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Digital Mixer Comparison: M200i, X32, StudioLive 24.4.2—Pt.3

Over the last few posts, we’ve considered the basic feature sets of three mixers in the mid-sized digital market; the new Roland M200i, the relatively new Behringer X32 and the old standby (if old is 2 years…) Presonus StudioLive 24.4.2. Now, for me, one of the most exciting developments in mixing over the last few years is remote control, mostly driven by the introduction of the iPad 3 years ago. So many churches (and other venues) have less than desirable mix positions or simply poor acoustics and the ability to walk the room with the “mixer” in your hand while you evaluate the mix is invaluable. 

Each of these three mixers has an iPad component to it. In fact, to some extent, these three define the spectrum of iPad control at the moment. The Roland takes an “all in” approach giving you pretty much complete control over not just basic mixing but every function of the console. The X32 is rather bare-bones in comparison with the current version looking more like it was hacked together in a single overnight session. The Presonus is in the middle with an elegantly designed interface that that handles control of essential functions plus a few extras, but that’s all (and there’s a stunning omission that I can’t believe hasn’t been remedied by now). 

So with that teaser, let’s get on with it.

Complete Control: Roland M200i

It’s clear even from the pre-release versions of the iPad app I’ve been evaluating that the M200i was designed with iPad control in mind. As I said in my first look article, rather than put an expensive touch screen on the console, they just wrote an app and used the best touch screen out there. It’s a smart strategy. 

The M200i app is the most complete remote mixing app on the market (or will be when it’s released). You have control of basic functions—mixing, EQ, dynamics, monitor mixes—that you would expect. However, you can also name and color code channels; patch (input, output & insert); set head amp gain and digital trim; set the high pass; assign DCAs and mute groups; build custom fader layers; adjust (and patch) FX; save and recall scenes; configure mixer set up parameters; control the 2 track USB recording and playback; and do all the above on the outputs as well. 

There is so much to the app that it deserves it’s own article (which will probably happen at some point when I get an actual review unit). It’s also very well designed; it takes very little instruction on how to get around all the functions. Design is very subjective, but I personally like it, as have the few people that I’ve showed it to. 

The app fully utilizes the multi-touch of the iPad for things like EQ (which we’ve come to expect), but also for the compression and gate settings. Long fader mode gives you plenty of fader resolution to actually mix a show on it, and no fader mode makes great use of the real estate when it’s docked on the console. 

In that mode, it functions as an extension of the console itself—the physical channel select buttons trigger changes in the app, and you can select a parameter on a virtual encoder on the iPad and adjust it using the physical encoder on the surface. 

There are multiple ways to connect the iPad to the console. They include a custom dock connector so you can hardwire for absolute reliability. You can put a USB Wi-Fi dongle in the M200i and connect to that, or you can put the M200i on a wireless network and connect that way. Up to three iPad can control the M200i at once. 

At the risk of sounding like a fanboy, I’d say the M200i is the best iPad mixing app out there right now. In fact, I don’t think anything else comes close. Sure, StageMix for Yamaha and the Presonus apps are perfectly functional, but the M200i app puts them to shame as to how much you can do from the iPad. 

Now let’s look at the other end of the spectrum.

Because We Had To: X32

You really can’t introduce a digital mixer today without having iPad control and I think Behringer knows that. But did it have to be so ugly? The one thing I will give them props for is the high resolution meters on each channel. The faders look vaguely like real fader caps, and the buttons look just like the ones on the console (which is to say, rounded corner squares). It goes downhill from there.

On the channel edit page, all controls are faders instead of virtual rotaries. At some level, I understand this. How do you adjust a rotary control on an iPad? Most of the time, you touch it and move up or down while a display tells you the value. Having a fader gives you theoretically a better visual. But I think it looks weird. Then there’s the function naming which isn’t always clear.

The EQ section is the worst offender, requiring multiple steps to set a filter. On every other iPad mixing app, you touch the filter you want then drag up/down for boost/cut, left/right for frequency and pinch for Q. On the X32 app, you first press a button below the display to select the filter, then use the three faders to adjust dB, Hz and Q (their labels). Touching the curve has no effect. 

The mix sends is actually pretty useful; touching that tab brings up a row of 16 faders representing the 16 axes. Oddly, only the first 8 come up named in offline mode. Sends on faders is also easily accomplished. Naming is pretty easy, and you can easily select colors, icons and even a bunch of pre-populated names from a slot-machine selector. 

While you can adjust send levels, you have no other control over effects. There is no control for dynamics at all, which seems like an odd omission. 

Connection is handled with a wi-fi router plugged into the X32. It doesn’t appear to support multiple iPads at once.

When Pretty is Good Enough: StudioLive 

The StudioLive control app is quite pretty. I remember thinking how good it looked when I first saw it, and it still holds up 2 years later. All the controls have a nice 3-D shaded quality to them that looks like someone really cared about how it would look. As you would expect, basic mixing functions are there, the controls are responsive and you receive good feedback about actual levels. 

Touching the bus assign box above the channel lets you easily assign to each of the four busses or select FireWire input. Dynamics and EQ make full use of multi-touch and not only look good, feel good when working on them. The overall design is so good, I can’t believe the one big mistake they made has not been fixed. It has to do with the high pass filter.

For some reason, the HPF control is on the Gate page, not EQ. Arguably, it’s because of space, but I think it could have been fit in. Worse than having to go to another page to adjust the HPF, is the fact that the contribution of the HPF doesn’t appear anywhere on the EQ display. 

Now, we can debate all day long about graphic displays of EQ and if they’re a good idea or not. However, if you’re going to do it, you have to include the HPF. I’ve seen inexperienced operators set the HPF at 200 Hz, then when there is no low end, boost the heck out of the lows to put back what they cut with the high pass.

A seasoned engineer wouldn’t do that (right?), but why do we set inexperienced operators up for failure, especially for a board marketed to novices? This omission is also thoughtfully reproduced in the remote control computer software, so at least they’re consistent. I can’t believe I’m the first person to notice this; it’s an easy fix that needs to happen quickly, in my opinion.

Presonus takes a different take on Aux mixing. Rather than the sends on faders model, you go to the Aux Mixer page, select the aux you want to mix, then bring up the levels of each channel. I don’t think this is better or worse, just different. You can also adjust the GEQs, and even assign them, which is nice. There is page to allow you load scenes, but you can’t save them from the app. 

The setup page lets you name channels and mixes. It appears to let you color code as well, but I couldn’t get it to work. Maybe one has to be online to make that happen. One feature unique to the StudioLive remote is the talkback button. At first, I thought that was sort of a dumb ideal, because if you’re wandering the room, the talkback mic would be at FOH, and not much use to you. But then I thought, what if you used a wireless lav or headset mic as a talkback? It might be handy to talk back to monitors—especially IEMs—while walking the room. 

Aside from the HPF issue, the Presonus app is beautifully designed and very functional. Now if only they had motorized faders on the consoles. 

This wraps up our feature comparison. At the beginning, I said I wasn’t going to pick a winner, and I still don’t think I am. But next time, I’m going to draw some conclusions.

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