Four input channels just don't cut it for DJs who want to load their setups with extra sound sources. When you start adding sound modules, samplers, effects units, CD players, and more decks to your system, standard 4-channel DJ mixers quickly run out of inputs. Many DJ mixer manufacturers now offer 6-channel models designed for those who use multiple input sources, but if you're looking for a high-quality, affordable, 6-channel board with discrete EQ on every channel, be prepared to look a little farther than your neighborhood DJ store. For this review, my search took me all the way to Italy, where ESO is based.
The ESO Pro mixer is a 6-channel board with three bands of EQ per channel and six stereo pairs of outputs. Although ESO's name may not be as familiar as Numark's or Gemini's, the two-year-old company offers an extensive line of mixers. The Pro is one of its bigger boards and retails for $649.
With its yellow and black faders and artsy blue and black silk-screened front panel, the Pro is a unique-looking board. Its 19-inch rack size is certainly agreeable, but the mixer's height eats up six full spaces of rack real estate. Still, at less than 14 pounds, the mixer isn't heavy, as you might expect based on its dimensions.
However, that weight does not include the awkward external power supply, which hooks up to the board by a multipin connector that looks deceptively like a MIDI jack. Such unusual power supplies are nearly impossible to replace on short notice a major hassle for traveling DJs prone to leaving power supplies behind when packing up gear. A standard IEC Type II removable power cable, such as those found on Numark boards, is a better alternative, and hopefully ESO will start using those power supplies with its mixers in the near future.
Although the power switch is conveniently located on the mixer's face, no LED indicator lets you know whether the power is on. If none of the channels are enabled and no signal is coming into the board, no lights show that the board is on. The switch is marked with “I” and “O” to show power on or off, respectively, but the markings are difficult to see in a dark DJ booth or on a dimly lit stage.
Each channel accepts two different input sources and has RCA line inputs. A button at the top of each channel strip lets you select the input source. Channels 1 and 2 include a ¼-inch mic in; channels 3, 4, and 5 include phono preamps; and channel 6 has a second RCA line in labeled “CD.” The mic inputs are on the rear panel I prefer the front panel to have at least one mic input, such as a Neutrik combo jack that allows you to plug either an XLR or ¼-inch input into the same jack.
Each channel features 3-band EQ and a separate gain knob, providing ample boost for incoming signals. The gain goes from 0 to 10, but there's no explanation of what those numbers represent (dB?). EQ includes high, mid, and low bands with as much as 15 dB of cut or boost (dB is specified here). The EQ is versatile and provides plenty of power for radical frequency kill or boost. The mid band can even generate a pseudo filter-sweep effect. My only gripe about the EQ knobs is that they have no center detent to indicate when the control is zeroed.
The Channel On buttons found on each channel are very useful. Pushing one of the buttons turns its associated channel on, and a green LED next to the button indicates that the channel is engaged. The buttons make it easy to quickly mute and unmute signals perfect for dropping beats in and out on a dime. However, the channels have no pan controls. I missed the ability to manually create pan effects and grab just one side of an incoming signal.
Thanks to the ESO Pro's abundance of outputs, the mixer enables you to send your mix to several locations at the same time. Four separate output groups are located on the back of the board: Main Mix, Monitor, Extra Mix, and Tape Output. Each group features RCA-type connectors. The Master and the Monitor also feature balanced outs XLR and ¼-inch, respectively. Props to ESO for including balanced outputs, which provide optimal sound quality and make it a breeze to connect the board to self-powered speakers. The Tape Output features an extra pair of RCA jacks that don't output the signals from channels 1 and 2. That gives you the option of recording your mix without, for example, any comments made over the mic inputs. Very cool.
On the front panel, the Master and Monitor outs are controlled by their own discrete faders. Stereo metering is provided for the Main Mix but not for the Monitor out. However, because there is a meter for monitoring prefader level (PFL) outputs positioned directly above the Monitor out fader, it is easy to mistake this meter for a Monitor out meter not a big deal once you know the board, but it is confusing at first glance. A rotary pot controls the Extra Mix output and the Tape Output by the Main Mix fader.
The PFL meter shows signals going to the headphone output. Each input channel has a PFL button that sends its channel's prefader signal to cue, and each PFL button has an LED that glows red to indicate that the PFL function is engaged. The headphone output has its own obligatory discrete volume knob. One disappointment: you can audition only prefader levels over the headphones; there is no way to listen to the Main Mix output in your cans. Such an oversight is somewhat disappointing in a mixer designed for pro applications.
CROSSING THE LINE
The crossfader's action is decent, but the fader grip is fat and feels awkward. The large-size fader grips, which are similar to those found on mixers for recording applications, are fine for the upfaders, but I prefer a standard thin fader grip for the crossfader.
Two assign buttons let you choose the channels you want to crossfade. The button on the left of the crossfader lets you select either channel 3 or 5, and the button on its right lets you select either channel 4 or 6. Unfortunately, the system doesn't cover all the bases. For example, you can neither crossfade between the two even- or two odd-numbered channels nor turn off the crossfader.
The ESO Pro is a big mixer with lots of channels and a nice spacious face to accommodate its controls. However, its design is flawed by a few rough points: the lack of a power indicator, undetented EQ knobs, the nonstandard external power supply, an awkward-feeling crossfader knob, and so on. Yet the mixer does offer some helpful and useful features: an abundance of inputs and outputs, pro-quality balanced outs, and sweet-sounding EQ with extreme flexibility. If you need a 6-channel DJ mixer at a reasonable price and can live with the unit's idiosyncrasies, the ESO Pro may suit you fine.
Erik Hawkins is a producer and remixer working in Los Angeles County and the Bay Area. Visit his Web site at www.erikhawkins.com for more equipment and project studio chitchat.
PROS: Six simultaneously available channels. Six stereo pairs of outputs, including balanced connections. Flexible 3-band EQ. Channel on and off switches.
CONS: Nonstandard external power supply. No power indicator light. EQ knobs lack center detent. Limited crossfader channel assign setup. No headphone monitoring of Main Mix.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 3.5