Which digital mixer should I choose?

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First it was Yamaha.  Today, just about every mixing console manufacturer has at least one digital mixing console of some sort, and there are very good reasons to consider a digital mixer, at almost all price points. 

Today, I'd like to point out our most talked about models.  That doesn't mean most sold, but the ones with the most buzz.  Three of the four are brand new, so there's not a lot of a track record yet. 

First up is the Behringer X32.  It came in last week, and it's the talk.  It has an almost-too-good-to-be-true feature set -- 32 channels, moving faders, backlit scribble strips, iPad interface, Midas-designed microphone preamps, and more.  $2999.  We're still putting it thorugh its paces, and we'll write more about it soon.   

Then there's the Line 6 Soundscape M20D.  $2499.  It features a unique graphical mixing interface (looks a lot like Apple Garage Band), has powerful digital effects, compression and mixing, optional iPad control, and 16 channels.  Despite its power, the Line 6 mixer is designed to make a sound technician out of even less-experienced users.  This mixer gets our vote for self-mixed bands, and for smaller church venues.  The interface (that you design yourself from a library of icons) allows you to simply point at the icon of any musician or directly at his or her monitor speaker and make adjustments to the mix or to the instrument itself.  It's really, really easy.  More info here. 

As an added bonus, when using Line 6 Stagescape loudspeakers and subwoofers, the M20D uses a digital data conneciton from mixer to speakers (replacing the analog line level interface), so that connections are as simple as daisy-chaining one Line 6 loudspeaker to the rest, whether subwoofers, monitors, or mains. No more ground loops, no special crossover, no making sure that the monitor is plugged into the monitor output and not the main.  Each speaker tells the mixer what it is and everything gets configured the way it needs to be.  It's pretty hard to make a mess of things with the Line 6 ecosystem. 

Just today, the Mackie rep stopped by to show off Mackie's first digital mixer since the old TT24.  The DL1608 is a neat little mixer.  It requires an iPad (any version) as its control surface and features very powerful effects, equalization, compression, and mixing.  Its interface is intuitive and it sounds great, using Mackie's Onyx preamps the great sound was probably also helped by the Lab Gruppen power amplifier in the rack, but that's another story).  Speaking of microphone preamps, those levels are not recallable, since they're on rotary pots resident in the DL1608 hardware itself. That's the case with many other digital mixers, too, so it's not a deal-killer at this price point.  The rest of the Mackie mixing features are only accessible via iPad, so if you misplace your iPad, you don't have a mixer.  All of that said, if you're in iPad owner and need a powerful, friendly 16 channel mixer, this one seems like a no-brainer at $999. 

The "grandpa" of the new digital mixer manufacturers is Presonus.  Presonus' StudioLive series has sold more than 60,000 units and has widespread acceptance.  In addition to making a highly respected digital mixer, Presonus just acquired Nimbit which allows you to sell the music you're recording via the included Studio One and/or Capture software, and create a website free.  I'm a big Presonus fan, but it's what I'm most familiar with.  The church I attend has had one for over a year, and I mix for a friend using an iPad almost every week.  When used with your Mac or PC, the Presonus hardware/software combination becomes a full-fledged multi-track recorder, with the ability to use those recorded tracks for virtual soundcheck (soundcheck without the band needing to be there) and for training.  How did we ever live without that? 

These consoles all have scene recall, all have iPad interfaces, and they all have comparatively (to analog consoles) unlimited amounts of equalization, effects processing and channel dynamics.  I've made the case in other articles that buying a digital console is like getting a free mixer when you subtract the cost of outboard processors from the price.  And there's a good reason to buy any of them, depending on your situation. 

When I chose a console, I picked Presonus for my own church.  But none of the others were available 15 months ago.  Today, for as many channels as we need at church (at least 24), I'd look hard at the Behringer X32 and the Presonus again, and once I've had a little more time to work with the X32, I'll report back to let you know what I found.  The Line 6 is quite possibly the easiest mixer I've ever seen, and its interface hides its very powerful digital processing that can be easily revealed for more advanced users.  And again, if you have an iPad, and don't need more than 16 channels (and are okay with making the iPad a requirement), the Mackie appears to be a steal.  With over 60,000 users, the Presonus StudioLive family has the established user base, consistent software updates, and track record for reliability. 

When you use a digital console, you place a lot of eggs in one basket.  It becomes not just your mixer, but your outboard equalization, your dynamics (compressors and gates), and your effects processor(s).  If a digital console fails, you're dead in the water, so reliability is top priority. 

Time will tell the story of reliability.  Right now, all of these mixers loook like great options for someone.  If you have questions, or would like to talk about your particular situation, call us.  We'd be glad to help you think through the options.