Intuitive, flexible, and affordable, the Behringer X32 is an ideal option for houses-of-worship, larger clubs/music venues, and other multifaceted, multi-operator live sound venues.
My first venture with a Behringer digital board was the DDX3216, which came out over a decade ago. Primarily, it was a mixer for a small room that could easily be managed with a few presets. It did the job with few frills, boasting a monochrome screen and adequate controls. Afer that, I installed a pair of Panasonic DA-7 digital mixers that also did the job.
Today, Belmont Church has an Avid Venue SC48 in our Worship Center, our first venture into the larger format digital boards and it goes beyond just doing the job; it makes mixing digitally enjoyable. So, in evaluating the X32, my first question was this: how does this buzzed-about Behringer desk stack up against other digital consoles?
A true test of a digital board’s workflow and ease of functionality is to jump right in. That’s exactly what I did; I uninstalled a Soundcraft GB4 from the room starting about 11 AM and had the Behringer X32 installed, labeled, routed and ready for a 3 PM soundcheck. This established my early impressions of the board: very favorable.
CAPTION: At right, the colorful Behringer X32 in review at Nashville's Belmont Church, Music Row. Photo: Lynn Fuston
The screen display can be chosen by a list of buttons to the immediate right of the seven-inch color TFT. Home, meters, routing, setup, library, effects mute group and utility to open additional settings from within the chosen display. There are buttons for layers and changing pages, which differ depending on application. At the bottom are six knobs to choose/edit/select the parameters. It only took me a couple times through the process before I figured out the nomenclature and thought process behind the layout. I intentionally did not reference a manual during this time to truly see how intuitively it was laid out.
Although I hoped to review the Behringer P-16 headphone system with the X32 (since the board is equipped with the interface), Behringer was not able to accommodate. So, it was “dig up the adapter” time, linking the X32 with our Hear Technologies Hear Back Mixer System. The reason for the adapters was the X32 outputs are male XLR and the Hear Back inputs are quarter-inch. Needless to say, on the first day of the X32 eval, the back of the board looked a bit odd, with up to three adapters on an output to get it into the right connector. However, it did ultimately work; the routing of direct outs was straightforward. I started to appreciate even more that the graphical icon followed the channel when showing on the screen.
The X32 has eight dedicated busses for effects: two for reverbs, one stereo delay, stereo chorus and four dual graphic EQs. The X32 not only replaced our Sennheiser GB4 console but also our rack of outboard gear: a Lexicon MX200, TC Electronic M-One, eight channels of PreSonus compression, Rane GE27 27-band graphic EQ. I was even able to replace our Tascam CDR due to the on-board USB recorder located at the top of the X32. By plugging in a USB thumb drive, I could record a stereo mix (or whatever I wanted to route to the thumb drive); the cassette player interface will be appreciated by any engineer over 35.
Overall, I really enjoyed using the onboard processing. The X32 is stocked with processing through eight different effects/dynamic processors: vintage reverb, hall reverb, stereo delay, stereo chorus and four channels of graphic EQ. In the House of Worship (HOW) world, effects can play an important part of your mix but they should not distract from worship. The ease of control, tap delay times, grouping, ability to control detailed parameters, and the effects sat nicely in the mix.
Looking under the hood, the X32 is equipped with 32 Midas designed mic preamps, which are pristine in performance, six balanced line-ins and outs on quarter-inch and 16 balanced XLR outputs. The X32 has the usual suspects that come with the world of digital: preset libraries, USB import/export, mute groups, and global or individual bus routing (pre/post). There are screen display adjustments for LEDs, main display and Channel display. Sampling rates of 44.1 & 48kHz are available, but nothing higher. The X32 operates at a 24-bit bit depth.
The layout of the X32 is, in my opinion, the most natural workflow I have experienced to date in a digital mixer; everything just makes sense. There are features that the X32 has that would greatly benefit the larger, more expensive boards. The board is laid out into five primary mixing sections: channel strip, input channels, display and monitoring, group/bus/main channels and scenes/assign/mute groups. The top left third of the board is the dedicated channel strip which includes gain, gate, comp, EQ, aux sends and routing. These never, ever change. To feature one of the sections on the screen, just press the View button in the lower silkscreened area for that section; it will appear on the screen of the channel you have selected. The option exists for parameters to be edited using the six fixed knobs at the bottom of the screen but I found the knobs associated with the sections on the board paired with the visuals on the screen was the most effective way to adjust channels.
On the right of the screen is a monitor level adjustment, phone level, and talkback section with an external lamp hookup. Below that are scenes, effect assignments and mute groups. Each of these are dedicated and have an accompanying view button to feature that section on the screen. The left and right side of the board has a recessed quarter-inch connector for headphones. This is a convenient, yet removed spot. The 100mm motorized faders are setup in four layers: channels 1-16, 17-32, Aux In/USB Reader/FX Return and Bus Master outputs.
For those engineers who love to use different colored Sharpies on channel scribble strips, then the X32‘s color coding is right up their alley. Every fader label can be color coded via eight preset colors. Black is one of the preset colors that serves as a blackout for the screen of channels that aren’t being used. Also available for labeling are preset names, the ability to customize names, and a selection of pictures to help distinguish the channels. They range from drums to instruments, men, women, and a host of other icons. Once the board is color coded, DCAs (Digitally Controlled Amplifiers) are coordinated with their corresponding channels and names are labeled; with this, the board really pops visually. I had many people swing by the desk, those who normally have no interest in the mixing board, to check it out and talk shop. This goes a long way when your organization (and equipment purchases) are directly supported by the people who attend events/services. I have one suggestion about using the naming system: reduce the number of steps required to get to the naming/color coding section. From the home page, a minimum of three button presses are required. However, once you are in that screen, pressing select on a channel will keep the naming/color screen at the forefront, making it quick to go through the entire board at once. This is true for any feature that I navigated regularly. Once I understood that, the workflow improved.
I should point out some of the challenges I experienced with the X32. The screen will not tilt, and in the environment in which I was mixing there was a light directly above the screen which created a glare on the screen. I worked around it with my physical position but an adjustable screen would be nice.
An external clock option is not available at the time of writing this review. There may be plans for an expansion card to facilitate this need, but that is pure speculation. I could use the AES outputs to make the X32 a master clock, but it has no current method of clocking to another source. Then there is the phone coaster, as I call it. It sits in the bottom right corner of the board. A promotional photo of the X32 shows an iPhone with an RTA there, but I never did find a practical use for it. Then again, I didn’t have an iPhone with the app. Speaking of apps (not available for Android devices at the time of print), the X32 has a handy app allowing the engineer to walk the room while making adjustments. It can be used anywhere a Wi-Fi network is available; the X32 and iPad or iPhone must be on the same external network. There is also a PC, Mac and Linux app for setting up the board offline and then uploading the setup.
The X32 has many additional features that my scenario did not call for, such as using the board as an ASIO sound card for recording up to 32 tracks into a DAW via optional card or emulating a controller for a DAW mix surface.
I had two other engineers mix on this board and threw them in with minimal training. Their reaction was much the same as mine once they were able to navigate the board. Their impression of the sound also lined up with mine. Fact is, it’s just hard to go from an analog board to digital in a room. However, the mark of a good digital board is the ability to overcome “digital-ness,” dialing back into the essence of the room. We were all able to do this with the X32. It was not a struggle sonically as the precision of the EQs enabled us to adjust to our liking. The same can be said for the onboard channel compressors; they stayed out of the way while gently grabbing the peaks as I was looking to let the music breathe. None of this required flipping through the manual at every turn, either.
The X32’s layout lends itself to good mixing, as does its internal processing. I was recently discussing getting a new board for one of our rooms and one of the engineers immediately asked about the X32, based on his use of it. I think that endorsement rings the loudest.
BIO: Dan Wothke is Media Director for Nashville’s Belmont Church on Music Row and a regular contributor to PAR. firstname.lastname@example.org
Price: $2999 street
Behringer | http://www.behringer.com
SIDEBAR: Behringer XiControl, iPad control software for X32 and XiQ software for iPhone
By Lynn Fuston for Pro Audio Review
I’ll risk embarrassing myself as an over-expectant tech geek and just go ahead and tell you that I thought setting up the iPad app for the X32 would be as easy as waving the iPad over the console and hitting “connect.” Well, that doesn’t work. (Yes, I did try.) As it turns out, you’ll need an external router to use the iPad and iPhone apps, which are free at the iTunes store.
Setup, while not easy, is straightforward. (I will admit to being more of a sound engineer and less a network/IT guy.) If someone understands IP addresses/subnet masks/router IDs, then this will be a walk in the park. It took me (and two other mix engineers) several attempts to get it working. But once the console is connected via CAT-5 to a LAN port on a wireless router (I used a Linksys Wireless G 2.4GHz) and configured, it works like a charm.
One concern I had was latency over the network, regarding making adjustments and then hearing those changes. I’m pleased to say that changes to everything—including faders and switches—is nearly instantaneous. I inserted a long delay on a channel with music program and could barely detect any time lag in the switching/hearing at all. Fader moves on screen are instantly reflected on the moving faders on the X32. All the controls for each channel strip (Config/Pre, Gate, Dyn, EQ, Sends, Naming) are available on the iPad, except for Preamp Gain and 48V when the iPad is connected.
Interestingly, Pre Gain and 48V switching are available when working offline, which brings up one very powerful option. Many people these days are getting accustomed to setting up monitor mixes while wandering on stage using iPads or iPhones, or ringing out rooms or adjusting mixes while roaming around the main house. That’s very cool. With the offline option, however, one can set up gains, EQs, sends, routing, etc., all before even sitting down to the console. So if I have a saved setup that works for me with a certain band, I could just spec an X32 onsite and bring all my settings with me and load them into the board when I arrive. Very cool. Plus changes to instrumentation, naming, or other adjustments could be made after the soundcheck but before the show, even if a different band is currently performing onstage. That’s very cool.
Nice touches include the hot pink Mute button lockout, so I have to do a two-step Mute Enable then Mute in order to mute a channel, reducing the possibility of accidentally muting something on the touch screen. With access to all 32 inputs, all eight auxes and settings for each, FX 1L-4R, Buses 1-16, Main outs and DCA 1-8, there’s really no need (beyond preamp gain) to be sitting at the board at all to access all the power of the X32 with just the iPad in your hand.
I spent some time with the iPhone app as well, but found it much more frustrating due to layout and limited screen space. It’s useful but much less user friendly than the iPad app. See for yourself. Both these apps are fully functional as downloads from the iTunes store and work without the console.
BIO: Nashville-based recording engineer Lynn Fuston is the owner of 3D Audio, Inc. and the Technical Editor for Pro Audio Review. 3daudioinc.com