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x32, SI Expression, StudioLive, and M-200i: A Digital Mixer Hands-On Experience

The advent of the digital age has given us so much new technology that streamlines workflow in the studio and a live sound gig.  The days of analog tape and massive FOH analog snakes and consoles are now mostly relegated to nostalgia, and digital consoles are here to stay.  While digital consoles have been implemented into large scale tours for almost decades now, it hasn’t been until the past few years that compact, affordable, small-format digital consoles have penetrated the market.  As much as most of us would love to always be working on a Soundcraft VI6 or an AVID Profile, sometimes the budget, the space or the gig just commands a simpler board.

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Recently, we brought in four new small-format digital mixing consoles from some of the top manufacturers.  We set up the Behringer x32, Soundcraft SI Expression 2, PreSonus StudioLive 24.4.2, and the Roland Systems Group M-200i all next to each other in our live room, and after mopping the drool off the floor, we got to work.  Each of these consoles sits in the under $3000 price range, with the PreSonus mixer being the least expensive at $2499.95.  So again, this comes down to what best fits your needs for your application.  We could go into features, and what mixer has what knob, but then we’d be wasting your time with information you can easily find all over the web.

 

Now you might be thinking that it’s impossible to convey the differences between four completely different digital consoles in a video, but we were actually just as surprised as we hope you’ll be.  To create a real-life experience on each console, we brought in a full band and a professional live sound engineer and put everyone through four consecutive sound checks (we cringed too!) and a single song performance.

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Shot of James, our engineer, with Preston

Our engineer, James Dean, has done his fair share of work on several of the industry’s top consoles in his past decade of touring, but had never worked extensively with any of these digital consoles, so we gave him a few hours in the afternoon before the band showed up to familiarize himself with each desk.   Rather than using the digital snakes that some of the consoles have, we kept everything analog from the stage.   We set up one console in the mix position at a time and then just re-patched a different board to the same analog snake.  Our input list and all stage patching stayed the same, so the engineer could digitally change the patching right at the consoles (minus the PreSonus mixer) however he wanted to fit his workflow.

Each digital mixer clearly had its pros and cons, and it was even immediately obvious that sound quality changed between each mixer as well.  To be fair, the mixes certainly had differences but there were characteristics on the desks that still revealed themselves.  Some had effects that sounded a little less authentic, while others sounded incredibly crisp and real.  Additionally, some mixers had controls that were a little confusing to locate or identify, while others put everything right in front of the operator.  James did have a few struggles as he learned his way around each but mostly in the form of new-user error.

Top view of the Behringer x32

Top view of the Behringer x32

With the Behringer x32, James had no problem getting around, but we observed the sound was a little harsh in the high-end.   While the really large screen is a great asset, we did find ourselves wishing it was touch sensitive like some others.  Fortunately, this is solved with the iPad app.

View from above of the Soundcraft SI Expression 2

View from above of the Soundcraft SI Expression 2

On the Soundcraft, the James had unknowingly cranked the makeup gain on the master compressor while he was thinking that he was adjusting the threshold.  In a real live sound situation a solid engineer would have spent ample time learning the board in advance of the gig and and be more familiar with where to go for certain controls.  After fixing the problem, we noticed immediately that the sound quality seemed more rich, clear, and full than the Behringer mixer.

Top view of the PreSonus StudioLive 24.4.2

Top view of the PreSonus StudioLive 24.4.2

During the PreSonus portion, our engineer really got everything dialed in quickly, but having not used the Smaart Monitor tuning Wizard, there were several instances of feedback during soundcheck.  We also noticed that the gain had to be turned up a little more than some of the other consoles, but did not affect anything adversely.  The effects sounded great, and all of the controls for every channel spill out across the top of the board when you select a specific input, so it’s easy to grab for a specific parameter and change it on the fly.

Top view of the M-200i Controls

Top view of the M-200i Controls

The final console, the Roland Systems Group M-200i, was the smallest of the bunch, but it almost packed the most punch.  We immediately noticed the effects were incredible sounding!  The only downside is that it is really intended to be used with an iPad to control a lot of the functions on this version of the console, but the app makes for a great system. James did fumble around at one point finding the pan for the channel, but again,  just user error from not being completely familiar with the equipment.

Each has it’s own workflow, representation of effects, and style of mixing.  All of them can be  controlled with an iPad, and some truly needed it while others were just fine without it.  When choosing a digital console, use something that you’re comfortable with. The last thing you need is to be fumbling around with finding a control in the middle of a sound check or performance. Live sound is all about fast paced work, and digital technology has really made our lives as sound engineers much easier.  Here’s to the digital age!

To see the experience for yourself take a listen/look to the following video and let us know what you think!   You’ll see the setup, hear some tracks, and get James’ thoughts on the overall experience working with each of these great compact digital mixing consoles.  We hope you find it helpful and look forward to hearing from you.

7 Responses to x32, SI Expression, StudioLive, and M-200i: A Digital Mixer Hands-On Experience

  • kudzayi
    kudzayi on 08/31/2013 at 2:07 AM said:

    Great article i guess you will have to re-do this again with the new PreSonus Studiolive Ai Series which improves vastly on the former boards.

    Looking forward to the new/updated redo of this .

    Cheers.

  • Alex Anderson

    Glad you like the post and thanks for commenting! We will indeed need to feature the StudioLive AI in another post/video. We are conceptualizing round two of our mixer shootouts and when we receive the AI, we will integrate it into the mix.

  • Aaron Brown

    When James Dean talks about live sound you LISTEN! Great to hear the comparison of these units with the reach of musicians on a budget :)

  • norman soriano
    norman soriano on 11/20/2013 at 6:04 AM said:

    I like all of them, each of them got its own distinctive features as well as sound is concern, but I like also my yamah o1v96i

  • hendrik theis
    hendrik theis on 11/23/2013 at 12:54 PM said:

    Hey, this is hendrik from Germany.
    As being a musician in my free time and being an apprentice to an event technician lets me think about buying my first own console (X32, PresonusAI or SC), I find this direct comparison very helpful. Thank you for initiating this 'hands-on'-article, your experience reports/results and all the other interesting stuff I found on your website this evening.

    From Europe I can tell you, that the 01v96 as a console standard hasn't become extinct yet.
    I did not run into any 01V96i yet (might be an accident), but the X32 seems to be a stronger tendency in both professional and semi-professional sound environments.
    For me it would be really interesting to add a 01v96 and/or 01v96i to your comparison.
    Are the 01v96 preamps really that bad they're sometimes told to be, and how much better do the 96i's preamps sound?
    Many greetings

  • Landon
    Landon on 12/04/2013 at 11:16 AM said:

    I have yet to hear the Roland or The Expression consoles; however, I have worked on the StudioLive and have heard the X32. I must say that the X32 has been one of the best sounding digital consoles I have heard from the $3000 price point—most likely due to the Midas preamplifers. I've never really liked the StudioLive, but the X32 seemed to handle EQ manipulation very well—making a warm, full mix very easy to attain. I look forward to hearing the Expression in person.

  • Don Lanier

    Ive bought the SC 32 channel and the IPAD Air and its a dream console, the best live sound as Souncraft has the best pre of all these consoles, I do several multi band , multi artist festivals the quick ability to move, change, copy and paste etc is pretty cool. It has let me get rid of the Monitor console we used to haul around, now the guy on stage has an Ipad, and I have an Ipad, we both can do FOH adn Monitors, and stand right next to the person, adjust, tweak and tune....Great comparisons...I bought the Soundcraft.

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