Computers, tablets, smart phones, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Ethernet have been shaking up everything in the Internet Age. Things never before even thought of are now run-of-the-mill. The most exciting thing for me has been the ability to use a tablet as a fader bank when using a software digital audio workstation. As touch screens emerged into the mainstream, I dreamt about the application. In the analog days, mixes were performances, often with several people reaching over a mixing desk, sliding faders, pan controls, EQ, hitting mutes… it could be a crazy scene. Consider the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” from the Revolver album. That’s a unique performance, no two mixes were similar, let alone the same.
So the precision of automation is, on one hand, a godsend, but on the other, it can be formulaic and a killer of serendipity in the recording process. There have been interfaces and control surfaces that sought to add this back to DAW recording. Having used a number of them, most didn’t integrate fully or compromised on parameters controlled and nothing really “stuck.” I’d go back to clicking and dragging one fader at a time or recording on a hardware DAW with long throw faders.
Enter the Behringer X 18. It has no faders, one knob for headphone volume and big space for… something. That something is a tablet or smart phone. Install an app on the device and it becomes your control surface. Oh, by the way, it’s not a dock. You don’t plug your device in, it’s just a convenient spot to put the device down when you’re having a sandwich after walking around a venue, checking and adjusting the live mix in various spots. Or it’s where you put your device down as you sip tea in the middle of a mixing session. The X 18 is a game changing device for those of us who have budgets that require sub-$1,000 price tags.
WELL, SHOULD I GET ONE? Department: That’s not an easy answer. Are you ready for some Brain Hurt? You’ll probably need to learn a lot to use this device. Does that learning have a payoff? Damn skippy, it does! That said, there are users who are comfortable with physical knobs and faders, and there are mixers out there with USB connectivity. If you’re one who has the drive to move forward, for $500 this is an affordable slice of the future.
Setup and Usability
This is component audio for the modern age, no doubt about it. The fundamental connections are the standard TEC power cable – no wall wart power supply here – and the USB connection to a computer, if that’s your recording destination. You can use your tablet for that purpose if you want. With just those two connections, the X 18 gives you 18 channels of USB input, 16 of which are through XLR connections. If that’s all it did, it would be worth the $500 price tag.
However, with built-in Wi-Fi, 4 stereo (or 8 mono) effects, per-channel features including gates, dynamics control, 4-band parametric EQ and six auxiliary outputs, it becomes a bargain.
Then add support for personal monitoring, all controlled by a tablet touchscreen? Behringer, please take my money. This capability is worth every headache it will take to figure out.
The scenarios are endless, and I won’t even presume to say that I’ve thought everything through that the X 18 can do. I recall a decade ago, reading about the band Widespread Panic recording every gig in multitrack format. My mind throbbed at the logistics of that. Set up the X 18, plug your mics in for a live show, connect the XLR outputs to your power amps and house PA. Your show is ready. Add a USB cable to a laptop or other computer, boot your DAW app, arm your tracks. Your multitrack live show recording is ready. Yes. This is worth a number of headaches.
A mixer usually comes down to the quality of its preamps. When Behringer’s parent company, The Music Group, bought up Midas in 2009, they bought the rights to an audio heritage dating back to the immediate post-British Invasion era. As the 60s turned to the 70s and the concert business really came into its own, Midas consoles were at the top of the game. Acts as prominent as Supertramp, Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa selected Midas equipment. So when we look at the X 18 and its 16 Midas preamps, we’re talking world class with a capital WORLD. Your mics are well-supported.
Well, you don’t need to worry about your faders gumming up. The X18 feels solid. That’s something that is often hit or miss with Behringer equipment. They’ve never been apologetic about being a provider of affordable equipment. Sometimes it shows in their builds. Other times you’re astonished by the quality compared to the price. The X18 is one of the latter cases. This feels good, solid and dependable. It’s been on the market a couple years now, and there is no line up of complaints about them falling apart. That’s good news.
The X 18 is not extensively reviewed yet. I bet that its paradigm is so shifted there are those who have stared at it for a number of years wondering what it does. It is a little odd, looking at a photo of the X 18 with no tablet in place. It doesn’t seem finished. The user reviews that there are mostly say good things, 4 and 5 stars.
There’s a couple of 1 star reviews. One of them just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. A band that has 3 shows a year with 5,000 people? Hmm… Had to cancel 3 major gigs because of their inability to make a mixer work? Hmmm… Nope, I’m not buying it. This is someone who can’t figure out how a digital mixer works and can’t be bothered learning. If you haven’t got contingencies, you’re not working in the real world. One canceled gig? Shame on the PA. Two canceled gigs? Shame on the band. Three canceled gigs? Poorly written fiction.
I’ve been using a 24-track standalone hardware DAW, the Roland VS-2480, for over 10 years. Recently, very recently in fact, I packed it away, as it was way underutilized. I freed up some much needed desk space and started shopping for a USB interface that would suit my work. I’d missed the boat on the X 18. Never heard of it. Turns out it is exactly what I didn’t know I was looking for. I can give the X 18 no higher recommendation than to tell you that I am putting the VS-2480 up for sale. You served me well, old friend. Now, off with you. Make way for the Behringer X 18 Air Series Mixer!