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Happy Halloween! Due to the continued presence of cooties that are scarier than anything I could dress up as, I’ve spent mine following in brother Bryce’s footsteps and reconfiguring my studio around ergonomics and new synths. This has been a perfect opportunity to insert the new Korg SoundLink MW-2408 mixer, which Korg hopes will be appealing for both live and studio use. I’m gonna begin by testing out in the studio because, well, still not many live gigs in my neck of the woods. If I get a chance to take it out in the wild, you’ll hear it here first.

Because I hang out here, I have a little problem with lots and lots of keyboards. Or maybe that’s the other way around. Some folks people prefer to go all inside the box and simply have enough inputs on their audio interfaces to keep everything plugged in and ready to go. And there’s a case to be made for keeping signal paths as short as possible, adding only processors that are part of the sound you’re trying to get. Me, I like to have a board as a central traffic cop. My SSL SiX has become my indispensable companion for critical tracking and monitor control, and I can imagine what one with enough inputs for all my keyboards would cost.

Therein lies the issue. If you look at “project studio” mixers today, there isn’t a lot between the super-bargain stuff and consoles beginning in the low five figures. Now, I get it that the quality and features we get at a given price point has gone up since having a Mackie 8-Bus and an ADAT or three was an aspirational goal.

I know people pressing live digital mixers like the Yamaha TF and Allen & Heath SQ into service in the studio and getting good results, and price-wise those occupy the sort of midrange I have in mind. I think the PreSonus StudioLive stuff, especially the latest generation, occupies a very cool niche and performs great — if you want to use it as your audio interface. I want to use the A/D converters in my Universal Audio Apollo, which I don’t think any remotely affordable digital mixer can outdo sonically. So, an analog board is fine by me, and I also want it to be “keyboardy,” whether that means stereo inputs (which it has), features a one-person multimedia creator with a synth obsession might find useful, or both. The Speck SSM or XtraMix would be perfect for a guy like me, but they’re hunted to extinction on the used market and even the $10,000 LiLo is discontinued.

Looking at the Korg, it ticked a lot of my boxes, and come in at the low end of my price range: $2,100 list but around $1,500 street anywhere you look right now. It’s chiefly an analog board, with the signal only hitting its internal A/D if you use the onboard effects or USB output (which is not multitrack, just a stereo mirror of the main fader). It has an eight-bus design, with eight balanced group outs on TRS connectors, but arranged in stereo groups of four (1/2, etc.) with four group faders in the output section. As with other mixers of this design, you’d route something to just one group output by assigning it to a group pair, then hard-panning it one way or the other.

A big talking point in Korg’s marketing is that the SoundLink MW series was co-designed by Greg Mackie and Peter Watts. Mackie needs no introduction and was responsible for a lot of the signal path and routing features. Watts is a famed former Trident engineer who designed the Korg’s “HiVolt” mic preamps. Korg claims these punch way above their price in terms of noise floor, headroom, clarity, and warmth, and we’re gonna test that out with a variety of source signals.

I currently have five keyboards running through it. These are a Prophet REV2, Nord Wave 2, Roland Fantom, Nord Grand, and first-gen Studiologic Numa Organ. Oh, I’m gonna add more. I’m gonna max this thing completely out and go full Vangelis in my room and record something to post here if I’m brave enough. The Roland has XLR outs, so it’s using mono channels 7 and 8. The rest are using the first four stereo channels.

The mixer’s eight group outputs are connected number-for-number to my Apollo’s line inputs. Its USB connection is feeding my secondary iMac (read about my dual iMac setup here) and acting as its audio interface, while my primary iMac is tethered to the Apollo via Thunderbolt 3. I’m not yet using the Korg’s monitor outs, though I will test them directly through my ADAM S2A speakers. I’ve simply run its main outs into the EXT1 inputs on the SSL SiX (EXT2 gets the monitor signal from the Apollo), as currently I want to monitor the main bus. Not to mention, removing the SiX altogether would’ve meant even more crawling around under and behind things and cussing that I’ve already done so far.

It’s sitting in for my beloved Crest XR-24, which is an absolute beast for routing flexibility and a very clean sounding mixer. I’m not going to say the Korg is dead quiet — turn up the trims and the faders all the way and you’ll hear some white noise — but at any gain structure you’d actually use, the Korg will certainly not add any appreciable noise floor to your recordings.

I’ve noticed one quirk so far. The stereo channels (9/10 through 23/24) offer a single XLR mic or stereo TRS line inputs. There’s a mic/line source switch on each channel, but it’s not an input selector: setting it to mic didn’t mute the signals I had plugged into the line ins. I guess it selects the gain curve for the trim pot at the top of the channel strip, but switching it produced no change in volume. The quirky part is that it did add bass and low-mids to the sound, just a little but immediately audible, on every channel I tested. And this is with the EQs all flat.

Next up I’ll report on the EQ and effects, but with everything flat, so far so good. It’s clean, what goes in is what comes out, and the routing looks hella flexible. You even get mute groups, which I haven’t seen on a mixer this affordable. The digital section has niceties like a feedback eliminator and dynamics processing on the main, aux 1, and aux 2 busses. The mono channels (1-8) have a one-knob compressor. In tonight’s noodling, if it has a “sound,” I’d say it’s ever so slightly on the bright side.

There’s a smaller version, the MW-1608, and if you can hear “2408” without thinking of some iteration of the MOTU audio interface so many of us relied on for so long, well, you’re younger than me. More to come, and as always, ask a question and I’ll investigate and get the answer! Quick snapshots below.

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Last edited by Stephen Fortner; 11/01/20 05:13 AM.

"I'm just a confused musician who got sidetracked into this damned word business..." -Hunter S. Thompson

Stephen Fortner
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Gotta add a personal note given the pics above: The room in which all this set up, my studio, used to be my teenage bedroom. Lived here during my early 20s as well as I went to college locally (University of Vermont). I now look after the house as mom is in assisted living, but the point is, this is the room in which I dreamed of having a tenth of the gear I do now, and of writing so much as a word for Keyboard magazine. Summer of '89 was when I first got prolific writing songs, and that happened in this room with my DX7, Korg Poly-800, and borrowed gear from bandmates including an Ensoniq ESQ-1, Tascam 244 four-track, and Alesis HR-16 drum machine and MIDIverb. I think I wrote about 20 songs that summer, which is the most I've ever done in such a brief period of time.

Now I've got about three more to-the-ceiling racks of synths to (re) set up, a truss to rig for a downward-facing motion control video camera and lights, and freestanding instruments like my 1974 Rhodes Suitcase and 1947 Hammond CV. And now, with all this gear in here, instead of writing 20 songs in three months I get whiny-ass creative block about where and how to begin a project and blame my “perfectionism.”

Ever have one of those moments when you wish you could go back in time and give yourself advice? I just had one where I realized my younger self would be the one schooling me, i.e. slapping me silly for having a single complaint about my current life. Still need a mixer, though, and going to dive all the way into this one.

But it is so, so nice to be here, be doing this, and have y'all as friends and colleagues. </emo>


"I'm just a confused musician who got sidetracked into this damned word business..." -Hunter S. Thompson

Stephen Fortner
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I will address one thing only and I don't have a question. Sorry if OT but all of our fun toys are useless if we don't use them to express freely, no?

I wrote songs freely and prolifically when I was younger as well. At a certain point, I stopped writing songs for many years. When I started again, it seemed much more difficult than it was before.
Eventually, I realized that I was intruding on my own creativity - attempting to edit as I was creating.

For me, that is death to my creative impulses. I've learned to ignore that unfortunate tendency and simply allow ideas to flow.
That way of working has felt much better, I can write freely about anything and everything. Some of the songs I've written since suppressing my "editor" are stupid and worthless. Once in a while there will be a great line in there that can be harvested to go in another direction. On the other hand, I've had songs flow out of my soul in the fairly recent past that I am very proud of creating.

I've gone back to pen/pencil and any piece of handy paper for writing. I do carry a small notepad everywhere, we never know when creativity will be with us. I simply find this way of working free of obstacles - even if it is a bit chaotic.

ALLOW YOURSELF!!!!

We can always edit later. Peace, Kuru


Tones can't substitute for composition/arrangement but they offer useful suggestions-overt and subliminal. Spices are no substitute for high-quality food, but they do make food taste more interesting.
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I wonder why it has to be an analog mixer for keys recording.
I downloaded the manual and miss channel inserts as well as other features ...

I´m irritated by AUX channels pre/post solutions !
Example:
The "Musician´s Phones" feature w/ "inject L/R" feature use Aux #3 and #4.
THESE are pre/post switchable,- not bad !
BUT,- when using this feature,- you cannot switch AUX #1 and AUX#2 to post to use AUX-FX the usual way,- because AUX#1 & #2 are "pre-fader" always.
Now I wonder if they´d better used AUX#1 & #2 for the monitoring purposes including the "Musician´s Phones" features,- and leaved AUX#3 & #4 for common "post fader" use of AUX-FX.

Features wise, the Allen & Heath Qu-16 Chrome (EUR 1.530,-*) or it´s 19" rack mountable 3HU equivalent Qu-PAC (EUR 1.409,-*), controllable by smartphone and/or tablet (iPhone or iPad) and in opposite to Qu-16 Chrome offering the "Core32" allowing 32-channels w/ additional "stage box" AB168 (EUR 966,-*), would be a better choice IMO.
These come w/ 16 busses, freely configurable.

A.C.

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Al, those Musicians’ Phones outputs are a big part of the MW-2408’s story and I’m about to dig into this exact issue.

Again, my attraction to the Korg is that other than the effects and the stereo USB audio connection, everything can go through it without hitting its A/D converters. So I can monitor and route with it as I do 96kHz on my Apollo.

Oh, yeah. Like most all-digital mixers in this category or the closest thing to it, the Korg only does 44.1 and 48kHz.


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Originally Posted by Stephen Fortner
Al, those Musicians’ Phones outputs are a big part of the MW-2408’s story and I’m about to dig into this exact issue.

Thx, would be great !
I hope it´s not a design flaw,- as good as the idea of "Musician´s Phones" outputs is in theory.
I think it would be all good when ALL Auxes were pre/post user-switchable.

Originally Posted by Stephen Fortner
Again, my attraction to the Korg is that other than the effects and the stereo USB audio connection, everything can go through it without hitting its A/D converters.

This is truly an advantage WHEN the analog path is THAT high quality.

OTOH, we might have to think about which level of analog path quality hardware keyboards REALLY need.
We´re talking line level signals mostly,- and low level electromagnetic instruments are the exception,- or do you want to connect devices like Rhodes, Clavinet, Wurli, Pianet etc. too ?

Originally Posted by Stephen Fortner
So I can monitor and route with it as I do 96kHz on my Apollo.

Ah,- that´s a point !

Originally Posted by Stephen Fortner
Like most all-digital mixers in this category or the closest thing to it, the Korg only does 44.1 and 48kHz.

true !

smile

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Hi Stephen! I'm interested in this type of mixer.
A quick question... is there any provision to cascade two of those? Say, a 2408 with a 1608?

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Marino, sorry to be offline for a while. Fall and winter 2020 has just kept hitting me over the head with a folding chair. There is no dedicated cascade bus or connector, but you could easily run the output of one mixer into a stereo channel on the other. Leave the stereo channel at unity gain with EQ off, etc.


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Mute Groups

This function caught my attention, though if this were a formal review in a magazine I'd write about it after writing about more basic things. Thank goodness it isn't.

The MW-2408 has four mute groups and they’re really easy to use. Simply hold down one of the Mute Group buttons on the right of the console (A,B, C, and D) until its light starts blinking. While it’s blinking, press the Mute buttons of the individual channels you want to be part of the group. Once all the desired channels are muted, press the Mute Group button again.

Now, pressing that Mute Group button will mute and unmute all those channels at once. This has benefits for both recording and live performance. Let’s say your session or gig involves a miked-up drum kit, but you're not always going to be recording it or sending it through the P.A. (Like when overdubbing in a session or doing an acoustic-only tune at a gig.) Make a mute group for the drums and presto, you eliminate those live mics and any noise floor or other issues associated with them. It’s a great solution for any situation where you have a lot of live inputs that you don’t want to use all the time, but neither do you want to disable them individually because you’ve set levels, EQ’ed, and otherwise gotten the sound you want.

This is about the easiest way I’ve ever used to set up mute groups on a mixer — no menus and no programming.

Break Mute

Locate at the far right just above the master fader, this mutes all input channels except stereo 25/26, which is the one with the 1/8" stereo mini input at the upper right of the top panel. It also does not mute audio streaming from your computer over the USB connection. The use case here is pretty obvious: Muting your live inputs while playing break music from a phone, iPod, laptop, or other connected device.

Speaking of connected devices, RCA inputs are conspicuously absent on the MW series. My Crest XR-24 sports these as “tape ins.” Maybe it’s old-school to want those, but a fair amount of modern DJ-oriented gear still uses them, so it might be nice to have even one stereo pair.


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Originally Posted by Stephen Fortner
Marino, sorry to be offline for a while. Fall and winter 2020 has just kept hitting me over the head with a folding chair.

here is Snoopy playing the part of Dr. Fortner grin



nopity
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Nice review. I've always respected Korg stuffs, they are a great company.
Even though we want sounds, it is innovative to recognize that Mute options could be extremely useful. I like the idea, sounds like implementation works well too.

I am pretty sure I will be better off without a mixer at this point. I could be wrong. I don't have but a couple of USB keyboards and my 7 port USB breakout box is not even close to full.

Different worlds, we all live in our own.


Tones can't substitute for composition/arrangement but they offer useful suggestions-overt and subliminal. Spices are no substitute for high-quality food, but they do make food taste more interesting.
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Musicians’ Phones

In addition to the operator’s headphone jack on the top, the rear panel (facing towards the musicians), has two independent outputs for what Korg calls Musicians’ Phones. These are fed by aux masters 3 and 4. Aux sends 3 and 4 are normally post-fader but can be switched to pre-fader, per channel, with a button.

There’s a knob next to each Musician’s Phones level control that injects more or less of the main mix into the headphone outputs. The idea is that you can give two headphone mixes “more me” (or rather, less main mix relative to “me”) without tinkering with the main mix or any of the auxes. In practice it works well, and should cover most cases except where an artist wants to hear more or less of a specific channel other than themselves.


"I'm just a confused musician who got sidetracked into this damned word business..." -Hunter S. Thompson

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Originally Posted by Stephen Fortner
Musicians’ Phones

In addition to the operator’s headphone jack on the top, the rear panel (facing towards the musicians), has two independent outputs for what Korg calls Musicians’ Phones. These are fed by aux masters 3 and 4. Aux sends 3 and 4 are normally post-fader but can be switched to pre-fader, per channel, with a button.

There’s a knob next to each Musician’s Phones level control that injects more or less of the main mix into the headphone outputs. The idea is that you can give two headphone mixes “more me” (or rather, less main mix relative to “me”) without tinkering with the main mix or any of the auxes. In practice it works well, and should cover most cases except where an artist wants to hear more or less of a specific channel other than themselves.

Yeah,- that´s cool feature,- but as I mentioned above, you still cannot switch aux #1 and aux #2 to "post fader" for common FX send usage.

IMO, that´s the main design flaw of that mixer because when you use that "musician´s phones" feature,- ALL auxes are pre-fader which kills ext. FX usage.

This might not be a deal breaker for many potential buyers using this mixer strictly as a recording device, but as a keyboard player´s mixer when using ext. hardware keys/modules and FX devices,- it´s unusable IMO.

smile

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Al I totally see your point. I don't think Korg expects that people will be using external effects, given that the mixer has a roster of internal ones. That may indeed be short-sighted, given that the DAWless-slash-Eurorack-slash-Elektron crowd — basically younger versions of the same hipsters that made the MicroKorg a legend — loves all manner of stompboxes, Strymon stuff, the Eventide H9, Moogerfoogers, etc.

It's hard to figure why they didn't just feed those with auxes 1 and 2, which are the first thing any band-member-who's-also-the-sound-guy grabs for monitor mixes anyway.


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Originally Posted by Stephen Fortner
Al I totally see your point. I don't think Korg expects that people will be using external effects, given that the mixer has a roster of internal ones. That may indeed be short-sighted, given that the DAWless-slash-Eurorack-slash-Elektron crowd — basically younger versions of the same hipsters that made the MicroKorg a legend — loves all manner of stompboxes, Strymon stuff, the Eventide H9, Moogerfoogers, etc.

It's hard to figure why they didn't just feed those with auxes 1 and 2, which are the first thing any band-member-who's-also-the-sound-guy grabs for monitor mixes anyway.


Yes, it´s very short sighted.
Even more it´s important to point KORG on this "mistake".
Internal FX are welcome,- but there are always better ext. FX or something a user prefers to use for a given task and wants to plug in occasionally.

For such a big company, it should not be too difficult to come w/ a hardware rev. #2 and/or providing some bulletin allowing service centers a routing modification by soldering in jumper bridges ( ideally w/ pre/post switches in addition).

smile

A.C.


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