Regular Hear the Music readers know that I’m seriously crushing on the Behringer X Air series (Review Here) mixers about now. These represent a new take on digital mixing, leaving the control work to a tablet or computer, ideally something with a touch screen. The problem with the X Airs and other digital mixers following a similar design concept is that they are different – radically different. As such, you’ll need to do homework to get the most out of the mixer.
Some people just don’t want to do homework. Are they lazy? Are they careless? Are they fools? They could be, I have no idea. The point here is they don’t want to do homework, and I have no issue with that. Open the box and get to the musical nitty gritty – who can argue?
The kind and gentle folk at PreSonus may know a few people who want to take advantage of digital audio without having a complete brain wipe and reload. This is a digital mixer that looks like… an analog mixer. To take advantage of the digital functions, you’re required to perform such complex tasks as… plugging in a USB cable or SD memory card. If you’re comfortable with a conventional analog mixer, digital mixing cannot possibly be more intuitive than the AR12 or any of the other StudioLive series.
HEY, I’M COMFORTABLE WITH AN ANALOG MIXER. SHOULD I BUY…
Yes. You should. Don’t finish the question. At $500, it is a one-stop home and live recording solution and live sound mixer.
Setup and Usability
Pull this thing out of the box and on first glance, it looks like just another analog mixer, kind of cute, but nothing you haven’t seen before. As your eyes wander, the first sign that the same old isn’t same or old is the light grey real estate above the FX, monitor and main bus faders on the right. There’s a section about the size of an old audio cassette. To those of us old enough to know what the words “audio cassette” mean, I swear, you’ll be looking for the button to open the cassette door. There are four transport buttons and a slot instead. Rewind, forward, play/pause and record. The slot? That’s for the SD card that can record the stereo mix from the board. As though you had an audio cassette recorder built-in, only better. Audio cassettes weren’t known for their pristine audio.
Go ahead and connect that USB cable on the back to a computer. It’s almost like plugging in an audio interface. Wait, no. It’s exactly like plugging in an audio interface. The really nice part is that it captures the 12 regular channel strips and the stereo master feed as individual tracks. Yep. Fourteen tracks to computer. Imagine that you’re asked to do sound for your buddy’s band. The guitarist and the bass player are skeptical because you’re the DJ’s buddy. Then you casually ask, “Oh, would you guys like a recording of the show?” Watch the heads spin. When they say sure, you even more casually drop, “Do you want that stereo or multitrack?” Those in the band who understand the significance of what you just asked – that is, not the drummer – will be speechless. Multitrack live recordings are a fussy proposition. Sorry. Were a fussy proposition. The AR12 takes a raw, after-gain, pre EQ and pre-fader signal from each channel strip and routes it to the USB port which performs its USB duties and downstreams the data to a computer. Raw tracks ready for mixing into a masterpiece just like that. Okay, you still need to know how to get signals to the mixer and make them sound good, but I’m counting on you.
I’m glossing over the mixer-type duties of the AR12, but these are there. A good combination of features and flexibility in line with a mixer of this size and price range. There really are no surprises for those who know analog boards.
Unfortunately, I haven’t had my hands on an AR12 yet. Release of the StudioLive line is on August 31 2016. Normally, I wouldn’t be writing about a piece of equipment that’s not available unless, as it is in this case, it’s a notable release, one that’s potentially worth waiting for. Major online retailers are taking orders in advance of release.
So for sound quality, we have to turn to the PreSonus reputation, and fortunately, it’s a good one. The company has been around through most of the home studio boom, a period covering roughly the last 15 years, and they’ve provided many products to serve the field. Having never heard or uttered the words, “oh no, another PreSonus preamp,” I expect no problems.
The AR12 has some potentially nice features. The first four channel strips are mono and each has a three-band EQ with sweepable mids. Having watched a couple videos on the AR12, I heard a PreSonus rep say that a boost produces a bell curve based on the center frequency, while a cut produces a notch. Simply stated, a bell curve covers a wide, bell-shaped range of frequencies while a notch cuts a narrow V-shape close to the selected frequency. This is often how I approach EQ in any situation: gentle bell-shape boosts and aggressive and narrow notches.
My only potential concern about the sound of the AR12 is the effects. There are 16, but they are presets. Reverbs, delays and a chorus, these have a dedicated control on all four mono and four of five stereo channel strips. The effects can then be routed back through the FX bus fader. The quality of presets will have a lot to do with the success of the onboard FX, but the fader makes it easy to dial back, if it’s too much. I expect PreSonus will deliver with FX quality.
Digital audio is handled at 24 bit, 96 kHz, so there is good headroom and more than adequate sampling.
Again, it’s difficult to estimate what the build quality of the AR12 will be. Again, PreSonus has a good name in general. No weight is listed in the technical specs. The AR12 is rack mountable and comes with a rack conversion kit.
User reviews are as yet non-existent. Yes, I looked. I checked some online publication reviews. However, these stuck to the PreSonus marketing material. While it’s tempting to compare to the similarly named StudioLive 16.4.2 mixer, it’s a different league, a $1,400 digital mixer, definitely not a hybrid, like the AR12. As with the quality FX, PreSonus is a name that has earned its benefit of doubt.
The AR12 and a computer, or even an iPad (you can record multitrack to an iPad, according to reports), is all you need to equip a home studio with 12-channel multitrack capability. Assuming you have the processor and peripherals, the AR12 covers both mixer and interface duties for $500. Do a search for 12-input USB interfaces alone and only the Roland Octa-Capture comes close on tracks and price. There is simply nothing quite like the PreSonus Studio Live AR12. It may well be worth waiting for, particularly if you’re comfortable with the analog mixer format.