|Yamaha 01v96i||PreSonus StudioLive AR12USB||Midas Venice F24||Soundcraft Signature 12MTK||Behringer X Air X18|
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|Pro||Yamaha’s flagship digital mixer, updated for the USB age||A digital mixer that analog users can use without a learning curve||World Class analog mixer with multitrack digital support||An affordable multitrack mixer from a Big Reputation manufacturer||18 channels of digital multitrack output, using a computer or tablet for mixing controls|
|Con||Software and display appear dated||A new product; hard to find||Multitrack provided through Firewire rather than USB||Fewer output connections than most||Steep learning curve to incorporate all features|
|Best Feature||One of the most familiar digital mixers, given its status as the first really successful digital design||12-channel multitrack capability||Extensive connectivity, including 24 XLR inputs/preamps||12 channels of digital audio through USB||Next Generation digital mixing core component|
|Reason To Buy||Though the design is ancient in computer age terms, it still performs at a world class level. The addition of USB keeps it relevant||Easy-to-understand layout, that can record multitrack to an iPad||Options for connections, options for routing, options for recording in a user-friendly package||A versatile, analog-style mixer at home in the studio or on stage||Wireless mixing control via built-in Wi-Fi|
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|Full Review||Full Review||Full Review||Full Review||Full Review|
Mixers are a different commodity than, say, cars. In the auto industry each model year is greeted with excitement and last year’s models start to lose their luster. With audio mixers, true innovation usually has a long shelf-life and even conventional products that are executed well can hang around for years. Mixing boards from the early 70s are coveted for the musical qualities they offer, even in the digital age. Hear the Music reviews equipment regularly that performs well in the studio and is readily available on today’s market, no matter when it first appeared. Such is true with mixers.
Today, however, we are going to look at recent arrivals — and in one case, yet to have arrived – that will be right at home at home, in the hobby studio. In keeping with the times, one is digital, two more are interesting additions to the analog mixing world and one is a hybrid mixer. Prices are accessible to most home studios, $180 to $500.
As you read through, keep in mind that your comfort is critical. A carpenter may know what he likes in hammer design, weight, balance and so on, but he’s not thinking about that when he’s knocking up a house frame. The same should be your goal for audio equipment. If you’re thinking about your equipment, you’re not focused on the music. Even as I write that I realize that for some, the equipment is central to the hobby. Don’t ask me how I know that! So weigh that disclaimer against your own personal gear addiction. I won’t judge you.
Ultra Compact – Allen & Heath ZED-6FX
Six-channel analog mixer with built-in effects. Two XLR channels with selectable line/instrument inputs, plus two stereo channels, ideal for keyboards, DJ turntables and other stereo line level sources.
Pro: It’s Allen & Heath and probably the best constructed, best sounding tiny mixer I’ve encountered
Con: Three-band EQ is preferable, even in this size of mixer
The ideal candidate for adding a mixer such as the ZED-6FX is perhaps the home recording buff who has been working with mics and instruments connected directly to an audio interface and who has been feeling a slight lack of inputs. Perhaps it’s a guitarist who wants to add favorite stomp boxes in a different arrangement than in line with the straight guitar sound. When you have the channels available on a mixer, you find ways to use them.
You can get this routing and flexibility out of any ultra compact mixer though. What sets the ZED-6FX apart from others is lineage and execution. The Allen & Heath ZED series mixers have been around the block. The two XLR channels have proven preamps found in other A&H boards, and when you’re plugging in a mic, the preamp can be the deal maker or breaker. The warm, robust sound of a mic through the ZED-6FX should be noticeably different from other budget boards.
Construction is another area in which the ZED-6FX excels. The pots for the controls are attached to the chassis with nuts. It sounds simple, but usually in budget mixers, the pots are soldered to a circuit board and the shafts simply pass through holes in the chassis. Any impact or pressure on those knobs is transferred directly to the circuit board. Over time, that’s an issue. Cracked solder joints and even board damage could occur. Bolting pots to the chassis removes strain from the board. Just one indication of the quality of built. Add to that XLR outputs, which I don’t think I’ve seen on a board this size and a power supply inside the mixer (no wall wart!) and you have a build unlike any in the ultra compact class.
The bonus for this mixer, though, is the effects unit. It does use up the only auxiliary feed on the board, but to good, ahem, effect, and you have the option of shutting effects off and using the FX sends as a conventional auxiliary. The effects, though… 100 of them, reverb, delays and other time-based effects, with editable parameters. I’ve taken A&H to task over a lame FX unit added to one of their more expensive mixers in the ZED family. The effects were fewer and, shame of shame, with no control except level. The Allen & Heath ZED-6FX may be the best ultra compact analog mixer going.
Note: you will still need an audio interface to incorporate this mixer into a computer recording setup.
Rack Mount Digital – Behringer XR12 X Air
Pro: Star Trekian digital mixer at a price that’s accessible to the average home studio
Con: Only stereo output via USB
The Behringer X Air series is one of those concepts that takes new technology and integrates it in a way that seems so obvious and natural you can forget it’s revolutionary. I may be overstating, because if I’m working with high-end gear, it’s usually vintage analog rather than digital. In the under-$500 range, I’ve never seen anything like the X Air series.
The XR12 is what would be called a line mixer in the analog world, sort of. Line mixers are usually simple rack mounted devices with few controls, usually just level. They are made to handle a lot of line level signals in a compact space. The XR12 superficially resembles a line mixer. It has 4 XLR inputs and 8 ¼-inch line inputs. XLR stereo main outputs and two ¼-inch auxiliaries handle outbound signals. There’s a headphone jack. And one knob.
That’s right, a 12 channel mixer with one knob. And that knob is solely for headphone volume. It’s not one of those do-everything digital knobs. This is what makes the X Air concept so appealing to me. The XR12 connects to your computer via USB, just as an interface would. And really, it operates as an audio interface, not a mixer. Until you turn your tablet on.
Load up the X Air app and there is Captain Picard’s audio mixer. This is brilliant. No knobs or faders or complex hardware. All of these are on your tablet. Android, iOS, doesn’t matter, the XR12 handles both. You can even run the app on a computer, great for a touch screen laptop. With the effects and routing in the X Air app, you have incredible flexibility. The effects are extensive and, presumably, added to over time. Here’s a great thing: If something happens to a conventional mixer, say a beer spill or a drop, the game could be over. With the XR12, a smashed tablet will need to be replaced, of course, but the guts of your mixer are way over there in a road case, perhaps and still functioning.
The only drawback to the Behringer XR12 package is that its USB audio to computer is only stereo, unlike the X18, which is a true USB multitrack. Granted, it’s twice the price, and for a home hobbyist who is used to two tracks at a time anyway, the XR12 adds so much capability, it’s a mega-upgrade, even without additional tracks.
Compact Analog – Midas DDA DM16 16-Channel
Twelve XLR inputs with classic Midas preamps; spacious, easy to use board
Pro: Midas preamps are worth the price of admission
Con: No USB integration
Street Price: $361.00
Certain names are synonymous with quality. Stemming from the early 1970s, Midas was at the heart of the burgeoning live concert sound scene, and later created some of the most respected studio console mixers. The company’s focus on quality could sap the revenues from sales and the brand was sold a couple times. Currently own by the Music Group – also the parent company of Behringer – the Midas name has never lost its reputation.
An under-$500 board with 12 Midas preamps is like Christmas to engineers who know the difference a quality preamp can make. Good mics sound great. Great mics sound amazing. It really does come down to that sometimes, which is why people buy single-input channel strips for thousands to get classic, vintage sounds.
The DM-16 does not bring anything new to the table. If you’ve used an analog mixer before, you’ll know your way around the DM-16. There’s no onboard effects or other bells and whistles. This is a plain vanilla audio mixer. So why is it on this Best Of list? That’s the respect I have for Midas preamps. Kudos to the Music Group for making this kind of quality available at this kind of price. The Behringer XR12 also uses Midas preamps, yet another thing it has going for it.
You can use the DM-16 both live and in the studio. Studio applications will require an audio interface. It’s a 2-bus mixer, so stereo interfaces are supplied by the main outputs. If your interface has more than two inputs, each of the 12 XLR channel strips has an insert, which can be used to route a raw single to a multitrack interface for later mixing.
Other attractive features are the 4-control, three-band EQ section. Sweepable midrange is one of the most useful types of EQ. The feel of all knobs and faders is positive and smooth. Enough resistance where needed, while remaining smooth. This is a great low-cost alternative for an engineer with need for lots of quality inputs.
Digital/Analog Hybrid PreSonus StudioLive AR12 USB
Four mono, four stereo channels, but with 8 XLRs
Pro: Bluetooth streaming, onboard recording to SD card, multitrack audio via USB
Con: Effects have no adjustable parameters
The Presonus StudioLive series is another take on melding technologies. They’ve chosen a more conventional route than Behringer, but that’s not a bad thing. Not everyone likes delving into the learning curve the X Air mixers will mean. Anyone comfortable with an analog mixer will be not only right at home with basic mixer functions, but will also be astounded at how intuitive the advanced features of the PreSonus StudioLive AR12 are incorporated.
Wouldn’t it be cool if, at a live gig, you could just press a button and record the stereo mix of the gig, right into your mixer? Okay, no problem. Drop a 32GB SD card in the slot and press RECORD. Done. Now, if the band is cooking, but you want to clean up some tracks and fine tune back in your studio? No worries, you can send all of its 14 tracks via USB to your laptop. That’s right, true multitrack USB support. No need for an audio interface. The AR12 handles it.
So, there’s a break for the band and you want to keep the crowd dancing. The hot playlist you have on your smart phone would be perfect, but who has the right cable on short notice? Doesn’t matter, the AR12 has Bluetooth. Playback is as simple as pairing and pressing a button. Sixteen reverb and delay effects are included for channels 1 to 12, and use their own controls, so all 14 channels have two auxiliaries available full time without affecting FX.
While the AR12 is ideal for live use and recording, PreSonus didn’t forget the home studio user. As well as typical live outputs found on conventional mixers, there’s a pair of outputs for control room monitors.
You will be able to purchase the PreSonus StudioLive AR12 on Amazon after August 31. With the wealth of features and completely intuitive way these integrate, this one might be worth waiting for.
Remember the new car analogy. There’s no model year when it comes to mixers. There are already hundreds of great mixers out there and this is by no means a comprehensive or conclusive list. Check out all the other Hear the Music mixer reviews too, to get a balanced overview before you spend. The options have never been more expansive for home studios than they are now. The right fit is out there, and it may not be the one you have in your head at the moment!