I have a small confession to make, when the Allen and Heath GLD-112 arrived recently for review, I was a bit disappointed. Not at all disappointed with the desk itself, it is a very, very nice desk, read the review. No, I was disappointed that it wasn’t a Qu-16. Now that may seem silly. The GLD is a much more comprehensive and capable mixer, with all sorts of features not available on the Qu-16, but I’ve been waiting for the Qu-16 for a long time now and the exciting affordability of the product is such that in the case of expectation, less is more. But has that wait been in vain? I finally got to unpack a Qu-16 to find out. The desk is a twenty two channel mixer with sixteen xlr inputs equipped with mic amps and three streo inputs. Part of my excitement over the Q ship was generated by the confluence of a range of A and H technologies.
You get 16 moving channel faders (seventeen including the main fader), touch screen and hardware control of channel parameters, FX rooted in the same algorithms as the bigger desks, access to audio over Cat5 via the dSnake technology, on board multitrack recording over USB direct to a USB drive (not to a USB flash disk), separate USB connector for audio streaming to and from your Mac (no Windows support planned), an iPad app and interoperability with the new ME series of personal mixers. And it all fits in a nineteen inch rack space.
Where to start? Well how about the finish. The Qu-16 feels like a proper bit of kit and not a toy. All knobs and buttons feel positive and professional. Only the feel of the motorised faders reflect the fact that this is not an expensive desk. There was a lot of speculation before release about this fitting in your hand luggage, and well yes if you are Catherine Zeta Jones, but no if you’re only Michael Douglas or indeed any other normal human being.
The wrap around design is striking, practical and guaranteed to catch the eye at a gig. The specs are online but a few notable things. Separate mic and line inputs. Mics on XLR line on TRS jack. Two stereo line inputs on quarter inch jacks and a third on the surface on mini jack, for yer walk in music. If your not playing it off USB of course. Ten outputs on XLRs alongside main L and R. A patchable AES stereo output and another patchable output on TRS jacks.
If you plug in a dSNAKE (eight channel or 24 channel boxes are available) it will give you audio over Cat5, however you can select on each individual channel between local input at the desk, remote from the dSNAKE stage box or USB. The USB can be audio streamed from your PC or from your attached USB `QuDrive’. Remember though this doesn’t add channels to the desk. So an AR 2412 will max you out at 22 inputs. However, they can be 22 mic inputs, three will be stereo pairs but nonetheless it is a way of upping your mic channel count. If I was using the Qu-16 in a venue with existing tie lines, I might be tempted to buy an AR 84 and use it locally for just such a purpose. Remember though that currently using an AR box does not add to the absolute number of channels, if you are tempted to be grumpy about this please read on.
There is a problem, a subtle problem, with the sheer range of facilities on the Qu-16. It fools you into thinking you have bought a much more expensive system. The Qu-16 offers so much that we get a piqued when we run up against a limitation. Like the issue of the dSNAKE channels or the fact that the Qu-16 can record 18 tracks of 24bit 48kHz audio, a little voice in my head says, `Where is the 44.1?, or even the 96kHz?, why not all the channels’, we are such ungrateful people. Just remember this is not a twenty grand desk.
Setting up the mixer is relatively speaking fairly simple. Out of the box everything is routed to main L & R so if you plug a mic in and open the channel fader you will hear something. Which in digital desk world is kind of reassuring. If you don’t hear anything, don’t forget to open the main fader. This direct quality makes the Qu-16 very easy to operate especially for digital beginners if indeed there are any of those left. However it does point to one aspect of the Qu-16, no sub-groups, beyond mute groups of course, four of which are available on board. You do get layers however. Top layer is your 16 mic inputs (also selectable to dSNAKE inputs or USB returns) your second layer controls your three stereo inputs, FX sends and returns and your ten mix busses. The third layer is a custom layer which you can build using any mix of inputs, fx sends or returns or mix master faders
A quick tour of the effects and stuff reveals all the hard work those five ARM processors are doing. You get parametric eq, compressor, limiter, gate and delay on every channel. You get 28 band graphic eq on the main outputs and the four mono outputs. The Qu-16 has four on board processor slots, selectable from a range of reverbs, delays and modulators. These effects can be inserted into single channels or combined in an effects mix. You get two dedicated effects mixes so if you want to use all four effects units you need to use a couple of your standard mix busses. The effects return offers the same four band parametric eq as found on the input channels. Tiny grump — I’ve asked for a low pass filter option in the parametric EQ and for some dB scales in the graphic equaliser. They have been added to the grump list.
My thousand words has come and gone and yet the surface has barely been scratched. I should mention compatibily with the new ME series of personal mixers. But I can’t do more than mention it as the ME is worth a review on its own. The iPad app allows remote control over wifi and once connected is nicely responsive and is a useful adjunct to the smaller screen on the desk, and remember it is not an editor that allows offline set up of the desk, it’s a live tweaking tool. I should also mention the speed of boot, the Qu-16 is quicker than its bigger brothers.
In summary the Qu-16 has all the joys of digital in a well crafted package at a really attractive price. A desk that records as a multi-track, offers audio over Cat5, iPad remote, well established work flow and effects and the extensibility of a personal mixing system. On top of this a desk with a professional feel and features set that integrates with the A and H’s GLD system, sharing the same stage boxes, when it comes time to upgrade things are simple. Hats off to Allen and Heath the Qu-16 may well be the Sultan of Swing.