Continuing our comparison series of the Roland M200i, the Behringer X32 and Presonus StudioLive 24.4.2, today we’re going to look at some essential qualities that will likely cause you to choose one over the other; specifically, I/O count, mix buses and built-in effects.
These mixers are more or less comparable in terms of channel count. Sort of.
The M200i can mix up to 32 channels at a time, from a possible maximum of 64 inputs. The mixer has 16 recallable mic pre’s on the surface, plus another 8 line inputs. With the REAC port, you can additional stage racks for up to 40 additional inputs. In addition to the L&R outputs on XLR, you have an additional 10 assignable analog outs (6 XLR, 4 TRS) plus a 2-channel AES out. Of course adding a stage box will add an additional 8-16 outs, depending on configuration. You can record via a USB-B connector on the back, or by plugging into the Ethernet jack and using Sonar (up to 40 channels).
The X32 has 32 “Midas Inspired” recallable mic preamps on board, along with another 6 line ins. You get 2 AES50 ports that will give you another 48 inputs and outputs. What’s interesting about this is that you could use Klark Teknik’s mic pre’s (which cost more than the X32). I mean, if you wanted to. For output connections, you get 16 analog outs (XLR), plus a stereo control room output set, and an AES stereo pair. They also include an additional 6 Aux outs on TRS. A FireWire or USB interface port will give you 32x32 channels of recording and playback. According to the website, you can access up to 168 possible sources and destinations if you plug in everything. Thought that might be overkill for a board that can mix 32 of those 168 sources…
The StudioLive 24.4.2 looks a lot more like a typical analog console from the back. You have 24 non-recallable mic pre’s, each with a corresponding insert jack and a line input. You also get a pair of stereo Aux inputs on TRS, Tape in and out on RCAs. On the output side, you get 10 aux outs on TRS, a main L&R on XLR, TRS and S/PDIF (and a mono for good measure). <strike>There are also 3 DB-25 connectors on the back for cascading two consoles together.</strike> UPDATE: I've been informed that the consoles cascade via FireWire, and when you do that, you loose the ability to record. Which is kind of a bummer; perhaps they should use the DB-25 ports. END UPDATE It should be noted that doing this does double your channel count to 48, but you gain no mix busses. Finally, two FireWire 400 jacks provide 32 channels of recording and 26 channels of playback
Managing inputs is one thing; but how many ways can you combine them? That’s the real measure of a console. And this is where they start to diverge a little bit.
The M200i goes a “big console” route with 8 mix busses and 4 matrix mixes. That’s a total of 12, which is not really the big leagues, but the matrix is nice. Each matrix can take input from any input channel or aux mix, so they can be used like auxes if you want. Of course you have the 2 channel main bus, and 8 DCAs (which aren’t really mixes but are darn handy). All of the mix buses has EQ and dynamics available.
The X32 sees those 12 mix buses and raises it 4. In addition to LCR (3 main) outputs, it also has 16 mix busses (which can act like auxes or groups) plus another 6 matrix mixes. Like the M200i, the mix busses have EQ and dynamics, however the X32 boasts a 6 band PEQ, instead of the 4-band of the M200i. You also get 8 DCAs.
The StudioLive 24.4.2 seems a little outclassed here with just 10 aux buses and 4 subgroups. In this way, it is much more like an analog console. You get graphic EQs on the auxes, but it doesn’t appear to have dynamics.
One of the big benefits of digital is the ability to do away with racks and racks of outboard gear that’s necessary with analog mixers. Each of these desks have a set of built-in effects, not to mention compression, gating and EQ on every channel.
Now, we’re not going to talk about the quality of the effects here; this is a feature comparison only. Generally speaking, the quality of the effects in smaller boards is not as good as it is in larger ones. It’s just a question of a price point, really. You can’t expect to get the super-high quality sound of a $1,500 effects unit in a console that costs $3,000, give or take. Still, each console gives you some built-in options.
The M200i has 4 effects “racks” and a somewhat limited selection of built in effects. I’m not sure what the final spec is yet, but when I tried to load more than 1 stereo reverb, I got a dialog telling me that only 1 stereo reverb can run at a time. That leaves the other racks open for, well, not much other than simple delays and not so useful effects like flangers, phasers and choruses. I’d much prefer more reverbs. You can also use the 4 effects racks as 31-band EQs (in addition to the 4 dedicated 31-bands). This is where limited DSP starts to come into play; you can only do so much with the DSP in a $3,500 console. It’s a bit of a limitation, but keep in mind the overall price point of this mixer; it’s amazing it does what it does.
The X32 really beefs up on the effects rack with eight true-stereo processors (or 16 mono). However, it can run just 4 stereo reverbs at once. Reverb really burns up the DSP, so you can see everyone has to be careful what they allow. You can, however, run 4 reverbs with 8 GEQs at once. So that’s nice. Behringer also lets you download effects from their website.
UPDATE: Apparently I forgot to include the StudioLive in the effects section. Sorry about that—it was unintentional. The 24.4.2 includes 2 FX engines with 50 preset effects to choose from. Each effect has a variety of parameters that can be edited, saved and recalled. You also get four dual-channel 31-band EQs that can be put on any of the outputs; subgroups, auxes and mains. Presonus also recently introduced Smaart acoustic measurement software built into the console to help you set those EQs up properly. One thing I like about the StudioLIves is that they don't make you burn an Aux to use the FX. Each FX engine has it's own "Aux." So that's nice. END UPDATE
We’re getting through it all, but there is one key component (and probably another minor one) left; iPad control. Each of these consoles can be controlled via iPad, but the way they go about it is quite different. Next time, we’ll look to see how each implements remote mixing.