AETA 4Minx

Here are some of my thoughts about this versatile French Mixer-Recorder

…..which i had on loan and was going to buy, but decided against getting at the last minute, only because i got the chance to buy another recorder i had thought was out of my budget.

So despite not having bought one ( yet ? ) i still rate the 4Minx as a very versatile option for anyone looking for a location recorder, albeit with some caveats.

It has it’s pros and cons like all the ones on the market right now ( one ‘pro’ being it’s far smaller and lighter than the recorder i have bought ), but it also has some, shall we say, ‘idiosyncrasies’ not found in any rival product.

I did do a kind of review of this recorder at excruciating length on my main website some time ago,

But now AFAIK strangely, apart from my original one, there still isn’t actually an independent full review, in English, of this ( just brief press-release type summaries ) . But mine at that time couldn’t be a user-review given i only had it on loan 3 weeks while i was on shift work.

So although i can’t claim to have used it in the field during the time i had it, i did familiarise myself with its operation and i ran some ‘endurance’ tests on what – i should point out here – was a machine running a much earlier software version than the current one.

So, on the ‘Pro’ side of main features;

1) you can buy the 4Minx as 2,4,6 or 8 track recorder, or even in mixer-only configuration. Also timecode hardware is optional.

2) the complement of Ins & Outs, both analogue and digital, is impressive for a unit this size,

3) all front-panel controls are assignable, and the software mixing/routing options are as comprehensive as you could ask for

4) it records to SD card, the lowest-cost of all the usual location recorder media types

But on the ‘con’ side of those same points;

1) even the mixer-only version is a little pricey compared to the current competition in small mixers, which nearly all have at least 2-track recording included as standard. And the extra charged for ‘adding’ record capability and tracks, which in effect is just a software upgrade, as the hardware stays the same, seems to me a little steep also.

Also the likelihood of a full Pro-user NOT wanting timecode functions on something in this price range is, i think, pretty low; unless they’re buying the mixer-only version, and even there – if they change their mind later on and want to have location record functions with t/c after all – returning it to AETA for the timecode h/w is rather more inconvenient than adding record tracks which is simply a sofware ‘unlock’

2) fairly comprehensive though the I/O provided undoubtedly is, to me it seems overkill given that;..

a) MULTIPLE digital ins and outs on a unit this size for mainly field use are almost never going to be used – as music/venue situations requiring several AES connections will surely demand a conventional compact digital desk anyway ?

b) it’s not possible for the 4Minx ( yet?) to actually record all of the inputs available as seperate tracks.

c) despite that pot-assignability, there aren’t really enough physical controls to take full advantage of this. And the software routing, while exhaustive, is not something you can quickly reconfigure given the number of menu levels and options.

3) unfortunately there is no facility to dual-record to the SD card and a second one, or another card or internal hard drive. The only option is to have background copy-record to an EXTERNAL usb storage device, and via a completely non-standard USB connection arrangement at that.

In other words, to summarise, i feel the 4minx is kind of too full of features and configurability for its own good, and what’s more, despite the mixer-only and track-number options you feel you’re being asked to pay more for a lot of features that are built in to the ‘core’ machine that you’ll never use, or which can’t be used to their full potential because of other limitations of the recorder.

Anyway, not to start sounding too negative, additional features include;

i) the 4Minx has not only timecode i/o but also Wordclock or Video sync in, and this is unusual on smaller recorders. Sometimes it’s important to lock a recorders sampling to video rather than just than lay down timecode as ‘sync’ when it’s actually not

ii) when i had a 4Minx on loan, the blurb hinted at future possible expansion via the LAN port ( i’ll come back to this ) , but in fact much later on AETA added support via USB for 2 low-cost Fader-controllers, the Behringer BCF2000 ( which i have one of ), and the Korg NanoKontrol 2, which i bought not 1 but 2 of, in anticipation of both buying the 4Minx at the start of this year and of wearing out the first one pretty quickly !

So i haven’t got to try the external USB fader controller functions myself – i only saw them briefly demonstrated at BVE a couple of years back – but i’d imagine the ‘assignability’ of faders to channel gains, pans etc. will be as comprehensive as the existing 4Minx pot-assigns. The point being this got me even keener to buy the 4Minx, since this is another feature that sets it apart from all other location recorders in its price-range, because with the models that do have an external fader control option its always their proprietary control panel you have to use, and none of them cost less than £700, whereas the little Korg unit costs £50 !

The Behringer costs more, ~ £180, and it’s a larger, mains-powered unit, but it seems to me its a good choice to give the 4Minx full-size faders on a horizontal-sloping panel in fixed-but-temporary music recording setups.

iii) an Ambisonics decoder as an optional software extra. Now although i can understand it’s a feature that few buyers of any given recorder will want/use, my view is that nonetheless having to pay £500 extra to have it is a bit steep, especially considering that at least when you pay the same for the timecode option you are getting additional hardware as well as software. If you view it as being the equivalent of a s/w plugin on a DAW app, that would make it some plugin…. and in fact the Ambisonic plugins that are around that price actually do re-matrix transcodes to other surround formats and ‘collapses’ to Stereo, whereas the AETA Ambisonic option doesn’t do that; its function is solely to enable on-recorder heaphone monitoring in stereo of a ‘viewpoint’ derived from the Ambisonic mic connected, while it’s still the 4 ‘raw’ mic outputs that are recorded to seperate tracks.

Nothing wrong with that on a recorder, just seems pricey for that one ‘convenience’ function when it is included as standard on several other recorders in the 4Minxs price range and above, one of them being the Nagra 6 that i eventually bought.

However what does set the 4Minx decoder apart in this respect from all but the Nagra 6 is that the other recorders offer only Ambisonic ‘B’ format decoding, whereas the 4Minx and Nagra additionally ofer ‘A’ format decoding, meaning they can be paired with the Soundfield SPS200 and a couple of other mics which aren’t supplied with their own ‘matrix box’ to provide B-format WXYZ signals derived from the 4 Tetrahedral-array mic-capsule signals ( which is what ‘A’ format is, in fact )

I did test the loan-4Minx with the SPS200, and the stereo ‘view’ monitoring via cans worked well. What i wasn’t as impressed by was the ambiguity of the manual and the menus in defining which ‘view’ you were actually selecting. I felt the orientation images used could do with some improvement. I don’t know if this has been changed in later versions of the overal software. But to be fair surround-mic orientation-designations ARE a little confusing at first.

UPDATE – July 2017

Although the 4Minx by all accounts has exemplary mic amps, has multiple digital i/o options and is clearly still in the ‘fully pro’ location recorder price range, i have to say that if i was looking now for a recorder and didn’t need Ambisonic monitoring or digital i/o, then i’d be inclined to opt for the Zoom F4 or F8 together with the new FRC remote fader unit, as apart from anything else the 4 Minx not only doesn’t do true ‘mirror’ recording, it only has 1 internal media slot ( SD) and the secondary media has to be a usb drive on that awkward ‘wrong’ usb socket via a special odd cable.

Whereas the Zoom F recorders both record to dual SD-cards, which is in fact – in my opinion – a more ‘pro’ feature than some of their far more expensive competition in the location recorder field have, and indeed has only recently become common on broadcast cameras that record ro card media internally !

UPDATE – Dec 2017

I’ve just read that the Zoom F4 is having A-format Ambisonic decoding added in its latest firmware release, meaning that’s another low-cost recorder that challenges the likes of the 4Minx in this area ( remember Ambisonic decoding costs extra with the 4Minx ). Not sure whether this means the F8 will have it too, but there is also Ambisonic decoding now available as standard on other recorders in the price-range of the 4Minx, such appears to have been the impetus given surround by the call for VR capability and the release not long back of the Sennheiser Ambeo VR mic, another ‘A’-format output mic..

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