Behringer DDX3216 Digital Mixer

Nearly indispensable for digital tape-based and standalone hard disk applications, many engineers find that a versatile small console is also a valuable tool even when working with an advanced DAW as the primary medium. With a reasonable price, solid execution and impressive feature set, the first incarnation of the Behringer DDX3216 proves to be a worthy addition to this key product category.
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The compact yet professional grade digital mixer is has come into its own as the centerpiece of many project studios. Nearly indispensable for digital tape-based and standalone hard disk applications, many engineers find that a versatile small console is also a valuable tool even when working with an advanced DAW as the primary medium. With a reasonable price, solid execution and impressive feature set, the first incarnation of the Behringer DDX3216 proves to be a worthy addition to this key product category.
Product PointsApplications: Studio

Key Features: 32 channels; 24-bit performance; 44.1, 48 kHz sample rates; onboard DSP; rackmountable; motorized faders; I/O options

Price: $1,629

Contact: Behringer at 425-672-0816, Web Site.
Features

The DDX3216 ($1,629) is a 32-channel digital console, with 16 internal busses, eight aux sends and integrated dynamics and EQ on each channel. Digital conversion is handled by 24-bit AKM D/A converters and Crystal A/D converters (delta-sigma, 128x oversampling), with sample rates of 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz. Twelve microphone inputs/preamps come standard, in all with analog inserts appearing on a combined TRS jack. The input stage is rounded out by a gain pot, signal and clip LEDs along with a 20 dB pad. Phantom power is available on all mic inputs.

Standard I/O features include master stereo bus outputs on XLR jacks, four assignable balanced TRS analog outputs, and balanced TRS control room monitor connections. MIDI in/out/thru connections are provided, as is a dedicated SMPTE connection on a balanced XLR jack, a nice touch. The DDX3216 can both generate and slave to word clock signals, accessible via provided coaxial BNC connections.

A coaxial S/PDIF input is assignable to channels 13/14 only, and main digital output also appears on a S/PDIF RCA jack, with adjustable dither, word length and noise shaping options accessible through software. A gain-controlled headphone jack is provided. A control room level pot also appears on the top panel, as does a button for a quick 20 dB of gain reduction on the control room outputs.

Additional I/O is accomplished through expansion slots, with available options including 16-channel ADAT and TDIF and eight-channel AES/EBU.

The console is compact in size, 24 inches front to back and 6 inches high, with the 18-inch width allowing for rackmounting (rails are included). The mixer's 32 channels are controlled by 16 100mm motorized faders, with each channel strip containing a soft knob with ring LEDs for parameter control, and lighted buttons for solo, mute, automation/record enable, and channel selection. Each strip contains a generous 16-bar in-line LED meter (next to the fader) and fader bank controls allow access to all 32 channels in addition to output and aux/effects busses.

As with most compact digital consoles, the primary user interface is a large backlit LCD screen, with context sensitive menus allowing data input and readout. Paging though menus is accomplished via six soft knobs, each doubling as a button for data input, and four navigation buttons that effectively serve as cursor control. EQ and dynamics for each channel are handled here, as are the wide variety of internal functions including setup, routing, I/O, and MIDI settings.

The software architecture is familiar digital console fare, of a kind with units such as Yamaha's 02R. Dynamics and four-band parametric EQ are available on each channel, though not on the 16 busses. Context-driven parameter control occurs through the display's soft inputs, while level control (for aux and effects sends and the like) is generally handled on the channel strip.

To the right of the display is a prominent numeric LED display indicating the current snapshot, with up to 128 possible increments.

The console contains four internal effects processors, each with 26 groups, including the expected reverb, chorus, and delay in addition to a variety of more esoteric options including ring modulation, "LoFi" and filtering, harmonic enhancement (akin to an aural exciter) and pitch and flange effects.

In Use

My first impression of the DDX3216 was very positive, starting with the quality switchgear and layout, and quickly extending to the powerful and intuitive software. The master control section is well laid out, and - always a good sign - I was able to get up and running quickly before even resorting to the manual. Then, I found the manual to be refreshingly clear and comprehensive, with only the occasional awkward phrasing.

The preamps were clean and quiet with solid headroom, unexceptional in the context of outboard equipment but definitely on par with other consoles in this price range. Internal routing is well-implemented, the assignable balanced analog outputs make for flexible use of outboard processing with minimal patching. I found the inability to rout the digital input to anything other than channels 13/14 to be a minor annoyance however.

Automation was also intuitive. While some digital consoles offer more extensive off-line automation editing, I found its absence here quite tolerable given the ability to single out individual parameters for fine-tuning. The dynamic characteristics of the automation modes provide an impressive level of flexibility and control.

The channel parametric EQs were excellent, with a more musical response than I had heard in most digital devices at this level. The inline compressor was more than sufficient for getting a reign on dynamics, though I would hesitate to use it on lead vocals or other crucial tracks. The ability to patch in a side chain source to both the compressor and gate is a definite plus, and better still, the side chain can come from any channel.

Having a compressor and gate on all channels is very nice. The inability to use EQ and dynamics on the 16 busses (at least not without folding them back to an open channel) is a drawback, albeit a minor one. The first 16 channels are equipped with digital delay, which in a nice touch can work both as an effect or a timing adjustment, with up to 176 ms of delay and controls for dry/wet and feedback.

I used the DDX3216 to track a variety of sessions, mostly full band demo work, both tracking and mixdown. With speed at a premium, I was pleased with the well-designed menus, and especially the context-sensitive display, which has a nice ability to lead you to the proper screen without a side trip to the manual.

On drums and guitars especially, I was able to get crisp and clear sounds with articulate transients. Here much of the credit goes to the EQ, which is one of the better sounding digital implementations I have heard, even in the context of much more expensive consoles. In use, I felt I was able to zero in on exactly the frequencies I was looking to highlight or remove.

The internal headroom of the mixer is a strong point. Employing four SHARC chips with floating point processing for the DSP mix engine, the console - theoretically at least - is immune from clipping once past the input stage, even with aggressive effects or EQ.

The sound was clean and transparent, with the great dynamic range lending a bit of punchiness that was welcome contrast to what I have come to expect in budget digital mixers. In general self-noise was low, though there was small but perceptible crosstalk across channels at higher gain levels.

Overall the console sounded great. The input stages are unexceptional (though quite good given the price), but the rest of the console stages were a cut above - with particular praise going to the DSP engine's excellent dynamic range and EQ processing. I should also note the internal effects were better than average, even with a healthy complement of outboard gear I often found myself quickly resorting to an effect found in the easy to browse library.

Summary

The Behringer DDX3216 is a well designed and implemented choice for compact digital mixing, and offers exceptional value at its price point. I found the software and features to be above average in flexibility and quality. Sound quality is on a level with similar consoles, and marks a strong leap forward at this price - with some internal processing (particularly the EQ) rightly considered top-notch.

For a project studio with a 16 or 24-bit digital tape or standalone hard disk recording device, this would almost certainly be my first choice. The lack of 96 kHz capability rules out some applications, but overall Behringer's DDX3216 is a great option for project studios, especially considering it will probably have a street price under $1,500.