Features: Often described as "vintage" this is a desk that you would think was built in the early 1970's from its appearance. It was actually built in the 1980's. So gives it an illusory appearance? Wooden laminated sides and analogue needle meters set above the channel strips combined with a dark finish.
It's an anachronism that in the midst of the craze for digital equipment and the laughable nonsense that drummers were going to be replaced by a synth machine Phonic marketed a desk that looked like the very thing musicians were avoiding. Needle meters were seen as prehistoric, metering had to be from flashing LEDs. Of course these give less information than analogue meters but people didn't think about that in the 1980's. All that mattered was that it flashed and the only action a musician had to do was push a button.
On the back there are no XLR sockets or jacks! Just phonos. In addition there is a earth screw. Everything about the back screams 1973 cheap console. It looks like the circuit diagrams had been lying around until there were cheap enough components to flog this desk to undercut the competition. // 6
Sound: Cheap passive electronics and op amps shows through the sound. Having looked at the schematics Phonic used 741 op amps which are fine for ordinary electronics circuits but not of sufficient quality to give a good Q. Sound on the desk was fuzzy and lacked a clean sound. The only inputs were the high Z (impedance) phono sockets and the sound of the high impedance was heard through a low buzz at all times including when the faders were at 0. Dynamic microphones were tested through a jack to phono lead adapter. The sound lacked bass and typical of cheap passive electronics there was a lot of treble harmonics, but these were fuzzy and lacked clarity. // 4
Reliability & Durability: It looks solidly built but repeated connection and removal of phono plugs had weakened the soldering on some of the phono sockets and I found some cut out intermittently occurring when recording. Crackling on the pots again showed cheap manufacture. Older and well used desks often suffer from pot crackling due to dirt or soldering decay. These Phonic desks suffer above average from this defect.
As a console it's not reliable or dependable for recording purposes due to the inferior construction. As a live mixer for broadcasting it provides a far cheaper alternative to the broadcast consoles that are often marketed for thousands of pounds. I would use this desk as a teaching tools to introduce analogue metering in the studio if I was teaching students at my old university at Ravensbourne or the recording studio I trained at as a music producer and sound engineer. // 5
Ease of Use: Trying to get a good sound out of this desk is a waste of time. The electrical circuits use components that are not designed for high quality audio. Its console design is a the straightforward 8 track of EQ adjustment for low, mid and high pots and a fader. To its credit it does have faders which many cheaper desks omit; instead they just have the knobs as dials for fading levels and that' not as much fun.
Having analogue meters provides the entertainment of watching them fluctuate during a recording session and seeing how a singer affects the needles. Manual is almost non existent for this and despite Phonic being a large company due to their large number of products, the maul is difficult to find and not informative if you should track one down. // 8
Overall Impression: Looks good with its vintage design. These desks were made during the 1980's craze for all things digital. Phonic released this desk during that era featuring its 1970s wooden style and analogue needle meters. I was looking at this desk not for recording instruments but as a broadcast desk as it shares features associated with broadcast consoles. Namely analogue meters set above the channels with faders at the bottom. Faders are ergonomically preferable during broadcast work.
The desk would be used to take microphones for the talk show host and guests and would take a signal from the CD player and Mac computer for playing jingles and music. Lack of XLR low impedance inputs seriously limits this for broadcast applications where we would use condenser microphones with XLR connectors.
The analogue needle meters are essential for monitoring the highest levels to ensure that it is not distorting for the radio listener or having sudden excesses of volume that would have people phoning to complain about volume levels. So in that capacity the MX881 provides the necessary facility and if a broadcaster had no money this desk could be used if there's no alternative. So I'm giving this a surprisingly high mark as a desk which can be used for teaching level monitoring in live performances and the advantage of how cheap these are second hand. // 9