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Ecler HAK 380 Battle Mixer
Reviewer: Gizmo • Date: September 2006 • Price: £575/$799 • Link: Ecler

Ecler HAK 380 ReviewIt's a widely held misconception that DJ equipment only comes from the far east. Indeed other small pockets of lesser known DJ goodness can be found all over the planet. One such pocket is Spain - home to Ecler, purveyors of some of the finest mixers known to man. But despite their goodness, Ecler have up until recently been not as popular around the world as you might expect. This is down to a number of factors which have now been recognised and fixed so you should all be able to get your hands on some Ecler gear wherever you are.

In amongst the wide and varied Ecler range are the HAKs. Coming in various flavours of 300 numbers, the one to put Ecler very firmly on the scratch map was the HAK360 - a quirky left of centre approach that gathered a small but massively loyal and evangelical hardcore fan base. This was largely down to it's simplicity of operation and the Eternal™ crossfader. It's a bit of a love/hate affair but once you've used one and it suits your style, you never want to use another fader.

The 360 has been around for quite some time now and is showing signs of age compared to its peers so the new blood at Ecler realised it was time to make some changes - to improve on the solid foundation and bring out a big brother to the 360, indeed a perfect opportunity to fix some of the annoying things about the 360 that you overlooked because of the perfection of the Eternal fader.

First Impressions

Ummm... double take - it's like the 360 but different. Basically it's the same case, same size, same build quality etc but things have changed. The HAK380 has a higher quality feel about it, largely down to the new brushed steel faceplate. Like the other manufacturers, Ecler have made sure that worn away decals are a thing of the past. The lower faceplate is much the same as the 360 but is reversible to make the 380 err more towards the darkside. But there's a neat twist - it'll be available in a plain version, just ripe for customisation.

Ecler HAK 380 ReviewThe knobs are new as well. Instead of the very low profile silver knobs, the 380 comes complete with slightly darker but ever-so tactile rubber topped ones. They certainly do feel a whole lot better than the old ones. I was somewhat surprised to see plastic stems on the pots rather than metal, especially on a mixer of this price and while they do feel more secure than the 360, heavy handed DJs might not be especially forgiving.

Overall, the 380 has improved in quality a little but it's probably just the brushed steel faceplate giving the perceived impression of greater quality. Other than that, the components are much the same - even lifting the lid shows that the chassis is the same as the 360.

Layout

Ecler HAK 380 review

Outside of the cosmetic changes, there's one serious change that brings the 380 firmly back in line with the rest of the scratch market - the layout. I always liked the horizontal layout of the 360 - working left to right is extremely natural for the brain so it's always bothered me that controls that logically should be left to right have been up and down. But I guess that making the 380 more attractive to the rest of the market is a logical move. But for HAK 360 upgraders, the change isn't too easy. And this is also reflected in the front panel with the fader controls being turned a full 90 degrees, but more about the fader controls later.

Ecler HAK 380 reviewThe fader area has got to be the cleanest of any scratch mixer. There used to be transform switches but they've been lost - no great shame and it does make using the upfaders easier if like me, you use them hamster. But for some reason, the upfaders are further apart - a full 20mm in fact, making grabbing both faders quite hard. I don't know why this has been done - it's certainly not a space issue under the faceplate. Not a good move.

As previously mentioned, the EQs have been rotated and now occupy the outer edges of the faceplate. It does actually work well once you get your head out of 360 mode and also now have EQ on/off switches. Line/phono switches now sit above the EQs, moving the mic, master and session controls more central, leaving the middle area for balance and cue functions as well as the huge wet/dry fader.

While 360 upgraders might struggle for a while, as far as layouts go it's clean, logical and about as good as you'll find on any scratch mixer.

The Faders

Ecler HAK 380 review

I'm a bit of a raging fanboy about the Ecler Eternal™ crossfader. Ever since I laid my hands on one in an 360 a few years ago, no other fader has come close to touching it in my book (including the Pro X Fade). I simply love the ultra light feel, the precision and the adjustment on it and thankfully, the Eternal makes it across to the 380 untouched.

Featuring a 9mm stem, the Eternal is a magnetic non-contact fader meaning no wear and a smooth glide. The beauty of the Eternal is the infinite lag adjust - Ecler implemented this some time before anyone else and essentially it allows for the tiniest lag adjust, down to fractions of millimetres.

Ecler HAK 380 Review

The 380 has dispensed with the fade/switch control from the 360 and allowed for lag adjust on either side of the fader - way more useful. And it also has curve controls for each side of the crossfader and a full reverse too. The curve is free of any decay - the cut-in is off and on, as you'd expect from a magnetic fader. And while it doesn't feel as robust as many others on the market (often putting people off purchasing), the Eternal comes with a 5 year warranty.

The line faders remain exactly the same - the Ecler Pro fader. It's a conventional VCA fader but coming with a 9mm stem. It's perhaps not as slick as say an Alpha line fader but you can be sure this one isn't going to bend or break. The biggest problem (well for me anyway) with the 360 was the line fader curve which frankly sucked. The 380 however sees a complete overhaul of the curves into something world class. Like the Eternal, the cut-in time is instant with a lag of around 2mm, but the curve is perfection having full adjustment from sharp at one end, linear in the middle and zero to 2mm of sound at the other. This for me has been the biggest improvement and puts the 380 into the top league of battle mixers.

FX Loop

Ecler HAK 380 ReviewDJs are moving beyond just cutting and juggling and require more from the mixers, thus the send and return or FX loop is becoming a standard addition to the core set of features. The 360 has one and the 380 aims to improve on it - but in trying to improve it, some sacrifices have been made.

On the 360, you had individual channel switches to give you the option of which channel to send, but these have gone in favour of the addition of a full size wet/dry fader. Essentially you have post fader effects but to the master only rather than each channel. But also added into the equation is the ability to monitor the effects before applying them with the FX Cue feature. This is kind of essential considering to lack of channel controls.

I can't help but think that in trying to give the end user greater control over the FX, loss of channel controls is a trade-off that's likely to prove unpopular with potential buyers. If you're spending this sort of cash on a mixer, you need to consider the limitations on this loop.

Monitoring

Ecler HAK 380 reviewMonitoring is vital for any DJ. Hearing your set before the crowd is essential and if implemented badly, can make a mixer almost unusable. Thankfully Ecler have provided a full set of cueing options. FX cueing has been discussed previously and full channel cueing is standard. But it's the Scratch Cue feature that's likely to be a pleaser for the potential buyer.

First seen in Vestax's PMC-007, this allows you to do is listen to your scratches in your ear before busting them out to the crowd - basically cueing the crossfader. The way it works is simple - you can only engage or disengage it while the fader is closed. Should you hit the Scratch Cue button while the fader is open, the LED shows red and won't actually work until you close the crossfader. The same is true if you've already got it switched on and try to turn it off - the LED goes amber and the crossfader stays closed. This is done simply to stop any unwanted surprises for the crowd in terms of dropped audio or suddenly having an open crossfader mid-set.

This feature is implemented with a great deal of thought and works brilliantly. No longer will you have to stand and watch the crowd while you spin the latest jiggy top 40 tunes- you can stand and bust Aaaaah all night long in your cans and the crowd will be none the wiser. Good work Ecler.

Other Stuff

Ecler HAK 380 Review

Ummm... there's not much left actually. There's a mic channel with gain and 2 band EQ controls, 2 x master out controls complete with flashy level warning LEDs. And finally session volume control - you know, the usual stuff. Ooooh I forgot the channel reverse switch, and it's full reverse - volume, faders, EQ - everything.

Round the back

Ecler HAK 380 review

I was trying to come up with a witty euphemism for "more ins and outs than" but I couldn't think of anything clean to write but needless to say the 380 is fully featured in the inputs and outputs department. It has the essential RCA line/phono channel inputs (switchable on the top) as well as a session input whereas the send/receive loop utilises RCAs rather the more conventional jacks. Unusually, there's 2 microphone inputs - one jack as well as an XLR.

But it's the outputs where the 380 shows it's pro pedigree. There are 2 main outputs - one with balanced XLR, RCA and one with unbalanced RCAs. Both outs have a +6db boost switch - OUT1 is an easily accessible toggle on the outside whereas OUT2 can be configured inside the case with some bridges. There's also a switch to convert both outputs to mono. There's also a useful 3rd output that can be used for direct recording to an external source like a laptop. Usefully, there's also an additional minijack headphone output as well on the front.

Summing up

Eclr HAK 380 reviewI'm going to get the negatives out of the way first. The FX loop change isn't good. While wet and dry and FX monitoring has been added, the lack of channel control is for some a step backward. And while the 380 isn't in any danger of falling apart, the slightly wobbly controls do bother me. And why move the line faders to make them harder to use?

Now the price. When first announced, and at the original time of writing, the 380 was a bank balance hurting £649. "But Mr Ecler" I pleaded, "Sure it's a great mixer but look around - prices aren't what they used to be. Can't you shave something off and make it more competitive?". Well after some boardroom fisticuffs, the price has been reduced - now it's coming in at a much better £575, a price point that made this review worthy of a slight rework. And the 360 has got a price drop to £399 as well.

The 380 is still in the mid-high range bracket and is a fair amount of money to spend on a scratch mixer. You'd have to spend time with the 380 to work out if you think it's worth the money to you, but at £575, it's a lot more attractive than it was before.

There's no doubt in my mind that the 380 is a worthy upgrade to the 360. All the things that irked me and many others about the 360 have been fixed, transforming a good mixer with a fantastic fader into a world class scratch mixer. Although it bothered me at first, I totally understand the logic behind rationalising the layout in line with the rest of the market. The Scratch Cue is also a great addition as is the FX cue. But for me, the greatest improvement is with the fader curves. Full and complete curves and reverses plus independent curves and infinite lag adjust on the crossfader make this as close to scratch perfection as you can get. If you just scratch and have no need for effects, the Ecler HAK 380 could well be the mixer of choice.

Ratings

Build Quality - 8/10
Sleek and robust, but not especially heavyweight.

Sound Quality - 9/10
Eclers have a particular sound and it's very pleasing to the ear.

Features and implementation - 9/10
While the FX loop disappoints, Everything else is great, especially the faders and curves.

Value for money - 8/10
Better than the original launch price and still quite expensive in the market, but money well spent.

Pros:
• The faders and curves
• Layout (except the line faders)
• Scratch Cue

Cons
• FX loop implementation
• The distance between line faders

The Bottom Line

If you're not concerned with the FX loop or the price, the Ecler HAK 380 is a scratch purists dream.





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