Since API introduced the 1608 [Tape Op #81] discrete analog recording console a little over a decade ago, it has become something of an industry standard in its class – highly respected for its build quality and for API's unique combination of sonic transparency and analog warmth. Now the company is upping the ante with its latest analog console offering, the new 2448 inline console, which has been the talk of the town since it was released at the October 2018 AES convention.
The 2448 fits into the API product line between the more utilitarian 1608 (which has been updated recently to the 1608 II) and the more upscale, full-format Legacy AXS. The addition of the inline feature to the 2448 – the crucial difference between the 1608 and the 2448 – is an important one. With an inline console you have twice the number of inputs to the mix bus; doubling the number of inputs on an analog console is a big deal. Considering that the premium class Legacy AXS was previously API's most affordable inline console, the fact that an inline 2448 can now be had for around one half the cost of the AXS has a lot of people talking. As the co-owner of a commercial studio myself, I was impressed enough by the features of the 2448 to order one as a replacement for our trusty 32-channel 1608.
Since I live within driving distance of the API factory I decided to pick up the new console in person, and to everyone's amazement it just barely fit into the back of my Honda Odyssey minivan. While I was there I got a chance to discuss the 2448 console with its designer, API's Director of Engineering, Todd Humora. Todd walked me through the similarities and differences between the 2448, 1608, and Legacy AXS, pointing out that all three consoles use the same key components, including the classic 2520 and 2510 op amps, and API's proprietary transformers. Microphone inputs and all outputs, including insert sends and returns, are transformer balanced on the 2448, just as they are on the AXS. Todd also noted that while the 1608 channel strip had been designed with one eye on the earlier vintage API 1604 and its "upside-down" channel layout, the 2448 was designed taking a fresh approach to the channel strip configuration, and I think they have come up with a very logical and functional layout. There are a whole lot of buttons and knobs, but your fingers never feel like they're being squeezed. The 2448 channel strip layout puts the most important hands-on controls for both the large fader and small fader paths right up close where you can get to them, while seldom changed mic preamps and output assignments are up nearer to the EQs and VU meters.
Walking through the factory, we saw lots of consoles at various stages of their manufacture and testing. Looking at a 2448 and a Legacy AXS side-by-side, Todd pointed out how all of the buttons and switches are now the same throughout the API line, giving a consistency to the look and feel of the consoles while streamlining manufacturing. He noted that it was the decision to use parts of the 1608 platform, including the 8-bus architecture, the metering system, and the center section layout, that allows the 2448 to be built to a very competitive price point compared to what the price would have been if the 2448 had been designed as a 24-bus console. I believe that API has made an astute choice by doing this in order to keep the price down. For many users, not having 24 summing buses isn't that big of a deal, since direct outputs are often used to route to the DAW (or tape). And while the Legacy AXS does have a host of additional features compared to the 2448 – things like a more comprehensive center section, full 24-bus architecture, 12 Aux buses, variable filters, and slots for compressors on every channel – the lack of these features won't be deal breakers for a lot of people looking at the 2448.
The 2448 console is available in 24, 32, and 40 channel frame sizes. API also offers optional 24-inch and 30-inch wide DAW buckets for controller and wide-screen monitor, as well as a 19-inch patchbay bucket, so you can configure the console pretty much any way you want. For example, the console center section can be either to the left or to the right of the DAW section. (We ordered ours as a 32-channel with the center section to the left of the DAW section).
Each inline channel on the 2448 provides two independent audio paths, the large fader and the small fader path, so, for a 24-channel console, that's 24 large fader channels plus 24 small fader channels assignable to the mix bus (plus an additional four stereo returns). Most commonly, the small fader path is used for mic inputs in tracking, leaving the large fader path available for monitoring off tape/DAW. During mixdown the 24 small faders can be used as additional line in channels. The 500 Series EQ slot associated with each channel is normalled to the large fader path but is switchable to the small fader path, and you can also switch the eight Summing buses, the Direct output, and Aux sends 5-8 to the small fader path.
The biggest innovation of the 2448 console is the new 648C channel strip, so let's look at its layout in more detail. Starting from the top, there is a 212 mic pre with gain knob and peak indicator, with 20 dB pad, +48V, and Alternate Line In switches (for accessing the additional small fader Line In channels during mixdown). Next are the routing switches for the Summing and Program buses and pan-pots, then comes the excellent Auxiliary Send section (adapted directly from the 1608), with four mono and two stereo sends, switchable to pre-fader in pairs. There is a button that lets you route the Aux 7 and 8 outputs to Summing buses 1, 2, 3, and 4, which can expand the number of available Aux buses, or provide extra stereo buses for surround mixing – a nice feature! Next is the Small Fader section, with gain and pan knobs, and switches for Solo, Mute, Safe, Phase, Insert, and HP Filter. Three additional switches allow you to assign some of the large fader's features (EQ, Auxes 5-8, and the Summing buses) to the small fader path. Rounding out the channel strip is the Large Fader section, with Pan knob and switches for Solo, Mute, Safe, Phase, Flip (which flips the inputs to the small and large faders), Insert, HP Filter, Line Pad, and Direct Out to small fader. Keep in mind that all of these switches (there are 40-something switches per channel) light up when engaged. It makes it easy to see what you're doing, plus it looks pretty cool when you turn off the room lights.
Just above the channel strips are the 500 Series slots, which can be fitted with API 550A, 550B, or 560 [Tape Op #26] EQs, as well as other 500 Series modules. Above the 500 Series section is the meter bridge, with its very well thought out VU metering system. You can globally switch the main channel VUs to meter the Large fader source, the Small fader source, or the Direct Output. Additionally, the first eight VUs can be switched to meter the Summing bus outputs. There are eight smaller VUs for metering either the eight Aux Out masters or the four stereo Aux Returns. The left and right Master VUs also function to meter channels that are being soloed.
Like the metering system, much of the 2448 center section is carried over from the 1608, with one crucial upgrade: API has reconfigured the Aux Return section to provide four stereo automated returns instead of eight mono returns. Each of the stereo returns has switches for Solo, Mute, Safe, Mono, Insert, 500 Series Insert assign (for the eight additional empty 500 Series slots located above the center section), Aux In (routes the Aux Out master to its corresponding Aux return), Program Bus assign, and Summing Buses 7/8 assign. The nice thing about the eight empty 500 Series slots is that they can be switched into the Aux Returns, or they can be patched to any channel on the console. So, we decided to fill ours with 560 EQs (which our engineers love, so now they can have one on any channel) and a few 565 Filter Banks just for fun and to make up for the lack of sweepable filters on every channel.
The remainder of the center section was derived from the 1608 and manages to squeeze a lot of functionality into a relatively modest footprint. Zooming in, we start with the Aux Bus Master section, which provides controls for each of the eight Aux buses, including Gain, Solo, On, VU, and Talkback (routes Talkback to the Aux sends individually). An External Input switch lets you sum the external input to a bus at unity gain. Next is the Summing Bus Master section, where you'll find gain control, individual left/right program bus assignments, and Solo and On switches for the eight Summing buses.
To the right of the Summing Bus Master section is the Monitor Control section, with control room monitoring for Stereo or 5.1 Surround, switchable from three separate 6-track playback sources. There are provisions for control room main monitors plus two sets of stereo nearfields, with Cut, Mono, and Dim switches (with Dim level trim). The last module of the center section contains a solid albeit basic Solo Master section and a Talkback Master section with routing to Buses, Auxes, or All. Also in this strip are some basic utility functions like the Oscillator, Peak level adjustment, VU Masters, and Headphone level. Just above the center section, API left a space for the optional 529C stereo bus compressor. This unit is based on the company's popular 2500 compressor [Tape Op #52], with switchable feedback and feed-forward compression, soft-knee control, and Thrust circuitry.
All of the I/O connectors are on the rear of the 2448, just as they are on the 1608 (another cost saving measure compared to the AXS). I was pleasantly surprised at how little rewiring we had to do when swapping the cables to the new 2448 from the old 1608. The only new cables we needed were for the 32 Alternate Inputs, plus we had to rewire the Direct Outs (which are now on D-sub connectors), but that was it. None of the normalling needed changing at the patchbay, according to wiring guru Thom Canova.
The 2448 is available with or without automation. API's Final Touch automation system is now consistent throughout the line, with implementation customized for the different consoles. This system automates all mutes, inserts, and fader levels for the channel large faders, stereo returns, and stereo master faders. Two dedicated Group Master faders provide control for an unlimited number of Fader Groups. The system is self-contained, does not require an external computer, and features DAW control for easy integration between digital and analog workflow. The automation system is controllable from the built-in 7-inch touch screen, and there are even tape machine style transport controls for Pro Tools – a nice touch.
So how does the console sound? A couple of days after getting everything up and running, producer/engineer John Plymale brought The Connells into the studio to cut some tracks. It was evident from early on that the console sounded just like our 1608, and that's a good thing! Everything we love about the sound of API consoles – the extra headroom, the transparency, the deep, focused bass, and the bigger than life sound field – it's all there, but now we have twice as many channels. Subsequent sessions with other bands and engineers have brought similar rave reviews. This is one seriously professional console.
API's move to build a high quality inline analog console that is affordable for a wider range of studios will give more engineers exposure to the creative and sonic possibilities of mixing outside of the box. Let's face it, as flexible as the 1608 is – and I loved mine – its lack of inline monitoring does subtly encourage engineers to mix in the box (despite the fact that they're working on an analog console) because there's no easy way to monitor off tape while tracking without burning up a ton of channels. This is really ironic, because one of the greatest things about a nice analog console is how good it sounds to mix tracks through it, and it partly defeats the purpose if you end up mixing (or even monitoring) in the box anyway. With the inline 2448, you can be in analog mix mode all of the time, by tracking through the small faders and using the automated large faders to keep a mix always up.
Everybody knows that sometimes the best a song ever sounds is on the day it's initially cut, so imagine being able to save all of those early rough mixes, every time you track! This is the way it should be. All things considered, API seems to have a winner on their hands, and I think that for a lot of studio owners looking at a console upgrade the 2448 is going to be pretty hard to resist.