A four-band parametric EQ lets you tweak the tone of your recordings or filter out troublesome frequencies. The AW1600 also offers gating and a Hi-Z input for patching an electric or bass guitar straight into the desk. Impressively, you can assign compression to each input channel independently -- this is absolutely invaluable in ensuring that your recording is clear. Compression works a bit like a supernaturally nimble-fingered person constantly manipulating a volume slider to keep the peaks and troughs of your audio at a constant level. By using compression to reduce the dynamic of the waveform, often extremely subtly, you improve the captured sound.
You have a choice of 16- or 24-bit recording resolutions on the desk. The 16-bit option will give you CD quality sound, and the 24-bit option considerably more than that. Even if you're mastering to CD, you might consider recording in 24-bit mode for higher quality prior to mixdown. There is also the option to take your 24-bit recordings into a computer-based editor via USB -- from here you could conceivably master them to a higher-quality format like SACD.
Unusually, for a multitracker, the AW1600 includes an extensive loop-sampling interface. You can sequence these using the pad tracks, choosing from a pre-installed library of loops and effects totalling 250MB. These can be supplemented by your own recordings, or by loops from sample CDs.
The AW1600's most impressive features are to be found in the audio processing stage. These include reverb, delay, compression and chorus effects as well as basic speaker simulations for guitars. It's even possible to pitch-shift sections of a vocal performance to bring them into tune. Although the best policy would be to get a great singer to begin with, there's the option to tweak the occasional duff note and transform a performance.
We'd stop short of claiming that the AW1600 is definitively easier to use than a computer-based system -- but at least once you get to grips with it, it won't crash on you. The huge advantage of a hardware system like this is that it's dedicated to a single task -- recording audio.
Where a computer can suffer from numerous configuration problems, the AW1600 is rock solid. This, combined with the sheer portability of the unit, makes the AW1600 an extremely tempting proposition for professionals and enthusiasts alike. While professionals will use the desk as a solution to recording live bands and later transferring tracks to a computer, the home user can use it as a complete studio. Once we'd got to grips with the interface on the AW1600, we were only really limited by our own creativity -- it's an exceptionally powerful tool.
We experimented with the AW1600 in a podcast environment, using five condenser microphones and assigning compression to the audio tracks. The result was crystal clear sound, which sounded extremely faithful to the source. Though the AW1600 may be overkill for amateur musicians, and demands some attention to the manual, overall this is a very capable alternative to computer-based recording.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield