If you took at face value the mythologizing of recording consoles as it stands today, you could be forgiven for thinking that Neve, API, and SSL made all the classic desks used for record production in the '60s, '70s, and '80s. But at the height of the analog recording era, it’s fair to say there were many console manufacturers whose desks haven’t gained the same level of lore. Huge albums, such as Thriller, The Night Fly, The Game, Breakfast in America, In Through The Out Door, Rhythm Nation, and almost everything ABBA ever did, were all recorded and/or mixed on Harrison consoles. After their introduction in the mid-'70s, Harrison consoles were ubiquitous. Since then, Harrison has been steadily advancing the progress of audio technology. They revolutionized the television and film industry with the first digitally-controlled analog consoles, becoming an industry standard in that field. Their consoles carved a space as one of the most reliable names in the live sound world, and even Live Aid was mixed on a Harrison. Currently, they make the Mixbus VBM cloud-based mixer, a line of plug-ins, and their own Harrison Mixbus DAW. Now, with the new 32Classic, Harrison is once again reentering the world of music-focused, large-format analog consoles.
The 32Classic is everything one would expect from a legendary console builder who never stopped innovating in their field: incredible clarity and headroom, clean and thoughtful design, and a flexible workflow that incorporates both old-school and modern recording philosophies. Probably the most notable aspect of the 32Classic is the integration of onboard Dante converters. The 32 channel desk ships with 64 channels of inputs and outputs via Dante. Plug a computer in via one Ethernet cable, and it's ready to roll. There are DB-25 connectors for all analog signal paths (mic inputs, line inputs, direct outs, bus outputs, etc.), which could be easily and cleanly connected to a patchbay. There are also Dante inputs in the monitoring section for full 7.1.4 Atmos monitoring. The routing capabilities with the Dante integration is pretty incredible – particularly for larger institutions with more complex A/V setups.
Founder Dave Harrison invented the first in-line console for MCI; the MCI JH400. In many ways the 32Classic brings that same thoughtful design that revolutionized recording technology and workflow into the 21st century. Each channel is in-line, and both paths can be assigned from either the Dante, mic, line, or instrument inputs (there is an XLR / instrument combo jack in the center section that can be assigned to any channel with the push of a button – incredibly convenient!). From there, signal moves through all the features we have come to expect from a recording console: a stereo cue send, four mono sends, a fabulous 4-band EQ circuit with high and low pass filters, pan, solo, mute, and a fader.
The design philosophy focuses on simplicity, fidelity, and accuracy. There is no automation, all of the switches are digital relays and outside of the audio path (no clicks or pops when engaged), center-detented potentiometers are discarded in favor of on/off switches for pan and EQ (even the best center-detented pot won’t be as precise as removing it from the audio path entirely). There are 0 dB switches on all channels and buses for super-accurate unity gain (think out of the box summing). With the exception of the Jensen JT-MB-CPCA transformers on each mic preamp and the mix bus, all other I/O points (line input, direct output, insert points) are electronically balanced. The result is a clean, clear, accurate sound with headroom for days.
In addition to the direct outs, there are eight buses (each with switchable insert points) that can be quickly assigned (either in mono or odd-even pan) from any channel. Each channel and bus can be floated from the mix bus or run in parallel. This creates opportunities for parallel processing or simultaneous stem printing while mixing or tracking. Three individually-assignable and independently-controlled routing matrixes are available for total flexibility for monitoring and cue mixes. Sources include: all auxes, all buses, mix bus, two external inputs, talkback, and dedicated Dante inputs. On top of all of that, there are an additional 32 channels of playback that can be summed and piped into the mix bus for extra channels, with up to 96 channels possible at mixdown.
All of this routing may sound complicated, but the 32Classic is one of the most intuitive consoles I’ve ever sat at. If you’ve ever used a relatively simple Mackie 24.8 mixer, you’ll know your way around a 32Classic almost immediately.
The integration with Dante opens up entirely new paths. Though Audinate’s Virtual Soundcard Dante app can be a little clunky, it still felt easy enough to integrate all of the Dante I/O with the console and Pro Tools. Equally as important, the console design is wonderfully ergonomic. There’s a large built-in front shelf/bolster with enough room to put a computer keyboard, mouse/trackball, MIDI controller, etc. Plus, there's a nice little cabling trough to subtly run your USB cables down into and under the console. The meter bridge is low profile and flat, making it easy to put a computer screen and nearfield monitors at the right height. [The 32Classic features an onboard power supply unlike most older units, and comes with support legs, something to consider when pricing against many other mixing boards. -Ed.]
I had the opportunity to sit with a new 32Classic and mix on it in the demo room at Harrison. The setup was as beautifully simple as I could possibly imagine a large format console being: a computer running a single Ethernet cable to the console, a DB-25 breakout cable for the monitors, and another DB-25 for inserts on the buses. If I had needed to overdub a guitar or vocal part, I could have plugged right into the center section. I brought a session I had tracked with Lilly Winwood at Nashville's Sound Emporium and was able to get everything routed out in seconds. The meter bridge displays VU (LED-lit) analog meters for main bus, cue, and monitor outputs. Each channel has a 20-segment LED meter next to the fader, which is immensely useful to get a picture of what’s happening at a glance. My first impressions when I started to run audio were, "Wow, that’s a really nice fader. Wow, that’s a fantastic-sounding EQ." The quality of the fader is hard to describe, but I’m sure that if you have the opportunity to sit at a 32Classic you’ll understand what I mean. The 4-band EQ is as natural and musical as it gets. The bands have a proportional Q – it starts as a wide bell and gets narrower as you add or subtract gain. The real icing on the cake for me is the sweepable high and low pass filters on each channel, both independently engaged via switches on the EQ circuit. Filters may be the most underrated and underused tool in the audio tool box, and having both high and low pass at your fingertips while tracking or mixing is a real treat.
I got my mix up and running quickly and effortlessly, routing drums and guitars to some parallel processing on two pairs of buses. Without using the patchbay or any additional cabling, I was able to assign the mix bus output (as well as the outputs of the eight buses) to tracks in Pro Tools to print. Everything sounded how it's supposed to. The stereo field is wide and deep but incredibly natural. The EQs made it easy to carve space when needed and also shine a beautiful light on certain elements when appropriate. My only complaint: while the mute button is large, satisfying to press, and well-placed, each channel’s solo button takes the smaller form factor as various other switches on the desk, tucked in next to the pan, mix bus assignment, and 0 dB buttons. This makes it both hard to engage, and harder to see when trying to figure out which track is soloed.
If you are looking for a thick, heavy-sounding console with tons of character, the 32Classic is probably not for you. If you value sonic accuracy, ease of use, and flexibility, the 32Classic should be on your list. It’s hard to imagine a better console for a teaching institution; it would be an incredible tool for students learning to work on large format consoles, and it can be easily wired into existing Dante systems to capture audio from auditoriums, classrooms, studios, recital halls, etc. The 32Classic is a well-designed, well-built, accurate, musical, analog console built on a legacy of contributions to iconic recordings. It’s well-stocked with incredible EQs and filters, Jensen-balanced mic preamps, nearly limitless routing flexibility, and the no-hassle (and no cabling!) convenience of built-in Dante conversion – there’s nothing else like it on the market.