The Nicerizer series comprises two distinctly different models; the ‘8’ has a slightly different concept from the ‘16’ which we have here. Both are summing boxes for out-of-the-box DAW mixing. The ‘8’ features eight channels with individual level controls, and individual inputs and outputs, with two separate mono busses. The ‘16’ gains a further eight channels, but loses the individual outputs, and the knobs on the front panel for each channel are panpots, feeding a stereo buss.
It should be pointed out that this model is not brand new – it even predates the Neve 8816. However, some improvements have been made since its initial launch, with extra monitoring features and redesigned internals for easier servicing. Phoenix can arguably lay as much claim to Neve heritage as AMS-Neve, as they have a huge amount of experience and knowledge of vintage Neve equipment. Phoenix’s circuit designer David Rees was a designer at the original Neve company during development of the marque’s most iconic and enduring products. Phoenix was originally known mainly for retrofitting Neve consoles, but although their panel designs encourage comparison, their circuitry design is considerably evolved from the 70’s ethos.
The all-discrete Nicerizer 16 is contained within a standard 2U rack case, with metallic finish vintage Neve-style knobs, and a fairly straightforward layout. The panpot layout mirrors the XLR input socket arrangement on the rear. It would seem probable that most users will arrange the channels as multiple stereo stems, panning alternately hard left and right. Panpots are loosely damped, and lack a centre détente or bypass, so there is a slight concern that the knobs might become inadvertently knocked off their intended positions. Each channel also features a +8dB pushbutton in order to drive the Class A circuitry a little harder; again there is a slight possibility of error as there are no indicators for these, and their travel is relatively shallow. On the output section, along with a master level fader knob is a stereo width control. This can be bypassed with a toggle, but when in circuit allows continuous variation from Mono via normal Stereo to +25% wider. This is fun, and a touch of extra width can certainly add some life to flat sounding mixes, with no perceived unpleasantness with phase or suchlike. Even in the stereo position, some enhancement is perceived due to the extra Class A stage.
The rear panel features main outputs on a pair of XLRs, these are always fed the main program, and are suitable for sending to a 2-track recorder or back into the DAW for printing the mix. Additionally, there are jack sockets for Aux Output, 2-Track Input, and Insert. The Aux outputs take the same feed as the main outs, but with a separate dedicated mini level control on the front panel. The front panel Monitor section is flexible, providing a path with a front panel headphone output with selectable sources comprising each pair of inputs, L/R out (post main output level knob), Pre-Fade signal, 2-Track input, and Aux. A simple toggle allows switching from normal stereo monitoring into mono, selecting either Left or Right signal to feed both sides. The monitor output, whilst set up as a headphone connection, will happily drive an external monitoring setup or a talkback system with the correct adaptor leads. The bonus of 2-Track monitoring is a welcome addition here. However, there seemed to be a slight L/R wiring fault on the review model, as although the channel pairs monitored correctly in stereo, the meters were reversed L/R, and when toggled to mono L/R was round the wrong way on the monitor output. Furthermore, the L/R, Pre-Fade and Aux positions also confusingly reversed the stereo image on the monitor output. However, this can hopefully be put down to a one-off wiring mistake.
Making scientifically valid comparisons is of course particularly difficult, especially when the differences are subtle, but I bravely set up a few scenarios to compare in-the-box mixes with Nicerized ones. Simply running audio through the unit in stereo changes the tone subtly, generally bringing a slightly more musical richness to the program. However, splitting a mix into three stereo busses of Drums/Bass, Vocals, and ‘everything else’, there was a noticeable difference from the in-the-box version. Oddly, the Nicerized version seemed more rhythmic and punchy, taming some low-mid mush and bringing clarity to transients. However, this was an unscientific test, so on another day with another track, results may vary significantly. Pushing the +8dB buttons in (and matching levels again) seems to exaggerate the differences ever so slightly, but also the output level is a factor (not to mention how hard you drive your monitoring inputs!) The Nicerizer has enormous headroom, the monitor meters go up to +16 but it will happily go to +26, and the tone of the unit suggests plenty of power in reserve.
Perhaps some cost saving could be made by dispensing with some or all of the panpots. In normal use, most signals will need to be either stereo, or mono in the exact middle. Four stereo buss inputs, four mono centred, and four panning inputs would surely suffice most of the time. However, the present arrangement is simple and easy to use, with little possibility of confusion.
Using external preamps, the Nicerizer also makes a useful combiner for multiple mic setups in a recording situation. In this instance, the ‘8’ model might be a better solution, with its separate level adjustments, but nonetheless the ‘16’ performs this well, adding some desirable subtle colouration.
The subject of ITB or OTB mixing is something of a can of worms, but there can be little doubt that the Nicerizer 16 imparts a desirable sonic character upon all that passes through. Rivals may offer fancier features, but I think you’d struggle to find a better sounding summing box than this.
Sounds terrific, adds life to your mix; Enhanced Stereo Width option surprisingly pleasant; also a useful recording ‘mixer’ or combiner.
Monitor section L/R wiring confusion on review model
Reproduced with kind permission from George Shilling. Copyright George Shilling.