I’m looking for a small console like an Amek BC 2-3, Calrec mini mixer (all versions), Tac Bullet, Tac Scorpion, Trident Fleximix, Neve 542 and 44 series or anything small like this?
I’d advise against the TAC Bullet and Scorpion as they use IC’s in the mic preamp that are impossible to get, so if the desk has, or developes, a problem, you may well not be able to fix it.
The AMEK BC2 and BC3 are very nice small desks assuming they’re in good condition (and this applies to any desk; make sure it’s well cared for and serviced before you buy). The BC2 is a small scale Amek Angela (same mic pres) which was to my way of thinking, one of the best sounding desks Amek made. The eq is simple, cut and boost top and low with swept mid and filters, and they come with either two or four aux’s and optional limiters (broadcast) on groups. The BC3 is more straightforward in many respects, as it offers XLR rather than EDAC multiway connectors and four aux’s as standard. The mic preamps were designed by Mr. Rupert Neve and are clean with plenty of headroom.
Direct outputs were optional on the BC2, so if you want a tracking desk, make sure the one you’re considering has the option fitted (it’s an additional board that fits to the inputs module).
The Calrec mini mixers are nice but VERY neutral sounding. Like a lot of broadast equipment, they’re designed to process signals rather than add character so aren’t too popular with recording engineers. Again, they connect to the outside world with EDAC multiway connectors so make sure you get manuals with pin-out diagrams.
The Trident Fleximix and Trimix consoles are cute, look groovy and are the opposite of the Calrec in that they do have a very distinctive flavour (and have discrete transformer balanced mic pres). I often say they’re a ‘one trick pony’ but it’s a very nice trick. They’re not hugely versatile but have three band eq and four aux’s, with occasional compressor/limiters on the outputs (quite nice, actually). The downside is often the power supply – beefing up the psu improves crosstalk and reduces noise. They’re much simpler than the Amek or Calrec, but I like them.
The Neve 542 is really a bit of a red-herring, in that too many people assume that being a Neve, these small portable broadcast mixers will sound great. In truth, they don’t. They’re +/- 15v (not 24v like the classic Neves) so have limited headroom, although the mic pres are good BUT the desks have very basic, pretty useless eq and no direct outputs so you’re limited to outputing from main left and right and the two aux’s. Some techs ‘bodge’ an output feed from the channel fader, but this doesn’t work properly and causes havoc with the gain structure. Like the Neve Kelso, the only way to add direct outputs is by using transformers, an expensive and relatively skilled mod.
Avoid the Neve 44. This uses surface mounted technology so isn’t viable to service. This is sad, as otherwise the 44 is a neat design with simple in-line monitoring (unlike any of the other small desks you mention), decent eq and, if my memory serves me well, ten groups. However, if you get problems (and most of the ones I’ve seen need a lot of work) you’re stuffed.
The desks not mentioned that should be considered are the small Studer consoles, initially made for broadcast and available from eight to forty channels – 8 and 10/12 channel versions are common. These are extremely well made so are easily serviced, have nice eq, some have direct outs and inserts plus good metering. They’re available for a fraction of the cost of an equivalent similar vintage Neve, but not far off in terms of quality. The main problem tends to be faders, but these can usually be sourced relatively cheaply.