The Daking MKII is a full-featured, large-format mixing console engineered for modern recording with the artist in mind – which makes sense as it was designed by producer, engineer, and musician, Geoff Daking. Having been under the hood as well as recording with Daking outboard gear in the past, I was expecting a high-quality well-made console. Over the last decade, I have been fortunate enough to work on and record through the rarest and most expensive consoles and outboard equipment ever made. As a professional sound technician, audio engineer, and hardware developer, I enjoy delving into the nitty-gritty of component-level design, and will absolutely go to an anechoic chamber just to prove the substrate of a resistor in a high impedance circuit has a measurable effect on the frequency response in an audio device. I love the recording process, the gear, and how it is made.

When I was invited to review this console for Tape Op, I jumped at the chance; I had the unique opportunity to record singer-songwriter Anna Ash, in a good-sounding room, with the new Daking MKII – it was a no brainer! (Her song "Keep Me From Blowing Away" – tracked during this review – has just been released.) I came in a day ahead of our scheduled tracking session to run some tests and get a feel for the signal flow of the studio. I also wanted to see how the desk measured up, according to manufacturing specs. The first thing I noticed was how beautiful the custom cream and gold anodized metalwork with cherrywood finishes glowed under the lights of the large VU meters on each channel. The center section of the Daking MKII doubles as a producer's desk, with all monitor, studio, and cue output controls easily accessible in the middle of the console. The Daking MKII has been acoustically engineered to minimize reflections from speakers off the console's surface. There is an integrated patchbay included – it's obvious that a lot of thought went into design and construction. Most consoles of this size don't come with an integrated patchbay, but having it included made the routing on the Daking MKII easy, intuitive, and fast. From a seated position in front of the console, everything was easily within reach, and I did not have to stand up to access controls or patch points. The power supplies were in the room and had no cooling fans, which I found intriguing. There is a large heat sink on the back of each power supply unit to manage cooling – they do not need to be installed in a separate room as there is no fan noise. The Daking MKII touts a Class A circuit design, which is the highest fidelity circuit topology available with little, or no, crossover distortion. Crossover distortion is a small click when an audio waveform "crosses over" the zero point.

Skip Burrows from the Daking team was there to greet me when I got to the studio. He was in town, working on a personalized training session with the studio owner; a service Daking provides its customers. Not only do they support and facilitate the installation of their consoles, but they also ensure you have a fundamental understanding of how to configure and operate your console according to your workflow. In this case, the studio employs a hybrid system, using the Daking MKII console as the analog front end along with DAW integration.

The Daking MKII features transformer-coupled mic preamps, high- and low-pass filters, a compressor/limiter, and a four-band inductive EQ with Baxandall high and low shelving on every channel! Inductive EQs are a '60s thing; a fundamental design element that lent itself to the magic of analog recordings from that era. For me, this translated to a certain kind of smoothness without loss of articulation – less surgical and more additive in terms of vibe. It was just a matter of boosting it sonically to add the articulation of Anna's fingers plucking on her guitar strings. The console is an inline design, so you can have a mic signal going to a tape machine or DAW and return the output on the same channel for monitoring. In mixdown, you can have two inputs per channel feeding the mix bus. A 16-channel console will yield 46 channels at mixdown. Skip had an Audio Precision measurement tool for us to run sweeps on the EQ, the compressor circuit, and to measure the noise levels of the console. I wanted to see how much headroom we had, and how hard we could drive the signal before it started to distort and break up. Turns out it is around +30 dB, which is insane! The sweeps all looked amazing, and everything matched up with the manufacturer's specs. With the tests done, it was time to record.

We only had about eight hours to record and mix over two days, which is not nearly enough time to fully review and test a piece of gear with this many options and possible configurations. Thankfully, Anna and her bandmates (Aaron Stern and Jason Roberts) are all super talented and experienced with live recording. There's nothing more satisfying than capturing a performance of talented musicians playing together in a room with a great console.

Catharine Wood, of Planet Wood productions – a dear friend and fellow audio engineer – had everything we needed to start recording within 30 minutes of the band's arrival. Tracking was straightforward and easy. It's a rarity to walk into a session where everything is plug and play and just works. The console controls are laid out sensibly, and having the EQ right next to the large fader was intuitive and a real pleasure. Getting amazing tones with this talented band was simple and effortless, and I discovered the Daking MKII could be used as an inline console or a split design. The Master section provides talkback controls, three sets of speaker outputs, studio outs and cue outputs. The VU meters all have assignable sources for each signal point in the channel strip. There is even a control to dim the LEDs on the meters to match the room's mood and lighting. In the center section, there are 16 additional inputs with full routing available for effects or stems. We used the eight buses accessible on each input strip for the multi-channel headphone feed and the auxiliary sends for reverb/delay effects for the musicians. It was extremely easy to give the band exactly what they needed to perform without affecting what we were doing in the control room. Once levels were adjusted, we hit record and ran through several takes before overdubbing additional guitar parts and some backup vocals. We did a quick mix, patched the stereo bus output to the DAW, and called it a day. Everything sounded open and big.

The Daking MKII has all the amplifiers, the compressors, and metering on simple plug in cards for each channel. This makes user serviceability really easy and fast. I love how the entire meter section of each bucket is hinged, so you can just push it back for quick access to the channel cards. Each console comes in 16-channel increments, handcrafted in the United States, and is fully customizable.

The Daking MKII is really in a class of its own in terms of design, sound quality, and features. When compared to other consoles at this price range it's extremely tough to beat, and it's also the only console I know of that can be ordered with custom colors. The MKII is made to order, not to stock, which means it's top shelf, and for good reason – the only thing to worry about is working out how to get the cash to buy one! I used to joke that in lieu of a wedding ring, all I wanted was a Steinway Model O grand piano. Turns out I'd actually rather have a Daking MKII. More than just a console, it's truly a remarkable musical instrument.

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

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