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Soundcraft MH2

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Bennett Prescott:
I've been watching the midrange analog VCA console market very carefully recently, because it's full of products that offer unprecedented feature sets at a price I can afford. All of these things are good for my company (and the industry!) and the Soundcraft MH2 is no exception. Tom Der shipped me a 40 frame MH2 a few weeks ago in order to evaluate it for our mutual benefit. I've been able to use it on a few shows and for mixing monitors at the Wedge Fest, where attendees got to put their paws all over it. I've got some more shows for it coming up, so I'll be able to clock a pretty good amount of time on the thing.

The desk is styled similarly to the rest of the MH series, with a flat fader tray and angled aux/eq section, a look I find quite appealing. There's an internal worldwide switching PSU, plus a multipin connector for adding a redundant external PSU. Here's a few shots of the exterior:

Each channel has a defeatable swept 12db/octave HPF, switchable 48v phantom, polarity, and 20dB pad. Their marketing literature says it's even got the same preamp as the MH3 and MH4. The EQ section is four band swept and per-channel defeatable. The two mid bands have a bell response with a Q of 1.5 (or just over 1 octave) and the HF and LF bands are shelving. There is also a pre/post fader switchable direct out which does not follow the channel mutes. Inserts are balanced with a separate TRS send and return.

Ten auxes are provided, switchable pre/post fader in pairs except for 5-8, which are only switchable as a block of four. They are also switchable pre/post EQ in their pre-fader mode on a per-channel basis. Auxes 9 & 10 are capable of becoming a stereo pair. On top of that, each channel is assignable to 8 groups via pushbuttons along the aux knob path, as well as capable of being discretely assigned to L&R, Center/Mono, and/or LCR. The console is capable of true LCR panning for those of us that have the luxury of a center cluster. For those of us that don't, that Center out can be used discretely to drive your subwoofers.

There are also four stereo channels on every frame size with the commonplace truncated EQ (in this case all four bands are fixed and there is no swept HPF). Either the left or the right input, or both, can sum to mono. There are no inserts for the stereo channels, just XLR and 1/4" inputs.

The master section contains 8 VCAs, 4 stereo returns with three band fixed point EQ and basic routing, the group masters on pots, and 10 60mm faders for auxes. The console has a "fader flip" mode so you can use the first 8 aux faders for groups if you want... being that there are more auxes than groups the last two faders are naturally always dedicated to auxes. There is also an 11x4 matrix, talkback and oscillator facilities, and fixed-point four band EQ (switchable in/out) on the Aux 9 & 10 outs. There are three main output faders, L R and C. The C fader can be switched to control levels to a cue wedge with a simple button push, preserving the MH series "one desk, two uses" principle.

Here's a shot of those aux/group faders, and a lousy one of the whole master section:

Basic feature set over, here's what I find differentiates this desk from others in its market. First of all, it has a 12 segment input meter on every channel, right there along the fader path. That's really, really wonderful... I don't often get this kind of at-a-glance meter resolution, and I like it a lot. The desk also has 6 mute groups instead of the usual 4, another touch that makes my workflow easier (I tend to use four mute groups up pretty quickly). The soloing section is well featured, with auto cancel and input priority as well as Solo In Place and Solo Cancel buttons. I also appreciate the angled top-of-the-desk 1/4" headphone jack with the output volume knob right above it, I hate having to hunt for my headphone level control mid-show. The EQ on the last two auxes is a nice touch, too... I'm frequently mixing down a separate recording mix off a stereo aux, and being able to do a little tweaking pre- whatever I'm recording to is nice... not that four fixed bands is all that, but it's better than nothing.

If you've looked at the channel fader path on this console, you'll have noticed a lot of pretty lights and no buttons. Soundcraft decided to go with microprocessor controlled VCA and mute group assigns on this board, a feature that will be much appreciated by those engineers that tend to rest their fingers a little too heavily on the console while mixing. To do that, they've had to clutter up the aux send path with a few extra buttons, a compromise that I can live with. The big question about going to microprocessor control, however, is how easy is it to use?

Thoughtfully, the designers at Soundcraft silkscreened the instructions for assigning VCAs, mute groups, and safes right next to the controls for doing so. Once you've read them once, you're all set... as Rob Spence said after playing for a few seconds: "Oh. That's easy!". There are no scenes, so it's simple and un-cluttered. There is, however, remote control of the channel mutes available over MIDI, and it is possible to connect a BSS Varicurve to the console and have it "know" which output you're AFLing. So there are a few bells and whistles that are enabled by the microprocessor, but none that would get in your way if you didn't want to know about them.

There are a couple of "features" that make me go "hmmm", however. For instance, there are balanced inserts for the aux outs... or the group outs... but not both. Whichever of those two you've selected (flipped?) to be on your 60mm output faders gets the insert points, and the other will have to live without. That means you can't, for instance, compress a stereo drum mix on groups 1 & 2 while inserting an EQ on aux 1 & 2. This is probably only a minor inconvenience for most of us, and they had to make a compromise somewhere to fit that many buses into the desk.

Unlike its higher-numbered siblings, the MH2 doesn't have the level of easy field serviceability that I'd like. The internal PSU is easy to remove, and the external easy to attach, but if the console takes a bath or has a rough ride or otherwise needs to be quickly opened for repair, it appears you'd have your work cut out for you. Perhaps someone can chime in and let us know how good Soundcraft support is nowadays, but it's not obvious from the manual (and I didn't want to rip apart the board) whether it would be viable to carry replacement parts.

I also wish that it had just a little more EQ flexibility. Switchable Q on the mid sweeps would make a big difference to me. The frequency ranges on all four sweeps are appropriate, however, and I find I can do pretty much all the tonal shaping I need with the board... 1 octave is just a little big for knocking out feedback problems or odd peaks in someone's voice.

I will say that the MH2 is nicely compact, light enough to be flipped and de-cased by two people, and still easy to get around on. There's a color coding scheme going on to make it easier to find the setting you're looking for quickly. The aux section has a blue background, and group assignments and other things that don't pertain to auxes live in a white square within that background. Auxes are color coded in pairs, and that color is reflected in the output faders. There is a generous wrist rest and plenty of room to label both channels and outputs.

Here's a a few shots of it set up to mix an actual band:

I know, talk about overkill, but I had gear to test!

All in all, a nicely thought out desk that's a pleasure to use and won't break your back or the bank. A welcome addition to the just-five-figures range of VCA consoles available. The Soundcraft name and MH designation should help companies struggling to meet riders, and the cool look is guaranteed to attract members of the opposite sex (or the same, whatever works for you).

Geoff Smyton, who helped me out with testing the Dolby Lake Processor, also spent a show on the MH2. When he has time hopefully he'll add to this thread.

The MH2 product page is available here.

David Buehler:
So when can i try it out?  

Charlie Jeal:

You can also flip automaticaly to mixes on driveracks when you use the AFL function as well, this works particularly well when you use a drivrack remote for monitor eq. We put an MH2 into a university semi-permanent install as a moni board last year, and I was quite impressed with it for the money. The only thing that really puzzled me about it was why they left the pink noise function out of the oscillator section, compared to MH3s and 4s

Chris Hinds:
Have they done the same on the Headphone jack as on the MH3/4? It's very easy to get a 1/8"-1/4" adapater stuck in the desk, and if you look at the silk screen it goes to 11...



Michael 'Bink' Knowles:

...if you look at the silk screen it goes to 11...

What a marvelous sense of humor you Brits have.  

I wonder why Soundcraft didn't choose to show this 'feature' on their official images such as PDF and JPG available at their website?



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