Live Review: PreSonus StudioLive 32.4.2 AI

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The StudioLive 32.4.2 AI combines analog comfort and digital integration in a competitive, intuitive console.

The PreSonus StudioLive 32.4.2 AI live/studio mixer provides analog I/O as well as digital processing and connectivity. Equipped with 32 analog microphone and line inputs, as well as insert jacks on every dedicated channel, there are analog connections for venues and performance spaces that may be in the midst of upgrading their analog systems. Outputs on the 32.4.2 include TRS quarter-inch line outputs for four sub groups, a left and right control room output, and 10 aux outputs. There are TRS quarter-inch line outputs as well as XLR connections for the Mains, XLR Mono output, four TRS line inputs for auxes, and unbalanced RCA connections for a Tape input and output.
For this review, I temporarily installed the StudioLive 32.4.2 AI at Winston-Salem, NC’s Underground Theatre that previously housed a StudioLive 16.0.2 and, before that, a Soundcraft GB8 carrying the workload. I also used this same 32.4.2 AI at nearby Foothills Brewing as part of the 2014 Triad Music Festival; pictured below is Winston-Salem based producer/engineer and songwriter Doug Davis via PreSonus StudioLive at the brewery (Photo by Tripp May). The show was a Lunch Time Acoustic Sampler featuring four different acts including variations of piano, acoustic guitar, harmonica, cajon, and vocals.
Many of the recent digital consoles on the market provide only XLR inputs and outputs, limiting the integration of a digital console into an analog system. I love that this console offers a way to insert a dynamics processor per channel and not be limited to the onboard effects.

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Key Features
The StudioLive AI series has many of the same features I loved on the previous StudioLive models, but has expanded to provide more options accessible at the tip of my finger, plus more integrated software. [See Liz’s first StudioLive review for PAR here: /article/presonus-studiolive-1602-compact-digital-console/14481 — Ed.]
PreSonus’s Fat Channel remains the heart of the console, providing detailed dynamic and equalization controls. An added feature includes the A/B option; in a live mixing situation, this can be a lifesaver if an engineer has a performer who is playing acoustic guitar for part of the set but then switches to a ukulele using the same direct line. The A/B option allows EQ and Dynamics settings for one instrument on A and another instrument on B, enabling switching between the two without needing another input channel. At the Underground Theatre, this became a key feature. Many of the events are songwriter nights where a variety of performers would use the same input for their acoustic instruments.
I like that live mixing controls that are needed quickly during a show are all presented through faders, knobs, and select buttons rather than paging through an LCD menu screen. The menu screen is not for executing commands. It is only needed when looking through system menu items, recalling scene presets, or changing settings for effects channels.

Wireless Functionality
Setting up the StudioLive’s Wi-Fi was almost too simple. Rather than having to hook up a wireless router and syncing the IP addresses and subnets, there is a wireless USB key that will find a wireless network: select it through the board (just like a computer connecting to a new network) and lock in a connection.
One of the most interesting and useful features I found was the permissions control for wireless devices. Users can allow several devices to connect to the StudioLive board at the same time but the board is in control of the permissions for each device. For instance, a musician on stage can be given control over their aux mix and monitors from the stage; engineers can allow them permission to change only the values of certain mixes, which does not affect front-of-house. Engineers can also restrict musician permissions to just allow control of their own volume so they don’t “mess up their mix.” On most other digital boards I’m familiar with, there are no permissions controls for wireless devices; once someone was logged on to the network they could access everything on the board—faders and all. These StudioLive features help the engineer feel confident that someone is not going to try and sabotage their mix wirelessly. In a venue like the Underground Theatre—pictured to the left, as I mix local indie soul band Seventh Solstice—the FOH mixing area is to one side of the room, making it difficult to judge balance at times. Having wireless control to move around the room is crucial in making sure the mix is ideal for audience perspective.
The only drawback to this wireless control is the lack of motorized faders. If a user mixes from an iPad, the main input channels and fader positions change, yet it will not move the faders on the board. Because of this, it can make the level jump when you return to the board, moving the same fader, as one will override the other. When we used the console at Foothills Brewing we mixed entirely from the iPad; only the mutes were used at the board. The Remote AI app was easy and quick for accessing what was needed.
Elsewhere, master section metering for the selected channel along with the Mains was a feature I missed on the 16.0.2, and it was nice to discover it in this AI series update.
The Digital Return buttons are a great feature for the Underground Theatre’s needs. We did not have an opportunity to utilize this feature but I can definitely see it coming in handy for both playing back a track from the computer in a live situation or playing back part of the recording through the mains for a band to hear at the end of their performance.

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Capture 2
Capture 2, the recording software incorporated into StudioLive, is available via simple “plug-and-play” connectivity. There are no strings attached to getting the software to pop up instantly via FireWire 800. The software now allows users to save StudioLive preset scenes along with the recording. I appreciated the ease of tracking with the 32.4.2 AI when there was little to no time to do an elaborate recording setup. Its simplicity matches that of two-track recording to USB thumb drives on other boards, but instead you get multitrack files. As an engineer who likes to record live shows on the fly, this time saver makes a world of difference to me. At the Underground Theatre, in particular, these recordings allow the venue to offer something to musicians that they can’t easily or cheaply get at other performance venues.

Summary
Overall, between the quick live setup for the festival and the integration of the board in a more permanent venue, the 32.4.2 AI proved itself worthy of both applications. As with any digital console, there is a short learning curve to finding and mapping out all the controls. With everything being just a single button away, the road map for this console is pretty simple.
A final mention about PreSonus: I found their technical support to be phenomenal. We had one minor hiccup that was corrected with a simple firmware update; tech support saw that the problem was resolved and followed up to make sure that it stayed resolved. The StudioLive software continues to increase in flexibility and capability, making the StudioLive series a great board to invest in and grow with.
Price: $3,999 street
Contact: PreSonus | presonus.com

About Liz: As the owner of SoundLizzard Productions (soundlizzard.com), Realizzation Records, and Coda Publishing, Liz May has spent the last decade of her life not only engineering, but synthesizing her many areas of expertise within the active North Carolina Triad musical community. After studying Piano and Arts Management at Salem College, Liz relocated to Nashville to intern at Word Records and attend SAE Institute. After working as an assistant engineer and publicist for Spin Red Productions, Liz returned to North Carolina in 2006 where she first began work at the Wes Lachot-designed Fidelitorium Recordings (fidelitorium.com), owned by producer/engineer/musician Mitch Easter (R.E.M., Let’s Active). In 2007, she recorded, edited and mixed her first full-length feature film, Wesley, in surround. In addition to running a production company, record label and publishing company, Liz also directs a non-profit organization, Habitat-Nexus, which maintains a database of skilled session musicians around the Triad area.

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