues or effects. The 808M is the Send master, with VU meter, Cut and Level control. The 508 Bus assign module would go in-line with a channel strip and provide eight bus buttons, with odd/even panning, submaster level, and cut and pre/post buttons.

The 14-inch-long 802M module serves as a submaster for all three stereo buses, sends 1/2, 3/4, 5/6, and mono sends A and B. There are global controls over solo, with a separate and calibrated solo level control, SIP and AFL, and FDR=0 for all modules. There are buttons here to globally turn on/off the three inputs, mute on/off all channels and turn the signal present Cut LEDs.

The three stereo submasters each have: inserts with blend, cut and a level control to feed the Grand Master section. The GM section has an Insert with Blend control and a cut button. Sends 1/2, 3/4, 5/6 can also be assigned to the GM.

The immersive console uses the 812ML and 812MR modules as submasters to control the levels of the LCR, LFE and Upper Horizontal Plane (i.e., objects) signals. I found it interesting that there are Inserts, Blend and Cut buttons for each of these submasters. The 812ML has FDR=0 buttons for console channels in groups of eight, up to 64 channels. The 812MR includes LFE routing polarity flip (for the LFE) and additional lowpass filtering options, and it can be summed into the stereo mix bus.

MONITORING AND SYSTEM SETUP

There are two monitoring sections—one for the stereo console and one for the immersive version. Besides selecting a set of (A, B, or C) monitor speakers, in the immersive version you have control over different monitor speaker configurations, such as stereo, 5.1, 9.1, 11.1, Sony 360 or Atmos. Being a custom console, any monitoring configuration can be included.

I liked the stereo version’s four more stereo inputs, including a 1/8-inch jack, and Bluetooth. Both the immersive and stereo monitor sections have the ability to store personal preset monitor setups for different sessions/engineers.

A configuration for a complete 64-channel Fix Audio Designs console, with either stereo or immersive channels, would be only a little more than 10 feet wide. It would have four eight-module buckets on either side of a two-bucket center section. Each bucket would have eight stereo or immersive modules, eight send modules, and eight 500 Series slots to hold your choice of inline EQs, compressors, mic preamps, etc. There are options to have an additional 500 Series slot for more inline processors, as well as VU meters in blocks of eight across the top of the bucket.

The center buckets hold the master modules, monitoring center section, and your choice of bus cards, send masters and fold-down controls. There are also eight 500 Series slots for extra processing.

The Fix Audio Designs Console opens up the universe of options in a customizable audio mixing console to professionals who know what they want and how they want to set it up. And it’s a Paul Wolff design, so the sound is immaculate.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

COMPANY: Fix Audio Designs

WEB: www.fixaudiodesigns.com

PRODUCT: Fix Audio Designs Console

PRICE: Customized

PROS: Choose exactly what you want—built to order

CONS: None

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