CTA Review: QSC TouchMix 16, Pt. 2

Last time, we started looking at the QSC TouchMix 16 digital mixer. It’s an interesting concept; a powerful mixer in a small package with no physical faders. It relies on a touch screen—and a not very good one at that—for fader control. While I didn’t love that part, there is a lot I like. Well, except for the non-recallable head amp controls. 

Why, Oh Why?

Instead of encoders, we find analog controls that sit in two rows below the two rows of mic inputs. They are not hard to use, but making them recallable would have been nice. I know manufacturers have to cut costs somewhere to keep the price point competitive, but I really wish we could do recallable head amps on all digital mixers these days. 

Sensible Controls

A series of buttons allow the user to access the mixers deep feature set quickly. Below the phantom power and mixer power buttons are five easy-to-activate rectangle buttons labeled Wizard, Info, FX Mute, FX Master and Mute Groups. The Wizard button helps inexperienced users set gain and route channels to effects. Info is basically a help menu and is pretty good. FX Mute is a nice touch, as it kills all the effects in a single button press that is always on the surface. FX Master takes you right to the FX Master page—shocking, I know. Mute groups brings up a set of on-screen buttons for the 8 mute groups. Below those buttons are the Phones, Talk and Monitor buttons. Phones and Monitor bring up an on-screen volume indication for those two outputs. Talk does exactly what you would expect it to. That’s a common theme on this mixer; it’s laid out well and acts the way you’d expect it to. Even novice users should have no trouble getting up and running quickly. I like user interfaces that are intuitive and make sense, and this section of the TouchMix is good in that regard. 

The big knob on the lower right side of the mixer has a cool blue ring around it and there are five buttons surrounding the top half. Four are user-definable and come pre-programmed for left-right navigation, cue clear and clear clip. The final button is the channel polarity flip control. Next to the touch screen we find three more buttons; Home, Menu and Record/Play. Home takes you back to the main channel display quickly, so if you get lost, that gets you back. Menu brings up the system menu, which has a bunch of controls for how the mixer behaves, sets security, gives access to aux and effects overviews and more. Record/Play brings the transport controls to the bottom of the screen.

Easy to Use

In use, the TouchMix is fairly easy to get around on, with one caveat that I’ll get to in a minute. Routing is simple and intuitive, the display is clear and bright and I never struggled to figure out how to do something. It offers two USB ports on the back, one of which comes with a Wi-Fi adapter installed. The other can be used for any FAT-32 formatted drive and can record 22 channels; all 20 inputs plus stereo mix. You can even play them back by setting each channel to take signal from the track rather than the input. It makes for easy virtual soundcheck. 

Better With an iPad

As I mentioned last time, the biggest problem I have with the TouchMix is the touchscreen. I found it sluggish to respond and occasionally overshot my targets. The version 2.1 firmware helped some, however. The best way to use this mixer in my opinion is with an iPad. While the TouchMix can be its own Wi-Fi access point, I found it worked much more reliably when I connected it to my Airport Extreme. 

The iPad app is really quite good. Where fine selections are hard on the mixer screen, it’s easy on the iPad. All functions are available—including all set up and configuration settings—from the iPad, so after gain is set on each channel, I’d walk away and use the iPad exclusively. This is really why I wish the head amps were digitally controlled; I’d never use the surface for anything if they were. It also helps that the iPad is multi-touch; the TouchMix is not. 

An iPhone app is also available, and it’s really designed for monitor mixing. You can allow a device to access all mixes (including the main) or just one through the configuration screen, making it easy for band members to mix their own ears. 

In use, the TouchMix works well enough. When paired with an iPad, it would do well for small gigs, student rooms, ancillary rooms and the like. I suspect it was really designed for small bands to set on the side of the stage to mix their shows. It feels like a set it and forget it mixer. But it does have some cool features and the number of aux mixes is surprising for a mixer in this size and price class. I did crash it once or twice during testing, and I saw a few configuration menus that weren’t complete. A reboot cleared most of that up, and to be fair, the crashes happened right after a firmware update. There’s probably some software work left to do, but overall, it’s a decent mixer in the right application.

Today's post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

CTA Review: QSC TouchMix 16 Digital Mixer Pt. 1

When I first saw the QSC TouchMix at the NAMM show in 2014, my first impression was, “Meh.” After all, here was another small mixer with a touch screen instead of actual faders. I spent a few minutes with it and came away unimpressed. So when I was asked to review one, I looked again at the spec sheet, and my interest was piqued. 

Impressive I/O

On paper, the mixer actually does look pretty good. It cones in two versions, the 16 and 8, and aside from I/O count, they are identical. We’ll focus on the 16 input here. It’s called 16, because of the 16 mic inputs, 4 of which are combo jacks. There are also 2 stereo inputs on TRS jacks that bring the total input count to 20. There are technically 10 aux mixes on it; I say technically because 1-6 are mono, and 7/8 and 9/10 are stereo. The mono mixes leave the desk on XLRs while the stereo auxes have TRS jacks, which would make it hard to break them up. So, you really have the capability to do 8 monitor mixes, which is impressive on a mixer this size.

On most small mixers, you end up burning auxes to do effects, but not on the TouchMix. There are 4 dedicated FX busses that feed a limited selection of reverb, delay, chorus and pitch change effects. There is also a pitch-corrector processor that can be assigned to any channel. This could come in quite handy for vocalists that are, how shall we say, pitch-challenged. There are also 8 DCAs and 8 mute groups, which might be overkill on a 20 channel mixer, but there you go. 

Impressive Power

Internally, the mixer uses 32-bit floating point processing and has 24-bit AD and DA converters. It also features Class-A microphone amps which sound quite good. Each input has a four-band, fully parametric EQ, variable high and low cut filters, a gate, and compressor with a de-esser. The aux outputs also have a four-band parametric, limiter, delay and 4 notch filters for eliminating feedback in wedges. The main output substitutes a 31-band graphic EQ for the parametric. 

Other goodies include a dedicated talkback mic input, separate phones and monitor outputs (on TRS jacks), and four user-assignable buttons for quick access to common tasks. As is becoming common on small digital mixers, the TouchMix features over 100 presets for various types of inputs you’d find in a live setting. I didn’t try them all, but the ones I did were good starting points. I suspect experienced sound guys would ignore them or modify the starting points, but they may be helpful for less experienced operators. If nothing else, those starting points will get you in the ballpark quicker for those gigs when time is short. I’m not opposed to preset libraries for that reason—sometimes you just need to get close, fast.  There are also Wizards that assist in gain set up and effects selection and routing.

Physically, the mixer is quite small at roughly 13”x10”x2”. It uses an external power supply and a beefy power cord. It gets quite warm in operation, which tells me there is a lot going on under the hood. The interface is dominated by the 6”x3.5” color touch screen. It’s capacitive touch, and while it works OK for most operations, it’s not great at precision selections, nor as responsive as an iPad or iPhone. Instead of physical faders, the screen presents banks of 8 virtual faders at a time. You can touch and drag the faders on the screen, or touch the channel then use the large knob to raise or lower the level.

Not So Impressive Screen

In use, I found the touch screen a bit laggy, and sometimes the fader would over-shoot my target level. The screen was honestly the biggest disappointment of an otherwise good mixer. In my view, we all carry around touch screens in our pocket that work quite well. There’s really no excuse for a lousy touch screen these days, especially when it’s the primary interface for using “faders.”

Using the knob is better, but be aware there are ballistics built in; if you spin it fast, the fader moves fast. A quick flick of the knob can take a channel from off to +10 in under a half-second, so be careful. Moving it slower is easily controllable however, and pushing down enables a fine control mode. Again, this is a miss in my book. It’s possible that a future software update will fix the ballistics, but the firmware version I tested was tenuous. I was ready to write the whole mixer off based on the poor fader controlling experience, but there is one big saving grace, which we’ll get to next time. 

You may be picking up that I’m not a fan of this mixer, but that’s not correct. I think it’s a good concept, with a few flaws. But there is a way to get around those issues, and we’ll cover that, and a lot more, next time.

Today's post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

Total Cost of Ownership

Image courtesy of Chris Potter

Image courtesy of Chris Potter

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) sounds like a highly abstract concept. But it’s really not. It’s also something that churches—sadly—tend to miss out on. TCO is simply a calculation of what a particular product or service is going to cost you during its life. TCO has become popular in automotive circles, with some manufacturers boasting about the fact that while their car might cost a little more to buy, it will cost less to own. At least in theory.

Missing TCO Calculations

TCO can be missed in several ways. Sometimes, a church will buy a particular piece of gear—sometimes a very expensive piece—that will dig into their cash reserves pretty significantly. Projectors are a great example of this. A really bright, say 15K, projector can cost well over $20,000-50,000. That’s a lot of money. However, it will also cost somewhere between $2,000 and $6,000 to re-lamp it. And at that brightness level, re-lamping is going to happen every 500-800 hours of use, which is right around a year (at least for many churches).

So not only did you spend, let’s call it $30K, on a projector, you can figure on another $20K in lamps over the next 5-7 years of life. And we haven’t even talked about filter replacements, electricity costs or service. Costs on this imaginary projector (that’s not that imaginary) will easily exceed $60K over the life of the unit. Did anyone think about that or did the initial purchase price double as a complete surprise?

Other times, a church will buy the cheapest piece of gear they can find, thinking they are saving money. However, what they find out is that the consumables cost of that gear is far more expensive than a slightly more expensive piece of gear. Ink jet printers are a classic example here. I’ve seen churches replace older, heavy duty color laser printers with newer “cheaper” ones because the toner cartridges are 1/2 the cost of the old ones. What no one noticed was that the new cartridges print about 1/8 as many pages, which quadruples the per page costs and irritates the users who find the printers always out of toner.

Do Your Homework

Sometimes, it’s hard to choose between two seemingly comparable pieces of equipment. What you need to look at, besides initial cost, is total operating costs. I’ve compared projectors based on bulb and filter life plus electricity and found brand A to be almost 50% less expensive over a 5 year period than brand B. And these are two projectors with output and picture quality close enough to be called “the same.”

Rechargeable batteries are another great example. Yes, it might cost you a few hundred dollars to get into the game once you purchase chargers and the initial stock of batteries. But from that point on, your annual battery costs could drop to under $100 to handle replacements. At my last church, we went from spending over $1500/year to about $200; and the only reason I spent that much is because we had 5 rooms using rechargeable cells, and the ones in the student rooms go missing more regularly. 

It’s Real Stewardship

If you want to win friends and influence people—especially your senior leadership—continually present them with plans that demonstrate you know how to make purchases that represent an excellent value over time. Showing them that you’ve done TCO calculations, and have chosen equipment with that in mind will show them you’re serious about leading your department well. 

Of course, TCO doesn’t tell the whole story; it’s just one data point. But it’s an important one. You still have to consider usability, whether the product fits your needs and if the volunteers can use it. Still, TCO can often be the tipping point between brand A and brand B. Choosing the one with the lower overall lifetime cost will pay off in more ways that one. Trust me.

Today's post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

Brand Loyalty to a Fault

Anyone spin anything on an RCA anything lately? Image courtesy of Beverly

Anyone spin anything on an RCA anything lately?

Image courtesy of Beverly

I believe in being loyal. When I was a TD, I built several key relationships with vendors, manufacturers and reps and funneled as much business as I could to them. Rather than shop every single purchase, I went to one of my two vendors, got a price, and if it felt right, I placed the order. Same with gear. Once I found a company that made products that worked for me, I stuck with them. We had the same make and model of wireless mic in every ancillary room in the building. We used the same DSPs, the same speakers and the same accessories. 

There is a lot to be said for being loyal to brands. It makes support a lot easier because most companies do things similarly, which makes problems easier to figure out. You have to stock fewer parts. And when you buy more from a company, they take better care of you, being a larger customer. So being loyal is a good thing. Until it isn’t.

Times Change

One of the challenges of being loyal to a brand is that times change. So do companies. Sometimes one company stays put with a given piece of technology while the rest of the world is busy developing newer and better versions. The eponymous blue personal mixer is a classic example. When it first came out, it was the shizzle. But over time, more companies entered the market and produced superior products. Locking into that brand for the long haul would have meant you were not getting the best product in the category after a while. 

Other times, companies change. Or more correctly, the ownership does. More than a few companies have been sold and the new owners are not nearly as passionate about creating great products as the old ones. More often than not, the new owners are really interested in squeezing out as much profit as possible, which may be great for the owners, but less great for the users. 

We’re starting to see this with several big companies right now. Products that were once the standards of quality in the industry are now looking less shiny as the new owners off-shore production in the name of lower prices and speed. Lower prices are good. Lower quality, not so much.

Sometimes a product or company that has had a bad rep turns around and starts making great products. I’ve seen too many people pass up on great products because they have a brand anti-loyalty. They so dislike the brand, they can’t bring themselves to consider that it’s a new day. Don’t miss out because of past experiences.

Stay Loyal, But Evaluate Often

What’s a tech guy to do? My advice is to stick with what works, until it doesn’t or something better comes along. It’s important to be continually scanning the horizon to see if the sands have shifted. The world of AVL technology is a competitive and rapidly developing one. New companies and products come along all the time. It’s important to keep an eye on what is working and what is not. 

Don’t assume the company or product line you loved 5 years ago is still the front-runner. Also, don’t assume that a company that made sub-par products 5 years ago is still doing that. Either or both may be true, but don’t assume that because it was, it is. Don’t miss a great advance in technology because you are clinging to the past. You’ll not be serving yourself or your church well.