Last year, Phoenix Audio, well-known for their history of servicing vintage Neve gear, debuted the newest addition to their line of summing mixers. While their flagship Nicerizer 16 Mk 2 brings the functionality of a small console to the form factor of a racked summing mixer, the new Nicerizer Junior presents the same summing circuitry, but with a slightly reduced feature set at a significant cost savings.

The Nicerizer Junior takes up two rack spaces and shows off Phoenix Audio's familiar black faceplate and vintage-styled, glossy red aluminum knobs. The rear panel provides two DB-25 connectors for 16 audio inputs, and two stereo pairs of XLR connectors for outputs. An IEC power connector and voltage selector complete the sparse layout of the rear panel. The front panel provides 16 of the aforementioned knobs, with finely- spaced detents to control panning for each input, as well as a button providing +8 dB of boost for each input. Two additional knobs control the mix output levels for stereo outputs A and B. The use of the mixer is straightforward. 16 inputs, which can be any combination of stereo pairs or mono sources, sum at unity gain or may be individually bumped up by 8 dB, and all inputs are summed to both Mix A and Mix B, which have separate level controls. It couldn't be much simpler than that.

Phoenix Audio believes in the sonic qualities that discrete, Class A electronics impart on audio, and the Nicerizer Junior employs transformerless, discrete, Class A circuitry on each balanced input. Large, custom-wound audio transformers and discrete, Class A amplifiers produce each balanced mix output. The unit will happily accept balanced or unbalanced sources without any loss of level or increase in distortion. Each stereo output can produce levels of +26 dBu, which will easily drive professional A/D converters to full scale, and I never overloaded the Nicerizer Junior's input stages, even with hot levels coming out of my Pro Tools HD interface.

I typically mix in the box, but I do utilize a handful of outboard processors — especially ones with transformers and tubes — to color some individual analog inserts. I like the idea of a summing amp because running parallel buses ITB, especially with outboard compressors and EQ, can create complicated routing and latency issues. Also, I have long been searching for a single stereo-bus processor with a wide enough tonal range to cover all the styles of music I work on, from orchestral music to hip-hop and EDM. A few processors have stood out as excellent, most notably the Rupert Neve Designs Portico II Master Buss Processor [Tape Op #89], but few summing mixers have shown themselves to provide a wide range of tonal options. The Nicerizer Junior (and presumably the mac-daddy Nicerizer 16 MK 2) does an excellent job of providing not only clean and utilitarian summing, but also allows for a wide variety of coloration and saturation effects. I actually found the Nicerizer Junior to provide a much wider sweet spot and tonal range than even my favorite large-format analog mixing desks.

While mixing, hitting the Nicerizer with low to moderate input levels, and not pushing the output fader too much, produced a very transparent mix with seemingly enhanced midrange clarity. Electric piano, ambiences, and background vocals seemed to widen out and sparkle a bit more than in the ITB mix. When the Nicerizer was pushed slightly harder, the upper mids seemed to compress and soften a bit, which set the snare and lead vocals slightly back into the mix, while the stereo size and frequency range remained full. Pushing the mixer very hard (running all inputs at +8 dB and turning down the output fader to around 12 o'clock) provided super fat console- style distortion reminiscent of Neve or API channel saturation. This type of saturation sounds huge, buzzy, and fuzzily-distorted, but rarely gets harsh or irritating. You won't find that type of drive in any software plug-in. The output transformers on the Nicerizer provide a very slight low-mid push and sub-bass rolloff that bring a polished sound to most mixes.

No matter the style of music, I found that I could drive the Nicerizer at different levels and achieve many different colorations. In my DAW, I wound up creating eight stereo master faders, each routed to a stereo input on the Nicerizer, so that I could easily adjust the overall drive of each input to the summing mixer, and then I adjusted the output fader on the Nicerizer as needed. Having two different stereo output faders on the Nicerizer provides the additional flexibility of routing one stereo mix output back to the DAW, and the other mix output to the monitor controller or even a compressor and/or EQ for parallel processing of the final master. I'm sure there are plenty of other uses for the dual mix outputs.

Overall, I would have to say that the Nicerizer Junior provides as much or as little coloration as you could want from a summing mixer in an extremely well-built and fairly priced box.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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