CTW NAMM Coverage: Line6 M20d Digital Mixer

In my mind, the most innovative product that I saw at NAMM this year is the Line6 M20d mixer. While not a replacement for my SD8, it's the first time I've seen any company take a new, blank slate approach to mixing in the digital age. The product is so unique and different that I won't even attempt to cover all the features here. I will hit the highlights and recommend you spend some time on their website.

I like the M20d if for no other reason that it's totally unique. Rather than the normal channel strip interface we're used to (which was developed 50 years ago in the early analog area), they took a far more visual approach. To adjust the parameters of an input, rather than looking down to a scribble strip to identify the channel, you touch the icon representing what you want to adjust. That's when it gets interesting.

A lot of churches have some very dedicated and hard-working volunteer sound guys (and gals) who are behind the board because they work at Verizon, and therefore know "tech." The reality is, they have no idea what a high pass filter is, what Q means or how to adjust the attack time on a compressor. When the drummer says they want their kick to sound more punchy, they look for a knob labeled "punchy" and come up empty.

This is the market for which the M20d is deisgned. The folks at Line6 realized that in the digital age, a novice sound guy doesn't need to know how to adjust EQ, comps, gates and effects; they just need to know what sound they want. So they developed an interface to reflect that. You want your bass more punch? Select the bass, hit Tweak and move the cursor to Punchy. Don't like that? Move it around some and stop when it sounds good.

When you first plug a cable into the M20d, it autosenses that you've plugged something in and draws a mic icon on the stage. You move it around, and assign the icon representing what it is. That not only gives visual reference for the input, but also sets up the DSP appropriately for that input. A vocal input has a different DSP chain than the kick drum does, for example. Rather than start with a wide open field for everything, they narrow the range so control is better. Smart.

Adjusting monitors can be really confusing for novice engineers. Again, Line6 took a visual approach. Select the monitor you want to adjust and animated triangles appear around it. Now, turn the gain encoder for what you wish to be louder or softer and it draws an animated line from the source to the monitor. You get immediate visual feedback of what you are doing. I like this a lot.

The surface is pretty spartan, as you can see, with just a handful of buttons on the left, 12 encoders for the various functions of the 12 input channels, and a big master volume knob. You also get a mute selected button and a mute all just in case.

There is so much going on behind the scenes that it would be impossible to talk about it all in this overview post. However, I'll mention one more. If you actually do know what you're doing, they will give you access to all the processing for each channel. Select your channel, press Tweak then touch the graduation cap (I love this) to get to the full set of parameters, all of which are easily adjustable with the touch screen.

This is a very unique product and we're going to spend some time with it later in the year once it's officially available. Yes, it's only 12x4, so it's targeted to club bands and small churches. However, the guys at Line6 said this is just the beginning. They started small, and there is no reason they can't make it bigger.

Price point is $2495 list and will be available in March.