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Digital Age

August 25, 2013

The move to digital audio mixing has come along in a trickle, to say the least. Not that digital mixers haven’t been available for over 2 decades but it has taken a while for them to be at a price point that people can accept. There was also the issue of fear about the complexity of installation and operation that comes with a digital board. I think PreSonus has done a great job of taking care of both of those issues with their line of digital mixing consoles.

My first encounter with a PreSonus mixer came about because of a training class/sales promo conducted by http://chucklevins.com/ in Wheaton, MD a few years ago (2010 perhaps?). At the training they demo’d their StudioLive 16.4.2 digital mixing console. I was very impressed to say the least. Prior to that demo my digital mixer experience had been relegated to Yahama 02R and 01V consoles. After the PreSonus demo I got hands-on experience with the Yamaha MC7, the Roland M300/M480 and the Allen&Heath iLive and GLD series of mixers during live sound or recording applications.

If price is no object I would select the Allen&Heath line of digital mixers as they combines the best in preamp, touch screen control, functions, and inputs/outputs utilizing their digital snake. However because price is an object from many of my clients (small business and churches on a budget) I strongly recommend the PreSonus line. The StudioLive line of mixers provides the best price point & feature set that i have come across but I think one of it’s most overlooked selling points is its ease of setup and ease of use. Of all the digital boards I have used it is most like an analog console in regard to  physical inputs, manual faders, and channel layout. Now i know that many people might look at the PreSonus and scoff at its simplicity considering how “cool” flying faders are and the “awesomeness” of flipping through pages to adjust multiple levels of channels. But I will remind you that most staff at a church are not professional Audio Engineers who can easily be trained nor are they all gear heads (like me) who can spend hours reading a manual and watching online training to break down the intricacies of their new mixer that they will use once or twice a week. For these folks simplicity and ease of use are key.

At my church we recently purchased and use the Allen&Heath T112i with all it’s bells and whistles, excellent touchsceen  and many pages of inputs to manipulate to our hearts content. However there are (maybe) 5 people (out of an AV staff of at least 35 people) in the entire 700 person church  who can run it correctly. That creates job security in a job that doesn’t pay AND it becomes a situation where one of those persons needs to be around at every service. At an active church it becomes a real strain on our lives.

On the other hand at a church I am consulting with I suggested they purchase the PreSonus 16.4.2 (which they upgraded to the 24.4.2 for the additional channels). Their previous audio configuration made the PreSonus an excellent choice:

  1. They were only using 11 channels of their 32 channel board
  2. The 32 channel sound board was going bad
  3. They were experiencing feedback but had no external EQ’s to correct the problems
  4. They had no outboard compressors or limiters
  5. They did not have an elaborate system that required more than 10 Auxiliary channels or 4 buses

With one device, for under $3k, they received:

  • 24 physical channels (not the 20 mono and 2 stereo channels that some try to pass off as 24)
  • 24 channels of compression, gates, and limiting
  • 24 4-band EQs
  • 8 Assignable GEQ

I find those options to be well worth the cost, considering the space savings and reduced cooling cost associated with putting it all in one package. Imagine the cost of equipment, rack space, cabling and cooling just for 24 compressors even in a 4 in 1U device!!

Having the ability to record each channel as a separate track may not seem important to most churches initially but think of the improvement in quality your Media Ministry can have when you can (with the touch of a few buttons) send your recording back from your computer through the mixer to a 2 track CD after the service is over, remixing it as you go.

Did I mention a physical manual along side capturing software and an included non-linear editor? A physical manual is important to me because I still like a book in my hand when I’m going over settings rather than having to turn from my console to go to my computer screen which is not always near to each other. Call me old fashioned but I think including a physical manual is a sign of good customer service.

Limitation? I would love more buses, especially on the 24 and 32 channel version of the board. I easily figured out how to route FX control to a bus but have not figured out how to route it to a channel but because of the physical manual it is just a matter of looking it up to see if it is possible.

On the 16.4.2 you only get 1 GEQ for the main output though that number jumps to 8 for the 24.4.2. I would have liked at least 4 on the 16 channel version.

Also to get over 32 channels you can combined two 24 channel consoles or two 32 channel consoles. I have not setup a combined configuration as yet so I cannot say if it adds any complexity or drawbacks.

I won’t delve into the on-board 2 channel FX only because I don’t find it particularly compelling as yet. A little more experimentation and manual reading (that physical manual is great) will be necessary before I can pronounce it a success or failure.

All in all I am pleased with the PreSonus purchase and the church is pleased as well. I have taken them through one round of training already and have a second round planned where we will effectively tweak out the system to eliminate any feedback they may experience from their hypersensitive podium and wireless lapel microphones.

I am going to do my best to get some more hands on experience with other digital boards like the Behringer X32, the Digico line of mixer as well as the Soundcraft Si series of mixers. As always, more details to follow.

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