There are three places you can stick your power amp, well four if you include the anatomically impossible suggestion of your long-suffering neighbours. First, in its own heavy-duty box with big rack handles and more fins than Helsinki; or maybe put it in your speaker and go active, or put it in with the mixing desk and embrace the powered mixer route.
The latter is the noble path long trodden by Studiomaster. New from them in 2013 is the 2012. It name suggests it's a year late but in fact is a twelve-channel mixer with two kW of on-board power or just under three horse-power?
The twelve channels are presented on nine faders, which is the number of mic amps in the desk. The last three channels double as stereo line inputs, so to get the full twelve-channel Horizon experience you need six mono mic or line inputs and three stereo line inputs.
Covering the bases
The 'all in one mixer', is quite a tough task to pull off these days because the definition of 'all' just keeps getting bigger. We want EQ on every channel, including the stereos. We want some dynamics for our vocal mics, we want some effects – reverb and delay and all that; we want some EQ for the room, we want some computer I/O, inserts for outboard processing, and a couple of Aux sends for monitors. Maybe a separate send for a sub when we have a bit more cash to spend. We want it all... And, well, Studiomaster has provided all of this, and all in a well screwed-together package in a tidy box – bamboo cheeks and aluminium end plates leading the way.
One of the first questions you ask when you stick an amp in your mixer is. ‘How loud is it?' And the answer is, not loud at all. The variable speed fan is not going to bother you unless you are recording a harp and triangle gig and you have only brought two-meter XLRs. Oh I see, 'How loud is it?' Well, three horse power is not to be sneezed at. I strapped a couple of 500 watt, eight-ohm cabs across the output and wound it up. In a smaller club room I easily managed 105dB at about five meters.
Watts being notoriously slippy in the real world I'd say it's quite loud enough for most small PA jobs. I had an old and much-abused Yamaha power amp to hand and the Horizon easily bested it in terms of sound quality which is not too shabby for a built-in amp at that. And I think the Yamaha was heavier than the entire Studiomaster mix/amp package. In fact the Horizon doesn't seem heavy enough to hold all those watts. It turns out that the Studiomaster features a Class D amplifier, which improves efficiency by almost 25% over the old AB designs. The power is available on Neutrik Speakons, which are industry standard and a thoroughly good thing.
Returning to the other end of the signal path, the Horizon's mic amps offer a claimed 60dB of gain and in comparison with some nice Swiss mic preamplitude they were not disgraced. Neither was noise a problem at higher gains. The first three channels feature VMS – that being a dynamic processor or 'Vocal Management System'. It's undoubtedly handy to have three individual compressors on board, and they did the job. I wouldn't say they were my favourite part of the desk but they are there if you need them.
I would have liked a limiter on the output, but then I'm a very needy person. The EQ is basic, an LF filter followed by fixed-frequency high and low controls, and a swept mid. You also get EQ on your two Aux masters, though the high and low sections are shelving rather than centre frequency-based. You also get a sweepable notch filter to hack out a peak that might be causing feedback. Then, to ice the cake you get digital DSP engines, each with eight settings, mostly reverbs and plates, and also a variable delay. The reverbs are all fixed effects with the only control being the wet/dry balance. Although a very simple system, it is probably all you need for a small PA gig and the reverbs sound perfectly usable. The DSP output can also be fed into the Aux sends if you want to provide your vocalist with some reverb in their monitors for instance.
Back to the outputs. The 2012 has a nine-band graphic EQ with ±9dB on each frequency, it also has a built in 100Hz crossover that can drive a Mix2 output for separate subs, the normal output carrying the signal from 100Hz up. There is some control of the amp output with a switch offering 100, 40, and 15 percent power output options. And finally, you can split the outputs for monitor mixes, either having a mono main on the right hand channel with Aux 1 feeding the left hand amp or the amps being fed from Aux 1 and Aux 2 while the main output is available on the XLRs to drive an external amp or bigger PA system.
Expect the best
The Studiomaster catchline is 'Expect the Best', which might seem silly if applied pedantically. That is, you can't have the best mixer in the world with 60mm faders... But maybe the claim is not so off the mark when applied to the whole package and put in the context of its target market. It is well made, honest gear. From the USB playback for your walk-in music to the comprehensive output options, you really do have everything you need in one box to do a small PA gig, and in a well thought out package. When pinched I have done a few PA gigs on MI gear – we all have, and how we hated it. The Studiomaster is a 'gig in a box' done properly. Did I mention the cool led light strip at the top of the mixer? It's cool.
Review: Alistair McGhee