Thermionic Culture The Fat Bustard by creative.control
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.