The GS3000 recording console by Allen & Heath introduces a unique approach to affordable console design. Realizing that an all tube preamp console would be far beyond the reach of most console buyers, Allen & Heath has released a dual console equipped with high-quality, solid-state microphone preamps on each channel and two symmetrical valve technology (SVT) tube preamps in the master section. This console shows Allen & Heath’s commitment to both the recording studio and the analog world.
Applications: Project studio
Key Features: Two tube mic preamps; four-band EQ; in-line design; six aux sends
Price: 24-ch. GS3000: $5,995; meter bridge: $1,995; 32-ch. version: $1,395; meter bridge: $1,395
Contact: Allen & Heath at 801-568-7660.
+ Tube preamplifiers sound great
+ MIDI machine control
+ MIDI muting
+ Built-in dubbing matrix
– No low frequency on oscillator
– Signal can’t simultaneously go direct out and bus out
– No frequency selection on HF and LF equalizer sections
The Score: For the project or budget studio that needs a reasonably priced console but wants to stay in the analog domain, the Allen & Heath GS3000 is worth consideration.
The Allen & Heath GS3000 ($5,995) is an in-line console available in both 24-channel and 32-channel configurations. Standard configuration includes two dual stereo input channels, eight subgroups, four stereo input channels, two tube preamps and six aux sends. The in-line architecture allows for up to 32 tracks of simultaneous recording on the 32-channel frame or 24 tracks on the 24-channel frame.
In mixdown, each channel can facilitate two inputs. The 32-channel desk can handle up to 68 inputs (two inputs on each of the 32 channels and four inputs on the two stereo channels) and the 24-channel desk can handle 52 inputs. Each channel on the desk is switchable between ö10 dBV and +4 dBu operating levels
The mono I/O channels include switches for phantom power, line/mic switching and phase reverse. The line/mic switch selects channel input as either the balanced line jack or the XLR mic jack. The phase reverse switch reverses the polarity of the input signal to compensate for phase differences.
The four-band equalizer consists of a high/low-frequency (HF/LF) section and a fully parametric high-mid/low-mid-frequency (HMF/LMF) section. The HF and LF bands are shelving equalizers set at 12 kHz and 60 Hz. Although these are musical turnover points, it would still be nice to have other frequency options. Each band can be adjusted +/-15 dB. The HF and LF section is normally in the channel signal path but can be switched into the monitor path by pressing the CHAN/MON switch.
The HMF and LMF bands have a bell response with a Q adjustable from 0.6 to 2. The center frequency of the HMF band can be swept from 300 Hz to 18 kHz. The center frequency of the LMF band can be swept from 18 Hz to 1 kHz. Each band can be adjusted +/-17 dB. Like the HF and LF section, the HMF and LMF section is normally in the channel signal path but can be switched into the monitor path by pressing the CHAN/MON switch.
There are six aux sends available, but each channel can only access four at a time. Aux sends 1 and 2 can be globally switched to either pre- or post-fade using the global pre/post select switch. The mon/chan switch determines the source of the aux send as either the monitor signal path or the channel path. There are separate mon/chan switches for both pairs of aux sends.
Auxiliary sends 3 and 4 are always post-fade and have the ability to alternatively route to aux 5 and 6. During mix, an extra post-fade stereo send can be created using the Extra FX (XFX) mode. Each channel is equipped with a pre-EQ insert accessed via a TRS 1/4″ jack. The insert point follows the HF and LF section of the EQ to either the channel or monitor path. The groups and stereo bus are also equipped with insert points.
The channel fader is a 60mm smooth-action fader with its own pan, PFL switch and mute switch. With the group/direct switch in the up position, the channel signal (direct) is sent to the multitrack. In the down position, the corresponding group output is sent to the tape multitrack input.
Group 1 is sent to tracks 1, 9, 17 and 25; Group 2 is sent to tracks 2, 10, 18 and 26, and so on. This lack of independent group outputs is a bit confusing. I wish Allen & Heath had opted to give separate group outputs instead of using this jack sharing design.
The monitor fader is a 100mm smooth-action fader with its own pan, PFL switch and mute switch. With the CHAN/MON switch in the up position the channel signal is routed to the group outputs. In the down position, the monitor signal is routed to the group busses for subgrouping.
The GS3000 is equipped with two stereo studio feeds to provide signal for cue or studio monitors. The studio source can be defined as L-R (the stereo bus), Mix B, Aux 1 (Aux 2 for the second studio output), CRM (control room) or any combination. This makes setting the headphone mix simple.
The two tube preamps are totally independent from other console functions and are essentially self-contained outboard gear. There are three ways to insert a signal into the tube preamps; the XLR to microphone jack, the 1/4″ TRS line jack or the 1/4″ high-Z guitar jack (essentially a built-in DI).
In the microphone and line modes, the double-triode valves are configured differentially. The symmetrical design maximizes the performance of the circuit and, when compression and/or soft clipping occur, they are equal on the positive- and negative-going portions of the wave. This results in a more natural sounding preamp.
The soft-clipping characteristic ensures that only low-order harmonics are produced when the amplifier is overdriven with a high transient peak signal. The valve drive control varies the amount of signal being amplified by the valve and a three-color LED illuminates green when the signal is greater than ö15 dB, yellow when the signal is greater than 0 dB and red when the signal is greater that +15 dB.
The EQ in the tube preamp section only affects the signal when guitar mode is selected. It is pre-tube so the EQ can be used to drive the tube. The EQ is a single band +/-10 dB bell curve sweepable from 120 Hz to 6 kHz. The tube output is designed so it can be patched into any of the console’s channel insert jacks.
The GS3000 has a built-in dubbing matrix. This is the first time I have ever seen this feature built into a console and, frankly, I think it’s a brilliant idea. The desk accepts three two-track tape machines, one at +4 dBu and the other two at ö10 dBV. The three dubbing buttons allow almost any dubbing configuration (except machine 2 to machine 3 for some reason). With all three buttons in the up position the L-R mix output is routed to all three machines simultaneously.
The internal oscillator provides 1 kHz and 10 kHz sine waves (unfortunately there is no low frequency available). The optional full-length meter bridge allows visual monitoring of every channel. It is switchable between channel and tape return.
The GS3000 has a limited automation system that can control all the large mute switches on the console. Pressing a channel mute turns that channel’s mute on and off. You can also turn off (clear) or turn on (set) all the console mutes with a single key press. There are four programmable mute groups, each with a master mute group switch. If four groups are not enough, the desk is equipped with 128 mute patches, which are essentially mute groups accessible via MIDI program change. The console also provides all-safe switches that prevent channels from being affected by the mute groups and mute patches.
The GS3000 has a few quirky characteristics, such as the lack of independent jacks for bus and direct outs but, overall, the GS3000 is a decent desk.
I used a pair of DA-88s to try out the console and found the MIDI machine control worked flawlessly. Having machine control with large, clearly labeled buttons directly in front of me made me feel like I was working on an Solid State Logic console. The GS3000 allows tracks to be set in and out of record by holding the record button and pressing the corresponding channel’s mute button.
The solid-state preamps in each channel sound respectable. They are punchy and quiet. All this aside, the tube preamps are the true heart of the GS3000. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if Allen & Heath released a rackmount version of these preamps at some point. If I owned a GS3000, I’m sure it wouldn’t take long before I decided that two is just not enough.
The console seems to be well made. It is modular, so maintenance should be relatively easy and the knobs, buttons and faders feel like the real thing (unlike so many low-priced consoles). I found the EQ to be smooth sounding. The low end is punchier than any other console I’ve encountered in this price range but it still sounds a bit mushy at times. The high end adds a nice shimmer without getting brittle and thin like so many budget desks.
I found the tube preamplifier channels to work best on bass, vocals and acoustic and electric guitars. They have tube warmth and the noise remains remarkably low. I actually experimented with mixing through the tube channels and had some nice results. It is nice to have the option of plugging a bass or electric guitar directly into a console with no DI and have the ability to record an album-quality track.
Rather than focus on bells and whistles (though it has its share) Allen & Heath has designed a console that has an abundance of inputs and simply sounds great. Although the lack of automation will surely limit the potential buyers, the quality and the price will definitely make some converts.