YOU BLUE IT >No flashlight? No worries. The blue backlighting of the headphone jacks can save a few seconds plugging in cans in a dark club.
The Urei name is synonymous with one of the most prized, iconic DJ mixers ever to grace the dance-music world: the 1620 rotary house mixer. Originally released in the '70s, the 1620 has been installed in the most legendary clubs and has been at the heart of some of the most vaunted, revered sound systems ever designed. With a warmth, smoothness and monster bottom end that have never been duplicated, Urei truly set the standard. After an almost 25-year hiatus, Urei came back last year with new designs and a manufacturing collaboration with Soundcraft, a company that has produced legendary studio and live mixing consoles. With two heavyweight names like that on a piece of gear, expectations run very high. And their latest offering—the Urei 1601E—certainly does not disappoint.
NUTS AND BOLTS
Straight out of the box, the 1601E looks and feels rugged, solid and professional. Immediately noticeable is the clean architecture; there is plenty of space around each knob and fader, and each section of the mixer is clearly delineated with silver outlines on the black anodized metal faceplate. Turntablists take note: Urei has taken special care to design the ergonomics of this tabletop scratch mixer with you in mind. All of the knobs have an excellent textured grip and feel completely tight and stable no matter how quickly or roughly you adjust them. The crossfader and channel faders slide smoothly and quickly, with just enough resistance to land where you want them to when making quick moves. The fader section is also uncluttered, with the most unobstructed access to the crossfader I have ever seen.
The input section of the 1601E allows for RCA connections to one turntable and one line input per channel. A separate mic/line section features several input selections for total flexibility, including a Neutrik combination XLR/ 1/4-inch input on the front panel and an RCA line input and a TRS 1/4-inch effects insert on the back panel. There is a set of RCA jacks for a stereo aux send and return, and there are XLR and RCA outs for the master and the booth outputs, which is a really handy feature if you are taking the mixer to an unfamiliar setting and aren't sure what type of connection you're going to need for the house sound system. I would prefer to see the aux sends and returns implemented with 1/4-inch jacks because most effects units use those or XLR connectors rather than RCA. Just be aware of that in case you need to get special cables or adapters for your setup. Power is supplied through a standard IEC 3-prong power cable, which is included and also comes with a strain-relief clip to make sure the cable stays locked in place. There is no on/off switch on this mixer, which is a shame, although if you connect your entire DJ rig to a power strip, you can use that to turn the mixer on and off.
The headphone connections on the front panel are comprehensively designed, with a backlit 1/4-inch jack and a1/8-inch jack in case you happen to misplace your headphones' adapter plug. The blue backlighting is an incredibly simple but clever innovation that will save you time trying to plug in your headphones in a dark club. There are level and EQ knobs for the headphone outputs on the front panel and a switch to select whether you want to monitor the master or the cue. The headphone EQ is cool; it adjusts from "bright" to "dark," and rather than boosting frequencies as some other mixers do (which can be ear piercing if accidentally taken to the extreme), it simply cuts the desired frequencies to give you a thin, high sound; a low, muted sound; or anywhere in between. The overall headphone output level is not extremely loud, even with the channel gains cranked up all the way. It is common knowledge that headphones, when played at high volumes, can cause hearing damage much quicker than other speakers. In the manual included with the 1601E, there is a chart explaining the recommended times of exposure to varying sound-pressure levels, as determined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), to help prevent hearing damage. It is obvious that Urei and Soundcraft take the issue of hearing loss seriously, and as an audio professional, it is nice to see manufacturers being proactive about helping their users to understand the dangers and not exacerbate the issue by making the headphone level overly and unnecessarily powerful. Don't worry, though; for those of you who like your cue loud, there is still plenty of headroom for club applications.
The fader controls are also located on the front panel of the mixer and include separate curve controls for each channel, as well as master controls for the crossfader. There are reverse switches for each channel and the crossfader, 3-position curve switches for the channels, and a rotary curve control for the crossfader. Those allow you to customize the action of the crossfader to your particular mixing style, whether it be hard, fast cuts; smooth, long blends; or somewhere in between.
Each channel has a thoughtfully designed 3-band EQ, and each band will perform a complete cut (an impressive -85 dB), but boosts only +6 dB, which should be sufficient for most EQ needs without risking distortion. My only complaint with the EQs is that there is no detent at the flat setting; while doing quick EQ adjustments, I found it difficult to get the EQs back to the exact center. I had to turn the knobs very carefully in order to place them in specific settings, which may be a drawback to some users. There are input trims for each channel located above the channel faders, and there is a red LED to indicate clipping if you crank it up a little too high. Rounding out the channel section are level LED meters, which are a unique combination of red, white and blue, as well as switches to select phono or line inputs and to turn the bpm effects on and off. Every switch on this mixer is made from heavy-duty aluminum, and when flipped, each switch offers a solid, satisfying click that is a further testament to the sturdiness of this unit.
The master output section at the top of the mixer sports the same red, white and blue LED meters as the channel sections, as well as knobs for the master and booth outputs. There are a few unique features here as well: an output protection limiter to prevent the main outputs from clipping; a highpass filter button for cutting the master output below 80 Hz (in case you are suffering from bass rumble from a turntable); a stereo/mono switch that affects the master and booth outputs; and an exciter, which boosts any given frequency between 40 Hz and 20 kHz. Be careful when boosting the mix level on the exciter; it can dramatically increase the volume of your signal. A cool feature of the exciter is that if you manipulate the frequency and mix knobs simultaneously, you can create a phasing effect, but again be cautious with the mix level because you can easily make the sweep excessively loud.
THE KITCHEN SYNC
What really sets this mixer apart from the competition is the bpm FX module, an effects unit that automatically synchronizes the various time-based parameters to the tempo of the source signal. This is one of the most involved effects units I have ever encountered on a DJ mixer, with each effect or preset requiring a combination of knob twisting and button pushing to make things happen. Don't worry if you don't hit exactly the right combination every time; the effects and presets have specifically been designed to complement dance music, so almost every adjustment will yield a wicked result. There are two effects modes, Single and Multi, which are selected by the Bank knob; Bank A places the FX module in Single mode, while banks B through F access a wide variety of multi-effect combinations. There are five effects to choose from: cutter (which acts like a volume gate), pan, filter, flanger and delay.
Select the effects speed with the Beats rotary knob, which is intuitively set to musically pleasing divisions: 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 1/1 and 2/1. This parameter will trigger the effect four times per bar (quarter note) at the lowest setting and once every other bar at the highest. With the filter, pan or flange effects, you can access much longer increments by holding down the effect button and changing the Beats knob. That allows you to sweep the effect from one bar to as many as 16 bars, with each position from left to right doubling the duration of the sweep. Changing the Beats setting during playback can instantly give the effects a new groove; just make sure to adjust them on tempo, or you may get some undesirable results.
Each effect can be isolated over three frequency bands—low, mid and high—which allows for an excellent degree of control. For instance, to flange just the high frequencies, simply press the Flange button, select the desired Beats increment and push the Mid and Low buttons to turn off those bands. Each effect and preset has a specific default setting and multiple methods of control, so read the manual carefully to figure out each one and its capabilities. For instance, in Single mode, the flange defaults with the mid and high bands selected. You can then alter the frequency and depth of the sweep with the X and Y knobs, which adjust different parameters on each given effect. Some effects even have submenus, so it is important to know exactly what each control is doing on each setting.
In Multi mode, all of the presets are musically oriented and can help add some unique twists to DJ mixing. Again, it is essential to become familiar with the various parameters available; there is a chart in the back of the manual that details the default setting for each preset, as well as which parameters are controlled by the X and Y knobs and which frequency-band isolators are active on each setting. That can be a lot to keep track of, but there are only 25 presets; with some experience, you can get the hang of each one and its myriad possibilities.
The 1601E is one of the most carefully designed, well-executed mixers I have had the pleasure of using in 11 years of DJing. Every feature has been specifically sculpted and refined to make mixing not only more pleasing, but also more musically inventive. With a little practice, you can add some exotic spice to a DJ set using the bpm FX module. The few minor design shortcomings previously mentioned—no power switch, no center detent on EQ knobs and RCA rather than 1/4-inch jacks for the aux send/return—do not significantly diminish the functionality or appeal of the 1601E. If you are in the market for a pro-level mixer that is built like a tank, then check this one out.
Load this issue's Media Essentials CD-ROM or go to www.remixmag.com/cd_rom to hear an exclusive audio demo that will give you a better idea of the Urei 1601E's capabilities.
UREI 1601E > $830
Pros: Excellent design, construction and features. Great sound quality. Unique, powerful effects section.
Cons: No power switch. No detent on EQ knobs. RCA jacks for aux send/return.