Soundcraft’s history dates back to the halcyon days of British mixer development in the early 1970s. It’s one of the makers that defined the “British Sound” that became de rigeur for live music mixing. Ten years before Soundcraft’s founding in 1973, the Beatles redefined the rock concert and the need for clean and powerful PAs. Soundcraft answered the call and developed a reputation for great sound and bulletproof reliability. The Soundcraft EPM6 Analog Mixer delivers on both counts and is one of the better ultra compact mixers out there.
The EPM6 earns my respect simply because Soundcraft calls it a 6-channel mixer, when in fact it has 6 mono channels and 2 mono channels. This would be called a 10-channel mixer by most everyone else to appeal to those seeking inflated channel counts. There’s just something respectable about using the lower channel count to identify the mixer.
I NEED A RUGGED ALL-PURPOSE MIXER. IS THIS THE TICKET?
It’s a ticket to ride, baby. No bells and whistles, just great sound and beefy construction for a reasonable price. These are versatile little units.
Setup and Usability
The EPM6 follows the standard analog mixer workflow, a U-shape, down from upper left, along the bottom and up the right. All connections are on the top face of the mixer, save for the power cord, which is under the connector pod that gives the mixer it’s tilted orientation.
Each of the six mono channel strips has an XLR and ¼-inch input, followed by a ¼-inch channel insert. A gain control providing 55 dB of gain is next. The three-band EQ includes a two-knob sweepable midrange section, with selectable frequencies from 150 Hz to 3.5 kHz. I find this to be the most useful way to configure midrange EQ. Most ultra compact mixers assign only three knobs to EQ, a concession to limited real estate on the mixer surface. The four-knob configuration is far more musical though, setting the EPM6 apart. Not only that, there are two auxiliary busses and a pan control. Despite the extra hardware, it’s a logical and well laid-out board. Pre-fade level (PFL) solo and mute buttons come below the knobs, and above the 60mm faders.
The stereo channels have a pair of ¼-inch jacks each. Gain controls aren’t always on offer with small mixers, but the EPM6 has them. A nice touch. Only two bands of EQ, but hey something has to give somewhere and devices using stereo inputs usually have another means of fine-tuning frequency response, whether a pre-recorded source that’s already mixed or a synth where the sound is tailored within the instrument, real or virtual. All channels have a single Peak LED. Easy peasy. Keep your signal strong without lighting these up and you’re good to go.
The 10-segment LED meter above the left and right master mix faders is a nice, responsive meter. The PFL Active LED at the bottom shows at a glance when you’re checking individual channels. Easy and intuitive. Keep signals in the orange LED range with maybe a few flashes of the first red segment, and you’re where you should be. Both aux feeds are configurable pre or post fader, and the RCA two track input (which could actually qualify the EPM6 as a 12-channel mixer, the way some companies count) can be directed to mix or monitor. Sending a click track to the monitor feed? One button.
Monitor outs are through ¼-inch jacks and main outs use XLR connectors. Another extra rarely seen in ultra compacts is the inserts on the main line outs. This makes patching a compressor across the entire mix simple, a great technique for giving a live mix punch and polish. Phantom power switches on with a single button press.
Any mixer’s performance comes down to the quality of its preamps. There are two critical performance areas: sound and headroom. A great-sounding preamp with little headroom can’t keep signals in the sweet spot, and that great sound gets lost. Conversely, if a preamp has lots of headroom, but makes a barking guitar amp sound like a quacking duck, you’re not in the right zoo.
No worries with the EPM6. There’s lots of headroom and the sound is rich and warm, perfect for digital conversion. For those of you who don’t really get what headroom is, think in terms of deep and shallow. A good mixer has lots of depth, while a unit with less headroom is shallow. To get a decent signal from any given mic, the shallow unit requires the gain control boosted to a higher level than a deep unit. For mics with weak signals, say a ribbon mic, the gain may be almost all the way to the top. This can start compression and distortion in the pre. A recordist could blame this on the mic. The deep headroom on a good mixer has enough extra gain to keep a signal boosted without taking the preamp into the danger zone. This can happen with any mixer, though, depending on the volume of the original sound source. Keep mics as close as necessary, preamp gain as low as possible while providing a robust signal and you’re on the way to the finish line with quality sound.
Soundcraft makes solid boards. That’s all there is to say about that. At about 11 pounds, the EPM6 is heavy for its size but reasonable too. There are no rough edges or clunky design elements. All those rotary controls make for a longer mixer surface than most units of this channel count and price, making the EPM6 an easy board to work, with spacious control placement. The tilt provided by the connector section keeps the rest of the mixer thin, and the angle proves very effective to operate.
The only concern I have with the EPM6 is one user review who speaks of faders that develop multiple dead spots. I generally dismiss one-off complaints. However, there was no particular hysteria in the comments so I am more apt to give the user’s opinion some weight. Spotty faders are not consistent with Soundcraft’s reputation or my experience, but somewhere, concessions are made to provide quality boards at profitable prices. Don’t let that review turn you off the EPM6, but put one through its paces before purchase or during the warranty period to make sure the unit you’re using performs as it should.
There is no FX built into the EPM6. No USB interface, so you will need one to use this mixer for home recording. If FX and interface are critical to your needs, and these are certainly valid, this is not the mixer you’re looking for, he says with a Jedi hand gesture.
If you have other components, hardware mixers and audio interfaces, this could well be a versatile and superior sounding mixer in your signal chain. Having used an Soundcraft EPM6 in live performance settings, I can tell you it does the job and does it well. If it’s not the flashiest set of wheels on tour, it’s got the goods under the hood, and at the end of the day, that’s really what matters.