I first came across CHILTON desks by accident in the early 1990s.
I’d spent much of the 1980s working in top class studios around the world so was familiar with the heavy metal beasts that dominated the professional industry back then – SSL, Neve, MCI, AMEK and others. Having decided to return to recording my own music after being the victim of a very nasty legal rip-off (wait for the book, folks…) and being strapped for cash in no uncertain terms, I pieced together my first decent home recording rig on half a shoestring. I was lucky enough to find a rare, pristine Soundcraft SCM380 one inch/30 ips recorder that had never been used due to a factory fault (Medi at Soundcraft sorted it out for me; top bloke) and saw a Chilton 12-4-8 mixing console advertised in Loot for a low price. I drove straight down to view and was pleasantly surprised by what I saw, although not as pleased as I was when I started working with the desk. Indeed, when I had an opportunity to buy a sixteen channel version a year or two later, I jumped at it. As time went by, I ended up with a high-end studio housing most people’s wish-list of classic gear, based around a vintage Neve console. However, when I thought of putting together a writing/demoing rig at home a few years ago, I returned to my earlier demos and was blown away by how open and musical they sounded. So instead of going down the Neve route, I searched for, and found, another Chilton QMR.
It’s hardly surprising that I’m now very familiar with these lovely desks. Chilton was a UK company who made desks for broadcast and recording use from the 1970s, and still manufacture broadcast solutions today. The heyday of the QMR series was, I guess, from the late 70’s to the mid 80’s and quite a few must have been made as I come across them several times a year.
Although not expensive – new I gather prices ranged from £9000 to a little over £20,000 depending on the options and inputs (but remember, £9000 in 1980 was the equivalent of maybe £30,000 today), they were extremely well made and used quality components. What makes them so unusual and so suitable for today’s recordists, is that as opposed to the majority of broadcast consoles, which tend to offer little in the way of grouping, metering, direct outputs, monitor returns or general facilities, the Chilton was brilliantly equipped for multitrack recording. The mic preamps are solid and well defined (some are discrete). Two types of eq were available, and both are extremely musical and comprehensive, certainly on a par with most better known ‘vintage’ desks. The four aux’s are switchable pre or post, the channels have invaluable facilities such as phase select, insert in and out, pre and post fade listen. Penny and Giles plastic conductive faders are standard and…what sets the QMR out from the pack is the grouping and monitor returns.
Chilton had an incredibly logical grouping arrangement (as well as inserts and direct outs). For example, my original 12-4-8-2 offered four groups that could be assigned to A or B outputs, meaning it was ideal for an eight track recorder. (a switch selects between 1-4 group out and 5-8 group outs). The desk had eight monitor returns with aux’s which could be selected to monitor the group outs or monitor tape returns and route directly to the two-bus, meaning my twelve channel mixer offered 20 inputs on mix, all with auxiliaries PLUS an additional stereo input (on P+G faders) that could also be routed to mix and which I used to bring back a keyboard submixer. The 16 channel and 24 channels desks have 8 (x 2) groups and 16 returns, meaning they offer 32 and 40 inputs on mix.
We’ve now had several 24 channel versions, all of which have featured both types of eq (12 standard and 12 parametric, individual channel metering (selectable for input or output, to monitor the direct out level), eight large VU’s for groups and two for mix (sometimes PPMs, which I personally prefer). Additionally, all inputs feature hi and lo pass filters which I found utterly invaluable for tightening signals and smoothing jagged edges prior to sweetening with the excellent eq. Some of the desks have had limiters, although I can’t comment on the quality as none of the desks I’ve owned had these. I’m sure they’re good, though, as I’ve now lived with Chilton desks for twenty five years and remain an ardent fan.
In a day when even the most basic Neve Kelso costs well over £10,000 (for a 10-2 desk with no direct outs or inserts, two band filters rather than eq and very often clunk-click every trip) or a Neve 542 suitcase desk (basically a glorified audio brick) can cost £5k, the Chilton offers outstanding quality and value and is capable of making uncompromising records. This ain’t no sales-weasel blather – I haven’t just owned one, I’ve now owned three. One day they’ll get the kudos they deserve and the price will double.
You have been warned.