From the 1960s through the 1990s, various manufacturers supplied small high quality desks to the broadcast industry. These had limited features compared to recording consoles, with no in-line monitoring, two or four busses, usually four or sometimes eight groups and commonly two or perhaps four auxiliaries.
However, they are often perfect for compact control surfaced for digital rigs as the signal path is high quality and they often feature direct outputs, effects returns an d occasionally compressor/limiters on the groups. Typically, prices ranged from £10,000 to £30,000 when new (in an age where a house in London cost little more than this) making them exceptional value for the modern recordist.
Made several expensive compact broadcast desks including the 169, 961 and 962. As one would expect from Switzerland’s leading manufacturer, built quality is solid and the components used top class, making them relatively easy to service and offering a long life.
Sonically, the (discrete, transformer balanced) mic preamps are detailed and smooth and although the eq is sometimes described as a little ‘neutral’ (making them particularly prized by classical recordists who aren’t mad keen on colouration), it’s versatile and powerful. Attractive reliable and comprehensive, these are becoming a very popular and affordable choice.
Built on the success of the classic 80 and 80B series of large format consoles with the baby Trimix and Fleximix desks, offering anything from 8 to 24 channels of classic Trident ‘crunchy’ sound. Attractively housed in natural wood frames with coloured metal ‘Rasta’ knobs, they’re sometimes described as ‘one trick ponies’ but it’s a hell of a trick.
Definitely an option for those seeking classic sound and looks on a budget, but make sure you get a fully serviced example in good working order – there are a lot of lame ponies out there, and refurbishing/servicing can cost as much as purchase, if not more.
I’ve always been a fan of the BC2 and BC3 broadcast desks, although they’ve fallen out of favour somewhat in recent years, in part because they require quite a bit of wiring to install (although we always supply with break-out looms). Maybe best described as a ‘Baby Angela’ (the mic pre is the same), these desks have simple but extremely effective three band eq, great mic preamps, P+G faders and a very comprehensive centre section with speaker select.
Available in two or four aux options and sometimes with limiters on the (two or four) groups, these pack one hellava punch in a small package. Indeed, I used to run one as a sidecar for my Neve 5316 and often used it to record acoustic guitars or backing vocals where I wanted a less coloured sound than the Neve. We also sold one to the UK’s most famous guitar player (well, maybe) fifteen years ago and not merely does he still use it in his writing room but recently sourced a second when he moved.
QM3. I love these. I’ve owned three Chilton desks personally and regard the sound as open, musical and unfussy. Indeed, some of the best sounding recordings I ever did was on a one inch eight track (30ips) driven and mixed through a QM3. British made in the early 1980s, many have discrete mic preamps and we’ve even come across an early all-discrete version. Hugely underrated and although not common, they come along from time to time.