ARC-8 radio broadcast console fills a valid need for a simple and inexpensive
broadcast-style analog mixer, primarily for low-power operators, educational
institutions, combo operations with uncomplicated studio requirements and
station owners obligated to replace long-in-the-tooth main studio mixers from a
much earlier era.
A product such
as this offers an alternative to the option that many operators seem to
exercise: Strip out a failing console and replace with an MI-style mixer (such
as a Mackie product) modified to function as an on-air board.
In spite of
its simplicity, Arrakis put a few goodies under the hood that differentiate it
from an MI hack job, which is how it earned a Radio World “Cool Stuff” Award in 2010.
In its present
form, the ARC-8 can still be considered a simple, basic and capable broadcast
mixer; but it now includes features that make it a favorable choice when a big,
or even a medium, console is out of the question.
features: a mix of conventional RCA unbalanced inputs and RJ-45 balanced audio
connections, a dedicated phone mix-minus bus and a USB I/O socket allowing
digital audio to move between the audio playback computer and the console.
With all A/D
and D/A conversions done within the ARC-8, the concern of program audio passing
through an inadequate computer soundcard is eliminated.
Not as expected
the ARC-8 is surprisingly small, with a very low profile (18 x 11.5 x 2 inches).
This is especially noticeable if you are among those replacing an older studio
console such as an ’80s-vintage LPB or BE mixer.
It is also
lightweight, as the power supply — typically a weight hog in many mixers — is
an external unit.
surface carries 10 source inputs on eight faders; two dedicated mic faders,
five line faders (with one A/B switchable channel), one channel switchable
between the USB port and an unbalanced –10 dBu input.
have a full undamped 4.5 inches of travel, and each channel is activated by a
push on/push/off button switch.
action is mechanical rather than electronic, and feels a little on the
light-duty side. It is probably a good idea to treat the buttons with an easy
touch, and not the sledgehammer-like punch representative of the Great American
is mounted to a single motherboard attached to the top of the chassis. Most ICs
are 5532 op-amps, which is fine; they sound good, and they are easy and
inexpensive to find should you need to replace one. They keep the design and
The board is
braced to the top panel with sheet metal screws in multiple locations, so you
will not experience flexing or a flimsy feel when handling controls. And as on
many of its mixers, Arrakis included a pair of diagnostic LEDs on the board to
show if it’s receiving both +12V and –12V. This is the first place to look when
Wire and go
studio components to the ARC-8 is a simple and speedy process. Except for the
XLR mics, all inputs to the rear panel are a mix of RCA and RJ-45 sockets.
preferable to go the balanced route, the reality is there will be numerous
unbalanced sources throughout the studio, including consumer-type CD decks,
portable audio players and laptop computers brought in by talent, and possibly
a turntable preamp or two.
unbalanced sources, pick up some good hi-fi cables — not the budget 50 percent spiral
shield stuff. As long as you keep the cable at five to 10 feet tops and use
proper RF suppression techniques should the studio be colocated at the
transmitter site, you should be successful.
DigiLink Automation Software
The ARC-8 comes with a free copy of DigiLink Xtreme
automation software for Windows XP/2000/Windows 7, optimized for use with the
console. In fact, it will only function if it sees the ARC-8 at the other end
of the USB cable.
It is roughly similar to the original DigiLink Free
software rolled out in 2001, which evolved into the Xtreme line. It is more
stable than the original software and comes with a decent recorder and trim
editor (but no CD ripper).
For stations that have not considered a computerized
playout system or is “roughing it” with basic Windows audio players, the bonus
of an included automation system is irresistible.
While the DigiLink program transfers audio to and from
the ARC-8 console, note that it does not control it — that it will not
turn channels on and off based on time of day (suchas activating the SAT fader for on-the-hour news). Human
intervention is required for such program switches.
Even though DigiLink will not work without the ARC-8
connected to it, the console can be used with any Windows audio software. The
computer will read the USB connection as an HID-compatible audio interface.
This means users with a preference for a particular
audio editor or other inexpensive automation software (such as ZaraRadio,
Raduga or Rivendell) can hang onto their preferred program and still use the
If more sophisticated automation is required, it is
worth checking out Arrakis New~Wave. It is not free but offers a lot of
features not found in Xtreme, including remote voice tracking, music scheduling
and FTP pickup of network audio.
Download a demo at arrakis-systems.com/newwavedemodownload.html
— Alan Peterson
By the way,
the ARC-8 has superb RF immunity. User complaints and engineering chatter over
the years may have suggested otherwise, but the particular mixer I tested
performed well in a hot zone. The manual devotes some page space to ground
loops and hum elimination, but good engineering practice suggests keeping a few
ferrite donuts knocking around to suck RFI out of those cables.
components hook into the ARC-8 via RJ-45 jack inputs; LPB did this 11 years ago
in its old Blue 5A mixer and it’s still a good idea.
Hook it up
using cables ordered through Arrakis; or make your own using common Cat-5
network cables wired to appropriate plugs. If you go the self-fabrication
route, the color code is printed in the manual and is the same standard scheme
used for analog audio by all other manufacturers.
connected to a 3.5mm socket on the rear panel. Why not a stout 1/4-inch jack?
If you bought headphones recently, you know most are sold now with a mini-plug
and 1/4-inch adapter, so it makes sense.
If left up to
me, I would have included two headphone jacks — there are two mics for two
people, right? — and put one along the front edge of the ARC-8 for the primary
If this is a
consideration for you, there are aftermarket headphone splitter amps (such as
the Rolls HA43) that can be connected to the headphone jack so everyone has a
outputs to the airchain are XLR balanced, with a separate set of RCA-10 outputs
available to feed whatever outboard gear is needed: a logger, distribution amp or
a streaming computer.
for the ARC-8 is the USB port on Channel 8. Hook it to your audio computer, it’s
detected as a sound interface and right away you have bidirectional audio
running between the two. Whether you are using the ARC-8 as an air or
production console, audio stays in the digital domain, bucking noise and hiss.
You got it. The studio monitor can be switched between Program and Air,
requiring an external receiver or mod monitor audio output. The headphones are
know that, if you are replacing an old, worn console with an ARC-8, your
monitor speakers will require external amplification. Many older boards came
with a monitor amp that powered the speakers. The ARC-8 does not. But on the
positive side, even a simple set of $75 active computer speakers with floor
woofer can fill the bill quite effectively.
So if you’re
retiring a dying board, you might as well also retire that monitor speaker that
has been up there since 1979. The clarity may surprise you.
The ARC-8 lacks
a cue speaker. When you put a source in Cue it will be heard in the headphone
and monitor speaker. This will take a little getting used to; the first time
you hear it, you might think your source is being cued on the air.
Start the show
So it’s connected.
What can it do?
to mix a five-person morning ensemble show through the ARC-8. It was designed
to be a fast and simple console for computerized automation systems (see
sidebar) and for live performance with two studio hosts and telephone.
For this, the
ARC-8 is a competent radio studio mixer. The built-in mix-minus is ideal for
feeding an external telephone hybrid unit. I have found it can also feed a
Skype computer connection very well, for talk hosts looking for higher-quality
guest audio than a telephone.
to two XLR sockets on the rear. The preamps are designed around the capable
Analog Devices SSM2019 IC and each input has a trim pot to adjust optimum mic
levels. Phantom power for condenser mics is an option, requiring a separate
power supply to be obtained from Arrakis.
enough inputs to plug in two CD decks, a news network, the phone, an aux input
(e.g. an iPod) and an audio management/automation computer via USB, and still
have some capacity left over.
If you have an
old input selector button strip in the junk drawer, you can mult across one of
the balanced inputs and feed in additional sources in your studio. Stations in
small distant markets might still keep an odd reel or cart deck active and can
feed the ARC-8 thusly.
Note if you
are used to a board with separate Program and Audition (or Program II) busses,
or require one for your purposes, the ARC-8 probably is not for you. This is a
single-bus stereo console meant for straightforward mixing and cueing for air.
There is no stock way to “split programming” across a Prog and Aud bus.
If this is
your need, you might be better off with a mixer from the Arrakis 1200 line,
although you lose out on the USB port. If you want to keep the USB port and
have a second mix bus, the board has big brothers: the ARC-10 and ARC-15.
Note too that
the Channel On buttons are simply that. They do not provide contact closures or
logic to activate external devices (CD start, automation “next” command and the
like). Again for a board this size, that’s fine — the CD player really isn't
that far away.
reservation I have about the ARC-8 is that of serviceability. Relevant ICs are
socketed for fast replacement, but switches and faders are soldered to the
motherboard and are for the most part inaccessible. Indeed, even the manual
says factory service is required for repairs on faders.Arrakis tells Radio World that at
customer request, the newest manuals provide service notes for changing faders
and switches in the field.
Arrakis ARC-8 Radio Console
+ USB digital audio interface
+ Compact and a breeze to operate
+ Affordable for any radio
+ Very respectable audio specs
For information, contact Arrakis
Systems in Colorado at (970) 461-0730 or visit www.arrakis-systems.com
- Requires factory repair in many
- Faders and switches do not feel
has been that faders are likelier to need attention before the ICs will. Food
crumbs, sneezes, coffee spills all have a way of finding their way through
slots on the chassis front and playing all kinds of havoc with faders.
makes for speedy assembly and a low price for the user. Still, a company such
as Behringer (manufacturer of inexpensive MI- and DJ-type mixers) allows
field-swapping of worn crossfade sliders on its VMX and DX line of mixers. I
have to wonder if Arrakis — and its extensive association with pro broadcast
mixers — considered such a change before rolling out the ARC-8?
As stated, the
buttons feel light to the touch. The plastic conductive faders also have a
light, “sandy” feel to them when operated. This mixer likely will hold its own
in the studio, but I would instruct all performers to respect the gear and not
beat on it.
The manual has
a parts layout chart showing the location of relevant ICs and related
components, but lacks a schematic, explaining that any component-level work
should be a factory job. A good techie can navigate his/her way around the
circuitry to be sure, but having one as part of the paperwork would be handy.
(Arrakis said the ARC-8 and other schematics for the ARC line are now on the
company website under Console/Support.)
Should you get one?
I mentioned the
kinds of users who would be most interested in the ARC-8, including low-power
operations as well as lean-running stations ready to replace failing older boards.
I want to elaborate.
situations, I have seen MI-type mixers pressed into service as “main studio
consoles,” primarily due to cost. At first it seems like a reasonable idea, but
then add in the cost of a mute/tally light circuit, the risks of “wandering
hands” messing with EQ and aux (and perhaps the effects) controls, and itty-bitty
faders not conducive to good performance. Round it out with those top-mounted
jacks picking up dust, dirt and other nasties and that bargain mixer becomes
The ARC-8 is
not an MI board retooled to be a broadcast mixer; it started out life as a
radio console and in its small-bodied way, it succeeds. If your needs require
channel on-off logic, digital inputs on every fader, a second bus and total
automated recall of settings, look further up the product line.
The ARC-8 gets
you on the air fast, clean and inexpensively, and has just enough digital
technology to make your music on hard drive sound good.
Peterson is an SBE-certified audio engineer and broadcast technologist, a
General class amateur operator, production director for the Radio America
Network in Washington and a longtime RW
contributor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org