Jumbo Sunshade - Ezine

 
Music Gear Review - Soundcraft EPM6 EPM8 EPM12 Mixer
[6-channel, 8-channel & 12-channel studio/live mixers]
 
I can easily sum up Soundcraft's EPM series mixers: good mic pres; simplicity/lack of features; price is great value for the preamps.

Overall Design
The EPM mixers look and feel well-built with fairly heavy-gauge metal.  Things are definitely geared toward

utility, not flash.  All controls and I/O are on the top with power cord going in underneath.  Not very much room for labeling tape and the desk is not designed to have you sitting there with your wrists resting during hours-long mix sessions.  Color-coded
controls are easily recognizable with the exception of Gain (red is always hard to see in the dark).  I/O layout is perfect.  There is no power switch, which is really annoying.

 

Simplicity
The EPM mixers couldn't be any more straight-forward.  It's not like Soundcraft came up with some super clever new way of doing anything here; it's that they've left out much of what other mixers would include (let alone some of the new features that have come out recently).  I'll write more on this below, but here's what they've got going on:

Signal hits the channel and goes down the line just like on any mixer - controls are all color-coded with detents on EQ.  Two auxes, each with a master switch for either pre or post fader operation.  Two aux outs (no return and therefore no aux master levels); monitor and main out; tape in/out.  Mix, monitor and headphone levels.  That's it!  Seriously, there's a few other buttons (tape route, phantom power) but that's all there is.

 

Microphone Preamps
The EPM6, EPM8, and EPM12 have 6, 8, & 12 mono mic/line channels that use the GB30 preamp.  These are the preamps

used on Soundcraft's LX7ii and GB series mixers.  The GB30 pres are clean and quiet enough, with plenty of headroom for me personally (live or in the studio).

Those who use a mixer strictly for live rock band stuff probably wouldn't care about the difference in preamp transparency 

between this board and something like a Behringer.  On the other hand; those who use a mixer for acoustic guitar or recording that singer who whispers into a large dual diaphragm on omni would definitely appreciate the preamps on the Soundcraft EPM boards!

Although these pres certainly are great considering the low price of

these boards, the truth is that they'd be great to have with any mixer that isn't some large bulky desk.

 

Price

As of July 2010, you can find these boards for around:
EPM6 $260, EPM8 $300, EPM12 $410
Ok so, eight great-sounding preamps for $300 - do i really need to explain that this is totally worth it?  For a small home studio this kind of board is nearly ideal (if/where clean, uncolored sound is paramount).


 

Equalization [see below for info on low cut "issue"]

Channel EQ
On the mono mic/line channels it's three band EQ.  High EQ is shelf @ 12kHz, +/- 15db.  Low is shelf @ 60Hz, +/- 15db.
Mid is variable (unknown Q) from 140Hz to 3kHz, +/- 15db.

All three of these EPM mixers have two stereo/line channels, which have 2 band shelving EQ.  High @ 12kHz and low at 60Hz, both +/- 15db.
 

There isn't much to say about EPM channel EQ - it's very basic.  I love paragraphic EQ (variable Mid) on XLR channels; i think that every mixer should have this.

One thing i definitely don't dig about the EPM mixers is the lack of Mid EQ on the stereo/line channels.  If these channels had come with standard Mid

equalization, that would've been fine; but Soundcraft went with just two bands on the EPM's stereo/line channels because (i believe) they see these channels as returns for the Auxes, in which case Mid EQ wouldn't be missed.

Like their LX7ii, the EPM EQ must have increased slope.  In trying to EQ house music on the stereo/line channels, you're definitely confronted with this hole in the middle of your sound.  It's more noticeable through a PA than through studio monitors because of the PA's exaggerated low and high end (subs and horns).

Main Graphic EQ
Unlike most mixers of this size/type, the EPM boards do not have a main/mix graphic EQ.  For live loud rock material you're always gonna have multi-band GEQ across the mains (and a couple

more across monitor mixes) for feedback and room treatment.

But even with those outboard EQ's; if you've got a situation where you're running house music through the PA between sets (like most cover bands do), you'd really want the convenience and utility of a built-in 5 or 7 band GEQ on the mixer.
[let alone you're going without Mid EQ on the stereo/line channels]

Inserting outboard EQ across the mains is easy enough via the Main Inserts that Soundcraft so thoughtfully provided.

In a home or small studio setting where your mixer is literally used for everything (like blasting Stevie Wonder while you setup microphones on a drum kit), you're again gonna miss that built-in graphic EQ.  Who wants to worry about inserting an EQ in a home/small studio just to blast music?

 

Auxes
The Soundcraft EPM6, EPM8 & EPM12 mixers each have two auxes, handling routing in the most basic way.  For this review i'll assume that the reader knows very little about how auxes work, and compare these Soundcraft boards to other typical mixers.

With other small live/studio boards, what you're typically used to dealing with are two auxes assigned, one each, for Monitor and FX.  The Mon aux is pre-fader (front-of-house and monitor mixes are independent); FX aux is post-fader (your FX level follows your signal level).
With some boards you might have the option of flipping your FX aux to prefade, which would give you two (useful) monitor mixes.

The EPM boards' auxes are assignable as either pre or post fader across all channels.  This obviously gives you the most output options: 2 pre-fader auxes; 2 post-fader auxes; or one of each.

And with most other small mixers of this type, you'd have Aux Return inputs and aux master controls (master send level, master return level, mute) for each aux.
Those Aux Returns do give you some more options when it comes to creative routing (whether you need it or not depends on what your live and/or studio needs are), but those extra layers of signal level control can sometimes be a pain to deal with.

The EPM mixers don't have aux returns; only sends.  Because of this, the only aux control is channel (send) level.  No master

aux send, return, or mute.
The absence of a master Aux Send is going to be inconvenient for those who crank their poweramps and adjust monitor levels at the board.  I think this was a mistake on Soundcraft's part.

Whether or not the EPM aux implementation is "better" or "worse" than that of other standard

small mixers depends on the end user.  Four less board inputs is something to be aware of if you're considering buying one of these mixers.  For me personally, the EPM's auxes are pretty close to what i want/need.
Remember you can still patch in external FX without aux returns, it's just a different process [that gives you less flexibility and uses up one or more additional channels].


 

Mute and Pre Fader Listen
Channel mute is something most of us use as much as we use level control, and it makes sense to have a mute light to let us know if and what has been muted, especially at a glance live.  This is such a basic and useful thing it's hard for me to believe that Soundcraft chose to not include this on these boards.  You just REALLY want mute indicators on
a mixer; even the lowest-end Behringer boards have these.

The EPM boards have Pre Fader Listen switches, but like the Mute switch there is no per-channel indicator.  Instead what you get is a PFL active light below the Mix LED tree - it's up to you to (hopefully quickly) figure out which channel's PFL is enabled.  Now this won't negatively affect everybody, but depending on how you route signal (Mix/Monitor) this could be fairly annoying in a live/dark environment.

 

And The Rest
* Phantom power.  Across all mono/XLR channels (obviously).

* Inserts across the Main/XLR output.  Functions just like channel insert.  Could put EQ, feedback destroyer, limiter, or other processor in line to the front-of-house mix.  Could be used as an alternate 1/4" output option.  Definitely a cool thing to have!

* Peak indicator LEDs on all channels.  Located right where you can see them, above the fader.

* Monitor.  This is a 2nd main mix send with 1/4" balanced outputs.  Has it's own level control that is independent of the Main L/R MIX level.  Can be used for various route configurations in the studio, or in a situation where you'd need/want to use a 2nd set of 1/4" Main outputs instead of the XLR outputs.  Note: Inserts only across the Main/XLR outputs; not across the Monitor outputs.

* RCA "record out".  RCA output of main mix; could go to a 2-track recording device, or be used for some other alternate route of main mix.

* RCA "2 track".  RCA input that can be routed via switches (no level controls) to the Main output, and/or to the Monitor/headphone output.

 

What's Not Here
 

Many of the standard things you would expect to see on a small live/studio mixer are missing on the Soundcraft EPM6, EPM8, & EPM12 mixers.  This is all totally by (their) design of course,
but in order to write a useful review i have to address most of this stuff, especially because i can't think of another mixer this size that i can reasonably make a direct comparison to!

LCF/HPF.  There is no low cut (high pass) filter on the EPM channels.  Low cut is something that most people use live for vocals and electric guitars to get rid of unwanted boominess.  [We all know that unwanted low end just muddies up the mix and also wastes power amp wattage!]

You can use the Low EQ on the EPM to get rid of some of that, but you need to be aware that the EPM's Low EQ shelf is 60Hz, which is below the standard 80Hz low cut frequency.  If you're used to EQing based on what you'd normally get with a low cut filter engaged then you have to pay close attention with the EPM mixers and your situation might still require outboard graphic EQ (if you've got it).

As a reference, here are some other Low Cut (not low channel EQ) frequency points:
Mackie 75Hz
Allen & Heath 80Hz
Behringer 80Hz
Tascam 80Hz
Yamaha 80Hz
Rolls 100Hz
 

No balanced/XLR on stereo/line channels.  I'm including this because there's alot of gear out there that uses balanced XLR outputs.  The EPM stereo/line channels have only 1/4" inputs.  If balanced XLR into stereo/line channel is something you deal with then you'd obviously miss it here.

No Mid EQ on stereo/line channels; no graphic EQ across the main output.  I covered this above (Equalization).

No Aux Returns; no Master Aux Sends.  I mentioned this above.  What normally happens in a live situation with Aux sends for monitors is:
Each source (vocal, guitar, etc) is placed in the monitor mix via channel Aux Level controls.  This is your monitor mix.  Aux signal is sent to your poweramp, which is turned up louder than you might need it (most people i know crank 'em).  Then to adjust monitor level, you would turn the entire mix up/down at the mixer using some master aux control.  Since these boards don't have a Master Aux control, you'd have to make any further adjustments to monitor level at the poweramp itself, which might or might not be a pain in the ass depending on where it's located (hopefully close to whomever is running sound at this point).

No on-board Graphic EQ.  Covered above.

No Mute, limited PFL indicator LEDs.  Covered above.

No on-board digital FX.  All anybody really uses (globally) is reverb anyway; compression is signal/program-dependent as is most EQ.  I personally don't see a problem with omitting DSP on these particular (EPM) boards.

 

 

How does it sound?
Soundcraft's GB30 microphone preamps are clean with plenty of headroom and excellent gain before distortion (for this price range).

As far as adding its own color to the sound, the GB30 pres have a fairly small footprint.  This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what your mic drawer looks like.
Good-sounding microphones will sound good through these Soundcraft mixers, but your shitty microphones will STILL sound like shit; maybe even more-so to your ears if you're used to hearing things through a Mackie VLZ (for example).
To be clear: this board will definitely NOT have your $150 Behringer B2 (somehow magically) sounding like a $750 Charter Oak E700.

Drums & percussion (live & studio).  Dynamic mics sound great on kick, snare & toms.  Dynamic kick drum microphones (Beta 52A, etc.) sound great.

Hats and overheads can be tricky.  Dynamic mics and small diaphragm condensers sound good but...
Out live you have to be aware (as stated previously) of your use of on-board EQ.  With no Low Cut on these mixers, you're going to be using the channel's Low EQ, which is set 20Hz below standard.
In the studio you're still confronted with no Low Cut option, but additionally you lose the board's channel EQ (remember, you'll be coming from the EPM's Channel Inserts when using a mixer like this to record).

With the few small doumbeks and small-to-large djembes i've mic'd using dynamic, small diaphragm condenser, and large diaphragm condenser: everything sounded great.  The frequency range on my 18" Remo djembe is amazing with just a pair of SM57s; totally solid low end.  Congas with LDC sounded great.
 

Electric guitar & bass - mic'd cabinets.  Dynamic mics sound great.  Low volume bass and clean electric guitar don't suffer from mixer self-noise.  High SPL bass and electric guitar (using SM57 and Beta57) are easily handled; no mixer-caused distortion even from a really loud 4x10/1x15 bass combo.

Electric guitar & bass - amp modelers w/DI.  Like every mixer i've ever had experience with, these EPM boards won't give you any help with your modeler's digital harshness.  My experience with an EPM8 (live and in the studio) includes: bass, guitar, POD, V-Amp, RP.  I've gone 1/4" to the board, plus active and passive DI.  With the amp modelers, what you hear is what you get.

Acoustic guitar - microphone, MSP, UST (live & studio).  This is probably the thing i (so far) have had the most time in with (using an EPM8).  Microphones used include large and small diaphragm condenser, dynamic, and lav.  Via direct box (some made specifically for acoustic guitars) i have hit the board with undersaddle transducer and magnetic soundhole pickups.  Everything sounded great; no board self-noise & no coloration.  In some situations i

would suggest a tube preamp to take some of the edge off (this should really go without saying).

Live vocals.  Standard and higher-end dynamic mics would've really benefited from a Low Cut filter but other than that everything was fine.

Studio vocals.  Male vocals with a halfway decent LDC will have you doing pretty good, but you'd obviously want to use a better mic preamp (preferably tube) in the studio if at all possible.  Female vocals definitely need either a preamp that will soften, or a microphone that does the same; because this board is kindof harsh with female vocals and condenser mics (when you're right up on it).
I've also done male vocals using Beta 58 with no other outboard pre or EQ and with just a bit of tweaking in the box it sounded extremely good - sitting well in a hard rock song.

 

 

Conclusion - Soundcraft EPM6, EPM8 & EPM12 Mixers
I couldn't complain about the sound/quality of the mic pres, nor the price of the mixers given that quality - this specifically is what got me looking into these boards in the first place.  The EPM preamps can be a little harsh with some condenser mics; especially on female vocals.  I think that anybody with realistic expectations would be totally happy with one of these boards both live and in the small/home studio.

In my opinion Soundcraft overdid it on the simplicity thing.  Anybody serious enough to consider buying this board based on the GB30 preamps would i'm sure have had no problem paying a little more for some basic things that really should be there anyway.
Graphic EQ (or at least a Mid EQ on stereo/line channels), Mute/PFL indicator LEDs, low cut on mono/mic channels, and a power switch are things that (imo) shouldn't have been sacrificed in order to keep the price down a few dollars more.

[Update: I actually ended up buying an EPM8 for myself so now i guess other people can take turns borrowing it from me.  I will say that even with all of the things i complained about it's (for me) money well-spent.]

 

Copyright 2010 jumbosunshade.com.