The Thermionic Culture Fat Bustard is a 12 Channel Valve driven summing mixer. The 19" rack unit stands 4U high, with impressive chunky pots and switches. The main volume control is an "elma" switch, with a great feel and snap. Hand made in the UK, it's a solidly engineered bit of kit.
The Bustard is organised into 4 mono channels and 4 stereo channels, a simple eq section, stereo width manipulation section and an "Attitude" control.
Along with the 12 channels there are also 2 Aux inputs, which are designed as fx returns, and pushes a stereo signal hard left and hard right, or there's a button that places them to centre. This effectively add 2 more channels to the Fat Bustard pushing it up to a 14 channel mixer.
There is a simple pultec style eq section, featuring Bass Lift, Bass Cut, Top Lift and Top Cut, by playing with these controls you actually have a surprisingly effective EQ section that sounds very smooth even when used in extreme settings.
Along with the deceptively powerful eq options, you have another tone sculpturing tool in form of the Attitude control, that adds varying amounts of valve driven harmonic distortion in 6 incremental steps. The unit can go from pretty clean to full on aggressive with this tool, you do tend to loose a bit of top end when going above step 4 on the Attitude control, so I've found around 3 or 4 to be the sweet spot for most of my mixing work.
The unit also features some stereo tools in the form of a stereo spread pot and a bass to centre pot, I haven't had much luck with these features and would not recommend using them on a mix as the stock width of the unit sounds wide enough without these tools. I have heard people say these options are more useful when dealing with cutting vinyls or for tracking sources that require extreme width (keyboards for example).
Each mono channel features a pan pot and a "pan in" switch, with the "pan in" disengaged the channel is fixed firmly to centre in the stereo field and you get around 4db more level, this is great for getting your kick and snare nice and loud in the mix without having to drive your DAW output channel too hard before reaching the FB.
So how does it sound? At flat settings the unit is remarkably transparent, it seems to perhaps ever so slightly slow down transients, which could be considered slightly dark sounding. I always use a bit of Top Lift as it does seem darker than straight DAW channels, this is no bad thing as you can then sculpt precisely the amount of high end required with the Top Lift control, which sounds stunning! Of course when manipulating the EQ and Attitude controls, you can get a large amount of variation in tone and punch with this unit.
Is there any point in using this vs summing in your DAW? In my opinion, the answer is yes. You'll notice a big difference in separation between tracks with this unit, it instantly cleans up any DAW muddiness or confusion, the low end is tight and defining, the stereo image opens right up, the audio feels deeper.
The connections are made via unbalanced XLR connections, as Thermionic Culture deemed these to "sound better than balanced connections", so it's wise to keep connections as short as you can. The general noise performance of this mixer seems to be very good however.
The later Fat Bustard model (the Mark 2) also features a monitor level control.
To summarise, if you are after an OTB console sound, but don't have space for a console and/or prefer the convenience of DAW recall the Fat Bustard may be for you. Although it's at the higher end of summing mixers if comes with some powerful tools that, in my opinion, set it apart from it's competitors.
I am producing mainly electronic or Indie Rock music, and I am mixing, and remixing for the Radios, too varying from Pop to Dance.
My studio is a very simple, but quality focused environment. I've spent many years mixing with big consoles, so mixing In the box was not an option from the start because I love hitting my converters hot from my Bus Compressor. I tried several summing boxes, and they were ok, but my big problem was that my mixes lacked of size and character.
Enter the Fat Bustard!
Fat Bustard valve Mixer is a Valve summing mixer. But it is not only a mixer: it delivers very helpful sound shaping facilities that will help you to mix with pleasure.
The summing section is made of 4 stereo and 4 mono passive channels (all fed by XLR connections). each channel has volume and on/off. Mono channels have selectable pan pot.
There are two additional Aux inputs that have no volume control but behave like normal channel (I use them as external FX returns) and were intended to be a link to Little Bustard expander.
The most interesting part of this box is the sound shaping section, that is a complete yet simple "mastering" tool.
You have an Eq section (Bass Lift, Top Lift - with on/off - Bass Cut, Top Cut - with on/off). By manipulating these eq controls you can get very interesting Pultec-like Eq shelving scenarios.
South of Eq Section you have a Phase control section, that lets you control stereo balance, stereo spread, and bass to center. This is very helpful when you want to add some stereo to a sound like a pad (you can also select from what frequency range your pad will be stereo) or you want the bass section to be more tight. Putting the bass section Mono is very helpful when producing Club and Dance music. (you can also select from what frequency range your bass will be Mono).
But the most interesting section among these is for sure the Attitude Control.
Attitude Control is basically a 6 positions Harmonic Distortion secton. It is a "tamed" version of Thermionic Culture Vulture. You will never get a real distortion as you may intend it. However you achieve a very distinctive Character. And this Character is simply stunning.
It takes a little (very little) while to fully understand how this beast behave, but once you make it out, you will only get good results.
Soundwise the Fat Bustard can sound big, dirty or delicate and smooth. But it will always be definetly be a Sound. And that's what I was looking for.
On the minus side I'd say I'd love to see an auxiliary monitor output to listen what I am recording, but it depends on how you set your studio up.
The MKII version sports a monitor IN section which is quite handy if you want to make A/B comparisons of your mixes.
There is one thing that cannot miss in my setup: a 2Buss Compressor.
I consider it as part of the Summing box. it completes the sound path in a beautiful way and you have to consider a Summing Box + 2Bus Compressor when making the decision.
The sound is very professional. It is simply beautiful.
Great depth of sound.
The top lift panpot is magic.
Low frequencies warm, deep and professional.
Only problem, panpot of sound spatialization, I do not like at all.
Unbalanced... Naaaa, I cannot believe it! :-)
Monitoring: analog with Spl Phonitor 2 after tape and multiband compressor.