Audio mega-giant Behringer has a few new tricks up its sleeve, writes Greg Bester.
Granted German-based Behringer has an almost omnipresence in the current audio market but taking a look at their staggering sales figures one would not be blamed for thinking that quality has always come second to price point. Their products are simply everywhere and to muster around as many boxes as they have requires some clever shenanigans
But now, the stops have been pulled and the cards drawn from a clandestine sleeve somewhere or other, set to breathe new life into the company.
Back in the last quarter of 2009 Behringer bought legendary audio console manufacturer, Midas, along with Klark Teknik from the Bosch Group for an “undisclosed amount’. Shocked yet? Well, there’s more.
Prior to that, founder Uli Behringer set up a holding company called the Music Group, which now includes Behringer, Midas, Klark Teknik, Bugera (valve amplifiers) and Eurotec, which is their electronic manufacturing services company. Back in 2002 he also built a massive 1.2 million square foot factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong province, China, which is known as “Behringer City’. This is where all Behringer and Behringer-related products are now manufactured. Astoundingly, the facility produces a whopping 50 000 mixers a week with a failure rate less than 0.1%!
So what’s the new trick? Well, it’s the Behringer X32, Behringers first digital mixer since the DDX3216 and it brandishes the words “Powered by Midas’ on the top façade. Yes this is a collaboration effort between Behringer and Midas and many will be dubious with their opinions. Well, I am of the opinion that after you try this console out for yourself, you might just change your mind. Shall we?
The motivation behind the creation of the X32 was to offer a mixer with pro-level features in the sub-$5 000 category. In reality the only digital mixers available in this prices range are the Yamaha 01V96i and the Presonus Studio Live, which do not offer what Behringer was hoping to achieve in the X32. These ’pro-level’ features include separate input and output sections, DCAs and small LCD scribble strips for labelling and colouring, among others.
All in all it has 40 processing channels, 32 local microphone inputs, 25 mix busses, six mute groups and eight DCAs. The microphone preamps – all 32 of them – are Midas-designed and are fully recallable. Any of the microphone inputs are fully soft patch-able, as are the any of the inputs on the optional remote stage box, to any of the input channels on the X32. For each input, the channel strip section offers 13 rotary controls and 17 backlit buttons with slick looking LED collars. These control the input, dynamics, EQ and aux sections, which are all distinctly marked and brightly lit.
Each section also includes a “view’ button, which instantly reflects the selected parameter on the 7′ colour TFT screen and is helpfully day-viewable. The console utilises 40-bit internal processing which boasts “no internal overload and near-zero overall latency’. However, input and output AD/DA converters are still 24-bit.
Speaking of digital options, there are no options because the digital Firewire/USB output card comes standard along with all other digital i/o. This enables the user to connect his/her PC or laptop to the console for full control via their XControl software or to make a full multitrack recording. This turns the console into a powerful audio interface.
In addition, when using the Firewire port connected to a DAW, the console doubles as a control surface on either the HUI or Mackie protocol. Besides the motorised faders we see four rotary encoders and eight buttons that are user definable. These can either be assigned to console parameters, or, when used in DAW control mode, as DAW parameters. Also there are actually three banks that can be selected for these buttons and encoders which total 32 different parameters that can be assigned.
Looking at the back of the console we see 32 microphone inputs along with 16 outputs on the XLR format. These are essentially “omni’ outputs that can be fed from any source definable from the console GUI. There are also two control room / monitor outputs that can be attached to your studio monitors; a convenient plus which makes this console at home in both the live and studio domains. Remote control ports are available on either Ethernet or USB. A wireless router can then be attached and the console can be remotely controlled from an iPad connected to the network via the downloadable XiControl app.
Next we see MIDI in and out ports, which can send MIDI control data through the AES50 network to the stage boxes and therefore to any MIDI device that is attached. Also there is an AES/EBU output that can be fed from any source assigned from the console.
Probably the most interesting features of the console are the integration of the SuperMAC AES50 protocol and Ultranet. The AES50 ports (there are two) each carry 48 bi-directional channels of uncompressed, low-latency audio. These can be used to send and receive audio to and from up to six S16 stage boxes or to cascade consoles together for FOH and monitor operation. The S16 stage boxes themselves provide a USB port (for firmware update only), two AES50 ports, an Ultranet port, 16 ADAT outputs and MIDI in and out. Impressive!
Lastly, the Ultranet port can feed up to 16 streams to Behringers new P16 personal monitoring system, which is a great advantage for stage monitoring.
The X32 is a digital console that offers pro-level features at a budget price. There aren’t many contenders in the sub-$5 000 price range but given that this mixer offers features that are only found in consoles that cost $10 000 and more, there seems to be only one clear winner.
The sheer input capacity, processing, connectivity, user-friendliness and flexibility of this console are sure to make it one of the best values for money that one is likely to find. As Behringer has branded on their X32 marketing media – game changed!