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The 5-channel TubeMix from ART is a pretty handy device that would serve a small home studio well, especially if you are dealing with a number of synths or drum machines that you want to have running through one device to share a set of monitor outputs. The cool thing about the TubeMix is, as the name suggests, it comes equipped with an 12AX7 vacuum tube on-board that you can engage to add a certain amount of warm to your sound.
In practice, engaging the tube on either your main mic channels (1+2) or the Hi-Z channel meant for DI’ing your guitar (ch. 5) works pretty well. It’s a somewhat subtle difference, but it actually comes through pretty decently in a mix – just a tad more saturation (not drive) that lends a bit of analog richness to your projects. Nice touch.
You also have a simple amp simulator on Channel 5 (simple as in push it in to engage, and that’s it), that also works fairly well. In fact, the only real criticism one could levy on the TubeMix is the slightly noisy mic pre’s and perhaps lack of channel faders in favor of rotary pots.
The EQ section works as it should, with simple hi, mid, and low controls for each of the 2 mono channels and the stereo and DI channels. One added (and unexpected) bonus is the ability to send audio over USB to your DAW. Now, separating channels onto discrete tracks is a bit wonky, as the best method is to actually use the Aux sends to send one channel to its own output, but in practice it’s actually pretty simple and once you figure out how it works, you’ve got a nice little 2-channel USB interface that can be great for demos.
The wood side panels add a touch of nostalgic flavor to the device, and the analog-style VU meters on the USB source is a welcome surprise, as well. The mains section rounds things out, with all the options you’d really need for a mixer this small, including a nice control room routing section and separate aux send/returns for outboard gear, plus control room mains in case you want to hook up an additional pair of studio monitors.
All in all, aside from some slightly noisy pres (and really, not that bad considering the price), the TubeMix is a pretty cool device. If future iterations provide a more intuitive USB out/in option, that would be great. But as it stands, for $200 you get a retro-cool look with plenty of on-board features for a small setup. Nice work.
Small footprint, decent tone, low price.
Slightly noisy, USB integration is a bit of a workaround.