Most of you know that I’m a big fan of digital consoles. I love the flexibility, the DSP, the routing and the automation. However, as I’ve written several times, digital is not right for everyone; sometimes a good analog desk is just the ticket. It’s getting harder to find a good analog desk however, as most console makers have trimmed down their analog lines and concentrated on their digital ones. That is except for one company—APB DynaSonics. Based in New Jersey, they only build analog consoles. And they build good ones. I’ve been a fan of their consoles since they introduced the large-format Spectra series a few years ago. Recently, I had the chance to spend some quality time with one of their newer mid-level ProDesk consoles, the ProDesk-4.
It’s so named because it’s a four-group console, that also has four mute groups, four stereo inputs and four matrix mixes. It’s modular and available in 16, 24, 32, 40 and 48 frame sizes (those are mono-channel counts). As a mid-sized desk, it features six aux sends, and surprisingly includes not only L&R, but center and a mono bus. That feature set sounds pretty standard for boards of this size, but APB includes quite a few features that make this more than a standard desk.
For example, each mono input features a sweepable high-pass filter (from 20-400Hz!). The EQ is switchable (in/out--with an “On” LED) and has swept low and hi mid bands (high and low bands are shelved). The Aux sends are switchable pre/post in banks of two; that’s pretty standard. What’s not standard is that Aux 1&2 can be set to a stereo Aux with 1 being pan and 2 being level. That could come in really handy mixing one stereo ears mix and 4 wedge mixes. Moreover, the Auxes can be set (as a group) to be pre EQ in addition to pre fader.
The ProDesk-8 also includes a USB connection. While you don’t get multi-track in and out, you do get the ability to record a two-track mix from a variety of user-selectable sources. You can also play back two tracks through the USB port (and select which bus to send it to). The stereo inputs include a cool feature that would be great for smaller churches that use split-track backing tracks. Engage the split-track button and you can decide how much of the left or right track to send to both sides of the stereo input. You also have the ability to split the track for the auxes and the fader separately. Pretty cool.
They thoughtfully included an 1/8” headphone jack on the top of the surface, plus another 1/4” and 1/8” jack on the under the wrist wrest (along with a dedicated talkback input). You can send the talkback to Auxes (in groups of 2), L&R, Mono, Center, the matrix or the groups. And there’s a nice big illuminated switch to turn it on or off and a rotary volume knob. The talkback bus also includes a pink-noise generator and a 1K tone generator.
The faders are buttery-smooth 100mm controls that just feel wonderful under the hand. More thoughtful touches abound on the faders as well. Mono input faders have black caps, stereo inputs have green, groups are grey. The L&R fader is white, center is red and mono is blue. The caps of the all the rotaries are also color-coordinated for quick and easy identification. There are four mute group assign buttons next to every input channel—that’s pretty common—but they also added a “Remote Mute” LED that activates when you engage a mute group. Even the output bus assign buttons are color-coded to match the fader caps. Each input channel has a 6-segment LED meter, groups up that count to 8 and the main out meters even display peak and RMS by holding the highest illuminated LED segment for about a second. Slick.
There are so many other great things they included on this console that I could go on for another 600 words and not hit them all. Just a few to wrap up; the tops of the channel strips have a label space; the desk has a lamp socked with front panel dimmer; all the output busses have inserts; the inputs have inserts and balanced direct outs; you get a stereo record out on TRS and RCA jacks; APB offers dual, redundant, field-swappable power supplies; the stereo inputs have separate L&R gains; they even included an 1/8” stereo input jack on the top panel.
I could go on, but check out the website for even more good stuff on this console. Let’s get to the good stuff: How does it sound?
In a word, great. The first thing I noticed about the console is how responsive the EQ is. I normally mix on an a DiGiCo SD8 and I’ve gotten used to good sounding EQ. When I mix analog these days, I mix on the Yamaha MG32FX in our student/community room—I’ve gotten used to taking big swings with the EQ. During sound check, I grabbed the EQ and started turning. I was amazed at how little I need to boost or cut to get the result I wanted. It just sounds good! The board is very transparent and clean. The noise floor is very low and it was an absolute pleasure to mix on. The desk has loads of headroom, and it never felt like I was making it work hard. Like a finely tuned sports car that becomes an extension of the driver, the ProDesk-4 just felt great while I mixed. It’s also very intuitive. It took almost no time to get acclimated to it, and I didn’t crack open the manual once. I was able to do everything I wanted to do just by looking at the surface and poking around the back panel. It all makes sense and works like you’d expect, even with a rich feature set.
Now, I kind of hate it when I read a review of a product and the reviewer lists cons as “none.” Come on, everything has at least one con. For the ProDesk-4, there are a few, though I really don’t think any are deal-breakers. First, it is a bit pricey. I wouldn’t say it’s not worth it, but this is not a budget choice. Second, on the back of the console on the input modules, each XLR jack has a blank label above it, but no number. It’s not a big deal, but when you get down to input 29 or so, counting gets tiring. The outputs are also laid out differently than you might expect.
On the top row is 1,3,5; and 2,4,6 are on the bottom row. It actually makes sense once you get used to it, but it is different. I supposed I could try to find some other cons, but I’d really have to dig around. Honestly, it was work coming up with those.
The bottom line is this: I would heartily recommend this desk to anyone who is looking for a well-built, good-sounding analog desk that has an extended feature set. It’s not cheap (the list prices range from $7,400-13,800 depending on channel count); but you really do get what you pay for. Mixing on cheap analog consoles is painful, mixing on the ProDesk-4 is a joy. I really hate to send it back, to be honest. I’d much rather box up the MG32 and send it back, but I have a feeling they’d notice.
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