By now, we are all familiar with the Rupert Neve Designs Portico Series of processors and RND's big-daddy 5088 console [Tape Op #73]. Over the last few years, these products have proved themselves worthy of the Rupert Neve badge and are now staples in million-dollar facilities and project rooms alike. The newest member of the RND family is the 5059 Satellite 16x2+2 Summing Mixer. While the name is a mouthful, take note of the 16x2+2 part - therein lies the power of the unit - because there are two very flexible, independent mix buses.
The basic building blocks of the Satellite mixer utilize the same custom transformers and Class A circuits that Rupert Neve has designed and implemented in the Portico Series as well as in the venerable 5088 console. The Portico Series truly embodies the Neve philosophy of clean signal path combined with classic sonic characteristics of smoothness (some say warmth) and size. I like to refer to the Portico stuff as simple but sophisticated. The simple-looking, clearly-labeled, and distinctive-feeling controls belie the sophistication of the processing power and flexibility of the units in the series. The 5059 continues that lineage with red, dark-blue, and silver knobs; white pushbutton switches; and the now-familiar, off-white front panel. Now for the specifics: All audio connections are on the rear panel, with inputs and inserts handled with the ubiquitous and convenient 25-pin D-sub connectors (TASCAM pinout), while two pairs of male XLR jacks provide the Stereo 1 and Stereo 2 mix bus outputs. The 5059 includes 16 balanced line inputs with front- panel level, pan, and bus-assignment controls. Additionally, each channel has its own insert switch, allowing some novel routing options (more later). The two mix buses have independent level controls and also independent texture controls, each with a choice of Blue or Red Silk modes and independent drive control.
Spec-wise, the unit is a thoroughbred. The frequency response goes from near DC to 185 kHz, and the signal-to-noise ratio in the audio band is close to 120 dB. The self-noise of the unit also measures at better then -100 dBV. Those numbers match or exceed virtually any audio interface you may use with your DAW, and certainly exceed many consoles' specs. Each channel's level control ranges from minus infinity to +10 dB of gain, and the transformer-balanced bus outputs can push +26 dBu back to your recorder - about the max level most pro A/D converters can cleanly handle. For many interfaces, you may have to back the stereo bus down by as much as 10 dB so as not to overload your inputs. These output transformers will happily drive unbalanced inputs, in case you are using a semi-pro interface or recorder. Variable amounts of Red or Blue Silk modes are available to each output bus and provide about three times the amount of color and saturation as the original Portico units can. As a reminder, the Silk circuit actually adjusts the negative feedback on the output transformer, which varies the harmonic content in a way that equalizers, compressors, or even tubes cannot emulate. The Red Silk mode accentuates the high-mid saturation, while the Blue Silk mode accentuates the low-mid saturation characteristics. These types of saturation embody the "Neve" sound of the classic Neve devices.
During setup, the sophistication and routing flexibility of this simple-looking box soon become apparent and the manual outlines a few useful routing options. A typical setup would be to return both stereo buses to your DAW for summing. Further, the buses can be used separately to allow different stem mix processing by simply applying different Silk modes to each bus - for example, Blue to your drums/bass stem and Red to the guitars/keys stem. Or, the Stereo 2 output could simply be looped back into a pair of unused inputs and assigned to the Stereo 1 bus. Then only the Stereo 1 output would return to your DAW or recorder. Also, multiple Satellite mixers can be used to create more complicated busing and mixing setups. A few other clever routing options are available, simply by taking advantage of switch positions. For instance, the input signal to a channel is always present on its insert send, allowing a mult for splitting a record signal or for parallel processing that signal; the insert return is only monitored when the Insert button is engaged. Additionally, the bus assignment button, labeled Stereo 2, assigns any channel to the second mix bus, or can act as a mute button if the Stereo 2 mix bus is not being monitored. All somewhat mind-bending but actually quite useful stuff.
For my daily use, the elegance of a summing mixer lies in its inherent signal patching flexibility. Using analog gear alongside plugins has become my preferred way of working, and having a summing mixer allows seamless integration of my bus processors and outboard effects that don't require DAW-based automation. For example, I recently mixed a fantastic sounding album for Latin pop artist Priscilla Scott. The 96 kHz sessions were mostly recorded at Ocean Way Studios on a big analog console using 2'' tape in conjunction with a DAW. Mixing took place at my studio using a hybrid of in-the-box and the 5059. I feel that the Satellite contributed to the workflow and helped impart the classic big analog sound we wanted to maintain throughout the process. I found the two stereo buses and variable Silk modes useful in various combinations for each song.
I like to maintain a calibrated summing amp to allow recalls and mix consistency, so at the beginning of the project, I ran tones through all the channels and calibrated all the level pots within 0.1 dB of each other. Over the two- week mix session, the calibration stayed true, save for the occasional bumped knob, which was easily reset with my alignment tones. The manual explains how to calibrate the unit, and I strongly suggest you should create a session template to aid calibration, no matter what summing amp or outboard processing you may use. Never during the project did I feel that I hit the input channels too hard, nor could I drive the outputs too hard without driving my Prism ADC into clipping first. When I used to spend more time mixing on large-format analog boards, there was a certain sweet spot at which I could drive the mix bus to get just the right amount of saturation, and by using the Satellite's Silk modes, I could create that same sweet spot at almost any operating level. It certainly made gain-staging the mixer much more of an afterthought.
There are many summing mixers, each sporting various features and routing options, but the Satellite 5059 is the only one deserving of the Rupert Neve name. The 5059 boasts not only the Neve sonic signature, but its flexibility is well suited for modern applications of processing. The 5059 is a unique summing mixer and would impart a variable sonic palette and novel routing options to any hybrid DAW setup. I look forward to each RND release, and the 5059 did not disappoint me in any way. ($3749 street; www.rupertneve.com)
-Adam Kagan <www.about.me/adamkagan>