Where do you turn when you need the convenience of a mixing board paired with a multi-channel audio interface? The answer is usually to one of the many digital boards on the market, from the multiple iterations of the X32 to the Yamaha LS9 and options from Allen & Heath among others, along with Soundcraft’s own of course. Such consoles offer great flexibility, powerful features and dynamic, software-based user interfaces, making them considerably more flexible and feature-rich than their analogue counterparts. Not everyone wants a digital desk however. I and many others prefer the tactility and simplicity of a traditional analogue board. Wading through endless menus and fiddling with infinite rotary encoders isn’t my idea of fun. I’d rather press a few switches, flick a fader or two and get on with recording the session or mixing the gig.
There are a great many analogue consoles on the market with inbuilt interfaces, with the caveat that the majority of them allow only the stereo master to be recorded or, at best, a few of the group busses. This is fine for recording a mixdown of a live gig (providing you can achieve a perfect mix in the room), but not so fine when you want to carry out post-production to release a recorded live show, or record live drums in a studio environment, for example. Few analogue consoles exist on the market today with true multi output capability – the Allen & Heath GS-R24 and a couple of models from Midas being the only that spring to mind.
Soundcraft’s Signature 22MTK and the smaller Signature 12MTK are two of those few models, the smaller board effectively cutting the channel count and feature set of its bigger brother in half but with an equally impressive feature set for a board of its size. This review focuses on the larger 22MTK – a 22-channel analogue board with ‘Ghost’ mic preamps, Lexicon effects and crucially a 24-in, 22-out USB audio interface supporting 24-bit, 48kHZ recording. It is important to note that the Signature 22MTK differs from the standard signature 22 model in its multi-track capabilities. While both have USB, the standard Signature 22 offers two channels for stereo recording and supports 24/192 resolution, while the MTK offers 22-channel multi-track at the reduced 48kHz sampling rate.
Though compact in size and weighing only 11.36KG the 22MTK is neatly laid out with all controls and connectors situated on its top panel. Channel strips fill the majority of the control surface with 16 mono and 4 stereo channels, 2 effects busses, 4 group busses and a master fader. 48V Phantom power is globally switchable (not a major compromise) while channels 1 through 8 feature built-in DBX limiters and channels 7, 8, 9 and 10 feature Hi-Z inputs intended for use with guitar pickups and other high impedance sources. All mono channels include a 100Hz low cut high pass filter and flexible GB series routing to the master outputs, to the 4 group busses or to any of the 5 aux busses, as well as to the solo bus for monitoring via the headphone jack.
The channel strips feature super smooth 100 mm faders and Soundcraft’s three-band Sapphyer asymmetric EQ with sweepable mid bands. The EQ is incredibly flexible and behaves differently in cut and boost. The shelving bands of the EQ (LF and HF) use a slight boost at the EQ’s frequency when cutting, and a slight cut when boosting. At low frequencies, this slight cut prevents muddiness in the signal at low frequencies, while the slight boost when cutting retains the ‘punch’ and ‘body’ in the sound. At higher frequencies a slight cut when boosting prevents harsh resonance at the EQ’s frequency, and a slight boost before a cut can help maintain brightness while reducing HF. The EQ allows for meticulous yet musical tonal shaping of each channel to suit a room and achieve any desired tone.
Perhaps the neatest feature of the channel strips however are the USB insert buttons. Each channel is output to the USB interface post gain, pre EQ – allowing an unaltered signal to be recorded and retaining the flexibility to adjust the mix as needed for a room while your recording can later be mixed in the DAW. Pressing the channel insert button on a given channel feeds its respective interface output back into that channel.
This allows for hardware mixing, but better still plugins can be used in a DAW during a live mix so any effect, software amp or pedal simulation, or even an autotune plugin can be used in a live environment. To me this offers far greater flexibility than a digital desk or an analogue desk with built-in effects. While you can achieve this with most digital desks, being able to do so on an analogue console with an integrated interface is rare and makes both the 12MTK and 22MTK extremely flexible when used in a live scenario. Each channel gets a respectively numbered input and output channel on the USB, with output channels 23 and 24 allowing recording of the stereo master output.
Connections are via XLR or quarter inch jack (both balanced), with the aux and group outputs on jack only and the master outputs on XLR only. The highest numbered stereo channel features RCA inputs for connection of consumer playback devices, with an interval mute function muting all other channels with a single switch. While there is a headphone output and monitoring bus there are no stereo monitor outputs which would have been a nice addition. There is a foot switch connector for use with the FX Mute function which I have not tried. Power is via a standard IEC connector on the underside of the board with no power switch. The connector location allows the board to be mounted in a desktop or custom rack by removing the plastic side panels and utilising their mounting holes to secure the board in place.
The 22MTK features a pair of Lexicon effects engines offering a number of reverb, delay, chorus and modulation effects. Available reverb effects include Room, Plate, Room Modulated, Plate Modulated, Spring, Gated, Hall and Chorus, Plate and Chorus, Hall and Delay and Plate and Delay. Delay and modulation effects include Slap (Karaoke), Delay (2 seconds), Delay Modulated, Tape, Low Fi, Studio Chorus, Modern Chorus, Tremolo, Rotary, Vibrato, Vibrapan and Phaser.
Ordinarily I’m not a fan of built in effects which are usually a surplus gimmick serving to undermine the performance of an otherwise great desk. Not here however; the effects here perform better than some commercial plugins and easy to set with a pair of parameter knobs for each engine. I appreciated the fact that the effects controls, and controls as for the console as a whole are entirely hardware-based. There are no settings menus and no endless lists of parameters to configure, and every setting is clearly visible or can be determined by touch alone. It’s simple and it works tremendously well and is far better integrated than many analogue desks with digital functionality.
In use the board is deceptively simple. Routing switches are organised in a logical fashion, and the channel strips remain largely the same across the board. The potentiometers are of decent quality though not secured to the boar’d top surface in any way, which is common for desks at this price and not an issue unless you’re especially heavy-handed or chuck the desk around. The push switches do the job, though a couple do have a tendency to stick on my unit and their locking action isn’t as precise as it could be. The connectors are all of excellent quality and securely fastened to the surface of the board so they will stand up to repeated use.
I’d like to see stereo outputs for the solo bus to feed a set of monitors independently the main outputs. 24/192 Recording would be a welcome addition and something I would happily pay a little more for. Perhaps a pair of quarter inch jacks in parallel with the RCA input on the final stereo channel would make that channel more versatile. And perhaps individual channel outputs would round out the package, though with the USB functionality allowing for recording and plugin inserts in software they’re not at all missed.
Besides those minor criticisms however the Soundcraft 22MTK gives me no cause for complaint. It’s a simple 22-channel console and recording interface with none of the useless gimmicks often cluttering up boards at this price. It produces recordings of exceptional quality and is as at home live as it is in the studio. Best of all it’s affordable enough for the gigging local band, the bedroom musician looking to take the next step into quality recording, or even a project studio able to turn out high-quality output for release. I sincerely hope that Soundcraft continue this product line long into the future, sticking to its current form factor perhaps with a few tweaks here and there. This is my first foray into Soundcraft’s product line and I cannot recommend it enough.