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Do not press this button! If you do, you will be sorry!

'Do not press this button'. Was that the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, or Red Dwarf? Or an item of sound engineering equipment close to you...?

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Imagine having a piece of sound engineering equipment with a button marked 'do not press'. Or worse still, two buttons labeled 'do not press'.

OK, in this instance, the label was scribbled by hand, but the exclamation mark more than hints at the severe consequences that will result should someone be so foolhardy as to ignore the warning.

The equipment in question is the original Spirit-by-Soundcraft Folio 12 into 2 portable mixing console. This was the first of the wave of small, inexpensive, but eminently usable consoles that soon followed.

You normally wouldn't expect Soundcraft to get anything wrong, but they sure did here.

The upper of the 'do not press' controls inserts a 1 kHz tone into the main stereo outputs. Yes, tones are good, and a console without an oscillator is like a dog without a woof.

The problem is that it is so close to the master faders. One slight slip and you have 1 kHz where all before was music. And it might be a pretty loud 1 kHz too.

The other button is more unusual. The console has a stereo tape return input for checking what you have just recorded. Once again, all good consoles should have one.

But often, the tape return isn't used, or can be considered a luxury that isn't altogether necessary. So this button allows the option to use the tape returns as additional inputs to the mix, making this a 14-input console rather than the expected twelve.

The problem arises however when the tape return is used for its intended purpose. The console sends signal to the stereo recorder, and the stereo recorder sends signal back to the console.

But if you were careless enough to press the 'tape return to mix' button, then you would have a positive feedback path and an almighty howlround would result - on your recording!

So here are two very good ways to ruin a perfectly good recording, right where your fingers will be resting much of the time.

One slip and disaster. Fatal to a live recording. Clearly, these buttons should have been in a remote location, perhaps towards the top of the console.

So the 'do not press' message was my warning to myself. And fortunately it worked all the time I had the console. Except the first time my fingers slipped, which was the occasion that prompted the additional caption.

I wonder if any other equipment has a 'do not press' button?

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By David Mellor Friday November 11, 2005
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