I have to admit, I wanted to hate this unit. I realized that my prejudice came from my experience with a market that makes outrageous claims every day, and rarely does a unit come along that lives up to these lofty claims. I wanted to hate the soft-keys on the face of this box, and I wanted to hate the fact that it looked like a multi-effects box. Quite simply, this box more than overcame my prejudice, and it seemed to excel under circumstances I would not normally have trusted anything but the finest mic preamp.
This unit is amazing. If you get over the lack of big knobs, VU's, and noise, you will enjoy this box for many years. Every mic preamp and compressor "contained" within this unit will have a place in some session. Every session will benefit by some function of this unit. I was amazed by a few of the settings and of course wound up with favorites. I was also amazed by the sheer usability of the controls and the overall sound quality of the unit.
Whenever someone claims to have "faithfully reproduced" or "captured the essence" of a classic piece of gear, the skeptical side of every engineer seems to take a firm hold on the operation of the unit. I was no exception. I wanted to make it fail in comparison to the "real" classics in the rack just below the Liquid Channel. It didn't.
I have used or owned a significant number of the classics this box emulates, and it seems to "remember" them just like I do! When comparing the Liquid Channel to the "actual" compressors and mic preamps in question, the value of this box becomes apparent. Sitting right next to a classic British compressor with a big number for a name, the Liquid Channel was close enough in sound and response as to be within the tolerances found from unit to unit in the first place! In fact, the Liquid Channel sounded more like our 33609 than other real 33609's that I've tried! That freaked me out.
On drum room, I was using an RFT 7151 (a huge microphone that the Blue Bottle is based on). This mic puts out insane amounts of level, and I normally won't even use a mic preamp with it. Maybe I'll go through an 1176 just for some line gain, or the line amps of a DaviSound Custom TB-2. The Liquid Channel worked well at line level, with some make-up gain from the FC 670 setting. I think getting the gain structure right was freaking me out at first, because I like to hit things hard when recording aggressive music, and this drum track was supposed to be aggressive. Setting extreme input levels without clipping the A/D converters was difficult, as was making some "mayhem" happen with the harmonics function. I wanted a super blown-out, explosive sound, and this box simply wasn't supplying it easily. Not the "right kind of wrong" I was looking for. I switched the mic over to a TLM 170 Gotham Edition and put it in omni. This was simply a "flavor" mic, because I wasn't sure of what I would get from this unit, and I had a job to do. I already had a few room choices up, so I wasn't really relying on this track. The 170 sounded much cooler, but still no mayhem. I put up a customized C 12 VR, and that was exactly what we needed: aggressive tube burn with a swank front end and some compression. It's clear that if you have a variety of mics, this box becomes more and more useful.
To be honest, I wasn't really enamored with the ability to switch through the 40 preamp and 40 compressor programs available in the Liquid Channel. Who has the time and inclination to go through 1600 preamp- compressor combos during a session? And that's not even counting the individual settings for each combo! Instead, over time, I found a few favorite mic preamp and compressor combos that I liked, and I tended to stick to them. My studio partner Tony Maimone even went so far as to say that the Liquid Channel's Helios-Fairchild combo alone is worth the price of the box.
I would highly recommend this unit to smaller studios equipped with a DAW and just a few preamps and microphones. This could be a box that winds up being your clock source and front end for every overdub you do! You have many response characteristics at your fingertips, which means you have the right preamp for the job, no matter what the job is. You also have some amazing compressor responses to use for vocal tracking and mixing if you like.
The Focusrite Liquid Channel is a very classy and useful piece of gear that will find its way into many sessions, in any studio large or small. Get over it, guys. We live in the modern era, and this thing rocks regardless of your capture format. ($3495 MSRP; www.focusrite.com)