Well friends, summer is near and many of you will be preparing for long days in the sun. Here at LightSoundJournal, we’d like to make your days working out in the heat (or maybe rain knowing the Great British climate…) as productive as possible. With this in mind, we are delighted to present the first in a series of guides to the “tools of the trade” that will be used by many freelance technicians up and down the country.
We’ll start off talking about audio – specifically “live” digital mixers. This is arguably one of the most important choices to make when deciding on an audio setup. But which audio mixer should you choose? How do we find the most suitable mixer for our needs, deciding which format, how many channels and which interfaces?
Although this article is mainly targeted at small to medium service providers, there will also be interest to a wide range of providers. We all know the problems that transportation and storage limitations can pose, so the goal here is to create a “database” of the products that can appease these problems. All products here fall in the price bracket of under 5000 euros, so certainly those considered to be in the entry level segment of the market. Prices have been calculated using available prices from the major European online stores, but of course you may be able to find these products even cheaper at distributors and “physical” stores.
On closer inspection, even products within this prince bracket can be evaluated in the same manner as far more expensive mixers. However, users must be aware of the potential limitations that these consoles may pose; whether it be a limitation to the number of channels, less combat ability with major digital signal transportation standards, or even compromises to the objective sound quality of the mixers in question.
We know by contrast that the most decisive factors in this market segment are those of weight, size and scalability. This is because, as often happens, the applications of these mixers will vary massively from one job to another. A range of personnel with an equally diverse range of knowledge bases will move them from venue to venue, for different purposes.
Obviously we will not be the ones to make a numerical ranking or to direct you towards one model over another, but the hope is that this guide you give a clearer idea of the mixers available on the market and which one might be best suited to your use.
Based on the above criteria, let’s get started! Here is the list of mixers that we will be comparing:
- Behringer X32
- QSC TouchMix-30 Pro
- Allen & Heath SQ5
- Presonus StudioLive 32
- Soundcraft Si Impact
- Midas M32 Live
- Yamaha TF-5
X32 is the largest mixer in its series, one that also comprises of Rack, Compact and Producer models. It has 32 recallable channels, distributed across two 16-channel layers. Alongside we find 16 mix buses equipped with inserts, 6-band parametric EQ and dynamics processing.
The console was designed in collaboration with Klark Teknik and features cirrus A/D converters. On-board, we find 32 balanced XLR analogue inputs with microphone preamplifiers, six 1/4″ TRS inputs, 16 balanced XLR analog outputs, 6 ¼ “TRS ouputs, 2 XLR outputs for the LR and 2 1/4” TRS outputs for the “monitor / control room” section. We also have 2 headphone connectors and a talkback section, which can use either the integrated or an external microphone.
X32 has a Virtual FX Rack section, with 8 True-Stereo slots (16 mono) for the simulation of some of the most famous outboards, as well as Gate and Compressor on each channel. There are 6 groups of Mutes for immediate access, and 8 DCA groups on 8 dedicated motorized faders.
The Channel Strip section offers 16 backlit keys with 12 rotary controls, equipped with circular LEDs to work on the preamp, Gate, parametric EQ and effects section.
It features Ethernet, AES / EBU, FireWire and USB connectivity for remote control or to use the unit as a powerful sound card. Each Input / Output has a color screen and backlit to indicate the instrument entering or the type of output, in addition to the main 7 inch LCD screen. It can be remote-controlled via Wi-Fi from a tablet thanks to its dedicated App.
Dimensions of the unit measure at 90 x 53 cm, with a height of 20 cm for a total weight of 20.6 kg (not including flightcase).
The X32 is one of the cheapest options in the lineup, which is probably one of the main reasons why it divides opinions. Despite the low price-point and budget brand, it has a complete feature-set and can depend on the technological contributions of Behringer’s parent company Music Group, one of the largest groups in the audio world and who also owns the prestigious Midas brand. The general layout of the console could now be considered to be a little dated, especially due to the small screen with limited graphics.
QSC TouchMix-30 Pro
TouchMix-30 Pro is a compact mixer with 32 onboard channels, 24 of which feature Class A inputs, alongside 6 line inputs. It is the largest of the Touch series, which also consists of the TouchMix-8 and TouchMix-16 models.
The console has 16 configurable outputs, including 14 Aux mixes, which offer ample flexibility in signal management. Alongside we find a 10-inch multi-touch enabled touch screen for surface control, as well as 8 subgroups with 6-band parametric EQ, high-pass and low-pass filters.
TouchMix-30 Pro features two real-time spectrum analyzers (RTA) that provide an instant view of the tonal balance and acoustic response of a channel. Thanks to the onboard Anti-Feedback and Room Tuning Wizards, workflow can be simplified for any level of user.
The console also allows for 32 channels of recording and direct playback, so can be used both as a sound card if required. These tracks can also recalled to achieve a virtual soundcheck.
With 6 FX Engines with DSP (Reverb, Echo, Delay, Chorus, Pitch Shift) plus Gate and Compressor on each channel, there’s plenty of FX options to choose from. There’s two USB slots onboard for playing MP3 files directly from a stick, and the console can be remote controlled via Wi-Fi using the dedicated iPad App. Dimensions of the Touchmix-30 Pro are 43 x 46 cm with a height of 19 cm for a total weight of 7.9 kg (not including flightcase).
The TouchMix has is a really compact, light and modern option. The large central screen really stands out, especially with its virtual faders. Considering that this mixer falls under £1500 wilst considering what it can offer, it poses a great quality to price ratio. The absence of physical faders may be difficult to digest for some, but this is arguably the “price to pay” for the console to remain so very compact and portable.
Allen & Heath SQ5
Allen & Heath offers a range of different models within this price range, but we have chosen to look at the SQ5 thanks to its expandability. This is the smallest model of the SQ series, which also comprises of the SQ6 and SQ7 models. In general, this line is generally considered to be of a higher market position than the company’s Qu Series, which is also very popular in the small to medium markets.
SQ5 has 16 microphone inputs with integrated preamplifiers expandable up to 48 thanks to the S-Link port that allows interfacing with an external Stage box. The channels are controlled by 16 motorized Faders, the physical outputs are 12 xlr (of which 10 Aux and two for L R) also expandable up to 36.
Each of the 48 inputs has HPF, a gate with side-chain and filter, a 4-band parametric equalizer and a Peak / RMS compressor for controlling and shaping the levels and transients. The mixes have both a parametric and 28-band graphic EQ, as well as the standard compressor.
SQ5 is equipped with 8 stereo FX engines and, thanks to the RackExtra library, you can find emulations of many reverbs, delays and more. Each effect has its own dedicated stereo return, so it is not necessary to use any of the 48 input channels for these.
The SQ dashboard centers on a high-resolution 7″ capacitive touchscreen, framed by a series of illuminating encoders that allow immediate and practical control of many functions. Channels and mixes can be dragged and dropped onto any strip, with custom names and color-coding on the displays of each fader. SQ is also expandable to the Dante network and, thanks to the integrated SQ-Drive, allows for 96 kHz stereo or multi-track recording directly onto an external USB or HD.
Its dimensions are 44 x 51.5 cm with a height of 20 cm for a total weight of 10.5 kg (not including flightcase).
The SQ series was introduced to bridge the gap between the cheaper Qu series and the more expensive GLD consoles, aiming to offer the public a flexible, complete and well-built product. Despite its small size, it has the structure of a high-end console and ensures a more than adequate audio result with very low latency. The general finish and materials used give the console a premium feel. To some, getting used to the Allen & Heath workflow may require some practice and confidence, but it offers many shortcuts to increase speed of workflow.
Presonus StudioLive 32
StudioLive 32 represents the third generation of the series, one that also includes 16 and 24 channel models. StudioLove 32 features 16 XLR Microphone Inputs, as well as 16 XLR/TRS mic/line combo inputs. There’s 32 PreSonus Recallable XMAX preamps, and 33 fully programmable touch-sensitive motorized faders.
The mixer allows for direct recording onto SD card or on USB, thanks to the onboard slots provided. Through the PreSounus Capture software, the console can also be used as a sound card for multitrack recording.
It is equipped with several plug-ins that emulate vintage Equalizer models, as well as some of the most famous and historic compressors. These feature preset libraries for drums, bass, guitar, vocals etc, which can be useful for speeding up mixes. In addition, each Input and Output channel is equipped with a 6-band parametric equalizer, compressor, limiter and spectrum analyzer.
StudioLive 32 offers a flexible design that allows the user to customize their work surface and layout. It also allows for up to 24 DCAs to be created and has 4 buses for internal effects, plus 4 analog inserts for external machines. The connections are completed by 16 analogue outputs, of which 12 are XLT and 4 are 1/4″ Jacks, which can be customized to be used as either Aux, Subgroup or Matrix.
StudioLive also has a color touchscreen and 32 high-resolution display strips, can be remote controlled via Wi-Fi from a tablet thanks to its “QMix” App, and can be used as a Bluetooth device to play music directly from smartphones and tablets. Its dimensions are 82 x 58 cm with a height of 16.5 cm for a total weight of 16.9 kg (not including flightcase).
StudioLive is a brand that has been appreciated by professionals for many years for providing reliable overall quality and, above all, a very simple, almost “analog-style” approach. Slightly larger and heavier than some competitors, it offers 32 physical faders but is slightly lacking in its display (although still a touch screen) and in some small keys. Despite this, it certainly represents good value for money at under £2,500.
Soundcraft Si Impact
Designed to be as simple as an analog mixer, but with digital performance, Si Impact offers 40 Input Channels (32 microphone inputs and 4 stereo 1/4” TRS channels), expandable up to 64 microphone channels thanks to the Mini Stagebox 32i. Furthermore, it is also possible to mount a MADI, Dante or further expansions, such as: AVIOM A-Net, CobraNet, AES / EBU and BLU Link, to the rear of the unit. The outputs are 16 physical outputs (of which 2 are for L-R), which are completely customizable between Aux, Matrix, etc. There’s an onboard USB audio interface, which allows for Live Recording or Virtual Soundcheck through 32-in / 32-out multitrack.
The 26 motorized faders (24 inputs + LR / Mono) feature a FaderGlow function that illuminates the track in different colors, providing information on what you are controlling, whether it be Aux send, FX send or even the graphic EQ available on each bus.
In addition to the 5″ touchscreen display, each fader channel is also equipped with a multi-color LCD display, which provides information “at a glance” on the input and output levels.
Si Impact was developed in collaboration with Lexicon, providing an effects library that can be used on four engines with dedicated FX buses. These effects include Dbx for dynamics (compression and Gate on each channel) and BSS for graphic equalizers on the outputs. On each channel there is a 4-band parametric equalizer.
The mixer can be remote controlled via Wi-Fi from a tablet through its application developed for both Apple and Android. The console has dimensions of 75 x 50 cm with a height of 16 cm and weighs about 20Kg (not including flightcase).
Si Impact is definitely another interesting console that benefits from the technological contribution of other Harmnan group brands, such as Lexicon effects, DBX dynamics and BSS equalizers. It’s very versatile also in terms of expansion and connectivity, thanks to compatibility with the main digital transport standards. Overall, it’s compact and intuitive thanks to its customizable and “user friendly” surface, though some users may take some getting used to its more “crowded” layout.
Midas M32 LIVE
The Midas M32 series consists of M32R (smaller and more compact) and digital M32 Live Console for live and studio applications. With 32-channel multitrack recording and playback, the console also features Virtual Soundcheck thanks to the integrated USB audio interface. With this project, Midas has aimed to combine the performance of the historic British consoles with modern digital technology, thanks to its 192 kHz ADC and DAC converters, which also significantly lower process latency.
M32 LIVE uses 32 Midas PRO Series mic preamps and features 25 custom-designed motorized faders, guaranteed for 1 million life cycles. The designers’ effort were focused to make the experience of using M32 LIVE intuitive, fluid and direct. This is achieved thanks to tactile controls, a 7 “color screen and the lighting of the Channel Strips that indicate the Input and Output levels. Back-lit encoders allow the user to quickly check the preamplifier, EQ, dynamics, bus send and panning settings, whilst the Sends on Fader function allows the user to quickly use the console as a stage mixer.
The Mixer also includes 8 group DCAs (Digitally Controlled Amplifier), a library of over 50 effects divided on 8 engines that emulate the most famous analog machines that have marked the history of analog audio, as well as a 100-band RTA (Real Time Analyzer) viewable in real time on each Input and Output channel.
There’s the possibility of expansion to up to 96 inputs and 96 outputs through AES50 protocol, as well as remote control over WI-FI through its own App.
The console has dimensions of 89 x 61 cm with a height of 26 cm and weighs about 25Kg (not including flight case).
Midas M32 LIVE is one of the most expensive options considered here, but can boast “noble origins”. Midas is certainly one of the most recognized and desired brands in the sector, making it one of the most widespread. Among the advantages, there’s an interface with 24 real faders, clean channel strips and screen controls that are well spaced and inclined towards the user. It offers high-quality components and materials in comparison to its competitors, but at the sacrifice of compactness and portability.
The new Yamaha TouchFlow series consists of TF-1, TF-3 and eTF-5, all of which are based around the Touch screen. There are a few potentiometers with Touch & Turn function placed next to the touch panel, as well as four User Defined potentiometers that can be assigned to control the compressor threshold, EQ gain, or other parameters that require fast and direct access during mixing. The general display, which works in both Overview and Selected Channel modes, shows the parameters of eight channels at a time.
TF-5 has 32 analog XLR/TRS combo mic/line inputs, as well as 2 analog RCA stereo line inputs. D-PRE memorable preamp, along with the console’s GainFinder function, helps the engineer to find the correct input level thanks to a coloured indicator that becomes green when optimal setup is achieved. As for the channels, over 100 presets have been created, developed in collaboration with some of the most prominent microphones manufacturers. These include brands such as Shure and Sennheiser, who have provided standard starting settings for various instrument microphones. The channel presets have parameters such as Equalization, dynamics, HPF (High Pass Filter) and much more. For the output channels, presets have been developed for speakers and in-ear monitors.
The Mixer has 33 motorized Faders (32 channels + 1 master) and 16 XLR outputs. A USB interface allows for multitrack recording and playback of 34 channels on a computer, or directly on an external HD. There’s an expansion slot for an NY64-D audio interface card, which allows for expansion to the Dante protocol for working with 128 channels (64 in / 64 out).
It is possible to manage the Mix through 8 DCA groups, 8 FX Engines based on SPX processors and 10 GEQs. The mixer can be remotely controlled via Wi-Fi, either from a tablet through the TF StageMix application, or from iOS with the TF MonitorMix application, which allows monitoring only to be managed.
The console has the dimensions of 87 x 60 cm with a height of 16 cm and weighs around 20Kg (flightcase not included).
With this console, Yamaha wants to bring its experience in the field of digital mixers to everyone. The focus on the touch screen and hardware simplification certainly indicates an evolution in both software and design, but can represent an obstacle for those who are not very familiar with “simplified” digital consoles or who suffer when there’s a lack of more physical controls. However, it is also true that Yamaha consoles have typically required a shallower learning curve and have a general approach that is more “familiar” to most.
This ends our first article dedicated to the “tools of the trade” in our sector. This time it was the turn of the digital mixers, but we will soon turn to the worlds of light, video and more. As you have read, it is not our intention to declare winners and losers because, as we have been saying for some time, there is no right product in absolute terms. The ones we have proposed in this article are already selected products and certainly comparable to each other. The choice will then depend on the budget, on the “bond” with one brand rather than another and, arguably, on the relationship with your trusted supplier. Ultimately, the best thing to do is a direct test, if only to verify the ease of operation and simplicity of use. In this sense, companies and distributors are always willing to help.
Ready for the summer season? Until next time…