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Vintage Gear Review: Focusrite Liquid Mix by Alan Steward

Focusrite Liquid Mix Review

The Liquid Mix from Focusrite had been discontinued a few years back but you can still find a good amount of them on Ebay for around $200 which is a real bargain, so I thought it worth writing a review about one of my favorite units in my own studio, the Focusrite Liquid Mix.  Maybe it’s not so “vintage”, but keep in mind that Focusrite’s Liquid Mix was originally released in 2006, almost 10 years ago and as things evolve very quickly this days, I choose to use the word “vintage”.

Focusrite Liquid Mix Gear Review

As a producer and remixer I have worked in top recording studios around the world and got the chance to play with just about any mixing desk and piece of equipment imaginable. After 25 years, some clear favorites emerge and you end up asking for particular pieces of equipment to get ‘your sound’ when doing a project.

When I first heard about the Liquid Mix from Focusrite, I was immediately intrigued. Just about any EQ, Compressor and Mixer I’ve ever worked with in one easy package and at a unbelievable price It sounded simply too good to be true. I had started reading the reviews and I was torn. There was the issue of latency due to the Firewire interface and some reviewers complained about not seeing the actual front panel layout of the vintage modules on their computer screens.

Regardless, I just had to have the Liquid Mix and after pondering it for a while, I ordered a Liquid Mix 16 unit from a online retailer. The Liquid Mix arrived in my studio and I must say, there were nothing but pleasant surprises, one after one. Right off the bat, after plugging in the unit and installing the software, things simply worked as they should right from the start. No glitches, no tweaking needed, just plug and go. The plugins showed up in Cubase 4 and I started piling up plugin instances in my mix just to see when the system would ‘overload’ and start giving problems. Well, it didn’t. If you need 16 compressors and EQs on your mix, they will be there, working perfectly with virtually no load on your CPU. The latency was also not an issue at all, Cubase 4 compensated for any latency perfectly and you really never even are aware of any latency. Actually, some of my software VST plugins had much higher latencies than the Liquid Mix.

Some magazine reviewers found the lack of an ‘authentic’ visual interface that looks like the actual unit used an issue but I am actually very glad that Focusrite didn’t go that route. The display for the EQs for instance is simply wonderful. It shows you how the sound is actually shaped, how the controls interact with the material processed. Just try to get that kind of visual info from a vintage Pultec unit. You can actually see how the sound is shaped. So, to me, this is a major plus. If a particular EQ pulls up frequencies around 10k when you tune with the 5k controls, you can actually see that on the screen instead of having to ‘guess it’ from listening to the sound. That display is a true lifesaver.

So, the biggest ‘concerns’ that magazine reviewers had with the Liquid Mix, both turned out to be a non-issue. So, is there any negative? The only thing that I can see is that there are simply too many choices and when you first turn this unit on, you can get somewhat overwhelmed. So, I spent three days playing around with the different choices and I came up with an idea to make ‘getting started’ with the LIquid Mix a lot easier. The Liquid Mix unit can save ‘snapshots’ to your computer’s disc that you can instantly recall so when you find a perfect setting for a mix or a particular use, you can save those settings to disc. I sat down and designed a set of five basic snapshots that helped me to have the starting points for working on a particular project. One of the snapshots for instance combines the Joe Meek Compressor with a Chandler EQ unit straight out of Abbey Road Studios for a true 60s British Flavor. Another snapshot combines the classic 1176LN Leveller/Compressor with the highly sought after Pultec EQ for a true vintage US flavor. A couple of other combos provide me with anything from a super colored fat flavor, to the super clean modern US sound that you hear on today’s pop and country records. These basic presets helped me a lot in organizing the overwhelming amount of 60 EQ and Compressor emulations that are built into the Liquid Mix by organizing into 5 different flavors.

Now, how does the Liquid Mix sound? I can’t vouch for how authentic all of the vintage and modern units sound compared to the originals without doing an A/B comparison but in short, all 60 emulations are useful and all of them sound as clean and clear as you expect from units that, let’s face it, are out of reach for most average studio owners and musicians. I have found every single one of the 60 choices useful and all of them have just excellent sonic quality. It’s not that hard to distinguish a not so well designed EQ from a top notch one, just crank the boost controls way up and if it still sounds good and musical, that’s the sign of a good and useful EQ.

When I first got the unit, I loaded the Liquid Mix into a vocal channel that contained a rather badly recorded vocal track done with a dynamic mike that I was never quite able to get to sound right. I can’t say I encountered even a single emulation that did not make that track sound better, but than there were two or three, that gave that track just the right combination of warmth and presence that made it sound like it was recorded on a vintage tube mike. So, to me, it really doesn’t matter whether the API 559 EQ emulation sounds so much like the original that nobody could tell the difference. What matters to me is that I have vintage sounds and amazing control at my fingertips without ever having to worry about your system choking up. The screen layout is excellent and you actually get better control and feedback than you would ever get from the original units.

The other wonderful thing about the Liquid Mix that I got hooked on immediately is the control surface and the real time controls and meters that every Liquid Mix unit sports. Being able to actually touch the boost/cut or frequency controls on the Liquid Mix makes you never touch the mouse again. The oversized LED meters give great feedback on what’s happening ‘inside’ the unit and you can see if any of the stages is overloading or how much compression is applied to your mix. The Liquid Mix has quickly become an absolutely indispensable item in my studio. I work with many different artists ranging from Jazz and Reggae to Pop and Dance and the Liquid Mix can get you ‘the sound’ that you’re after whether you load it into a vocal channel, a drum sub mix or add it to an acoustic guitar. Whatever processing a particular track needs, you can be sure ‘it’s in there’. One of the many combinations of EQs and Compressor will give you exactly the sound you are looking for. The Liquid Mix does exactly what it promises (and then some) and at the prices you can find one used on Ebay for these days, it is a true bargain.

[author image=”https://www.producerspot.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/alan-steward-avatar.jpg” ]Alan Steward is a Producer, Engineer and Musician with over 30 years experience in the music business. He worked with Grammy winning artists from the Temptations to the Baha Men. His music has been used in TV shows and feature films. He is also well-known as a producer of loops for music production and owns a recording studio in Germany.[/author]
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