It’s not often I feel sorry for Uli Behringer but I have to confess the release of the X32
has plucked a slightly sympathetic chord from my otherwise stony heart. Having acquired
Midas and KT it seemed to me that the Behringer ‘Midas Lite‘ digital desk would attract an
awful lot of attention, a quiverful of poison arrows from the haters and demand some tricky
decisions. If Behringer priced the X32 at the slot below the Midas Pro 1 then many would
rail against them for taking advantage of the power of the Midas brand and profiteering. If
they priced it in Behringer world, then the accusation would be that they were diluting the
great Midas name etc. etc. I haven’t been disappointed.
Personally I’m pleased Behringer stuck to their guns and priced this desk with their normal
aggressive gusto. I plugged a U87 into it happy in the knowledge this one mic cost about
the same as the street price of the desk. That’s perspective for you right there. And I think
a deal of thought has gone into the X32. It looks and mostly feels like a professional sound
mixer. This does not come over as an MI industry product even if the price tells a different
story. At some point the designers faced head on the modern digital desk conundrum, how
many mic amps on the desk itself? They answer they came up with — thirty two for a thirty
two channel desk is surely the right answer at this price point. It is a sign of what we have
become used to, twenty four channel desks with sixteen mic amps on the console, or fourty
eight channel desks with eight, the unexpected refreshingness of Behringer’s approach is all
the more welcome. I’ve bought an X channel desk I want to plug X mics into it, now. Not
X-12 or X/2 or 8 or even X but only after spending another grand on a stage box. Why is
that so important? Well if you tour your gear and already have a multicore then you don’t
need to spend any more money out of the box. And if you are a small club, venue or church
then again you can use all your desk with your existing infrastructure and leave the remote
stage box issue till next year’s budget. And if you have a load of outboard, replay and or
radio mics at the mix position — you plug them all in, job done. A note on maximum input
and output the desk also offers six line ins and outs as matrix or aux feeds making it in an X38, kind of.
But what if I want to join the cat5 revolution? Well don’t worry the X32 has two AES
50 inputs and in the S16, a sixteen in eight out stage box. You can cascade two S16s into
each AES 50 input so if you fully load your X32 that’s 64 physical inputs over cat5. You can
also use AES 50 to share the mic amps between two X32s, monitor and FOH, though in this
configuration only one desk has control of mic amps. Sort out any issues in the sound check!
The S16 itself is a tidy bit of kit, sixteen mic amps, remote controllable from the X32, eight
balanced analogue outs. So far much like stuff from the other guys, but there’s more, two
eight channel adat outs, local control on your S16 of your input gains and phantom power
and local monitoring of everything running through the box on the headphone socket. Then
there’s the Beheringer Ultranet port, offering a sixteen channel Aviom style monitor mix
functionality over cat 5. Remember though that the desk is still a 32 channel mixer, (OK
thirty eight if you include the six aux inputs at line level on the desk).
So you will have a 96 input micamps from which you select 32 for your mix.
The format of the X32 is pretty familiar, particularly if you look at the Allen and Heath
approach. Sixteen input faders offering two banks for your thirty two mic inputs. Along side
eight bus (or group) output faders, again two layers for your sixteen outputs and another
layer for eight dca groups. And a master fader. There’s the option to flip all your input
faders to bus masters for a global overview of all sixteen outputs and using ‘sends on fader’
you can view the bus sends from any input channel on your bus output section in the two
layers of eight faders.
The top left of the desk gives you access to the ‘selected’ channel. All the usual goodies
are here, gain, phantom, phase (though I couldn’t find any MS functionality), high pass
filter, dynamics, eq and buss and master and mono outputs sends. You get two meters up
here one showing level at the preamp and one showing gain reduction through the dynamics.
You have a four band eq all which can be parametric and there’s shelving options for your
high and low filters. At this point the user feedback is through the illuminated encoders
and there’s no absolute indication of amount of gain or frequency. For that you will need
the screen. There are four bus send controls and four ‘page’ selections to give access to
your sixteen busses. The sends are all selectable pre or post, with options to go pre or post
eq. Each of the sections has a view button which will instantly display the settings and
options on the screen at the right hand side. The screen is controlled by six encoders and
four page/layer controls. As you might expect there’s been some bitching about it not being
touch screen, but there’s an iPad app if you want touchtastic. While we’re on the subject the
current app supports inputs and outputs comprehensively but there’s not channel processing
(dynamics or eq) support in this version.
In terms of recording the X32 can make stereo recordings direct to a usb flash drive
(careful here test your drive before doing this as it’s not fool proof, also a display of duration
and time remaining would be nice) and it comes with a plug in card supporting USB 2 and
Firewire. This enables all 32 channels to be recorded directly to your computer. And the
card appears as an input source alongside the other desk inputs. You get 32 total so you can
record 16 tracks and play 16 or play 32 if you you’ve recorded the band and want to playback
for a virtual soundcheck. Though I didn’t get to play with one, Behringer are offering a very
affordable P16 personal monitor mix system, sixteen channels of mix down ethernet, each
P16 has a through so the system is cascadable and the P16s offer three band eq with a swept
mid and an onboard adjustable limiter. This of course frees more outputs on the desk, let
the band worry about mixing their own monitor levels and you get those outputs back to do
cool things with. And I think what we see here is the X32 is at the heart of a system, it’s
not just a desk.
So to the two thousand pound question, ‘what does it sound like?’ There’s been enough
internet controversy to make any wise reader listen for themselves before shelling out the
hard earned. Surely here’s the ‘powered by Midas’ crunch. But for the record considering
single channels a Neumann through the X32 or Neumann into a stand alone eight channel
mic pre (available at all good outlets at around three grand) I felt it was honours close enough
to even. What about straight into the mic input of a Nagra LB? As you might expect the
direct Nagra recording has the edge. My Audio Developments 147 mixer sounds better too.
In both cases the difference is clear but not massive. On the other hand my older 16 channel
digital mixer doesn’t do half as much as the X32 and costs more and doesn’t sound as good.
And by the way the Audio Developments has six channels and four outputs — do you want
to mix your band on it? Which brings me to my point, you can play this game with any
mixer you want, but what you can’t do is avoid the question of whether the global package
offered by the X32 meet the total requirements of your gig.
Working with a small band, three vocals, two guitars, keys, bass and cajon, the sound of
the desk was good enough to let the U87s breath their magic and you could clearly hear it.
Maybe the total mix doesn’t offer the ultimate in transparency, I felt it was a bit congested
in places, but then this isn’t an XL8. The onboard effects are pretty good, I took my TC
Electronic M5000 (there’s one on ebay now for seven hundred quid if you are quick, or not if
you just want some more perspective) and we ended up using a vocal patch from that, but
if I hadn’t taken it, the on board reverb would have done just fine. The eq has some foibles
but again does the job. There are eight on board effects slots which are divided between
four for busses and four for inserts but as the division isn’t absolute, just consider you have
eight effects boxes.
So am I a signed up Behringer fan boy, which would have been ironic given my long
standing unwillingness to purchase from the big B in the past? No, thankfully there’s lots
of things I would like to be different. I think a live desk needs a gain trim pot accessible on
every channel (the X32 has a fader but no encoder on every channel), and some people feel
the same way about pan. I’d like to see another five or better ten db of gain in the mic amps.
Direct outs on the channels. Surely you want enough dsp for a graphic on every bus output?
I would like to ‘link’ stereo channels across layers to conserve fader space, I find the menuing
system a little hard to find my way round, I sympathise with the reviewer who couldn’t find
the ‘channel label’ function, well a little bit. Some theater guys are bitching that a hundred
scenes isn’t enough and others that the midi implementation isn’t comprehensive enough.
For those lovers of high bit rates, look elsewhere, the desk runs at 44 or 48. There’s no digital
in (other than AES 50) and no obvious way to clock the desk externally. The faders and
buttons are ok but there is a plastickyness to their feel. The answer to all these questions is,
‘look at the price, now what are you complaining about?’ Personally I don’t want ‘Powered
by Midas’ written on my desk. It’s not like they’re going to write ‘Built by Behringer’ on
the Midas range. I probably wouldn’t mind so much if it read ‘Powered by Midas, made in
Kidderminster’. I know ‘cake and eat it all that’. Come to think of it though, I wouldn’t
mind that written on a new Midas.
However despite my caveats I think the X32 is an astounding proposition. As I joked
with the editor, ‘Not so much a console as a declaration of war.’ The AES 50 functionality
alone is worth the cost of entry, and maybe, perish the thought, the reason Uli didn’t price
it a bit higher is to leave room for an X48 or X64. And what of an X16? I don’t see any
evidence yet of major software bugs or dramatic reliability issues. While I had the desk a
software update rolled out and upgrading was simple and stress free. Time will tell of course
about long term reliability, but as it stands, the X32 is quite simply a game changer.