Soundcraft Notepad 12FX – £119 – £149 – view offers on Amazon UK
- Compact, 12-channel mixer with 4 in, 4 out USB audio interface
- Low-cost with direct guitar inputs, 48V phantom power and effects
- An ideal solution for project studios and podcasting?
When I started with this reboot of GeeXtreme, life was pretty simple. I had a Novation Circuit and a Mono Station, an iMac with Cubase and plugins, and an Audient ID14 interface. All my proper studio gear is in storage, which means no Saffire 56 + 16 channels of ADAT, no massive controllers or random synths and drum machines.
Except, of course, I now have more synths and review items, and I’d like to play some at the same time. It is surprisingly hard to jam when you’ve got two inputs to play with, so a small mixer seemed like an obvious solution.
I wanted at least 5 inputs for instruments, and ideally a simple USB audio interface – I wasn’t expecting anything like the quality of the Audient, but just something to get by, jam a bit and maybe record some video performances to illustrate how review (and my own) gear worked together.
Oh, and it had to cost the same or less than I could sell my AD14 for…
Soundcraft Notepad 12FX
The winner is: the Soundcraft Notepad 12FX. The intro is being written before it arrives from Amazon, so let’s start with what I’ve read from the specs and why I’ve chosen it.
First of all – right now, at least, it’s £119 for the 12FX. The Notepad 12FX is not just four extra channels over the smaller Notepads, it’s got Lexicon effects and a 4×4, rather than 2×2, USB audio connection which allows four-track recording directly.
Soundcraft do not give detailed specs for the interface, but it’s ‘usable’ – 44.1/48KHz sample rate, 24-bit, 100dB (ish) dynamic range. Nothing to get excited about, but the latency is tolerable.
There are effects built in – any two of chorus, delay and reverb – but you also have an aux-send with stereo return via channels 11/12 (the USB loopback is on 9/10). That kind of shenanigans on mixer specs used to drive me nuts, but at this price, who cares – it’s a step up from two-in, two out, right?
It’s got phantom power (whether you want it or not), has “British EQs” which probably means something more than just having a union flag on the front panel but is only really relevant to live sound, and has balanced XLR outs for the speakers (as mentioned elsewhere, I use KRK Rockit G4’s, the RP5 ones, and think they’re great for what they cost and as desktop monitors. Plus they’ve got yellow bits).
Stacked up against £119 spent elsewhere, such as on a typical USB audio interface, it’s looking quite promising. I’ve never bothered with recording over 48K, I have barely managed to make use of 24 channels at once, and right now I just want to mix say, four synths at once while jamming.
Regardless of whether I want the highest-end gear and so forth, it seems the Soundcraft Notepad 12FX is what I need.
What’s it like…
In the bizarre world of Amazon, same-day delivery is now a thing. On Sundays. Something a courier would charge a fortune for is taken for granted, so at 10am I clicked “Buy” and listed the Audient on eBay; by 7pm the Audient had sold and the Soundcraft mixer was sitting in a box on the doorstep.
Hardware-wise, it’s exactly what you expect from a small Soundcraft mixer. It’s light, but metal, it’s angled slightly and has a soap-on-a-rope PSU with a neat strain-relief cable loop on the back that’s easier to use than the claws on Boss/Roland gear. The four mono channels have permanent phantom power and combo jacks – all the line inputs are balanced, and the mono channels have +10dB to +60dB gain with Hi-Z, low-cut and the aforementioned British EQs.
The stereo line inputs lack EQs and have +/-20dB trim, except for pairs 9/10 and 11/12, which are straight to fader. 11/12 is the FX return, 9/10 is the USB return and tape return.
Physically, it’s about the size of the Circuit Mono Station – slightly wider – and all the connections are on top, including the Master outs. I like the Soundcraft blue with white legends and the coloured Aux/Pan/Level knobs, it’s easy to see at a glance, and the XLR master outs are a nice touch (but your monitor out is arguably the headphone socket – depending on how you set it up).
Hooking it up
As a mixer, the Notepad 12FX is pretty straightforward – aux sends are a single bus with the built-in effects fed through a master level control as well; the return is to a stereo channel – they don’t work as inserts, which is a shame given the way the USB audio interface works, but makes it easy enough to sort wet and dry mixes out.
The 12FX’s four USB channels are configured with a small app – 1+2 are always assigned to channels 1+2, but 3+4 can be assigned to the remaining mic channels 3+4, or to the two stereo pairs 5 through 8 or the main mix, pre-fader.
The firmware includes the ability to auto-duck based on mic inputs; I haven’t tested this feature.
For simplicity, when connecting to a DAW such as Cubase I’d consider the 12FX as two distinct devices that share a common effects unit and outputs:
Device one is a four-channel USB interface with mic-pres and two instrument inputs. You can set it up as stereo pairs or four mono tracks for recording stereo line sources, and it offers a main mix stereo output and a second pair of outputs for more sophisticated monitoring.
Device two is an eight-channel stereo line mixer, with effects, plus four channels with mic pres. Whichever channels you have active in the DAW, you lose the mixer’s processing for beyond gain and impedance.
Monitoring with the four outputs is easier than the standard two outputs on the Notepad 5 and 8, as you can have a separate monitor mix that doesn’t have the main stereo return in it, via the headphones; how you use that depends on what you’re recording/playing.
The power cord is a straight barrel connector with a loop-over strain relief. I’ve seen people complaining that it’s fiddly – but I find it quite the opposite, easy to loop and hook, and easy to detach when the mixer needs to be moved.
Is the Notepad 12FX a good buy?
Absolutely. You’ll probably spend £100 or so getting a USB 2.0, 4-in/4-out USB interface anyway, and even if it CAN do 192KHz/24-bit, chances are you’ll be using it at 44.1/48KHz unless you’re mastering for high-def audio formats – in which case, why are you buying a £100 audio interface?
It’s a solid little beast, and you lose nothing over the typical low-cost audio interface, but gain the ability to mix your gear for live jamming, a useful trio of effects and the ease of swapping two mono and two stereo devices around in your DAW without pulling the cables.
It’s also pretty small – not much larger than a Novation Circuit.
For £119, it’s a bit of a no-brainer, but it’s not without some points that coule be improved; the sort of cost-reduction strategy that makes you suspect it’s a deliberate effort to stop it from encroaching on higher-end gear.
I don’t see why you have to use an app to route USB 3+4 inputs (you have four choices, after all). Why not just have a rotary selector, or even a pushbutton? There’s plenty of empty space on the front panel – right below the USB port would be perfect.
It seems utterly bizarre to not have the option of pre/post EQ for the mono channels to USB. Why put the interface in, and make a thing about the EQs, then make it so you can only use the EQs when recording a main mix (and of course for tracking/monitoring, having to then work around feedback/loops).
These are minor issues, just things that could be improved, but for the price it would so well there really isn’t anything to complain about.