Focusrite Control 2802 Dual-Layer Mixing Console Review

Oct 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Barry Rudolph

VERSATILE, COMPACT UNIT PRODUCES CLEAR, VIVID AUDIO

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ALIGNED FOR MIX
To align the 2802’s 32 inputs, I sent a -18dBFS test tone out through Pro Tools’ 32 outputs and set each stem to contribute 0 dB to either the left or right side of the mix bus, as measured on the console’s 20-segment LED bar-graph peak stereo bus meter. The meter is calibrated to read 0 VU = +4 dB and has a 36dB range. The stereo master fader was set all the way up; it’s a 100mm Alps nonmotorized fader without a VCA.

In the analog layer when the Select mode is active and the Unity button is on, pushing any of the Select buttons above the channel faders caused them to “slew” to unity gain instantly—very handy for this setup process. Furthermore, the Channel Trim knobs all aligned perfectly on their detents, indicating good design, manufacturing quality and tight circuit-component tolerances. To check and set unity accurately on the summing, DAW mix and mix insert returns, you’ll have to individually solo (inside Pro Tools) each of those 16 tracks.

AUTOMATION
The 2802’s DAW layer uses HUI protocol and will play nicely with Logic 9, Cubase 5, Nuendo and Pro Tools using its upgraded software/firmware. The console connects to your computer via a standard Cat-5e cable, or in this case to my hub. I downloaded and installed the latest Control 2802 driver and followed all of the manual's instructions. After a restart, the console interfaced my rig the first time.

The console has analog automation on the eight channel faders. To set this up, in Pro Tools I opened eight MIDI channels and then immediately hid them so as to not take up mixer screen real estate. Next I went to Pro Tool’s Setup > Peripherals > MIDI Controllers and selected HUI and the predefined Receive/Send to Focusrite Control 2802 Control Surface paths.

The lower-right quadrant of the 2802’s surface is the DAW Control Surface panel with a blue-colored OLED and four multifunction data-entry encoders. In Setup mode, the OLEDs and encoders are for setting network parameters, the host DAW and showing console firmware info.

In the DAW layer, the OLEDs show the name and pan position of each track in Pro Tools (four at a time), aux sends A through E levels (only), and other parameters. Operational/editing shortcuts that your particular DAW allows over HUI are supported with solid-feeling controls and buttons, plus you can download DAW-specific manuals to configure and get the most out of the DAW layer.

The Select mode section defines the operation of the Channel Select switches for specific tasks in the DAW or analog layers. In Pro Tools, you can select tracks from any of the eight channels as they bank across Pro Tools’ mixer; you can page-left/right, record-enable and auto-safe.

There are also four user-programmable function keys, and I was okay with the default values: toggle Pro Tools’ Edit/Mix windows, open/close the currently selected plug-in, and switch Pro Tools’ Transport window on/off. I also liked using the 2802’s onboard transport buttons and jog/shuttle wheel.

MIXING FOR REAL
I found 32 stem outputs an optimum working number of sources to mix. I had enough flexibility to separate out important elements such as kicks and snares, guitar “wire choirs,” and lead and backing vocals. All of my plug-in effect returns, now routed to the 2802’s fixed inputs, sounded better because the board is quiet and transparent enough that I could hear reverb tails and long delays evolve to their actual endings; for whatever reason(s), I don’t always find that “in the box.”

I liked that Solo and Mute buttons are instant on the 2802, and all other Mute buttons on the console flash when a solo is pushed anywhere. The OLED shows the panning positions of the eight main fader channels, and the DAW Meters button changes the channel meters from reading input levels over to the DAW tracks’ levels.

I found the THAT Corp. 2180LB VCA-based stereo mix bus compressor was excellent across the mix bus in moderation and useful when patched externally using the rear panel TRS jacks. The wet/dry knob, complete set of controls and good metering facilities on this vibey compressor allow for subtle mix leveling, all the way to applying a good squash to drum submixes for effect.

SO MUCH, SO LITTLE
The Focusrite Control 2802’s diminutive size might fool the casual observer, but I found it to be everything I could want and more. This is a powerful and deep system, so there is a slight learning/acclimation curve, as well as wiring/configuration decisions to be made. But because the whole architecture is understandable, intuitive and malleable, I found the time well-spent learning it.

Just as when I reviewed the Audient Zen, the sound of my mixes took a quantum leap in clarity, vividness and stereo width. Unfortunately, hearing the song’s improved tonality caused me to rethink nearly everything I had already done in the box—equalization, panning, effects, etc. The Control 2802 also comes with Focusrite’s Midnight and Forté plug-in suites, dynamics and equalizers modeled on the original Focusrite hardware designs that are accessible from the DAW layer of the console. From now on, I want to mix only this way!


Barry Rudolph is an L.A.-based engineer.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Focusrite Control 2802 product page.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Focusrite Control 2802 product page.






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