Digital Mixer Comparison: M200i, X32, StudioLive 24.4.2—Pt. 4

The mid-sized digital mixer space is clearly heating up. It’s a good thing, too, because we need some options in this price and size range. Speaking of price, it was pointed out I didn’t include pricing in the earlier posts. I figured anyone with an internet connection and knowledge of the Google could figure that out, but here you go:

  • Roland M200i: MAP $3495; $4995 w/ an S1608 stage box
  • Behringer X32: MAP $2999
  • Presonus StudioLive 24.4.2: MAP $3299.95 (they’re very precise)

Given that they are all within a few hundred bucks of each other—and represent an incredible value—which do you choose? That’s a hard call, honestly. 

Roland M200i

I’ll admit being a bit predisposed toward the Roland, mainly because I really like their products and I have a great relationship with them. I think it’s well-made, offers a great feature set and has the best iPad integration of any mixer on the market, large or small, by far. If it sounds anything like the other V-Mixing mixers (which I expect it to), it will sound quite good. It’s easy to use, and integrates well with other REAC-based devices. 

On the other hand, it’s the most expensive, has fewer mix busses than the X32, fewer effects options and REAC is limited to 40 channels, which is starting to feel tight by today’s standards. Still, if someone told me I had to mix on one every week (assuming my band would fit) I would not be disappointed at all. 

Behringer X32

I really want to like the X32. I was very impressed with the feature set and UI when I saw it at NAMM last year, and my friend Andrew Stone says it sounds really good. And he’s not an easy guy to impress. It offers more mix busses and FX options than boards that cost 3 times as much, and it has flying faders. It’s also the least expensive of the bunch, and you can add Klark Teknik preamps to it. 

But the iPad app is a pretty weak effort and you have to get past Behringer’s reputation. Will this one hold up better given the new association with Midas and Klark? A lot of people haven’t forgiven the sins of the past when they would simply buy another manufacturer’s product, take it apart, copy it exactly (down to the typo’s on the main board) and sell it for half price. It could be a great value, but who wants to be the guinea pig?

Presonus StudioLive 24.4.2

The StudioLive 24.4.2 seems like the old dog in this race, though it’s only been out for a few years. I know a lot of guys who really like it, but I can’t make myself fall in love with it. I don’t like the Fat Channel layout, I miss VCAs, I don’t like their menu structure, and the lack of flying faders at this price point is hard to justify anymore. 

However, with their QMix iPhone software, everyone can mix their own ears (albeit mono), and the iPad app is quite nice. The FireWire integration is nice, and it’s a great way to get into virtual soundcheck and multitrack recording. For more inputs, you can cascade two of them and have a 48.4.2 mixer at a decent price. 

What to Pick?

It all depends. In many ways, any of these could be a great choice for your church (or club, or school, or tour). The choice will ultimately come down to what you value, what you like and what compromises you can live with. At this price point, some things have to be cut. You have to decide if you can do without the things that were cut out of each mixer; and the good news is each one cut something different, so you actually do have options. 

The positive side of all of this is that we live in an amazing time. When I was starting my career as a church sound guy 20+ years ago, our options for small, affordable mixers were little mixers made for remote broadcast trucks or the Mackie 1604. If anyone would have dropped off any of these mixers at my church back then, I would have believed the rapture had occurred and we were all in heaven. 

UPDATE: I didn't mention that to use an iPad to control the StudioLive, you have to have a computer connected to the console running their Universal Control software. I'm not sure about the X32 (if anyone knows, you can you comment?). The Roland allows direct wired and wireless iPad control, no computer necessary. END UPDATE

Sure, each has limitations, but come on; at under $3500, any of these is a steal.

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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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Digital Mixer Comparison: M200i, X32, StudioLive 24.4.2—Pt.2

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. 

Input/Output

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

Mix Busses

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. 

Built-In Effects

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.

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Digital Mixer Comparison: M200i, X32, StudioLive 24.4.2—Pt.1

Everyone wants to go digital for their audio mixing. Whether this is necessarily a good idea for every church is a topic we’ll tackle later. For now, we’re going to look at three mixers that look like perfect fits for the small- to mid-sized church (200-800 seats or so). Two of these three mixers are fairly new; the X32 recently started shipping and the M200i is expected to ship in January. The StudioLIve 24.4.2 has been around a little bit longer and has a dedicated user base. But how do they compare? Let’s find out. Note, this is a feature comparison only. At some point, I hope to get all three of them together for a sound comparison, but we’re going to operate under the assumption that they all sound good enough for this application. 

In this series, I’m not looking to call a winner. I’m simply running through the feature set of each desk. The reality is that each of these will be right for someone, but it’s unlikely that each will be right for everybody. Which one you choose will depend on what you need, and what you value. With that said, let’s get on with it.  

Work Surface

To start off, we’ll consider the work surface as that is how we’ll be interacting with the mixer most of the time.

M200i: 16 motorized faders (configurable for input, output mixes, DCAs and user layers) plus 1 motorized master.

X32: 16 motorized input faders, 8 motorized output faders, 1 motorized master

StudioLive: 24 non-motorized input faders, 4 non-motorized group fader, 1 non-motorized master fader

The lack of motorized faders are a deal-breaker for many, especially if you’re using the iPad app (which is rather good). Once you make any changes on the iPad, you have to use a “fader locate” mode to position the faders on the surface to match the current levels. This is unfortunate.

The M200i is a small mixer; it’s able to be rack-mounted. As such, the control surface does not have a ton of controls on it. Each channel has dedicated mute, solo and select buttons; there are 8 buttons for selecting sends on fader mode (pressing two of them will select the matrix mixes); there are 8 user defined keys; 5 layer keys; about 20 buttons for selecting various operating sections and controlling the small LCD display, and a single encoder. Though small, it’s easy to see and the navigation isn’t too hard. Each channel also has a 5-segment meter, while a larger meter keeps track of the L&R output. While sparse, it’s laid out well, and it is very easy to get around on. 

The X32 is a larger mixer, so it has more dedicated controls. Each channel strip has the mute, solo and select buttons plus a color-coded (user assignable) digital scribble strip and a 5-segment meter. Three buttons and two encoders adjust compression settings; a pair each of buttons and encoders control the gate; three encoders and six buttons mange EQ (four of the buttons select the band you’re working on); four encoders and buttons allow for easy aux mixing and a handful of other buttons and rotaries manage other tasks. They also included user-definable rotaries with digital scribble strips to manage often adjusted parameters (reverb time, for example). You also have six UDKs. And we can’t forget the iPhone rest. The X32 also comes with a 7” color LCD (non-touch) with some encoders and buttons to navigate the interface. It’s a little busy, but not terribly so. I’ve played with it at trade shows and it’s not hard at all to get around on.

The StudioLive 24.4.2 is in between size-wise. The oddest thing about all the StudioLive mixers is the Fat Chanel. Using 24 encoders and a bunch of buttons, you can adjust the EQ, dynamics and aux sends of any selected channel. It’s odd because the layout is horizontal and the EQ display is not anything like what we’re used to. I’ve mixed on them and it takes a while to become used to what you’re looking at. I give them points for creative packaging, but I’m not really crazy about it. However, the Presonus is the only one to offer a dedicated gain knob for each channel. The other two have one gain knob and you select channels to activate. Because so many of the functions on the StudioLive are multifunction, the surface is littered with buttons. The display is very small and the interface is clumsy to navigate. Like anything, once you use something for a while you can get fast on it; but my initial impressions were mostly those of frustration. It’s actually much more useful when attached to a computer running the editor software. Like an 01V from Yamaha, I wouldn’t want to mix without PC or (preferably) Mac control. 

Well, we’re just getting started here. Next time around, we’ll dig into I/O, mix buses and built-in effects.

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