When studio recordists think of Trident, they envision the classic English console, a stately oak trimmed board, eleven feet long, suitable for the world's great studios and costing many tens of thousands of dollars. And most of the consoles bearing the triangular Trident logo live up to that image, but not all. The Trident VFM was an early '80s board intended for the still-novel home studio market. Originally selling for a little under $2,000, the VFM entered a market segment well below the usual entry level models from the "professional" console manufacturers (TAC Scorpion, Studer 269, Soundcraft 600). The VFM was positioned more in line with the offerings from Tascam and Yamaha - long before the total domination of that market by Mackie. But the VFM brought a new level of sound quality and flexibility to that price point. More remarkable is how the board stands up to the current offerings in that range. The VFM (Very Fine Mixer!) was initially offered in two versions, one tailored for recording and the other intended for use as a sound reinforcement console. The two models were largely similar with most differences involving the group output modules. The VFM follows Trident's usual split console format; the standard configuration was 16 input channels and 8 group output channels. The original models had a fixed four band EQ, it is my understanding that later models offered a sweep- able three band EQ and that a model with 16 group outputs was also offered. The VFM is constructed like a smaller version of a large Trident console. The input, group and master channels are all built as individual modules, easily removed for servicing. I can't over-emphasize how important this is, particularly with an older piece of gear that is going to require regular maintenance and occasional repairs. The XLR mic inputs are electronically balanced, no transformers, and there are 1/4" line inputs and 1/4" insert jacks on each input module. The input channels do not have direct outputs, that means that the board is primarily intended for use with 8-track recorders. The four band EQ sounds very smooth and natural to my ears, but evaluating EQ is very subjective and personal. Each channel has a total of three sends, two pre and one post fader. The relatively large size of the board, approximately 4 feet wide by 2 1/2 feet deep, dwarfs modern 16 by 8 mixers. I feel that the advantage of a clear, uncluttered layout far outweighs the fact that it takes up a little more space. The 8 group output modules and the master section each have 12 segment LED meters. The lack of any metering on the input channels is one of my few complaints with the features of this board, but certain compromises have to be made at this price level. There are facilities for talkback, control room and studio monitoring and routing for both an 8 channel multi-track recorder and a two channel master recorder. Other than the mic inputs, all I/O is unbalanced on either XLR or 1/4" jacks. I decided on purchasing a VFM because it seems ideally suited as the nerve center of an analog 8-track studio. The signal routing is very flexible and the sound quality will surprise many of you. The build quality shames most modern consoles anywhere near this price range. Thanks to the Las Vegas-like mentality of the auction websites, it's hard to accurately predict the current value of any older equipment; but you should be able to pick up a VFM for around $1,000. When you compare the VFM to the other offerings in this price range, I think you'll find the VFM to be a tremendous bargain and a practical alternative to current low price mixer offerings. And you get to tell your friends that you just purchased one of those famous, old British consoles - no one needs to know it cost less than a used ADAT.

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

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