Behringer X32 Digital Mixer - our first look, part 1

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by Gary Williams

We've all been hearing the buzz for a long time. A 32 channel digital console with flying faders for under $3000. At first the thought of such a console sounded preposterous. There was much debate as to whether this would be a piece that would be taken seriously in the marketplace. Surely corners would have to be cut, sonic quality would be greatly compromised, and the feature set and user interface would be dumbed-down. There were immediate scoffers, myself included. It would be easy to conclude that the X-32 didn't really deserve a look. Except for one point gnawing at the back of my techie brain.

One word really. Midas. I'd been drooling over Midas consoles for years, and with the Behringer acquisition of Midas, I expected to see a decrease in the quality of the Midas brand, and the opposite happened. The newer generation of the Midas digital consoles are better than ever. With Behringer now signing the paychecks for the brilliant engineering staff at Midas, job security says when the boss asks if using this technology we now own, can you implement this in a product with a street price under $3000.00 it's a good idea to come up with a way to say “yes we can”....and yes, they did.

While the X-32 is in no way a competitor with the Midas, Digi-co, or high end Soundcraft and Allen & Heath digital systems, and lacks some of the amazing routing features and integration with customizable personal mixing and recording capability found in the mid-priced Roland V-Mix systems, the X-32 may find its way into a high percentage of installations and live rigs where an analog console was in consideration, and may well be an affordable digital alternative in a high percentage of House of Worship applications looking for simplified digital solution.

At Truth Seeker Headquarters, we unboxed our first X-32 and began giving it the once over.  Being the conscientious techies we are, of course we consulted the manual and step by step tutorials to patiently and diligently set up and begin to understand the operations of the X-32. Yeah, right!  

We did exactly what you would do.  We pushed buttons, we moved faders, we tweaked encoders, we savored the smell of the gleaming new hardware at our fingertips.  Ever since we pushed our parents hands away saying "I can do it myself" when they stooped to tie our shoes at age 4, (age 10 for me), that desire to explore, to understand, and to conquer the unknown has burned in our techie spirits.  This is the fun part, figuring it out ourselves.

Here's what we found:

Once the box was open, there was a definite WOW factor.  It looked like a professional piece of gear and not a toy.  Our biggest fear was would the controls feel "cheap"?  Those fears were alleviated right away.  The faders were smooth in their throw, offering just a little resistance to allow for precision and protect against my coffee jitters.  The buttons were large, easily identified and there was no doubt about whether they were engaged or not.  Encoder knobs had a very solid feel to them, and the knobs that were push to select definitely let you know when you had engaged the selection.  Nothing wobbled, felt loose, or offered too much resistance.  It all "felt" good.  

The layout was logical with 16 faders on the left in two layers to allow control over 32 channel inputs, a third layer was clearly identified in the color coded back lit scribble strips for Auxiliary Inputs, the built in audio playback inputs, and effects returns, and a fourth layer that would allow you to control all 16 BUS sends simultaneously, although these BUS sends were easily accessible on the right hand of the console in two layers of 8 faders.  Like many other digital consoles, there is one channel strip with controls across the top of the console laid out in a logical signal path flow from input gain, gate, dynamic processing, 4 full-band parametric EQ, Aux Bus assignments, Main Output Bus assignment, and pan control.  The main outputs can be configured L/R Mono, or LCR, although switching these took a little while to find in the set-up menu.

Many functions seemed very intuitive.  It took a few seconds to figure out how to assign channels to DCA's.  A very useful feature.  Assigning channels to mute-groups was a little more cumbersome.  I couldn't help but wonder why the same procedure could not have been implemented without having to go into the on screen menu section to assign mute-groups.  Finding and editing effects was easy and I loved how many of the frequently used effects parameters were already assigned short cut knobs and buttons on the right hand side of the console.  3 banks of 12 controls allowed for a lot of flexibility for mixing on the fly.  The scribble strips automatically populate what parameter each knob or button is assigned to so I don't have to remember.  I was quickly able to find the assignment map and change settings to my preferred configuration without having to consult the manual.  Great job guys.

The menu display was bright, and using the view buttons allowed you to switch between getting an overview of each channel or effects, or dial down into them with precision.  I found I had very clear indication of what controls were available to me on screen, and what knobs controlled what function.  Navigation was well thought out.  A mid-priced board from a leading Japanese manufacturer could take a few lessons from Behringer on this point.

Input and output routing are done in blocks of eight.  Although there are a lot of options for importing and exporting digital audio via add-on cards and such, this is one area where the X-32 won't compete with the big boys.  

Infinite flexibility and $3000 price point just don't go together.  What this means is that each engineer can't independently decide what channels things will come up on regardless of what input it's plugged into on stage.  If you're using an analog snake...no biggie...just physically patch it where you want it.  If you're using a third-party digital snake, you can most likely assign it where you want it there.

Overall, we were very impressed with the design, feel, and quality of components in the X-32.  Of course the most important factor is "how does it sound?"  Using Midas designed pre-amps our guess would be that it sounds pretty good.  The buzz we've heard is pretty favorable from colleagues who have already used the X-32 live.  But that's not enough for us.  

The next step is to take the X-32 out into a controlled environment where we know the room, the speaker configuration, and we can plug in some of our favorite mics and instruments and see what we get.  Watch for our field report soon.  

In the meantime, we have X-32's in stock, ready to ship.  Call Truth Seeker Procuctions/Geartechs.com at 800-747-7301 to get one on its way to you.  We don't expect these to gather dust since this is one of the fastest-moving products we've seen come to market in a long time.