Zorx Electronics
TX-6 Field Mixer - Teenage Engineering

TX-6 Field Mixer - Teenage Engineering

by Ian Rapp

Having recently released their own beer as well a set of singing wooden AI dolls [which I have yet to try, but love their look and sound], and a sleek work table, it’s as impossible to predict what Swedish outfit Teenage Engineering are likely to release as it is to figure where they get their inspiration. Another perfect example is their tiny TX-6 Field Mixer. I would never have thought you could make a hardware mixer with this type of functionality in this size, and I’m not sure I would have thought there would be much point in doing so, but before I expound on what I think about the TX-6, let’s get down to brass tacks as it’s impossible to talk about TX-6 without instantly addressing the two most obvious talking points first: the size and the price. Yes, the TX-6 is small. Really small. Smaller than I’d imagined before I held it in my hand. And yes, it’s pricey. All right. Now that we got those two subjects out of the way—though we’ll talk a bit more about them later—we can dive into what it is, what it does, and what it does differently and/or better than other things that are bigger, different, and/or less expensive.
First, I really like the size. It's small, but also alluring and there’s something about it that makes me want to hold it, to learn it, and to use it. Call it GAS, call it stupid, call it whatever, but that’s just how it is. Gear that is fun to use, that you want to use, will get used. TX-6 feels good in hand, like a good wrench, or a perfectly balanced chef's knife. My biggest concern with TX-6 was whether or not it would warrant the price and putting up with those tiny knobs, not that TE’s preference for small knobs is surprising to me. I favorably reviewed their POM-400 modular back in Waveform, issue #8 and am accustomed to the contortion of fingers sometimes necessary to tweak things like a filter cutoff or a step in sequence or whatever, and I’ve accepted this aspect of some of their devices. I've moved on, and I'm better for it. I guess.
Throughout my modular journey I’ve tried out numerous options for mixers; 4, 8, and 12-channel studio mixers, all types of Eurorack mixers, various DAW interfaces going into Ableton, and on and on. I’ve found that one mixer doesn’t fit every situation and I was interested to see how well the TX-6 worked as a field mixer. I had some things that sort of worked when out in the field, but nothing that promised what the TX-6 offers, with its size, functions, and rechargeable battery. Some of the size issues with the TX-6 did have me feeling some trepidation, like the fact that the spacing between the inputs is so tight that you need to use cables that are on the slim side in order to use any inputs that are directly next to each other, and whether or not my shaky hands and fingers would be able to work the small knobs precisely. Make no mistake, those knobs are miniscule [think kabob skewer] and tucked together closely. Luckily, both of those issues turned out mostly fine and TX-6’s functionality, versatility, fluidity, and sound quality had me forgetting those potential annoyances pretty quickly. Also, it’s important to recognize that the small knobs, etc., aren’t a design flaw, they are a design choice. There’s a huge difference in meaning, and it’s apparent that Teenage Engineering takes both choice and design in their products very seriously, something I’m grateful for. Is there anything within TX-6 that wasn't pored over to the nth degree? I don't think so.
The TX-6 is touted as a 6-channel field mixer, but that’s a bit like saying that a Swiss Army Knife is a knife. It’s a field recorder, a mixer, a synth, a drum machine, instrument tuner, a sequencer, and much more. It supports MIDI, USB, and Bluetooth, and is battery-powered. It has built-in effects, controls that can be customized, and with some adapters can be turned into a 12-channel mixer. That’s a lot of functionality for something that’s roughly the size of a cassette tape.
First impressions count, and the TX-6 is a beautiful machine, reminding me of a well-made watch. Even when I unpackaged it, my mom [I was visiting the folks] commented that it looked like I was opening up fancy jewelry. The aluminum body is elegant and the small monochromatic screen works well, with the ability to read it from any angle, in any lighting condition, and with two modes [dark and light] to choose from to suit your tastes. The SELECT knob feels good, and along with the SHIFT button and other buttons make the menu system pretty easy to navigate. I found that while this is a deep machine, everything is usually at most two presses away, and finding my way around was pretty painless. Actually, the trickiest part was when I was trying to reconfigure the inputs from stereo to mono as I couldn't find any menus for this. It turns out that since I powered on the TX-6 with cables already patched into the inputs I inadvertently bypassed the input select menu. Un-patching and then re-patching the inputs automatically brought up the correct screen to configure each input to my liking, with the ability to choose between balanced mono, stereo, mono, or split mode. While most people may think of Teenage Engineering’s design focus to be on the hardware end of things, thoughtful elements like this make the software aspect of TX-6 hold up its end of the bargain.
The six sliders feel great with the perfect amount of resistance, and the jacks feel solid as well. I'd read that some folks didn't feel the knobs were sturdy, but mine felt fine, and though close together, turned easily and controlled things nicely. Since the knobs are so close together it can be a problem for even the most nimble of us, especially the knobs in the center of the mixer. The top and bottom row are mostly fine for average-sized fingers, but those middle row knobs...Fortunately you can customize all of the knobs for each track so that you can assign often-tweaked parameters to the top and bottom knobs and the less-used ones to the middle row, a decent enough workaround for that issue, though it still felt like I was bending a bit, trying to make it work as opposed to it just working. But it did work, so…
Cycling through the effects and track options is, again, intuitive and thoughtful and the effects sound great. The ability to dial in the desired amount per track of reverb or delay via EFX 1 is killer, and utility functions in EFX 2, like EQ, gain amount, and compression, are super handy. I especially like being able to use one knob to control both the HPF and the LPF, and the freeze function, distortion, and the tape head effects were fun and useful as well. I would love to see more tweakability and options for the reverb and delay effects, and an onboard LFO or two for use in auto-panning to get a little more dynamic movement would be nice as well, and if there’s any way to use an input to handle incoming patched in CV to route for panning, effects, etc…Perhaps we'll see some of that in future firmware updates as we’ve already seen two really nice updates for TX-6 since its release.
Patched up with all six inputs occupied and headphones in the main output, it was a little odd getting used to. I had to be mindful not to drag a patch cable with my arm, potentially scooting it across the table and off the edge, leaving it dangling by the shorter of the cables. I mentioned it already, but it deserves mention again that TX-6 sounds great. With or without effects, the sound was pristine with no perceptible noise coming from the machine itself. Battery time was impressive as well, and even after four hours of continuous use it still held a 35% charge—a great sign for remote work.
I really didn’t spend much time with TX-6 as a synth or drum machine, though it can be those; I have better instruments for those purposes and if I was out in the field and needed either, I’d come prepared with them. Still, the built in synth/drum machine/sequencer was a surprise. I was really thinking it would be a total waste, and while it’s probably not something that I’ll be returning to often, it was fun to play around with for a bit, and I can see a few useful applications for it, especially with the ability to either sequence the chosen sounds [tones or drum sounds] or play them individually. Overall though, TX-6 is a mixer/recorder and that’s what it will be primarily used as in my world. Besides, you can turn almost any phone into either of those and then patch that into the TX-6, right?
There are a bevy of other functions within TX-6, like an instrument tuner, a DJ Tuner mode that lets you use TX-6 like a DJ mixer—which I’d love to see someone rock a house party with—and all sorts of MIDI, Bluetooth, USB, and sync settings for getting along with your other devices. TX-6 also lets you record and playback 48 kHz 24-bit pcm stereo wav files with a USB type-c flash drive. At first I thought it was a bit of a shame that it doesn’t record to a micro SD card or internal storage so that there are no extra protrusions coming from the device, but when it’s all patched up it doesn’t really matter anyway. Along with that, you can plug in a headset mic, which is a nice and compact way to be able to record external sounds into TX-6, and is pretty practical. If you want real fidelity you’ll need to get a better mic, but my headset mic sounded pretty good overall and you can add the internal effects to pretty it up, which is nice.
Sure, you can get any number of 6 [or 12 or 24 or...] channel mixers for a lot less money and bigger knobs, but as someone who’s used mixers of all sorts for decades I can tell you it won’t be nearly as much fun. Maybe I'm a sucker, maybe I'm drinking the Kool-Aid [or beer, in Teenage Engineering's case], or maybe TE has really hit on something oft-overlooked: a mixer that's functional and fun, portable and playable, tech-y and tactile. Paired with the OP-1 Field, some Pocket Operators, and an iPhone, laptop, or tablet, and you’ve got a fun, extremely powerful—and mostly portable—system. Whether you think the TX-6 is worth its weight in aluminum [x50???] is of course subjective, but make no mistake; the TX-6 is a serious—and seriously cool—piece of kit.

Price: $1199