by Gary Williams
After my glowing review of the Behringer X32 out of the box, we felt it was time to share our experience with the real-world application of this mixer. After all, it may look pretty sitting on a desk but how does it really perform?
Forget all the features, bells and whistles, and the place for your iPhone, when we really get right down to it, the question we have to ask is 'how does it sound?'
My answer to that is "It sounds like a digital mixer." Shocking, I know.
What I mean by that is that there is...
...a little bit of conditioning that happens to our ears after years of mixing on analog consoles. While digital has been with us for decades now and we are accustomed to hearing things more 'accurately' on CD's and other digital media, there is still something about how analog circuitry adds something in its interpretation of voltage levels that feels like a comfortable pair of shoes to us engineers with a little snow on the roof.
To say digital sounds better is really a subjective statement. To say it sounds more 'accurate' might be better. To my ears, the Behringer X32 sounds every bit as good as other digital consoles with price tags of three or four times as much.
Besides sounding 'accurate', the Midas-designed mic preamps are quiet at normal operational levels. I have encountered noise when boosting the signal of an acoustic guitar with a questionable pre-amp, but no more than I would encounter on any other console I've used. It's hard to say how much of that noise is being introduced through the input gain and how much can be attributed to the instrument.
When using a microphone with the X32, I find that I have a lot of gain available before I hear any noise that would be detectable at output. One feature I miss is an input pad, which would let me reduce really hot input signals.
The dynamics processing of the X32 is very responsive. I find myself not needing to hit the compressor as hard. Done right, the objective is to not hear the compressor working at all. My advice is to be a little conservative and see how it sits in the mix and be prepared to back down the threshold or bypass the compressor completely. Now that I have dynamics processing available on every channel, I feel obligated to use it.
There's still no substitute for a good singer who knows how to work a microphone, or a musician with a good sense of how to mix themselves on. Using the right combination of gating, EQ, and compression, I was able to get great drum sounds from a mediocre kit with standard off-the-shelf dynamic microphones.
The EQ on the X32 shines. On some digital consoles, even the most-subtle use of equalization can really color the tone. I find it easy to quickly tweak natural sounding EQ curves and get a pleasing tone even on some challenging vocalists. I absolutely love the flexibility of the control on the EQ, and how much the large display helps me to get a quick handle on things.
To really kick it up a notch, use the X-Control App on an iPad to edit your EQ settings. Just touch, pinch, and drag your way to get the tone you want. Who needs knobs?
The effects are useful and controllable. I would not equate them to the great dedicated studio effect processors or some of the high dollar plug-ins, but in a live situation it's easy to set them in the mix, they are extremely quiet, and I don't hear any obvious artifacts.
For this product, I think there's a lot to be said for simplicity and Behringer did a great job of not overdoing it. One surprise was the Stereo Exciter. Just for kicks, I applied the Exciter to my main mix and was surprised at the amount of clarity it gave to the vocals in my room. With the Exciter on, I find I can run the instruments a little hotter (for a bigger sound) and the vocals still cut through the mix nicely.
So we have it – great features, great sounding, economical, but that all means nothing if you have to be a rocket scientist to use it.
Good news again. With the backlit scribble strips with icon naming functions, and color-coding it's very easy to label, group, and organize inputs. The view buttons in each section make it easy to see what you need to see quickly. Dedicated menu buttons get you to the edit functions without having to navigate through multiple layers of menus, and the shortcut section allows the user to customize some of the deeper functions and eliminate additional button pushes.
So far the training sessions I've done on the X32 have produced good results and the concepts seem to be grasped as quickly (sometimes more quickly) as some analog consoles due to the added visual element of the display panel. A picture really is worth a thousand words, or in my case 1800 words, give or take about seventy-five.
I've said before, when this mixer was announced, I had some hesitations. It couldn't be all of that for $2999. Despite my reluctance, I decided to check it out for myself.
I can now say that I've not enjoyed or been as excited about a new gear purchase as I have been with the X32. So much so that we purchased two of them for the ministry where I serve on staff so we could standardize both rooms.
Having two X32's allows our tech volunteers to float from one space to the other and be reasonably comfortable operating the console in both locations -- a feat accomplished for the first time on Easter Sunday of all days.
As it turned out, all of our engineers from one site were away with their families for Spring Break, so I was able to send one of our trained soccer moms (okay, she's really a lacrosse mom) to the other site where she did a stellar job. This would have been virtually impossible prior to the installation of both X32s within the past eight weeks.
The Behringer X32 has made a true believer out of me. If you have any questions about the X32, please give me a call at 800-747-7301. Or you can watch a video and read more specs and info here. We always have them in stock and at $2999, they're a fantastic bargain. And you can order online by clicking here, too.
Update: we (and most other independent dealers) are not permitted at this time to offer the Behringer X32 family of products for sale online. We can't even feature them online without prices. We hope that this changes soon, but rest assured that we do stock the products for pickup or immediate shipment.