Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: December 2012 (Page 1 of 2)

A Healthier Christmas

It’s Monday, December 31. Christmas Eve was a week ago—which means one of two things for the average church technical artist. Either you’re feeling rested, refreshed and ready to take on the new year, or you’re still sitting on the couch in your pajamas eating peppermint bark and watching The View. The Christmas season can take it’s toll on the church tech if we’re not careful. For me, this year is ending in a vastly better place than last year, and there are reasons for that. Hopefully some of this will be helpful if you’re still crashed on the couch. 

Christmas eve.jpg

Christmas Gone Wrong

Last year was a tough year for me; my ATD had left for a better gig and I wasn’t able to bring a new one in. All my contractors had also left town, and my volunteers weren’t ready to make a huge contribution to audio yet. We launched into a whole new Christmas Eve service that was supposed to be simple, but was anything but. I has also hurt my back at the beginning of December, which slowed me down a lot. By 12/31/11, I was still lying on the couch, only I had finished all the peppermint bark and had moved on to the wretched Russel Stover variety pack. It was a dark time.

It required the better part of 10 months to figure it out, but I think I finally came up with a plan to help avoid that post-Christmas malaise. And believe it or not, it’s not too early to start planning.

Remember How You Feel Right Now

Humans have short memories for pain. Normally this is a good thing (think childbirth). But when it comes to unhealthy behavior, it’s easy to forget how bad we end up feeling when we fail to prepare properly. One of the key things I did last year was to write an e-mail to myself using FutureMe.org. I considered posting that e-mail here, but then I re-read it and remembered this is a family-friendly blog. I had that e-mail delivered a week before Thanksgiving this year. It was a vivid reminder of what happens when I overcommit, fail to plan and take on too much. If you did that this year, document it, and have it delivered to your inbox in November. You’ll thank me later.

Now is also the time to come up with a plan to do next year better. Chances are, while it’s still fresh in your mind, you can think of things that you should have done to make life easier. Write that down. And don’t forget to look at it in October. Yes, start working on Christmas in October and your December will be much more pleasant.

Plan to be Better

Here are a few things that I did better this year that has left me in a much better place. I don’t want this to sound like I’m bragging, or have this all figured out; instead I hope this list can serve to spark some ideas on what might help you next year. 

Start Earlier: Thankfully, we did basically the same Christmas Eve service this year as last, so I knew what we were getting into. By Thanksgiving, our input list was mostly done (it changed a bit, but not much), my starting show file was complete (including starting snapshots for all music), the set was designed, and the schedule for December was in order. All the rental equipment had been lined up and new equipment purchased. 

Three weeks before Christmas, we built the block wall (at least most of it). Two weeks out, we hung the cords for the lights and set up the Christmas tree. By Christmas week, all we had to do was put bulbs in the cords, hang the walls and set the stage for audio. It made for a good week. We even took Thursday morning off, and when Jon got sick and had to go home for a day and a half, it didn’t kill us. I didn’t get my Friday off (like I hoped), but it wasn’t a crazy long day, either.

Enlist More Help: Last year, we were severely limited in people to help. This year, I resolved to delegate more, and not take on too much. I intentionally let a few things go that I normally would have put a lot of time and energy into (though they are not really my job), and I backed off on how much we tried to accomplish. I also had Jon around, who could tackle a myriad of tasks while I was working on other things. Of course, my LD Thomas was there a lot to help as well, and we had a great presentation and video team that committed many hours to making the service great. 

Let it Go: Like I alluded to, I let a lot go this year. Mostly, it was stuff that either wasn’t my job anyway, or high-investment details that no one would notice. At times, we TDs tend to obsess over details that only we notice. Sometimes that is admirable, sometimes it kills us. Learning to discern which is which is an important lesson. I could have spent twice as much time refining my mixes as I did, but given our poor PA and acoustics, I would have been the only person that noticed. That may have made me feel good in the moment, but the time was time I didn’t have, and I would feel much worse right now, and being more worn out on Christmas Eve would have made me more grouchy and less in the spirit. How much is that worth?

I decided to simply relax and try to enjoy the season more this year. I found that by lowering my own crazy-high standards to a level that still surpassed everyone around me, I was able to rest more, spend more time at home, spend more time talking with my volunteers and the band, and feel a whole lot better about the long day when it was done. 

I didn’t resent Christmas this year, which is a big deal for me. I still have a way to go when it comes to keeping a proper perspective, but these are a few ways in which I improved. Hopefully, this will be a catalyst for you if you find yourself in a bad place in the post-Christmas recovery. If you do, get some rest, spend some time in prayer and reflection and come up with a plan to not repeat those mistakes again next year. You’ll be glad you did! And don’t forget, Easter is early this year…

Today’s post is brought to you by Horizon Battery, distributor of Ansmann rechargeable batteries and battery chargers. Used worldwide by Cirque du Soleil and over 25,000 schools, churches, theaters, and broadcast companies. We offer a free rechargeable evaluation for any church desiring to switch to money-saving,  planet-saving rechargeables. Tested and recommended by leading wireless mic manufacturers and tech directors. 

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Christmas Eve Set

This year, we’re not doing anything too radical for Christmas. Four services on Christmas Eve and that’s pretty much it. And—thankfully—it’s pretty much the same service we did last year (albeit with some new music and a slightly different band configuration). Our thinking was, it worked well, let’s not mess with it (much). 

To that end, we’re doing a very similar set. Whereas last year we used a lot of OSB, this time around it’s luan. For the last six months or so, we’ve had seven 4×8 flats upstage, lit by ColorBlasts. For Christmas, we’ve built a quasi-wall with them. The idea is to keep a woody theme to warm up the stage. 

The block wall provided a nice backdrop for our vocalists.

The block wall provided a nice backdrop for our vocalists.

To dress it up a little more, we built a 3D wood sculpture out of plywood and luan. It’s based on the block wall concept our student ministries team built in their new room this summer–only bigger. 

We ripped 1/2” plywood into strips 3”, 6”, 9” and 12” wide. Those strips were then cut to length to make 2’ square boxes. After some glue and nails, we faced them with luan fronts. The boxes were then attached to a backer board (also 1/2” plywood) with nails and construction adhesive. 

Here's the wall with light. Four Flat Par 7s hit each block wall from the side, about 4' downstage of the wall. ColorBlasts lit the panels on the back wall.

Here’s the wall with light. Four Flat Par 7s hit each block wall from the side, about 4′ downstage of the wall. ColorBlasts lit the panels on the back wall.

Another angle with a better view of the lights.

Another angle with a better view of the lights.

We bolted two sheets of ply together with 2×4’s to make two 8’ square walls. Once we had the sculptures, we hung them from the truss using aircraft cable. To attach the cable, we used a device known as a “bottom hanger iron”. Basically it’s a J-shaped piece of steel that gets bolted to the bottom of the flat and serves as a connection point for the cable. A “top hanger iron” sits at the top to keep the top of the flat close to the cable and basically upright. 

Bottom hanger irons. These can support some serious weight. 

Bottom hanger irons. These can support some serious weight. 

Top hanger irons basically keep the top in line. Mostly...

Top hanger irons basically keep the top in line. Mostly…

We weighed each piece and totaled up how much each 8×8 was going to weigh, then designed our hanging system to be about 20 times stronger. Normally it’s suggested to do a 10x, but it worked out at 20 because I wanted to run three lines up to the truss for stability. 

To make it easy to level out, we also attached one of the cables per flat with a turnbuckle. That way, we could get it close with the cable clamps, then dial one side up or down with the turnbuckle to get it perfect. Of course, it’s only hanging about 18” off the floor, so that was pretty easy.

Here you can see the turnbuckle we added to make leveling easier. Turns out, we didn't need it. We painted the brace bright pink to keep people from walking into it. So far, it's worked.

Here you can see the turnbuckle we added to make leveling easier. Turns out, we didn’t need it. We painted the brace bright pink to keep people from walking into it. So far, it’s worked.

Once we hung them, we noticed the center of gravity was higher than I anticipated and they hung forward. It wasn’t terrible or dangerous, but we didn’t like it. So we added a 2×4 brace to push the bottom out and plumb it up. That also had the effect of pushing it slightly downstage of the back wall plane, adding a little more depth.

To add some dramatic effect, we lit each side with ADJ Flat Par 7’s. We bought those to put in our student room, and since we haven’t installed them yet, we figured, “Why not?.” 

The final effect in context.

The final effect in context.

Of course, we also have our vintage bulbs hanging on bare cords like we did last year. Everyone liked the look, and we now have a good system in place to put them up, so it was pretty easy. Add one giant Christmas tree and some pre-lit garland at the stage lip, and the set is done!

Today’s post is brought to you by Horizon Battery, distributor of Ansmann rechargeable batteries and battery chargers. Used worldwide by Cirque du Soleil and over 25,000 schools, churches, theaters, and broadcast companies. We offer a free rechargeable evaluation for any church desiring to switch to money-saving,  planet-saving rechargeables. Tested and recommended by leading wireless mic manufacturers and tech directors. 

Christmas Eve at Coast Hills

Christmas Eve has been a big deal at Coast Hills for a long time, and it’s become more important in the last few years that I’ve been around. This year and last, we’ve dispensed with the big pre-Christmas production and put all our proverbial eggs in the Christmas Eve Service basket. By all accounts, that seems to have been a great decision. 

I haven’t seen the final numbers yet, but it’s a pretty safe bet we surpassed the 4,000 expected attendance number. The 4:30 in particular was standing room only with eight rows of folding chairs in the lobby.

Christmas Eve is one of my favorite services of the year to mix. It’s a wide range of music, musical styles and we get a mid-week rehearsal so I had a good chance to really work on the mixes. We also do a great job of presenting the miracle of Christ coming to Earth and the need for his saving grace. Being part of sharing the Gospel to 4,000 people in one day is a pretty humbling experience. 

From a production standpoint, this was very similar to what we did last year. We again hung the antique lightbulbs (that we found at 1000Bulbs.com) on bare cords, but we changed the set up quite a bit. We still wanted a warm, inviting look, but whereas last year it was more of a “kids turning the inside of a barn into a church” look, this year was a bit more industrial chic.

In the coming week or so, I’ll talk more about the set (the 3D Block Wall in particular), and some of my production workflows. But for today, enjoy a pictorial journey through the service.

Today’s post is brought to you by BargeHeights. Bargeheights offers cost effective lighting and LED video gear for churches. Coupled with unique visual design, Bargeheights transforms worship venues of all sizes.

Merry Christmas!


Today is Christmas day, and as I enjoy my first day off in a few weeks—along with most of you, I suspect—I’m reflecting on how blessed we are. I’m surrounded by family and friends, I work with some amazing people and I get to be part of sharing the good news of the Gospel with people all over Orange County. 

I hear from so many of you who appreciate this blog and ChurchTechWeekly. But I really want to thank you for reading and listening. Without you, dear readers, this site would only be notes to myself.

Friends and technical artists, you are the artisans of today’s church. You help proclaim timeless truths in a modern vernacular that resonates with people today. You may be working behind the scenes and away from the spotlight, but you are as important and needed as the priests in the temple. 

Enjoy a time of rest this week. Spend some time alone reflecting on what we get to do. And let’s enter into the new year with a renewed sense of excitement about leading our teams and our churches into the presence of our Savior. Merry Christmas!

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.

Today’s post is brought to you by CCI Solutions. With a reputation for excellence, technical expertise and competitive pricing, CCI Solutions has served churches across the US in their media, equipment, design and installation needs for over 35 years.

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. 


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 32×32 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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Roland M200i: First Look

A few weeks ago, Roland Systems Group announced a new mixer in the V-Mixing lineup. I was invited up to the LA office a week before the announcement to get a preview of it. Now, I’ve been a fan of the V-Mixers since the M-400 was introduced several years ago. I believe they offer a great value, sound good and are easy to use. And the line has grown significantly since then. 

The M-200i looks great on paper. Check out this spec overview:

  • 32 channels mixed from a possible total of 64 inputs
  • 8 Aux + 4 Matrix mixes (those are full matrices—individual channels can go straight to a matrix)
  • 8 DCAs
  • 4 built-in effects
  • 4 built-in 31-band EQs
  • 17 motorized faders
  • USB recording (2 channels)
  • DAW recording (40 channels)
  • 16 mic pres on board + 8 line inputs
  • 12 analog outputs + 2 channels AES
  • 40×40 REAC for digital snake, monitors or recording

You can control the everything from the console surface if someone drops your iPad.

That all looks really good, especially when you consider that the MSRP is $3,495! The surface is familiar to V-Mixing users, with dedicated mute, solo and select buttons for each channel. Direct access to the sends on fader for both Aux and Matrix mixes is provided, and there are two user layers for building custom fader layouts. They included a small LCD display and a bunch of controls for set up and effect functions. 

This is the standard channel strip view.

But it’s the “i” in the name that sets this mixer apart. Rather than spend a bunch of money on an expensive touch screen, they simply built an app for the nearly ubiquitous iPad.

Assigning channels to a DCA is as easy as checking them on.

This is not a new solution; many consoles can be controlled by an iPad. However, Roland has included far more than simple mixing and EQ adjustments in here. Virtually every single function of the console from input patches to effects assigns, from mixing and monitoring, from scenes to output patches can be accessed by the iPad app. 

You can get to the aux mixes for each channel without having to go to sends on fader mode. It’s also easy to set the pick point.

They included a custom dock connector to attach the iPad hardwired to the desk so you don’t have to worry about wi-fi. However, if you want to go wireless, you don’t need a computer. 

If you're using the iPad docked as a screen/work surface, you can turn off the onscreen faders.

If you’re using the iPad docked as a screen/work surface, you can turn off the onscreen faders.

The M200i can be connected to a wireless router, or your network, or you can use the USB wireless dongle Roland sells. It’s pretty simple to use from that standpoint. But the star is really the iPad app.

Long fader mode for wireless mixing.

The app looks very good—modern and functional. Several modes of use are provided depending on what you are doing. A long fader mode gives you maximum resolution of the faders for mixing. No fader mode gives you a great overview of the currently selected bank of 8 channels when you’re using the surface. Another mode mixes those two. 

The compressor page. Note that each comp can be side chained. 

Of course, full multi-touch is supported in the EQ and dynamics section, allowing you to adjust Q and knee by pinching. Assigning inputs, outputs, DCAs, and FX is accomplished in the channel edit page. This is what really sets the M200i apart. You don’t have to keep running back to the surface to manage this stuff.

One of the built-in effects engines.

The level of integration between hardware and software is evident in the “touch and turn” mode that is built-in. Any adjustable parameter—say EQ frequency—can be selected on the iPad, then adjusted using a hardware encoder on the surface for precise adjustments. Selecting a channel on the surface and also select the channel in the iPad (this is configurable) making the operation even faster. 

A meters page shows you the level of every input and output.

I haven’t heard the console yet, but I expect to receive a full demo system when it starts shipping in January. I am pretty bullish on this console; it fills a much-neglected hole in the digital console universe right now. I think this is going to be a big hit with churches that need to mix 32 channels and want to go digital. 

You can adjust EQ by using multi-touch on the iPad or selecting the controls and turning the encoder on the surface.

When you consider it can be configured with their digital snakes, M-48 personal mixers, the R1000 recorder/player and set up with Sonar for multi-track recording, it’s a great option. The iPad integration not only makes it easy to use, but helps overcome the often poor FOH mixing locations of many small- to mid-sized churches. 

Of course, it’s a direct competitor to the Presonus StudioLive desk, as well as the Behringer X32. Next time, we’ll compare the three to see how they stack up.

Note: All of the iPad app screen caps are from preliminary versions of the application. It’s changing rapidly during development (I’ve received 4 versions in the last few weeks), so don’t get really attached to anything yet. The software is continually evolving right now, and looking really good, but it’s not final yet.

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