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Urei 1601 and 1601s Mixers
Reviewer: Gizmo • Date: November 2005 • Price: £430/£499/$799/$949 • Link: Urei DJ

Urei... Uray? Oooreee? I've heard so many different pronunciations of this manufacturers name and I still don't know what it's supposed to be. And it has to be said that their name is as different as their mixer. But a little history first.

The roots of the 1601 go back to the disco age. Just as certain models of mixer rule the roost now, so did the 1620 back in the day. So coveted was - and still is - the 1620, the Urei brand was revived with a new version of the 1620 - and verily the LE model hit the scene to great acclaim.

But obviously at the back of all this was the opportunity to use the revered Urei name to launch a range of new product. New blood was drafted in to the company and work started on making some new gear worthy of the Urei name. And thus the 1601 and it's sampling sibling the 1601s were born.

It's worth pointing out as well that despite the analogue based heritage of the 1620, the 1601 and S mixers are digital - no mean feat, especially for a company who haven't made a mixer in a while. Thankfully, the awesome sound quality seems to have survived the A-D conversion unscathed.

To clarify a point - the model I have for review is the 1601s. It's identical to the 1601 apart from having the sampler. So to all intents and purposes, this review covers both models. So for the review, when I refer to "this model" or similar, it applies to both models - except when I refer to the sampler of it's features.

First Impressions

I've reviewed a lot of mixers, to the point were they're beginning to merge into one another as the familiar formula is simply recycled over and over again. That statement couldn't be further from the truth with the Urei.

Visually, it's like nothing like it - except maybe a PlayStation 2. The stylings are unique and industrial, if a little unnecessary. It all simply adds to the bulk of this beast. And it's one hell of a bulky mixer. I thought the Pioneer 707 and 909 were big enough but this Urei dwarfs those. Check the mixer tower picture on the left to see how the Urei stacks up against the 707 and Rane 56.

Despite the enormity of this mixer, it's not especially heavy. I can testify to this as I nearly dropped it one day and managed to keep a grip of it in one hand. But with the rugged nature of the 1601s, I expect the floor might have come off worst.

Finish-wise, it's really hard to knock the quality of this mixer. The attention to detail is amazing - even small things like having a light inside the headphone socket is genius. Everything seems to have been thought about and fits perfectly. But it's fair to say that stylistically, it's a bit of an acquired taste. The 1601s looks like no other mixer and for some, it may be a little hard to get used to. But you need to look beyond the outer case and get to know the mixer. In doing so, you soon come to realise that you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover.

Layout

Much like the aesthetics, the layout is a little out of the ordinary. No bad thing really provided it's for the good of the DJ. And I think on the whole Urei have been successful.

One thing they have done is move away from the rest of the pack as far as faceplate deign goes - both in design but also manufacture. We've all got mixers that over the years have lost their faders markers and generally show the tell tail marks of years of scratch abuse. What Urei have done is to - for want of a better word - etch the markings into the brushed steel faceplate. It's not really etching, but you're guaranteed to not wear it out - ever. And the design is something else as well. Each area is marked out with rounded boxes. When I say boxes, the line channel markings exaggerate how unusual this design is. I guess they're necessary to guide the eye or else the layout would be very chaotic indeed. You know how we scratchers like straight lines.

It's hard to do anything different in the fader area as the formula is set in stone forever. But packing so many features into one box means something's got to give. Thankfully Urei have managed to keep the fader area pretty clear despite shoehorning the sampler in the left hand side of the fader area. So let's break this baby down into it's constituent parts.

Faders

Urei 1601s Alpha Fader 1Urei 1601s Alpha Fader 2

Click for hi res...

Repeat the mantra - a scratch mixer is only as good as it's faders... a scratch mixer is only as good as it's faders...

Coming from a company like Urei - renowned for quality, it seems like a strange decision to put Alphas in all channels. Admittedly they are brand new custom long bodied Alphas that have spent some time in development with a large number of DJs - but they're still Alphas. Don't get me wrong, taking them at face value and not knowing they were Alphas, you'd swear blind they were something of a much higher reputation. They feel silky smooth, solid and precise in hand - quite like no other fader to be honest. Inside the body, you can see small rubber washers that stop the fader click against the faceplate that really puts them right at the top of the fader feel league (if such a thing exists - must make one up or something). But they're still Alphas. Seeing as the newest kids on the block are putting Infiniums or brand new nano- technology infinite lag faders, it seems like an odd choice, considering the lengths gone to with the rest of the mixer. I understand that Urei have fitted a Pro X fade into a 1601s but I think it's far from easy and most definitely not a supported option. I'd have been very happy to have these Alphas on the line faders but maybe a better option on the crossfader. Hopefully it's easy enough to slot in what you want.

Knob size has always been an issue for users (fnar fnar) with the Rane generally coming out on top with users. The Urei however is fitted out with fader knobs suitable for scratchers of diminutive stature or ickle tiny hands. See the pictures above to see how the Urei stacks up against the Rane (left) and Pioneer 707 (right). Yes I know - it's only a couple of millimetres smaller than a Vestax but as a percentage, it's quite a bit. In my weird large palmed little fingered hands, it feels just fine. Someone with sausage fingers however might well have some issues. And one last thing of not as well - make sure you have some band-aids ready. The fader slot on the faceplate has such sharp edges that I managed to cut my finger on the first time I used it. Nothing career-ending you understand, but still something Urei should take note of and fix at production.

Nothing especially remarkable as far as curves go. All channels are fitted with reverse switches, located on the front panel above the channel curves controls. The crossfader curve is nice and subtle but a tad soft in comparison to today's rampage towards micro cuts and super sharp cut ins. That said, crabs and twiddles sound just fine in my rather unskilled hands with a lag of approximately 3mm. The slight disappointment comes with the line curves. Like Vestax before it, the Urei has a 3 way selectable switch, making for a sharp cut, linear and a rather odd sort of semi-inverted curve - no sound until the middle then a linear fade. So I'll finish this section with another mantra that hopefully other manufacturers will listen to... full curve control on ALL channels... full curve control on ALL channels...

EQ and other stuff

Urei's reputation is based on outstanding sound quality, so you expect this department to be impeccable. And it is.

Urei have decided to play musical chairs a little with the established and familiar formula. The EQ section for both channels sits rather unusually to the outside of the mixer body. Nearly all other manufacturers (except Ecler who adopt a horizontal configuration) line the EQs up with the channel faders. Urei have kept the gain control in line with the sampler and line switches so there is at least a degree of familiarity. The EQ being where they are isn't really a problem once you get used to it and in some ways is a little more logical.

The EQ is subtle and gives a much better sound than I might have expected from a digital mixer. Indeed I'd say it offers a better sound than many analogue mixers as well. The EQ is a full kill but surprisingly has only +6db of headroom. I had expected more but in use I found I didn't really need it. Indeed this small boost does help minimise distortion. And it's worth mentioning that despite my poor attempts at having a clue about EQing, it was near impossible to distort the sound.

Speaking of distortion, an unique feature in this scratch mixer is the limiter. This basically is to stop you abusing your EQ and blowing your speakers. Factory fresh, the default setting is -10db, configurable by lifting the faceplate and pressing the small buttons on either channel. The -20db setting will almost totally guarantee no distortion but does limit output somewhat.

Thankfully before the sound gets distorted, the clip light next to the EQ gain button lights up, letting you know that you're crap at EQing.

Another nice little trick is the exciter. This gives you just a tad more extra boost on the EQ. It's configurable across the whole sound range and has a full 0-100% control as well. It's really nice to either make a slow sweep across all the frequencies or simply to add a lot of umph behind the beats. Not being a qualified sound or installation engineer, or even a skilled mixer, I did manage to make the limiter kick in quite a bit, the effect of which is reminiscent of a wedding DJ when he's using the mic - the beats would fade a little and leave my scratches loud, thus protecting my speakers.

rumbleLast but not least in the rather highly spec'd feature set is the rumble filter. It's always annoying to have to cut the bass right out to eliminate deck feedback from cutting. The HPF filter means you can keep the bass EQ turned up and still lose the feedback. In my tests, I found it to be pretty effective as well.

It's also worth mentioning the level indicators. On most mixers, these reside rather naturally between the line faders, reflecting the level with the fader position. For some reason, they've been moved up towards the middle, slap bang between the sampler and line switches. And bucking the trend again, the master and line indicators have been split into 2, meaning you don't have to switch to see what's going on.

Mopping up a few other bits and bats - there's the obligatory mic section and betraying it's club heritage, the mic input is sat right on the top. But this section, like most others in the market is the 3rd channel as well. No surprises here with a level control and dual high and low EQ as well.

headphonesAnd of course, no mixer is complete without the monitor section. In this case however , it's split into 2 parts. The channel pan fader is sat on top of the mixer on the right hand side but the controls are on the front - which leads to a minor gripe. The master/cue switch is located under the headphone input. So it's not that easy to get to - more of a fumble in the dark. But the really cool feature - and one of those simple but brilliant things is that there's a light in the back of the headphone socket. Wickedly simple but utterly cool. Just a shame the socket hides the switch.

The Effects Loop

urei 1601s effects lopSome scratch mixers have had effects loops for ages, but it's becoming an increasing need for the pro tablist, and the 1601s doesn't skim in this area either. DISCLAIMER - I can only talk about this feature as I don't have an effects box to play with.

Most fx enabled scratch mixers have the basic controls you need to using an external box but the Urei - thanks to it's digital format and DSP - has everything you need and easily configurable as well. No lifting the faceplate to flip a pre/post switch - it's all on top. So you have the option to send each or all channels pre or post fader, and with a level control as well. And the routing back into the mixer is equally flexible as well - you can pick between channels or master control. And in line with the rest of the mixer, there's a limiter on the fx receive as well.

loop switchTo complete this very fine fx loop implementation, there is also a switch to turn the whole thing on or off, or to paddle it on momentarily. And one not very obvious feature is the dual use of the fx loop - it doubles as a 4th channel. To do this you need to switch the 1601s on with the fx switch in the temporary on position and behold - sessioning although I haven't tried it myself. A slightly odd configuration but having dual uses for features is no bad thing.

The Sampler

urei 1601s samplerNow this is what I'm talking about a real wow feature for a change instead of the regulation format for a scratch mixer. Now that the design of scratch mixers is standardised, finding one that makes you really want to play is getting harder. This sampler however draws you the Urei, though it has to be said it's worth reading the manual to get to grips with it's finer points.

Having a DSP at the heart of the Urei means they can do all sorts of digital trickery and an ideal use is a sampler. Now 1 sample bank would have been enough for most people but no - Urei decided to do 2. And they do it with a huge amount of style and class. The key to the success of this feature is the BPM lock - the beat is analysed and locked (or you can tap it out as well). This has the effect of snapping the start and finish point perfectly.

There are 3 modes - loop, 1 shot and reverse. Loop is as it sounds - define your loop and it plays. You simply control the volume and it'll keep playing regardless. 1 shot mode uses the fader to start like a hot start. Much fun can be had by defining 2 loops, 1 starting the the bass, the second on the snare and then creating your own beats with the 1 shot mode. Or starting them at the same time for the old school phase effect without resorting to an effects box. And how's this for a brain melt - you can play 2 copies of vinyl with defined loops at the same time - effectively a 4 track juggle. And use the line faders for scratching as well! I would pay good money to see that at DMC. Next level shit yo. The final mode is reverse which does exactly what it says.

You can of course erase your selections and re-record but it's also possible to layer samples back and forth to each bank. Obviously you have to be perfect with your timing or else you have to start again. One extremely useful side effect is that with the BPM lock, the loop will always play to whatever speed is playing on your deck so you could keep a nice loop set up and use it as a bridge between tracks. Finally, you can assign any bank to any channel via the channel assign switch above the line faders. This can of course work against you as sometimes the BPM lock picks up a wrong reading and the tempo goes to pieces. You can however switch off the BPM lock to get round this.

urei 1601s samplerFinally, you can plug in foot pedals if you want to free up your hands while mixing and use them to capture loops. You'll find the 1/4" jack round the back of the 1601s.

When I first saw this in action at MusikMesse this year, I knew it was something very special indeed. But now having used it at length I find it very difficult to do without it. At first all I saw was having a looper in my mixer but once you get to grips with the powerful intricacies, you'll soon realise just how fantastic this is. In the right hands, it could make some truly outstanding music

Round the back

Urei 1601s back

Just like the rest of the 1601s, the back panel has a wealth of features that perhaps are overkill for the average DJ but are welcome nonetheless. And just like the rest of the mixer, Urei seem to have said to themselves "how can we do this different to the rest?". Either that or they read some comments I posted a while back about legibility of the back panel from above as Urei have turned the wording on it's side. Yay! Now it's really easy to read the info from above without having to hurt yourself.

Starting left to right:

Top row:
• FX Loop - also doubles as a 4th channel and the session in/out.
• Master and booth unbalanced outputs
• Channel 2 line/phono input
• Channel 1 line/phono input
• Mic insert so you can send the mic output to an effects box
• line input

Bottom row:

• Balanced XLR master output
• Balanced XLR booth output
• Foot pedal inputs for the sampler
• AC Power input - and it's got a clip to keep the plug in place.

But do you know the weirdest thing about this whole mixer? It has no on/off button - the only mixer like this I've ever come across. Really rather annoying as well as the unit pumps one hell of a noise through my speakers when I turn it off.

In Conclusion

They say first impressions are the ones that stick. My first impressions were that this is a really large and clunky mixer that bucks conventions aplenty. These impressions have stuck but once I got past the whole judge/book/cover thing, I find the Urei 1601s to be on the whole one hell of a mixer.

You only have to look at the attention to detail, the extensive feature list, sound quality and of course the sampler to realise just how good this mixer is. It's easy enough these days to assemble some components in the cast in concrete scratch mixer formula and make something that is good - nobody makes a really bad product any more. But we now need something that is truly great to stand out. We also need some new but useful features and the 1601s ticks all the right boxes and then some.

It's not perfect - I do have an small issue with the use of Alphas for the crossfader and the curve, plus the odd design faux pas but on the whole, these are minor wrinkles compared to the sum of the parts, but with it being the crossfader, it stops the rating breaking above 90%. I'm still slightly puzzled as to why they would bring the 1601 out minus the sampler with only a £70 price difference but apparently some international markets prefer them. That said, even for £430, the 1601 is still a good mixer but it really is worth coppering up and grabbing the 1601s. The creativity and convenience the sampler will give you is worth every single penny.

Rating 1601 - 85% : 1601s - 90%

Big thanks to Paul and the Urei... Ooorreeee... Youray... whatever guys for the mixer and freebies that will be given away once this review hits the streets.

1601


1601S



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