This new range of consoles contains all of the ‘Signature’ sounds that have helped build Soundcraft’s 45 year legacy. On the right hand side of the console lives a group of logos; these logos are testament to the ingredients that live within Signature. The preamp, EQ, bus routing, limiter, and effects section, are derived from vintage Soundcraft consoles as well as key brands that live under the same umbrella company, HARMAN. Each of these ingredients feature an extremely renowned, well loved, and revolutionary design that helped build a name for those brands, and makes the Signature series even more special.
The very first object that the mic signal meets is the preamp. When looking for a preamp that encapsulates everything that people love about the Soundcraft-sound, Soundcraft looked to the studio world and selected a console that has been used by musicians such as Dr Dre and Aphex Twin. The Ghost console was a studio recording console that was designed in the mid-nineties to compete with the Mackie 8-bus and features 2 discrete mix paths for tape sends and returns as well as a rather tasty EQ section. But perhaps what the console is most lauded for its clean and high-headroom preamp. Transients sound full and punchy, vocals sound detailed and intimate, and guitars have a thickness that is not apparent in other preamp designs.
To place the preamp section in the Signature series, all Soundcraft had to do was ‘copy and paste’ the schematic - that’s the luxury of having so much IP! There were odd components here and there that had to be replaced due to becoming obsolete, however the core of the preamp is a direct copy of the Ghost and it shares the same THD and EQ characteristics.
For the EQ section of Signature, Soundcraft had to dig deep into the archives to find something truly special. There were two considerations when looking at EQ’s; number one, it had to be incredibly musical, number two, it had to be incredibly precise with as little physical-controls possible. Andy Brown - a veteran of Soundcraft product management - remembered a console that Soundcraft produced in the early 90’s - the Sapphyre. Sapphyre is a post-production console that found its way into a lot of post-production studios for TV and film and it was quite revolutionary for a number of reasons. First of all, it was one of the only Soundcraft consoles to feature a built-in noise gate, secondly, it featured an extremely complex and revolutionary EQ circuit - one that fit all the requirements Soundcraft were looking to fill on the Signature series. Sapphyre’s EQ is an asymmetric EQ; this means that when a frequency band is boosted, it features a very wide bandwidth/Q width resulting in a broad brush-stroke that blooms frequencies naturally. When it comes to cutting frequencies, the bandwidth/Q width becomes very narrow allowing (in conjunction with the frequency sweep) very precise notching of troublesome rings or sibilance. This allows for extremely musical and intuitive operation where the EQ essentially does all the “right” things naturally without having to reach for a bandwidth control.
The Signature 16 and 22 series desks feature a 4-band semi-parametric EQ design that is lifted directly from the Sapphyre, whilst the Signature 10 and 12 feature a slightly adapted and simpler 3-band semi parametric EQ. Even the HF and LF bands feature special “Asymmetric” features; the turnover frequency for the LF band is 80Hz, however when you boost, you will hear a rise in the low frequencies beneath 80Hz as well as a slight cut of frequencies in the 200Hz range together with quite a sharp slope from 80Hz and above. This essentially means that you boost the LF without accentuating the mud in the region between 100-200Hz. The same goes for the HF control; the turnover frequency is 12kHz, however it also features a mild cut at 1.8kHz to reduce the sharpness that comes with traditional EQing.
Live consoles demand a huge amount of flexibility when it comes to bussing. Being able to send audio to multiple destinations in various configurations is what separates decent consoles from life-saving, indispensable consoles. Arguably, one of the greatest, most successful, and most popular live consoles Soundcraft produced in recent history was the GB series. These consoles were utilitarian, and featured multiple outputting and switching options to facilitate even the most demanding of live-sound applications. One of the greatest aspects of the GB consoles was its aux and subgroup structure. Each channel could be sent to any subgroup or a multiple of subgroups simultaneously, all of the Aux busses could be switched pre or post fade - with some per-channel options, and all of the subgroups had dedicated outputs and mono/stereo switches. The other aspect of the console that played into its hands was its quantity of busses - it had a lot!
This same ethos was applied onto the Signature Series. Each console features at least double the amount of auxes than you would find on a competing analogue console with the Signature 22MTK featuring a whopping 5 - where a competitors console may have a maximum of 3. Whilst not being the most glamorous part of a mixing console, being able to send audio to all possible destinations with maximum flexibility is what gets you - as the engineer - out of trouble when the time comes.
Part Of The Family
No Harman product would be complete without an accoutrement of other legendary brands that live beneath the same umbrella. Sitting amongst Soundcraft’s heritage circuitry is another piece of audio history coming from effects giants, Lexicon. Inside each signature console lives an Audio DNA processor that forms the foundations of the reverb, delay, and modulation effects built-in to the console - the same foundations that you would find at the heart of a Lexicon MX/MPX400. The effects engine features 22 algorithms ranging from Plate, Room, and Hall reverbs, to Reverb/Delay combinations, as well as Reverb/Modulation combinations. Each algorithm has been painstakingly tuned by Lexicon to provide the very best starting point for any of your effect needs however, there are also 2 parameter controls that adjust various effect parameters such as reverb decay, delay time, and modulation rate.
The brand representing HARMAN’s dynamics processing expertise is dbx - arguably the biggest name in the world of compression and limiters. The Signature Series features a simple but useful limiter that provides transient protection by producing a fixed ratio/attack/release/threshold, that can be engaged to prevent the input overloading the channel strip - perfect for drum hits or plosives on a vocal channel.
On two Signature Series models,, Soundcraft have taken USB integration to new heights - with multi-channel USB streaming. The Signature 12MTK & 22MTK feature 14in/12out and 24in/22out USB audio interfaces (respectively) that allow the console to send all of its input channels out to a DAW as individual channels to be mixed and processed later on. This in itself is nothing new, however what makes the MTK’s even more powerful is that at the top of each channel strip lives a small switch labelled USB RTN; this switch toggles the input source of the channel strip between the XLR socket, and the USB return. This allows you to send those channels directly into the analogue input channels individually as if they are being played ‘live’, allowing you to get your hands onto the faders, EQ, and pots to create your mix, rather than a keyboard, mouse, and digital plug-ins.
Interestingly, the signal path also allows for one more ‘trick’ which nicely caps off the advanced USB integration. Starting from a live mic source, signal enters the mic preamp and is then boosted to operating level. From that point, the signal is sent out via USB. If a plug-in is inserted across the appropriate channel within your DAW and allow the DAW’s input monitoring to pass the plug-in affected audio back through to the USB outputs; you can then activate the USB switch on the channel strip and essentially, ‘insert’ a plug-in across an analogue input channel. The simplicity of Signature’s USB integration means that analogue channels respond directly with USB inputs and USB Outputs. This one-to-one symmetry means that patching channels to and from the console is easy and simple to track through any system.
There’s also a pair of extra USB channels on each Signature MTK console that converts the master bus of the console into USB channels to be recorded in your DAW. This allows you to create a full-sounding, analogue-summed mix within the analogue domain, and then record that mix back into your DAW in a print-to-tape style stereo track. This method of working encourages you to get your hands on the input channels and organically mix the stems as opposed to setting digital automation to do the job for you and balance the song’s elements. There are certainly pros and cons to either method, but having the option to set-up a quick mix using the console faders or fettle analogue EQ’s and effects until the mix is sitting nicely is a hugely beneficial studio tool - and one that might suit your style and creativity more.
A True Studio/Live Console
High-channel-count USB audio interface aside, the Signature series is a serious live-sound mixing console with power and flexibility. Not only does the Ghost Preamp, Sapphyre EQ, GB signal routing, and Lexicon effects provide an extremely powerful tonal palette to polish any live performance, but the whole console is streamlined, well laid out and flexible enough to provide ample options for any live production.
There are 6 consoles in the range; 4 of them are standard ‘non-MTK’ consoles with simple 2-channel USB audio interfaces, and 2 of them feature the advanced multichannel-USB audio interface. Channel counts range from 10 channel (6 pres), 12 channel (8 pres), 16 channel (12 pres), and 22 channel (16 pres) - each console offering a perfect complement of aux busses and subgroups for the size of production required. It goes without saying that the feel of the 60mm faders (Signature 10, 12, 12MTK) and 100mm (Signature 16, 22, 22MTK) are what you would expect from Soundcraft - solid and dependable.
The Last Hurrah?
It’s no secret that analogue consoles are becoming harder and harder to come by. Even the most modest and tight-budgeted weekend-warriors are beginning to replace aging analogue consoles with new, wirelessly controlled digital consoles. But even though digital consoles are becoming cheaper and more accessible, nothing beats the simplicity of analogue; plugging in a vocal mic, amplifying the voltage, and sending it out into speakers. The Signature series especially, offers the perfect blend between power, sophistication, and simplicity whilst offering all of the facilities you need to do a great job and not feel like you’re missing out when you’re still using an analogue console - in some ways, we all wish we still did.