Allen & Heath GLD-80 Chrome Edition Digital Mixer

A&H has continued to update software and firmware for the GLD range, adding support for remote control, offline editing and other features we’ve come to expect from modern digital consoles.
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A&H has continued to update software and firmware for the GLD range, adding support for remote control, offline editing and other features we’ve come to expect from modern digital consoles. The latest release, Version 1.5, brings some exciting additional features to the desk, and A&H has given the desk a slight facelift. Gone are the purple-colored sections and upon the smart black finish are shiny chrome faders and rotary encoders. It’s a nice touch, but what about the rest of the new features? I’ve been reviewing a new Chrome Edition GLD to find out.

The GLD-80 Chrome Edition offers more than just a bit of added “bling.” It is important to note that owners of original GLD consoles can update their firmware to the latest version for free. This contains all the features that now come as standard on any new GLD Chrome. The GLD system is very compact with all processing handled by the surface—unlike the manufacturer’s iLive systems where the stage racks house the processors. This allows the desk to be used standalone with limited I/O or with quite a wide range of stage boxes over Cat 5 digital snakes. These stage boxes have also been given a facelift and are among the smartest and lightest stage boxes on the market. I believe the stage boxes have played a part in the GLD’s success story with installs; they allow venues to distribute I/O points around their performing areas in convenient places.

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Via a selection of stage boxes, the GLD-80 can provide 48 input processing channels, eight stereo effects returns, 30 configurable busses and 20 mix processing channels. These effects returns, busses and mix channels can be user-configured to arrange the processing power for different roles such as FOH or monitors. The GLD-112 has the same level of processing power and maximum channel counts, but facilitates a larger footprint. The GLD-80 has 20 fader strips over four layers, while the GLD-112 has 28 fader strips, also over four layers.

Besides the GLD Series offering a high specification, it is the user interface and flexibility of these desks that sets them apart from much of the competition in this area of the market. The channel strips can be placed anywhere on the console, which includes any channel type. This enables users to highly configure the desk for a fast and efficient workflow for any show or event. Color-coding also plays a key role in allowing the user to build a unique mixer.

Every channel has all the default processing tools and routing options you would expect from any high-end modern digital console. The audio processing toolset has always been excellent, but that has now become even better with this update, as I found out. The single channel strip layout of hardware encoders for the preamp, EQ, dynamics and so on are well-presented, but the touchscreen, along with an additional encoder for whichever parameter you have selected, is also surprisingly fast to work with. Menus are simple and most functions can be found reasonably quickly.

A&H also has a complete range of remote control accessories, and computer or tablet apps. Personal monitoring systems are available at a fraction of the cost of some third-party options, which don’t integrate as well. The tablet app is great for easily walking around the venue and still retaining some control of the desk, but the laptop/desktop application gives you complete control of the desk. The same computer app can also be used to create offline show files, which opens the desk to touring applications.

The shiny new Chrome additions have given the desk some modern ‘bling’, but this doesn’t detract from the professional workspace these desks have to offer. Some of the GLD’s materials used feel a little “plastic” to my touch, but for the price and the high durability of the controls, it’s easily excused.

One new feature which I wasn’t able to test this time around (I was using the desk in live sound scenarios, not conferences) is the AMM, or Automatic Mic Mixer. This version of AMM can now work across 44 mic inputs. It has two modes: D-Classic dynamic gain sharing for a simple quick set-up and Number of Open Microphones (NOM) logic gate technology for a more intelligent auto mix.

The Chrome firmware update includes a plug-in architecture called DEEP that allows users to quickly select from a number of different processing tools. There are two compressor models: the 16T and 16VU. These new compressors are found in each channel’s processing pages, where there are now six compressor models to choose from. They can be loaded even during a show and without eating into the virtual effects rack slots.

Other new firmware features include some more onboard effects such as a stereo tap delay with independent left and right time base and comprehensive Tap Tempo functions. There is also a ‘Bucket Brigade’ delay effect. This is an effect Allen & Heath has developed to sound like non-linear, solid-state delay units. The name itself comes from a certain analog delay line comprised of capacitors from the 1970s. The effect emulates the non-linearity and filtering characteristics you would expect from such devices, but with the benefits of the digital domain, like delays up to 2.7s and selectable distortion parameters.

I’ve been using the new desk for some shows over the last few weeks, but the most in-depth opportunity was at a technically challenging dance and performing arts show. I installed a Dante card in the option slot of the surface and created a Dante network with a GB/s switch. This enabled me to use a multichannel playback system from one Pro Tools rig, and another Pro Tools rig for multichannel recording of the show, while still having a couple of stage boxes attached from the stage. I also installed a wireless router from the additional network port to give me wireless control from an iPad and laptop. The whole system worked flawlessly and was very reliable.

The best part? Set-up time at FOH was minimal with only a few Ethernet cables to worry about. For me, this really sums up the whole GLD experience. Once the user interface is understood, which doesn’t take long, users are off to the races, able to create quite complex and professional set-ups effortlessly for a fraction of the average cost.

Everything within the GLD behaves as you want it and the sound is great. The preamps are clean, as you would expect from A&H, and the digital processing works well, allowing fine movements of EQ curves to be noticeable. The sound quality isn’t going to create something special, but it is very good. Simply remember that the total price for a GLD package is only a fraction of some other comparable systems.

The sonic output delivers and behaves exactly as you’d expect, and I don’t think we can ask for much more than that. As such, I was really pleased.

I love its new effects and compressors, too. In application, I used the 16T compressor from the channel strips regularly, which graphically looks similar to a well-known proaudio manufacturer. I found myself making great use of the 16T on vocals and potentially ended up with what ‘looked’ like worrying amounts of gain reduction—which actually sounded great and enabled an easier mix. The range of effects on board are plentiful to the extent that most engineers won’t need any additional outboard. The new delay effects are a great addition to the toy cupboard. I thought the stereo tap delay was easy to use and sounded great.

The Allen & Heath GLD-80 Chrome Edition is a well-equipped mixer that is flexible, reliable and falls in line with modern expectations. The sound from the desk is uncolored and clear, but most importantly, users get a visual feedback from any processing moves they make, making fine adjustment a pleasure. The sonics and features are excellent considering the very affordable price point. Finally, the new look is great, but the new firmware tools are the most fantastic addition to a desk that was already a safe buy for many applications.

UK-based Simon Allen is a freelance internationally recognized sound engineer and pro audio professional with more than a decade of experience.