THE TONE STACK 

NEWS, REVIEWS, TIPS & TRICKS FROM THE LAB

Don't You Give Up That Ghost Yet...

July 9, 2020

 

 

 

Creation Audio Labs was founded in Nashville, TN in 2003 by former Harman-Soundcraft employees. Harman's offices and service department were situated in Nashville at the time, but when the company decided to uproot and move to California, our crew decided to stick around and fill the niche of Soundcraft service techs in the area. Our own Vice President of Research and Development and Co-Owner, Alex “Skip” Welti, was the former national service manager for Soundcraft, and oversaw service and quality control for most of their pro level gear that circulated in North America. Our President, Gary "Sarge" Gistinger, worked directly with him. That being said: we know Soundcraft consoles... like the back of our hand. And while the number of individual hairs on our knuckles or the length and circumference of our pinky may be useless information (unless we need to pick our nose), our vast depth of knowledge on Soundcraft mixers has proven to be quite the heirloom. For 17 years now, we’ve fielded enough calls, emails, and impromptu interrogations about Soundcraft gear to sink a battleship… or float it, depending upon whether we’re full of hot air or not… I personally think we’re pretty cool ;).

 

So the question that keeps coming back to us, time and time again is: which console is the best?  And maybe we’re too stubborn to change or ways, but the desk that’s maintained the lead consistently in our sight over the years is the Soundcraft Ghost!!  (wish I could underline that twice)

 

The Ghost was originally released on the market in 93’ to supply a demand for a large-format mixing consoles that fit within a smaller footprint and had a price-point to match.  For a little under $10K, you could take home a brand-spanking-new Ghost 32 channel mixing console, complete with LED meter-bridge and power supply, and still have enough to buy groceries at the end of the day. On the slightly-more-than shoestring budgets some engineers and production studios were on, this made the Ghost a no-brainer, not to mention the Ghost’s features are pretty astounding. The Ghost features an inline design with reversible channel and monitor pathways, a very transparent, transformerless mic preamp, four-band EQ (HI & LO boost/cut, LO-MID & HI-MID are fully parametric), 8 auxes (two of which are stereo - Aux 7 & 8), 8 groups, 4 FX returns, 2 Studio Foldbacks and Talk-back mic, two sets of switchable control room monitor outputs, etc apart from separate Mix A and Mix B summing pathways (you essentially had 64 individual signal pathways in one board). The Ghost was made with enough “bells-and-whistles” to necessitate a workflow for music production, audio post-production for TV & Film, and anything in between, all the while putting a state-fair or swanky carnival to shame. You could also purchase the 24-channel variety if you were tighter on space. The Ghost LE (which is essentially the lower-end model) was made available a year or so after initial production, and came without the computer options.

 

Now a little more about the this board’s “goodies.” The mic preamp on the Ghost was masterminded by an engineer whom Harman “scalped” from Neve to bring their studio game up a notch. It’s a very sharp design that some might even compare to an API in terms of sonic quality, although being transformerless. The EQ circuit was pretty much a carbon-copy of the Soundcraft 3200 and Europa consoles, flag-ship models for their day. The master section featured slew of computer-based machine control and mute automation controls derived from Soundcraft’s own flying-fader classic, the DC2020. So you essentially had all the best parts of a bunch $60k-$100K consoles copy-and-pasted into a board sold for a mere fraction of the cost - tons of bang for your buck. Soundcraft was able to successfully “mill” about 22,000 or so of these puppies between 93’ and 03’, which means there’s ample supply of them out there.

 

You can typically find them in the $1500 range on the used market, and as low as $500 depending upon where you look.Ghost production underwent six basic waves (issues 1-6), all of which are virtually identical except for a few minor changes like parts swaps, service updates, and the addition of corrosion-resistant, gold-plated jacks on the inserts (the non-gold ones tended to get grody over time and cause signal “roll-off” or drop-out). There were no changes to the frame or layout of the Ghost, and the PCB modules from one version to the next were virtually interchangeable. The only difference, apart from the goldie-jacks, was the regally colored “gold” (or mustard) knobs they had on the first couple of issues... which apparently didn’t “cut the mustard” as far as cosmetics went. You could tell which Ghost you had either by taking the bottom panel off and checking the issue ID on the silk-screen printed on the edge of input channel PCBs, or you could use a flash-light to check the insert jacks and see if they were gold. If inserts are gold, you you’re either sitting on an issue 5 or 6.

 

 

And while the Ghost does feature a modular design, whereby individual input channels are situated on their own removable cards, the board is not a “top-loader,” in that you can not remove the modules from the top of the frame. This would’ve made for easier serviceability, but the Ghost is built like a brick ****-house anyway so you don’t have to service them very often. Luckily though, if you did, getting the bottom panel off the Ghost and dropping out one module at a time (without throwing off your session) requires very little leg-work, and can usually be done with only one additional set of hands. Once you’ve got modules out, the Ghost PCBs are populated with all thru-hole components and can be very easily repaired or upgraded. The input modules and rear connector cards are all single-sided PCBs and easy to solder/de-solder on with the master section and group modules being double-sided. The pots, switches, connectors, jacks, and other components are all readily available (at least from our experience). And if all else fails, you can always buy a cheap “parts-console” to harvest souls from… I mean parts.

 

A lot of the mods out there that you’ll see offered for the Ghost, or any other console for that matter, are based around opamp and capacitor upgrades. For us, we like to add new, high-performance op-amps and electrolytic capacitors on ALL analog signal pathways (from the mic preamps to the mix outputs - everything gets upgraded). We also install IC sockets for easy, solder-free replacement of op-amps in the future.


Regarding opamps, all chips are not created equal. That being said, certain chips function better in the mic preamp as opposed to working well as a pan-buffer. In like manner, certain chips are better as line-drivers (like before an insert/tape send) than they are as an line input or tape return buffer. We did our homework on these chips, studying a veritable library’s worth of info on specifications for these and other chips, as well as running our own tireless diagnostic tests using Audio Precision test equipment and our ears to determine which chips got the best results. Our favorite assortment of opamps, in recent years included the Burr Brown OPA2134, Texas Instruments LME49720 & LM833, as well as the Analog Devices OP275. However, as of 2020, we've begun using a newer chip in our "cocktail," which happens to perform as well, if not better than our previous favorites in most positions across the board. In fact, it sits so well in the circuit that we can begin to remove compensation caps from the design, which are otherwise there to tame radio-frequency oscillations that generate unwanted noise and eat of your headroom. Without the compensation caps in place, the phase response of your signal paths get a shot-in-the-arm that won't wear off. Less is more!

 

As far as capacitors, all of the electrolytics in the signal pathway get swapped for ultra-low impedance Nichicon caps, which have a very low Equivalent-Series-Resistance, have a lower self-noise, and provide for better tone (especially in the Lows and Low-Midrange), along with a much tighter phase response. In the instance of the Groups and Master CRM module, we actually remove and "Jumper" a few of the coupling caps out, which tightens up the phase response and lowers the noise a bit more. We're able to do so because the DC offset specs of the newer chips we install provide enough wiggle room to chop some chips from the equation. Even lesser, is morer!

 

Another things we like to do is installing new, corrosion-resistant Neutrik gold-plated jacks on all inserts & the headphone jack (unless you’ve got them already - Series 5 & 6 owners). Regarding that, I will now venture to peel open the pages of the sacred text of audio electronics wisdom and hold up a disturbing image to everyone of the deep-seated evil that attacks a lot of sound mixers like the Ghost, corrupting its sacred balanced. By staring this evil in the face, we can assess it and learn to defeat it. Most people don't realize this, but the insert jacks and headphone jacks on the Ghost are normalling jacks, meaning they have a "Send" and a "Return" side that can open or close, like a switch. If you don't have an insert cable or headphone inserted into them, the send and return contacts "normal" together or close, allowing signal to pass through it. As soon as you insert a jack though, it breaks the normal, opening the circuit, and the signal pathway is interrupted until you close the opening by either connecting the insert send and return cables together or to the respective input/output on a working processor device (ie compressor, outboard EQ, etc.), or by removing the insert cable so the normalling contacts can close again. That means, even if you're not using the Inserts or the Headphone jacks, signal is still passing through the jack. And corrosion on these jacks between the normalling contacts can lead to intermittent or total signal loss, or possibly even capacitive reactance. Now, basically all a capacitor is, is two conductive terminals and a non-conductive material, known as a "dielectric medium", between these conductive terminals. Capacitors block Direct Current (DC), while allowing Alternating Current (AC - aka the audio signal) to pass through unaffected. Capacitors also create what's known as "capacitive reactance," which is a function of resistance and frequency. Another way of putting it is that, depending upon the value of the cap (in Farads - the unit of measure for a capacitance), it will impeded/restrict certain frequencies carried on the AC from passing through it. That's why caps are frequently used in filter or EQ circuits to restrict certain frequencies.  So corroded insert and headphone jacks tend to create unwanted filtering or distortion of the signal, if not complete signal drop-out. So this can, theoretically affect any pathway with a non-gold insert jack (inputs channels, groups, Mix A), and in your Control Room Monitoring section, it can kill your mix to your studio monitors (bad headphone jack!). This is a definite "NO-NO" and liable to create a lot of unwanted studio down-time, flustered looks of "wtf," perhaps even a manic visit to a wooded glen or abandoned warehouse or factory to punch-dance and footloose out your aggression... all while you were just trying to have a session. And hey, if you like doing that anyway, we're not going to outlaw your dancing; we're just trying to take the fury out of living with your Ghost. Hence, why we replace these jacks with gold-ones. Now you know. And knowing is half the battle. 

 

Lastly, all modules additionally receive some extra “love” in the form of full refurbishments to restore them to “like-new” condition and strengthen all mechanical components connections to the PCB. We clean, lubricate, and thoroughly exercise all mechanical components (pots, switches, faders, ¼” TRS jacks, XLRs, etc.) as well as flow fresh solder to all these and the connectors, LEDs, etc. We can even disassemble and rebuild potentiometers if they're showing problems that cleaning won't fix. Often it's just that a wiper blade has lost it's tension and needs a little tune-up. If we're addressing the entire board, we'll also clean the frame, de-funkify the knobs and buttons, de-grease and de-rust the nuts and screws... basically we bathe it, and braid it's hair, apply anointing oil, and teach it a "new way," so it can be safely returned to society without risk of failure. We also like to reinforce certain things like the XLR jacks with a little extra sumthin', sumthin, so they don't go breaking off of your PCB and leaving you without an input for your bass guitar right when you were planning on tracking that solo. Even if everyone always talks during the bass solo, being down a channel is a definite NO-NO! The main thing is, you and your Ghost should be sculpting sweet musical bliss without the interruptions. 

 

 

We believe our mods offer the most bang for your buck. You could go way over-board and put in much more expensive components like discrete opamps, glass capacitors, and the like, but the sonic results are honestly only going to be about 0.0001% or so better... so rather than "splitting atoms," our proprietary modifications are designed to get you 99.999....% of the way for a price that’s probably several times cheaper than going the “full megillah.” We're happy to put in the $25 opamps and glass caps if you insist, but our slew of mods already introduces major improvements to the analog signal pathways by increasing headroom, lowering noise-floor, improving THD+Noise specs, improving low and low-midrange response, widening stereo field, improving analog summing, as well as improving phase response for faster/tighter transients. You’ll find your super-hot-rodded Ghost having a newly found “holier-than-thou” attitude. You’ll get more punch, clarity, and definition in your mixes with much less, unwanted coloration.


In addition to all of these marvelous upgrades, we also offer a few lesser known mods on our “a la carte” menu. You can have input or output transformers of your preferred make installed on channels or on the output pathways to add color to your signals. You can have fader unity switches installed that take the guess-work out of zeroing out your mix levels. You can replace the faders with higher quality ones like Penny+Giles (P+G) faders that have a glassier glide to them. You can replace the Master CRM volume pot with a higher quality one. We can put +48V phantom switches in front of the meterbridge so you don't get frazzled trying to reach around. We can modify Aux 8 to be on the Mix A pathway as opposed to the Mix B. We can modify the EQs to have a slightly different scope either by adjusting the Q or the Frequency Sweep, etc… I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Virtually anything is possible in the world of mods; it’s just not always practical. But if you’ve got the resources and an imagination, we can figure out just about anything shy of landing this Ghost on the moon (Mars is not out of the question though).

 

We're so confident about our mods, that we are prepared to cover them all under the terms of our Limited Lifetime warranty. That means we'll stand by our handiwork. If there's any defects in our workmanship, we're glad to cover it for up to 10 years. Components we replace are covered for 2 years. 

 

Call us at (615) 884-7520 or emails us at info@creationaudiolabs.com to learn more about the Ghost and mods we offer today.

 

 

Guitarist/performer, songwriter, live sound engineer, audio post production specialist, repair technician, husband, father - these are just a few of the hats resident tech Michael Frazier wears. Michael graduated with a BA in Audio Production in 2011 from the Art Institute of Tennessee - Nashville, and has been working with Creation Audio Labs in their console maintenance/modification department since then, apart from his work at Gibson guitars from 2012-2015

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