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This article was originally published in issue #41
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The Studiomaster brand built its early reputation on providing musicians with cost-effective audio mixing consoles and the new Club XS range of portable compact mixers carries on in that tradition. Available in two variants, the competitively-priced Club XS consoles feature DSP effects, WAV playback and mp3 record/playback on SD card or USB and Bluetooth connectivity for playback from compatible smartphones, tablets and the like.
The Club XS8 that arrived for review is the smaller of the two variants with four mic/line input channels and two mono/stereo line-level input channels contained in its all-steel chassis. The mic/line channels carry balanced XLR microphone inputs (with globally switchable 48v phantom power) and balanced TRS ¼” jack line-level inputs. From these, the signal passes, via the gain control, to the preamplifier. A red Peak LED, positioned near the Pan control, comes on when the channel is 3dB below clipping.
The Compressor comes next, the compression ratio increasing as its control knob is turned clockwise, whilst a high-pass filter at 80Hz takes out any unwanted low frequency rumbles. A +/-15dB 3-band EQ follows with fixed frequencies at 12kHz (treble), 2.5kHz (mid) and 45Hz (bass). The Aux and DSP sends feed their respective Aux Sends and a stereo TRS Aux Return routes to the main LR mix via its own level control. The DSP send also drives the onboard digital effects unit. The Pan knob, Mute button (with LED) and linear fader complete the mic/line channel control complement.
Although no actual gain controls are provided, the two Stereo/Left Mono line level inputs (Inputs 5/6 and 7/8) can be individually switched between -10dB and +4dB input levels. In addition, the input of 5/6 can be switched to take its input from the playback from SD, USB or Bluetooth. A simple +/-15dB 2-band EQ at 12kHz (treble) and 60HZ (bass) is provided and the remainder of the channel is identical to a mic/line input.
Alongside the Aux sends and returns mentioned earlier, the Club XS8 also possesses a stereo RCA phono output that carries the unit’s output mix for recording purposes and a stereo minijack/RCA input pairing for playback. Unbalanced TS ¼” jack Control Room LR outputs share their input selection (Main Mix or Playback) and volume control with the ¼” headphone jack that sits next to the Main Mix fader. That fader controls the output from the LR balanced XLR Main Mix outputs and the signal level can be metered on the 8-step LED ladder that lies above it. Slightly confusingly, the two indicator LEDs for the Club XS8’s +/- 15V supply rails form the last step on that ladder.
The onboard DSP FX unit runs 16 time-domain effects - two halls, two rooms, two plate reverbs, one spring reverb, two delays, a chorused reverb, a stereo chorus, a flanger, a phaser, a gated reverb, a flanged reverb and an echo effect specifically for vocals. A rotary Program selector is provided and further Parameter knob adjusts the overall delay time.
The Club XS8’s major feature for the digital age is the SD/USB/Bluetooth section. Although the graphics on the small display screen are a bit basic by modern-day standards, they are clear enough in functional terms. The SD card input sits on the left of the screen, and the USB input is the opposite side. Six push buttons lie underneath the display, the first of which selects between the various modes - SD and USB playback, Bluetooth Playback, Record, Voice Record - and the other five taking care of Play/Pause, Stop, Repeat and Previous/Next functions.
In use, the Studiomaster Club XS8 proved itself to be a competent performer, sounding good across a variety of input signals. The compressor worked well - particularly on vocals - and the EQ is effective, with well-chosen frequencies. As with any mixer, if you have to use a lot of EQ to get the sound right you’re going to be better off fixing the problem at source, rather than relying on extreme EQ settings to sort things out.
The onboard DSP effects perform to an acceptable level, just don’t expect the effects themselves to be as good as those in a standalone FX unit. Used judiciously, the Hall, Room and Spring reverbs work quite well and, in my experience, a little bit of reverb is all that you’re going to use live. If I was going to record through the XS8 and wanted to use effects, I’d get my hands on a dedicated FX unit and run that from the Aux Send and back into the Aux Return, rather than relying on the internal DSP effects. That then frees up the DSP Send to produce a cue mix if necessary.
Playback and record worked without a problem. The Bluetooth worked well once I’d worked out what buttons to press to start the pairing process (navigate to Bluetooth mode and press Play) as the owner’s manual is completely useless in that area. Studiomaster manuals are usually pretty good, so I’d hope that an improved version of the XS8 owner’s manual could be made available for download.
Happily, the Studiomaster Club XS8 is built like a tank, has all the basic facilities that you’d need plus DSP-based effects, USB/SD playback and record and Bluetooth connectivity. Add to all this its good sonic performance and competitive price point and the Club XS8 becomes a very attractive proposition if you’re looking for a small mixer that has the ability to cover a number of applications. Incidentally, if you need a couple of additional mic/line inputs, then the XS8’s bigger brother, the Club XS10, is well worth taking a look at.
Given the level of value for money that the Studiomaster Club XS range delivers, it deserves serious consideration if you’re looking for small mixing consoles in this price range.