Audio / Buying Guide

Digital Mixer Roundup

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With each passing year, the quality of power supplies, preamplifiers, analog-to-digital converters, and DSP technology improves. We are fortunate to live in a time where there is now a wide variety of digital mixers available for live sound and theater applications. This overview will explore some of the products currently available from several manufacturers, and the unique features they offer.

Allen and Heath

GLD-80 and GLD-112  The Allen and Heath GLD series of digital mixers is built upon the company’s high-end iLive series of mixers. With plug-and-play expansion I/O stage-boxes, you can max out the input count at 48 channels. The GLD-80 version features 20 faders in four layers, and the GLD-112 features 48 fader strips in four layers.

With eight embedded plug-in FX engines and compression on all channels, the mixers pack the necessary features to meet the demands of the modern club or venue. For controls, they feature both analog-style channel processing control sections, as well as a graphical 8.4" touchscreen.

An automatic mic mixer makes mixing conferences, panel talks, and TV shows easy, and a stereo signal may be recorded or played from a USB memory stick. I/O option cards for Dante, MADI, EtherSound, and Allen & Heath’s ACE protocols ensure they can be integrated with other mixing and recording systems.

QU -16, 24, 32, PAC Digital Mixing Consoles  The Allen and Heath QU series of 48 kHz/24-bit digital mixers feature models with 16, 24, and 32 recallable AnalogiQ preamplifiers, plus 1, as many 100mm motorized faders (including the master), and five cores of ARM processing for powering the integrated iLive FX. They allow you to record audio to a Mac computer or a USB hard drive. An iPad app is available for wireless mixing.   

For the most portable solution in the QU series, Allen and Heath offers the QU-PAC, with 16 recallable AnalogiQ preamps, 12 mix outputs, a 32 x 32 USB recording interface, and four FX engines.

I especially appreciate the form factor. It’s as if Allen and Heath took the faders off a QU-16 and then folded the chassis around itself with control available via the 5" touchscreen or an iPad app.  

Additional inputs can be added to the QU series mixers via a dSnake AR2412 (24x input, 12x output) or AR84 (8x input, 4x output) stagebox.  

BBE Sound

MP24M  A neat and complete 24-channel digital mixing desk with 48 kHz/24-bit resolution and 32-bit floating SHARC DSP processors is the BBE MP24M.

This intuitively laid out mixer comes with a road case and uses the company’s BBE MASS Class-A Twin Servo microphone preamps with full-parametric EQ, compressor, gate, delay, and polarity reversal. 100 scenes can be recalled for a wide range of studio and stage applications.  

A defining feature of the board is the inclusion of the company’s BBE Sonic Maximixer—a processor that adjusts the phase relationship and timing of different harmonics within the frequency spectrum.

Behringer

X32 (Core, Rack, Producer, Compact, Full Size)  Behringer made a major impact on digital mixing when it released the X32 into the market. For the price of a medium-tier analog board—small venues, houses of worship, rental companies, and bands now could access a level of DSP processing and advanced features usually found in digital mixers costing five to 10 times the price.

The back story of how the X32 platform came to be is quite interesting. Behringer’s parent company, the Music Group, bought both Midas and Klark Teknik in 2009. At first, many people bemoaned the acquisition, fearing that it would lead to compromises in the quality of their products. What the complainers don’t appreciate is that Music Group provided the financial backing to deliver the flagship projects of both Midas and Klark Teknik to a global market at an unprecedented price.  

Because of this, the X32 platform has become one of the best-selling digital mixing platforms in history.

The X32 is available in a full-size version with 32 MIDAS designed preamps, a compact version with 16 pres, a producer version with 16 pres, a 3RU rackmount version with 16 pres, and a 1RU core version without inputs that requires the use of a Cat5-connected stagebox.  

All of the versions feature 40-bit floating point DSP engines that enable extensive FX processing (with emulations of classic outboard gear from companies such as Lexicon and Quantec), as well as varying layers of remote control using Behringer’s XiQ, XiCOntrol, and XControl apps.   

Extensive routing capabilities, recallable scenes, network stageboxes and direct connection to Turbosound iQ powered speakers, and an expansion card slot for USB/Firewire, ADAT, MADI and Dante cards are some of the features that have made this mixing platform a favorite in small and large venues alike.

X Air (XR, XR12, XR16, XR18, and X18)  To make much of the X32 platform’s technology even more accessible, Behringer offers the , XR12, XR16, XR18 stagebox style digital mixers, as well as the X18 Compact 18-input digital iPad/Tablet mixer.

The mixers feature Midas-designed preamplifiers on combo XLR/TRS connectors, Dugan Auto-Mixing for managing the levels of several simultaneous live microphones, a 100-band Real Time Analyzer, rack-mountable ears, MIDI I/O, multi-track recording to a computer, and a built-in Wi-Fi router for remote control via a variety of app platform (iOS, Android, PC/MAC/Linux).


Mackie

DL-806, DL-1608, and DL32R  Mackie was one of the first manufacturers to bring a digital mixer to the market. The range starts with the DL-806 and DL-1608, which are hybrid analog/digital mixers designed to cradle an iPad (without digitally controllable preamps) and extends up to the 3RU rack-mountable DL32R, which features 32 Onyx+ fully digitally controllable preamps and three FX processors using SHARC chips.

Among the features that make the DL32R special are the comprehensive EQ and dynamic insert processing on each channel, an AES digital output, a fully routable digital matrix, an expansion card slot to enable Dante connectivity, and the ability to selectively lock out functionality on multiple connected iPads using the company’s Master Fader control app.   

Midas

M32, 32R, 32C  When Music Group acquired Midas, they refinanced the company’s R&D efforts that eventually became the Behringer X32 digital mixing platform that can now be found in venues all over the world. Just as Honda and Toyota manufacture higher-end luxury brands in the form of Acura and Lexus, the X32 software architecture is also available under the Midas brand, but with some noteworthy differences beyond the company’s iconic and rider-friendly logo.

  1. While the X32 uses “Midas-designed preamps,” the M32 line of mixers use true Midas Pro Pres. Side-by-side comparisons of the mixer have been conducted by users online to discern this difference and while both mixers have great preamps, the M32 and M32R mixers, as well as the DL16, and DL32 stageboxes have that distinctive warm Midas sound that people have come to know and love .
  2. The M32 and M32R use Midas Pro grade 100mm faders that are faster, more precise, and rated for 1,000,000 cycles.
  3. The M32 features latency compensation for FX sends and returns.
  4. The M32 is housed in a nicer, more ergonomically laid out chassis that was designed by Bentley Motors, with a carbon fiber wrist rest.
  5. The promise of future 96 kHz support.

Whether these features justify the difference in price really depends on your application. There are three available models: the full-size M32 is closest to the full-size X32. The 19" rack-mountable M32R is close in size to the X32 Producer, and the M32C is comparable to the X32 Core and requires the DL16 or DL32 stagebox for I/O.

Pro 3, 6, 9, and X  B&H also carries the top-end MIDAS PRO 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, and X models of digital mixers. These systems operate with a resolution of 96 kHz, have interchangeable and redundant power supplies, feature automatic time alignment, include wireless remote control using the MIXTENDER App for iPad, and have the capacity for high I/O counts (up to 288 inputs and 294 outputs) via HyperMAC and AES50 networking. 

These systems are assembled à la carte, depending upon the I/O requirements of the end user, and are intended for professional music venues and concert halls.

Presonus

Studiolive 16.4.2AI, 24.4.2AI, 32.4.2Ai  The coolest thing about Presonus is the way its hardware and software products work together as elements in a larger system ecology. For example, the Coaxial drivers on which Dave Gunness consulted are found in both the Sceptre series of studio monitors, as well as the company’s line of Studioliove Loudspeakers (312AI, 315AI, 328AI). So if you own a venue that doubles as a recording studio, you could rest assured that your mixes or backing tracks would translate coherently when played both in the studio and on stage. It’s a similar story with this company’s mixers.

Presonus offers three models of Active Integration digital mixers that feature faders, with 16, 24, and 32 inputs, as well as four sub-groups and an optional Dante card. They feature the company’s High-Headroom XMAX Microphone Preamps, dual fat channel signal processing, four 32-bit stereo DSP FGX processors, and wireless control via the StudioLive Remote app. You can daisy-chain two mixers together if your application requires even more I/O. Integrated Smaart measurement technology enables precise system calibration and is optimized for use with the aforementioned Studiolive PA speakers.

The term Active Integration refers to the hardware and software ecosystem that enables the settings of a session to be shared over a wired or wireless network using 32-bit floating point DSP. This streamlines the workflow in recording, performance, and mixing applications. Presonus even acquired Nimbit, an online digital distribution platform, so that a venue or studio can help bands advertise, sell merchandise, and be tipped electronically by the audience. It’s a really neat system with a lot of great features across the hardware (mixers and PA speakers) and software product lines. I’ll save a more in-depth overview of the Presonus ecosystem for a future time.  

RM16AI and RM32AI  If you’re committed to the stage-box-like form factor of the Behringer X32 rack or Mackie DL32R, Presonus also offers the RM16AI and RM32AI rack-mountable mixers.

These use Burr-Brown Converters with 96 kHz 24-bit resolution and occupy either 3RU or 4RU units of space, depending on whether you want 16 inputs or 32 inputs. They Include a 2x Firewire + S/PDIF digital outputs that can be replaced with a Dante card, a fan-less design using a large rear heat sink, MIDI I/O, mirrored rear panel I/O on D-Sub connectors, and wireless support for iPad and Windows 8 touchscreens.

To accompany the RM line of mixers, Presonus recently released the CS18AI Ethernet/AVB Control Surface with 18-Touch Faders. The control surface has adjustable-color RGB select buttons, a 4.3" color touch-sensitive display, sixteen scribble strips, two TRS line level inputs, two XLR line level outputs, and a stereo headphone output with level control.

You can use the device to control up to 64 channels via Ethernet when connected to an RM series rackmount mixer with extensive support and integration with Studio One.  

QSC

Touchmix-8 and Touchmix-16  QSC, the California-based manufacturer known for its amplifiers and professional loudspeakers, has expanded its product lineup with the new Touchmix-8 and Touchmix-16 digital mixers.

They feature 8 and 16 respective inputs (with four-on XLR/TRS combo connectors), four-band full parametric EQ, four stereo DSP effects engines (with pitch correction), eight DCA groups, eight mute groups, and multi-track recording directly to a hard drive. 

The Touchmix gets its name from the unit’s color touchscreen, which can be used along with the platform’s iPad app to control the mixer’s functions.

Both models come with a USB Wi-Fi adapter, as well as a convenient carrying case, which makes the Touchmix a very portable solution for live mixing.

Update: QSC has just released version 2.1 of its firmware, which promises improved stability and reliability, as well as support for MIDI-over-USB footswitches, the option to omit output settings from scene recall, a multi-language info system (English, Mandarin Chinese, French, German, Russian, Spanish), and assignable Aux to Main L/R. 

Soundcraft

Ui12 and Ui16  Soundcraft, as part of the Harmon Group, offers a rich selection of digital mixers for a wide variety of applications.

B&H carries the full line, starting from the entry-level Ui12 and Ui16 Wi-Fi-enabled stage-box-style digital mixers all the way up to the flagship Soundcraft Vi7000 console. I’ll quickly run through the options.

The Ui Series was developed after the acquisition of SM Pro Audio. What’s especially cool about these Wi-Fi-controllable, stage-box-style mixers is that they don’t require an app. Rather, any device that has a Wi-Fi antenna, such as a mobile phone, tablet, or computer that can open an HTML web browser, will be able to control the mixer.

I own one of these mixers, and found this feature to be extremely helpful while mixing a three-day music festival on the beach. What happens if your iPad goes down, is broken, or stolen? You carry on with your phone, someone else’s phone, or any other device that can connect to a Wi-Fi network, and open a browser. You can even connect up to 10 devices to the mixer at one time for redundancy and multiple points of control.

Another feature that I appreciate are the dual USB drive slots that allow you to play back music directly (with the Ui 12 and Ui 16) and record (Ui 16 only) a stereo mix of the band’s sets.

The mixer features signal processing from some of Harman’s brands such as dbx (feedback control), Digitech (guitar and bass amp modeling), and Lexicon (reverbs). It also features four-band parametric EQ, a high-pass filter, a compressor, a de-esser, and a noise gate on the input channels. A Real-Time Analyzer on the inputs and outputs allows you to fine-tune the mix to your room and system.

Impact  For digital boards that include hands-on tactile control, Soundcraft offers four models.

The recently released Soundcraft Impact is a 40-input digital mixer with an integrated 32-in/32-out MADI USB audio interface, as well as iPad control. In contrast to some of the other mixers mentioned in this list, which may feature complex DSP processes or routing options in layered menu systems, the mixing experience is designed to be as simple as an analog mixer.

The board provides 32 mic pres (eight on XLR/TRS combo jacks), 40 DSP input channels, 31 output buses, a four-band fully parametric EQ on each channel and bus, eight VCAs, eight mute groups, four studio-grade Lexicon Effects engines, a 5" touchscreen display, optional card slot, Word Clock output, AES digital output, and 26 backlit motorized faders (with 4x fully customizable layers).  

Expression, Performer, and Vi  The new Si Impact has a lot in common with two existing mixer series from Soundcraft: the Expression and the Performer.

Both the Expression and Performer series comes in three models (1, 2, 3) with 16, 24, and 32 microphone preamps. Both feature the four advanced FX busses using the Lexicon FX engine.  The main differences are summarized in the table below.


Feature Impact Expression Performer
Total Mix Channels 40 64 80
DMX Lighting Control No No Yes
VCAs  8 No 8
Parametric EQ 4-Band 2-Band 4-Band
Card Slots 2 1 2
LED Scribble Strips for Labeling Channels Yes No Yes
Input Fader Count (for Impact, Expression 3, Performer 3) 24 30 30
Switchable Rotary Controls on Channels for Gain, Filter, Pan Yes No Yes
XLR/TRS Combo Jacks 8 No No

B&H also carries Soundcraft’s flagship Vi5000 and Vi7000 digital mixing boards for professional venues and houses of worship. These feature the company’s Vistonics system, whereby rotary encoders and switches appear directly on the mixers’ touch interface screens. Each interface controls eight input channels and consists of a touchscreen with 16 rotary encoders and 16 switches—offering control over such functions as routing, input gain, digital gain trim, delay, high pass filters, low pass filters, a four-band fully parametric EQ, compressor, limiter, gate, de-esser, pan, and immediate access to visual status displays.

The mixers also include the company’s FaderGlow technology that changes the backlit color of the fader banks to correspond to different functions that the faders control.   

The console’s Vi Series Processor card enables eight independent stereo Lexicon multi-effects units, each providing 14 reverbs, seven delays, and eight pitch shift effects that can be patched to input channels, auxiliary outputs, and channel inserts.

The Vi consoles also work with the Soundcraft Realtime Rack, a 1RU effects processor that hosts universal Audio studio plug-ins with 48 kHz sub-2 millisecond latency, a full snapshot store and recall, as well as redundant power supplies. The unit is available in two versions: the Ultimate Live Edition, with 74 available plug-ins, and the Rack Core Live version, with 14 available plug-ins.  

Tascam

DM-3200 and DM-4800  Available in 32-channel (DM-3200) and 64-channel (DM-4800) versions, Tascam’s digital mixing consoles are suitable for large-scale recording studios, as well as live-sound recording.

Fully featured with ADAT, SPDIF, and AES/EBU digital I/O, expansion cards for different formats, as well as extensive DSP and 96 kHz/24-bit resolution, they deliver studio-quality sound in a form factor best suited for installed applications.

At more than 100 lb, a 3 x 3' footprint and no remote tablet control, the DM-4800 might not be the best choice for touring, but would certainly shine in a hybrid studio/venue applications.   

Toa Electronics

M-864D  If your input channel requirements are modest and you are looking for a digital mixer with great sound quality, traditional tactile fader control, and a convenient 4U rack-mountable form factor, consider the Toa M-864D Digital Stereo Mixer.

The mixer features eight monaural Mic/Line input channels, seven stereo input channels, and six output channels, including four bus-assignable monaural output channels, as well as one stereo recording output channel.

Advanced processing in the mixer includes Automatic Resonance Control (ARC), Feedback Suppression (FBS), Automatic stereo input mute (Auto Mute or Ducker), and an Equalizer. You can perform advanced acoustic compensation without the use of acoustic measuring devices. The 14 analog volume filters provide hands-on control, while PC connection and an iPad GUI software enable advanced configuration and remote operation.    

Yamaha

TF1, TF3, TF5, and 02R96VCM  Last, but not least (as this roundup is organized alphabetically), B&H carries two series of Yamaha’s digital mixing consoles.

Available with 16 (TF1), 24 (TF3), and 32 (TF5) analog XLR/TRS combo mic/line inputs, as well as a stereo pair of analog RCA line inputs and 16 analog XLR outputs, the TF digital mixing series feature 17 (TF1), 25 (TF3), and 33 (TF5) motorized faders, EQ and compression on each channel, eight FX processors, and a touchscreen for control. The D-PRE microphone preamps are fully recallable and the board can multi-track to a computer via a 34 x 34 USB 2.0 interface or 2 x 2 recording to a USB storage device. The channel counts can be expanded using the company’s Tio 1608-D I/O rack.

B&H also carries Yamaha’s 02R96VCM 24/96 Digital Recording Console, which features advanced integration with DAW software such as Nuendo and Pro Tools. It utilizes select virtual circuitry modeling digital effects to model classic analog compressors and EQs, and REV-X reverb.

The mixer can handle up to 56 channels at 24-bit 96 kHz resolution and is suitable for 5.1 surround mixing with the included joystick. The two FX processors operate at 96 kHz and some of the effects are designed specifically for surround. Twenty-five motorized faders provide tactile control, while four expansion slots allow the mixer to support all 56 inputs. MIDI and Word Clock I/O are also included. The mixer is appropriate for both live and studio applications.

Conclusion

With new advancements in preamplifier, analog-to-digital converters, and DSP processing capabilities, the new breed of digital mixers is destined to become increasingly popular throughout the world.

From wireless units smaller than a stagebox to professional consoles designed for live venues and concert halls, B&H has a wide variety of solutions to serve every application. I hope you enjoyed this roundup and encourage you to learn more about all of the products mentioned, through www.BHPhoto.com, online via Live Chat, or by speaking with a pro audio expert at 1-800-606-6969.  

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The avaialability of so many digital mixers is exciting though there are very few to choose from for us wanting a small configuration for use in live performance and home recording. Your article has informed me of the SoundCraft UI12 which may be just the small affordable unit I've been waiting for. I'm very glad to hear you own and actively use this unit and talking from experience is the best review. How does the mixer/sound processor stack up to the boutique, well known named preamps as well as over all sonic quality?

Thanks for any additional information you can shed on this device.

Hi Brad -

Thank you for your interest in the Soundcraft Ui12.  While upon release, there was an issue with some discernible amount of noise in the UI’s preamps, a firmware update remediated this issue and the mixer sounds very clean overall.  As far as comparing the preamps to the likes of say a Neve, API, Earthworks, or a Midas Pro 1 – each of these will have a distinctive warmth and character.  Fortunately, the UIs onboard effects allow a lot of flexibility in shaping the tonality of your mix.  Overall, I think it’s a very good sounding mixer with a great feature set, intuitive user interface, and super convenient form factor.  Thanks for reading. 
Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions: askbh@bandh.com    

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