Tag Archives: Review

The Behringer X18

Huge value, especially if you already have a tablet or laptop handy.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

xairWant to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

From where I’m standing, the X18 is proof that Behringer should stop fooling around and make a rackmountable X32 with full I/O. Seriously – forget about all the cut-down versions of the main product. Forget about needing an extra stagebox for full input on the rackable units. Just package up a complete complement of 32X16 analog, put a DSP brain inside it, and sell the heck out of it.

I say this because the X18 is a killer piece of equipment. It packages a whole ton of functionality into a small space, and has only minor quirks. If someone without a lot of money came to me and asked what to use as the core of a small-but-mighty SR rig, the XAir X18 would be high on my list of recommendations.

Software Breaks The Barriers

We’ve hit a point in technology where I don’t see any economic reason for small-format analog mixers to exist. I certainly see functionality reasons, because not everybody is ready to dive into the way that surfaceless consoles work, but any monetary argument simply fails to add up. With an X18, $500 (plus a laptop or tablet that you probably already have) gets you some real big-boy features. To wit:

Channel-per-channel dynamics.

Four-band, fully parametric EQ on all inputs and outputs, plus an additional hi-pass filter that sweeps up to 400 Hz.

Up to six monitor mixes from the auxiliaries, each send configurable as pre or post (plus some extra “pick off point” options).

Four stereo FX slots, which can be used with either send-model or insert-model routing as you prefer.

Sixteen, full-blown XLR inputs with individually(!) switchable phantom.

A built-in, honest-to-goodness, bidirectional, multitrack USB interface.

Full console recall with snapshots.

Mute groups (which I find really handy), and DCA groups (which other people probably find handy).

A built-in wireless access point to talk to your interface device.

Folks, nothing in the analog world even comes close to this kind of feature set at this price point. Buying an analog mixer as a backup might be a smart idea. Starting with an analog mixer because all this capability is overwhelming is also (possibly) a good idea. Buying an analog mixer because it’s cheaper, though, is no longer on the table. Now that everything’s software, the console’s frame-size and material cost no longer dictates a restricted feature set.

I’ll also say that I’ve used X32 Edit, which is the remote control software for Behringer’s flagship consoles. I actually like the XAir software slightly better. As I see it, X32 Edit has to closely emulate the control surface of the mixer, which means that it sometimes compromises on what it could do as a virtual surface. The XAir application, on the other hand, doesn’t have any physical surface that it has to mirror, and so it’s somewhat freer to be a “pure form” software controller.

Anyway, if you really want to dive into mixing, and really want to be able to respond to a band’s needs to a high degree, you might as well start with an X18 or something similar.

Ultranet

I didn’t list Ultranet with the other features above, because it exists outside the normal “mixing functionality” feature stack. It’s also not something you can make work in a meaningful way without some significant additional investment. At the same time, Ultranet integration was what really made the X18 perfect for my specific application.

We wanted to get the band (in this case, a worship band for church) on in-ears. In-ears can be something of a convoluted, difficult proposition. Because of the isolation that’s possible with decent earbuds, getting everybody a workable mix can be more involved than what happens with wedges; Along with assuring that monitor bleed can’t hurt you, you also get the side effect that it doesn’t help you either. Further, you still have to run all your auxiliaries back to the IEM inputs, and then – if you’re running wired – you have to get cables out to each set of ears. The whole thing can get tangled and difficult in a big hurry.

The Ultranet support on the X18 can basically fix all that – if you’ve got some extra money.

Paired up with a P16-D distribution module that links to Ultranet-enabled P16-M personal mixers, each musician can get the 16 main input channels delivered directly to their individualized (and immediate) control. If a player needs something in their head, they just select a channel and crank the volume. Nobody else but that musician is affected. There’s no need to get my attention, unless something’s gone wrong. Connections are made with relatively cheap, shielded, Cat6 cables, and the distribution module allows both signal and power to run on those cables.

The “shielded” bit is important, by the way. Lots of extra-cheap Ethernet cables are unshielded, but this is a high-performance data application. The manufacturer’s spec calls for shielded cable, so spend just a few bucks more and get what’s recommended.

Depending on your needs, Ultranet can be a real chunk of practical magic – and it’s already built into the console.

The Quirk

One design choice that’s becoming quite common with digital desks is that of the “user configured” bus. Back in the days of physical components, never did the paths of “mix” and “auxiliary” buses meet, unless you physically patched one into another somehow. Mix buses, also called subgroups, would be accessed via a routing matrix and your channel panner. Aux buses, on the other hand, would live someplace very different: The channel sends section.

In these modern times, it’s becoming quite common for buses to do multi-duty. From a certain standpoint, this makes plenty of sense. Any bus is just a common signal line, and the real difference between a sub-group bus and an aux bus comes down to how the signal gets into the line. When it comes right down to it, the traditional mix sub-group is just a post-fader send where the send gain is always “unity.”

Even, so, may of us (myself included) are not used to having these concepts abstracted in such a way. In my case, I was used to one of two situations: Dedicated buses existing in fixed numbers and having a singular purpose, or to an effectively unlimited number of sends that could be freely configured – but that always behaved like an aux send.

In the case of the X18, the “quirk” is how neither of those two situations is the chosen path. X18 buses exist in fixed numbers, but are not necessarily dedicated and don’t always behave like an aux send. When a bus is configured to behave as a sub-group for certain channels, it is still called a send and located where the other sends are found. However, its send gain is replaced with an “on” button that either allows post-fader, unity-gain signal to flow, or no signal to flow at all. Now that I’m used to this idea, the whole thing makes perfect sense. However, it took me a few minutes to wrap my brain around what was going on, so I figured I ought to mention it.

Other than my minor befuddlement, there’s nothing I don’t like about the X18. It’s not quite as capable as an X32, but it’s not a “My First Mixer” either. It’s actually within shouting distance, features wise, of the more expensive Behringer offerings. There’s a lot of firepower wrapped up in a compact package when it comes to this unit, and like I said, one of these would be a great starting point for a band or small venue that wants to take things seriously.


The Avid/ M-Audio GSR-12

Sometimes, even well-respected manufacturers will produce an uncharacteristic dud. Such is my experience with the GSR-12 by Avid/ M-Audio.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Out of six GSR-12s originally purchased, only three have survived. Here’s one of the units that still works.
There’s another GSR that you can’t see here. That one’s completely dead, and in another closet. These are the two that I could get to without a lot of fumbling around.

I wanted to do this article as a traditional review. In that review, I would have strongly recommended that people avoid purchasing these loudspeakers.

I was foiled by these units having been close-outs for a while. It seems that all the stock has either been sold, or otherwise removed from saleable inventory.

The damage is done, I guess.

With that being the case, I had to cast about a bit for some wider context. So, what’s the story?

A ways back, maybe about a year, it had come time for Fats to graduate from the Peavey PR-10P wedges I was bringing in for stage monitoring. I worked up a short list of boxes that I felt would do the job, and could be acquired in good numbers for a manageable amount of cash.

And then, “it” hit. “It” being a blowout sale of biamped, self-powered (active) loudspeakers. From what I could see, GSR series units were being pushed out the door for cost plus just a bit more. Having owned various pieces of M-Audio gear beforehand, I thought to myself, “These guys make a quality product. It would be dumb not to jump on this.”

I figured my reasoning was sound. (“Sound,” ha! Get it? Sound? Small joke, there.) On a weekly basis, I trust our shows to my homebrew digital mix rig. That rig is built around an M-Audio Profire 2626. That unit had always been rock solid, so why wouldn’t the GSRs be the same way? I had a suspicion that the model line was being phased out, and that a new crop of boxes was the reason for the “fire sale” Hey, I could live with last year’s model.

In retrospect, I think M-Audio was getting rid of a lackluster product that didn’t turn out well for them. Evidence? Well…

I talked management into ordering six units. They all arrived and fired up without issues, but within a few days, half of them developed a strange problem. Their output level had dropped dramatically. As it turns out, there was some issue with their input volume potentiometers. If you popped open a box, and shorted the input and output terminals for the volume controls, the “low volume” problem went away.

Yes, I was dinking around inside boxes that were attached to mains power and running. No, I don’t recommend that people try this at home, or anywhere else. If you do end up trying something like this, death or injury is your own fault – not mine.

This should have been a warning. A six-box install losing half its units to a manufacturing defect doesn’t bode well. One box being a problem-child is something that happens, but three units out of six? All with the same issue? Uh-oh…

Anyway, I got out my soldering iron and voided a warranty by doing a permanent, volume-knob bypass. I decided to try living with the other two. (You could still coax them into full volume by pushing, pulling, turning, and tweaking the volume knob, and then hoping that whatever was making contact would stay in contact.) Then one night, during the second-half of a Beatles tribute act’s show, my “surgically enhanced” GSR quit entirely. No sound, no power, no lights, nada.

Dangit!

At that point, I asked the bosses to send the two remaining problem-children out for service.

They came back with their volume pots working correctly. Good times!

Several months passed, and then odd things started to happen again. One of the GSRs started making this strange “click” or high-frequency “pop” every so often. The odd noise “stayed with” the unit when I put it on different console outputs. Then, one day, its HF (high frequency) section quit working entirely.

Bummer.

A little while later, while setting up for a show, I discovered that a different unit had decided that the LF (low frequency) part of the deal was no longer something it wanted to uphold. I did get a chance to try swapping LF drivers around, and I’m pretty sure both drivers I tried were good. I’m not 100% positive, though.

Anyway…

I’m back down to three units out of six. I’m hoping the others hang on until I can find something to replace them. The issues described above occurred in concert with some other observations I’d like to share:

  • I never tried any in-box EQ, other than the “flat” mode. In the flat configuration (with some external EQ), the GSR-12s have this strange property of sounding fine with playback, but having this weird, honky, hard-ish to tame region around 500 Hz when used as a monitor for vocal mics. I’ve noticed this behavior across mics from Sennheiser, Samson, Peavey, and Shure. Maybe it’s just the mics that get used regularly, or maybe part of it is the room. Still…
  • That odd, honky, unpleasant, hard to tame midrange was something that I noticed on the first day of using the boxes, and took a while to get under control. The units were touted as “a studio monitor for live sound,” but they sure didn’t sound like a studio monitor to me. (Again, the room plays a factor. Nevertheless.)
  • The transition or, shall we say, acoustical crossover between the LF driver and the horn seemed really, really obvious to me. I would stand a bit more on axis with the LF driver, and the horn’s contribution seemed to really drop off. Then, I would move toward the horn, and its output would seem to dominate just a bit more than it should. There was this odd “hole” in between. I thought it might have been a consequence of where the enclosure’s ports are located. However, my first-gen JBL Eons have a similar port location, and they have a much smoother (maybe even seamless) transition from the LF to the HF section.
  • To swerve the topic a bit, I just visited M-Audio’s website today. The “products” section contains nothing that is purely aimed at live sound. Nothing. At all. The implication is that they weren’t really committed to live-sound as an added focus for the company – they wanted a piece of the action, but they might not have been really serious about it. When it didn’t go well, they just cut their losses and moved on. (Nothing really wrong with that.)

So, all of this plays into my notion that the killer pricing we got was M-Audio offloading a troublesome line of goods. Like I said in the last bullet point, my guess is that they made a foray into an area that they weren’t really prepared for (live sound reinforcement), and ended up with a result that wasn’t executed very well.

But here’s the thing.

I have a suspicion that their planning was perfectly good.

Like I said earlier, I’ve had other M-Audio products, and have been pretty darn happy with all of them. I know that the company can create good gear. My overall suspicion is that the GSR-12 (and probably the whole GSR line) was an uncharacteristic dud – a product that just didn’t live up to anyone’s expectations. If I had my guess, I’d say that the design folks tried to transfer the studio monitor team’s experience into a bigger, louder box, and partially succeeded. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that the first few prototypes were pretty good. However, I also have a notion that the mass manufacture part of the equation “got away from them,” or wasn’t managed correctly, and the actual consumer units were disappointing.

The good news is that M-Audio has a number of product lines that are a fine value. I do encourage you to buy the units that the company has always been good at building – like their audio interfaces.