Why does the Spirit 328 Digital Mixer stand out among all those excellent digital consoles out there? It’s a fair question, because there are now an awful lot of digital mixers available, with more to come. But the answer is surprisingly simple. See, the Spirit engineers realized that if you wanted to feel as though you were recording and mixing on a computer, you’d have have bought yourself a computer and all the associated hardware and software to build a DAW (that’s digital audio workstation to the uninitiated).

They also realized that if you wanted to learn a whole different way of mixing. . . well, they realized you didn’t want to learn a whole different way of mixing. The Spirit 328 crosses that great chasm between digital and analog, placing it firmly in a class all by itself. You like the feel and intuitive ease of an analog console and you want to be able to work the 328 right out of the box if you choose. At the same time, it would be a little ridiculous to ignore the obvious advantages of working with digital, like instant total recall and moving fader automation. The Spirit 328 gives you all that in a 42 Input/8 Bus Configuration.

Now for a mixer with such a small footprint, Digital 328 packs an extraordinary number of inputs. 16 full-spec, analog mono mic/line channels - each with its own balanced XLR connector, dedicated insert point and access to phantom power - come standard, along with five stereo ins. With the addition of 16 digital tape returns on the 328’s TDIF and ADAT optical interfaces, a maximum of 42 inputs are possible. Every input is fully routable to any of the 8 groups and has access to the full complement of parametric EQ, signal processing, onboard effects and auxiliaries.

Although other digital mixers offer an amazing array of functions, it can sometimes be a nightmare to access them. In contrast, as already mentioned, the Spirit 328 operates like your old analog 8-bus console and not like a computer with faders, so you can take it out of its box and get started without even opening the manual. And unlike most other digital mixers, there’s instant access to any channel, group or master feature with one button press, and you can see that feature’s status from the front panel without having to rely on an LCD display.

The key to it all is Spirit 328’s unique “E-strip”, the lighter colored bank of encoders and switches that runs across the center of the console (again, check out the photo). Simply select a channel and the E-strip immediately becomes a “horizontal input channel” with instant access to all that channel’s EQ, aux sends, channel pan and routing. Alternatively, press any button in the rotaries section above the E-strip and the encoders change to become a channel pan, auxiliary send, or Lexicon effects send for each channel. Select a fader bank to display mic/line input faders, tape returns faders, or group and master faders and that’s it; no delving through level after level of LCD menus to find the functions you want, no delays in making alterations and no need to study complicated EQ curves. With 328, everything you need is immediately accessible from the front panel of the console, giving you the freedom to let your ears decide. If you want the superb functionality and features of a digital console but the convenience and ease of use of your analog 8-bus, then Spirit 328 is definitely for you.

You won’t see this mentioned in their ads, but many digital mixers do not include digital multitrack I/Os, which means that to get digital recording and mixdown you have to buy extra, expensive I/O options. In contrast, Digital 328 includes two Tascam TDIF and two ADAT optical interfaces as standard, allowing you to record 16 tracks entirely in the digital domain, straight out of the box. The Spirit folks also included a pair of AES/EBU and S/PDIF interfaces assignable to a wide range of inputs and outputs, including group and auxiliary outs, as well as for use as mix insert points with digital signal processors. In addition, a dedicated auxiliary optical output allows you to send a signal digitally to an effects unit.

Also unique among digital mixers, the on-board effects of the Spirit 328 are from Lexicon, the last word in superior quality studio effects. The 328 boasts two Lexicon processing engines for a full range of crystal clear reverbs plus all the chorus, delay and flange effects you could ever want. There’s also a selection of dual effects (like chorus plus delay). All have fully editable program and parameter settings. What’s more, the Digital 328 includes two dynamics processors (configured in mono or stereo) which can be assigned to any input, output or groups of ins or outs. Each processor provides a choice of compression, limiting, gating or ducking. How about EQ? Glad you asked, because all of the 328’s mic/line, tape return and stereo inputs have access to three bands of fully parametric EQ, designed by British EQ guru and co-founder of Soundcraft, Graham Blyth. A man with over 5 million channels of his EQ designs in the field, Graham has brought 25 years of Soundcraft analog EQ circuit experience to bear on Digital 328. So if you want the warm, musical sound of a real British analog EQ, look no further than the 328 - we guarantee you won’t find this feature in every digital mixer.

You’ve heard it a million times: Garbage in, garbage, out! It doesn’t matter whether the console is digital or analog – if you have poor mic preamps, your sound will unquestionably be compromised. That’s why the 328 includes Spirit’s acclaimed UltraMic+ padless preamps, giving your input signals the cleanest, quietest start of any digital mixer on the market. With 66 db of gain range and a massive +28 dBU of headroom, they offer an extremely low noise floor and are virtually transparent. Spirit 328 is 24-bit or better throughout; your signal hits the digital domain through state-of-the-art 24-bit A/D converters with 128 times oversampling, guaranteeing that it maintains its clarity, while 24-bit D/A converters on all the main outputs equal this sonic integrity should you wish to return your signal to the analog world.

Now if you make the move to digital, you’ll want moving fader automation, right? All of the Spirit 328’s 100mm super-smooth faders (including the master) are motorized to allow current channel, tape return, group and aux master levels to be viewed at a glance. In addition to level automation, every other digital parameter of 328 is instantly recallable, allowing snapshots of the entire console’s status to be taken. Up to 100 of these “scenes” can be stored internally and recalled either manualy, against MIDI clock or against MTC or SMPTE. Alternatively, every console function has been assigned its own MIDI message allowing dynamic automation via sequencer software.

The majority of 328’s input and routing parameters can be edited from the control surface without resorting to the console’s LCD. Settings and levels may be copied and pasted from one channel to another with just two button presses and, using 328’s query mode, the routing or assignment status of every channel on the console can be viewed instantly simply by selecting the specific function (such as Group 1 or Phase Invert) you want to check on. In addition, with 328’s Undo/Redo function located in the master section, editing is entirely non-destructive, allowing you to compare new EQ values (along with any other settings) with previous ones.

Two Digital 328’s can even be digitally cascaded - a real plus - giving you up to 84 inputs (!) of recording capability. Not every digital board gives you this option (and most don’t mention this limitation). Additionally, all of the mic/line inputs, tape return inputs, group and master levels may be monitored per bank via the 328’s 16 ten-segment bargraph meters while the 328’s onboard dynamics processors can be monitored using the console’s master meters. Any input may be solo'd using AFL, PFL or Solo-in-Place.

Digital 328 reads and writes MTC and reads all SMPTE frame rates, with a large readout display instantly indicating current song position. Store and locate points are accessible from the console’s front panel, with 328’s transport bar controlling a wide range of devices including Tascam and Alesis digital recorders. And to meet the needs of a variety of users, there are several module options available: An 8-Channel Analog I/O Interface, an AES/EBU Interface and additional mic preamp interfaces can be added to turn the 328 into a 32 mic input, 8-bus mixer for PA or theater applications.

The familiarity of analog and the benefits of digital: Put it all together and it’s this combination that makes the Spirit Digital 328 a mixer far above the rest. You’ll be up and recording in no time, giving your projects the professional sound they need (and deserve!) without the headaches of having to re-learn the entire mixing process (you do have other things to do, right?). Call your Sweetwater Sales Engineer now to get the full scoop on this revolutionary, 24-bit powerhouse console, as well as your super low Sweetwater price.

Michael Summers