There are quite a few console options in the "bang for the buck," under $500 market. Mackie pioneered this market with inexpensive consoles and soon Allen & Heath, Yamaha, and Peavey jumped in. As the years have gone by, quality has increased, and options and capacities have become the main selling points.
Cerwin-Vega, a company that has been on the sidelines for a while now, has released a very competitive and functional console with its CVM-1624FX-USB, as well as the 12-channel version, the CVM-1224FX-USB. I got my hands on the CVM-1624FX-USB and was impressed by its options and function at such a great price point of about $399--fairly amazing that you can get so much for so little.
In this market, what sets each of the many consoles apart are the choices made on the options end: input types, output types, capacities, EQ, and effect functionality. The CVM-1624FX-USB has eight mono and four stereo inputs. Each input has TRS line level jacks, and there are ten XLR inputs (the eight mono ins and then two of the four stereo inputs have a single XLR jack). The eight channels with mic inputs also have TRS insert jacks and phantom power. There are also RCA connections for two stereo inputs, as well as ‘Tape In” and “Record Out.” I love that we still call these RCA line inputs “tape,” as I bet no one actually uses them for cassette players, or at least I hope not. The Tape In level control is via a control knob in the master section. Its limited channel controls include a Level control and an Auxiliary and EFX send controls.
On the output side, there are XLR and TRS outputs for the Main L/R bus, TRS outputs for the Alt 3/4 outputs, and Control Room outputs. There are also TRS outputs for an Effect Send and Auxiliary Send, and then TRS inputs for the Auxiliary Returns.
The console is laid out cleanly, and most of it makes complete sense at first glance. Each channel has a gain knob that controls a reasonably great sounding mic pre-amplifier. Following that is a fixed High Pass Filter button at 75Hz (a bit lower than many fixed HPF) and then an EQ section with fixed frequency gain controls. The High Frequency knob is fixed at 12kHz, the Mid Frequency at 2.5kHz, and the Low Frequency at 80Hz. I couldn’t find any documentation on the Q associated with these controls, but it sounds pretty wide. Here’s hoping you don’t want to notch any other frequencies, because you can’t. It is interesting to experience the choices manufacturers make. Other consoles of this size and price range include, say, a sweep-able mid-frequency option, but don’t include other features found on the CVM. Trade-offs abound in a price competitive world, no doubt.
Speaking of other features on the CVM, in addition to an Auxiliary bus, there is a dedicated effect bus ("EFX," as it’s labeled). Any channel can be routed to this onboard effect bus. On the right hand side lives the VFX Digital Effect section. There’s a small digital readout that tells you the effect program number, of which there are 100 options, selectable by a rotary control. Most are various decent sounding reverbs and are broken down by type. There are also chorus, echo, and flange effects. On the output side of the effect engine, the return is routed to a dedicated EXF Return fader that controls the level being sent to the Main L/R bus. There is also a rotary knob that determines the EFX output level being sent to the dedicated TRS output jack. You can also route a little of your auxiliary send into the EFX engine on its way out of the console if you so choose.
In the master section, you have a fader for the Main L/R stereo bus as well as a fader for the Alt 3/4 bus, the Aux Send Master, and Headphone/Control Room Master. Now, back to that Alt 3/4 bus. I spent some time trying to figure out the why and the how on this one, and I don’t think I nailed it. On every input channel, you have a Mute switch that also says "Alt 3/4." If you engage (depress) the button, the channel is muted to the Main L/R bus and is instead routed to the Alt 3/4 bus. This Alt bus level is controlled on a dedicated fader in the Master section, and the output will show up at dedicated stereo TRS outputs or sent to the Main L/R bus if the assignment button is depressed. The confusing part is knowing when this would be useful. The only way to route signal to the Alt output is to mute it from the Main L/R output. It’s an either/or situation, and I guess you could use it to do some discrete recording to different tracks, but it doesn’t seem to be entirely useful. Or I’m missing something.
Finally, back in the cool feature section, there is a USB jack on the rear of the console. The console doesn’t ship with any software, but this jack allows you to connect the console to any computer (Windows and Mac OS are supported). Once connected, the console shows up as an audio interface, and you can choose to route audio to or receive audio from the console directly. Using most any software (or just the Mac OS), you can play back or record two-track audio straight from the computer to the console or vice-versa. If you’re playing audio back, the level control on the console is via the Tape In/USB knob control. It’s pretty cool. Certainly, for playing back audio, it just means you don’t have to carry a 1/8" cable adaptor with you. But for recording, it means you don’t need a USB interface to do simple two-track work.
To top this affordable package off, Cerwin-Vega made two smart hardware and bundle choices that are pleasing to see. There’s an external power supply that ships with the unit, with the power supply placed inline on the power cord. I like that, and it’s a sign that smart engineering went into a fairly simple console. Lastly, they include rack-mounting hardware that allows you to easily rack mount the console. Many competitors sell this hardware as an accessory.
Cerwin-Vega has made a smart and user-friendly console that is surely competitive with the other entries in this tight, sub-$500 market. As with any product that is priced low, trade-offs were made, but with the CVM-1624FX-USB, your money will go far.