PreSonus is doing its part to further meld the worlds of studio and live audio with the introduction of the StudioLive 16.4.2 digital mixer. Up until now, no company has released an affordable digital console with the ability to digitally record tracks at the studio, at home, and during the show. With this mixer, PreSonus has bridged that gap.
The PreSonus StudioLive 16.4.2 is a digital console with 16 XMAX microphone preamps, four groups, six aux sends and a stereo bus. It has two internal effects units featuring 32-bit, floatingpoint stereo DSP engines with reverbs, delays, and time-based effects and a dual 31-band graphic EQ (the latter of which is for the stereo bus only). Each channel has independent 48v phantom power, polarity reverse switch, and high-pass filter (HPF). The HPF is on every input and output — busses, auxes, internal effects returns, and channels; it is part of the Fat Channel (more on that later). Further, a gate, compressor, and limiter are available on each channel, gate, and bus, including the internal effects returns. Semi-parametric 4-band EQ with selectable frequencies is available on all inputs and outputs; high and low EQ is selectable as shelving or peaking, and high-mid and low-mid are selectable for either high Q or low Q. Each band can be individually enabled or defeated.
StudioLive's Fat Channel — the programming interface for the compressors, limiters, gates, HP filters, and 4- band EQ — allows users to save their own tweakedsettings as a preset or select a factory-loaded PreSonus preset, accessed via display. Every input channel, aux output, subgroup output, main output, and the internal effects returns can be aurally shaped via Fat Channel. All digital settings can be stored in StudioLive, so all your work is totally recallable.
Connect an input to StudioLive via an XLR mic input or a 1/4-inch TRS Line input on the 16 input channels. A TRS insert point is available on each input, a nice feature if you want to use your own outboard gear as opposed to what is onboard. Outputs are via 1/4-inch TRS on all except the Main outputs , where it can be connected via XLR or 1/4-inch TRS. Direct outputs of each channel are available two ways: digitally via FireWire to the PreSonus Capture software or by pre-insert balanced direct outputs on two standard DB-25 connectors.
Finally, Capture multitrack recording software is included with StudioLive. It's a unique, yet straightforward tracking program for Mac or PC that allows WAV file export directly to your DAW of choice, or you can play back tracks after recording, via FireWire from CPU to StudioLive, mixing down to Capture. StudioLive now also ships with PreSonus' new Studio One Artist DAW software, including effects and VI plug-ins and third-party content; all previous registered owners of StudioLive will receive a free copy. [Stay tuned to the pages of PAR for a full review of PreSonus Studio One Pro software — Ed.]
StudioLive is 22.35 inches deep, 17.22 inches wide (19 inches with rack ears) and 6.9 inches tall. It weighs 23 lbs.
An easy way to imagine this console is that it is a very basic, streamlined digital console: think "analog layout, digital guts." The faders are not motorized and head amps are not recallable; however, you can recall fader positions, aux send levels, and headphone levels.
Upon first pulling this console out of the box, I noticed how "industrial" it looks and feels. The faders could be hit numerous times with a case lid before they even think of bending; also, the knobs do not seem flimsy (like those of some PreSonus competitors). Next, I was glad to see that StudioLive's LED screen is simple (I'm not sure if this is a product of a low price point or PreSonus' ingenuity); it offers high contrast, thus better visibility on outdoor shows — much better than other digital consoles I've used. The console was packaged with rack rails, the Capture software packet, and a complimentary FireWire cable.
I plugged in the console and fired it up. Having used many digital live consoles, I first wanted to see if I could pilot this one blind (i.e. no manual); I wanted to know whether someone called in on a live show at the last minute and asked to mix on this console would find it feasible. Basically, no — I failed without consulting the manual, yet I found that most of the controls are easy to move around and work with on limited knowledge of StudioLive's menu topography. For instance, I could get audio out of the stereo bus very easily and manage the parametric EQ on each channel by simply figuring it out on my own. The snag I hit was in figuring out the auxiliary sends as well as accessing the graphic EQ. Also, the highpass filter was confusing to me. I played around for a few more minutes with the console before I had to consult the manual. A-ha! After a quick read on these issues, it was easy to figure out that I simply misunderstood a keystroke or two, and kept going.
From there on, StudioLive was easy to use in the live settings where I had it. However, I do wish that its graphic EQ was assignable to whatever output I wanted; personally, I would prefer to use its graphic on monitors, having more specific control there than on the stereo output. In most cases, I used the parametric on the stereo output anyway.
I also found the console's Solo function was a bit odd. When I hit the Solo button, the selected channel was cued up, but the desk only ducked the other channels in the mix instead of muting them, which would give me the isolated channel. [According to PreSonus, "The monitor amp doesn't duck the main mix when the solo mix and main mix are combined in the summing amp. Rather than switching, the monitor amp is static summing whatever is enabled in the monitor/phones mixing stage. The solo does isolate the soloed channel if onlysolo is selected." — Ed.]
The XMAX mic pres sound warm and clean, typical of the PreSonus line — a quality not at all unexpected. I like them. To me, they are a bit warmer than that of a Yamaha digital console.
In my next phase of testing, I utilized the recording capabilities of StudioLive. The first step was to install the Capture software onto my MacBook Pro — very easy. While playing with Capture before plugging into the console via FireWire, I noticed it seemed to be easy, too; getting around, enabling tracks, etc., was intuitive. Files are recorded at 24-bit/44.1k or 48 kHz to 16 mono tracks plus one stereo track. A FireWire pass thru is located on the back of StudioLive to patch in an external hard drive.
I did a sample recording of a live band, then imported the tracks into Apple Logic — again, very easy. StudioLive supports ASIO, Windows Audio, and Core Audio; thus, you can use most any DAW (except Pro Tools) for direct-to-CPU recording via StudioLive.
StudioLive would be perfect for a small owner/operator of a live/recording company, or a musician who needs recording and tracking flexibility as well as live mixing capabilities — all within the same package and at a reasonably affordable price point. Yes, it's a unique product description, yet one that StudioLive defines.
Karl Bader is a live sound engineer located in the Washington, DC area and welcomes questions/comments email@example.com.