Sweet Notes Animation THE KORG 168RC MIXER

The world's most affordable digital mixer

By Clay Stahlka/Sweetwater Sales Engineer

If I told you that you could add a sophisticated, fully-digital mixing console to your studio, complete with automation, internal effects processing and 16 channels of ADAT digital inputs and outputs as standard equipment, for a list price of $3200, I'll bet you'd ask "What's the catch?" Well, there's nothing but value here! And I gotta tell you it blew my socks right off, too!

I recently had the opportunity to spend several wonderful days with the new Korg SoundLink 168RC digital mixing console recently and here's what I discovered: This mixer has a lot of power and functionality packed into a really easy-to-use (and understand) package. Because it has a unique modular design, multiple units can be combined to create any size mixer that will meet your needs. Sounds like science fiction, eh?

Korg 168RC

Let's take a moment to look at the design and philosophy of this piece. It's a 16-channel mixer with 24-inputs, 8-bus architecture with four auxiliary buses (two internal and two external). It possesses a 24-bit internal digital signal path for extraordinary signal integrity and bandwidth. Internally, the 168RC boasts two discrete stereo digital effects processors, 12 channels of 3-band EQ with parametric mid-band. It has internal snap-shot automation and full, real-time automation via a MIDI sequencer. Additionally, each and every parameter of the 168RC can be saved to user preset locations and archived or loaded via MIDI. Physically it has 12 ultra-smooth faders, a dual 12-segment LED meter to augment the large 240x64 graphical display and a control room monitor section plus separate headphone control.

I got the very first unit to arrive at Sweetwater and had never seen or touched a 168RC before. Upon my initial inspection, the unit appeared simple and clean with a minimum number of easy to identify knobs, faders and buttons, as well as a rather large LCD display screen. On the back, the unit has a total of 24 inputs and 16 outputs laid out very thoughtfully with the ADAT studio in mind. The inputs consist of two 8-channel ADAT optical ports and eight balanced TRS jacks, of which four have insert access and two include low-Z mic preamps with phantom power. You'll also find a pair of unbalanced tape returns here. The outputs also have two ADAT optical ports plus a pair of S/PDIF coaxial outs. The master output pair and the monitor outs are on unbalanced 1/4" jacks which is really okay, since I'd expect to be sending my main outs digitally for mastering anyway. The two aux sends are likewise unbalanced. There's also a word clock in/out and MIDI in/out/thru connections.

I powered the unit up, revealing a good-looking backlit LCD display, and here's where I began to see the immense power that this deceptively simple mixer possesses. The 168RC has no multiple page menu system to get used to. Each front panel selector button takes you to a single page display containing all of the routing and setting information for each given section of the mixer. In most cases there are actually two choices of selector buttons for each mixer section. The first lays out the mixer (fully graphically, with representations of knobs and/or faders) while the second shows the corresponding routing table for quick and easy signal routing and recall. Although the graphical representation of knobs and faders can be controlled and automated via MIDI, there really are eight honest-to-goodness knobs that you can grab to adjust any parameter on the screen! Now it was time to get the mixer set up for operation. I selected the input routing page and simply highlighted channel 1 and dialed in analog 1. Just that quickly, my mic was hot and sounded exceptionally clean and quiet. Needless to say, I had to go down the line and assign the proper ins and outs to the desired sources and destinations. This, however, took me a grand total of five minutes. Oh, and by the way, the manual was very straight-forward and to-the-point, quickly clearing up any uncertainty I might have had regarding the settings.

After I configured the entire console several times (just because I couldn't believe it was so fast and easy), I stored my configurations in several of the 100 user-definable preset locations (if you need more space, you can save and load via MIDI). I wanted to make several slight changes for mixdown so, using the quick copy/paste functions, I copied and edited the parameters and saved these presets. Hey, this was getting too easy! While I was automating my mix via MIDI, I discovered that these presets could be changed on-the-fly without any glitching!

To add equalization to any of the first 12 channels I just chose the EQ page and dialed in the High Shelving, Low Shelving, and Mid-Band Parametric EQ to my taste in real time. For channels 13-16 I found there was only High and Low Shelving EQ, again perfect for their use as returns. Here, I discovered I could save 30 presets of EQ settings for instant recall.

For my last task I decided I would tackle the dual stereo effects processors. The manual again was well documented for quick learning! I saw that the effects were set up as 32 different types with multiple, user-definable parameters. They include algorithms for halls, rooms, plates, etc., along with chorus, delay, pitch shifting, rotary speaker, dynamics processing, EQ, spectral enhancement and more. Once again, the 168RC offers 50 presets to store effects settings.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I researched the additional hardware options including rack mounting kit and A/D and D/A interfaces to convert the 168RC ADAT ports to analog ins/outs for those who want the power and flexibility of the Korg SoundLink but have more analog sources and destinations. A total of 24 analog ins and 24 analog outs would be possible. I also saw that multiple units can be cascaded together for a virtually unlimited number of channels, inputs and outputs, and that together multiple units will operate either independently or in master/slave configuration for total control from a single source or MIDI setup. Wow!

Listening to my completed automated mix from my ADAT, I concluded that it was perhaps the most enjoyable learning curve I had ever experienced. The Korg SoundLink 168RC is well designed, extremely flexible, user-friendly in a big way and bottom-line: it just sounds great! Why don't you call your Sweetwater sales engineer today and find out how easy it is to step up to the next level in mixers for your studio!