The story of the headless mixer

There are a few pieces of equipment I've upgraded this year but the one I wanted to talk about first was the main mixer I use for rehearsals, live events and recording. We traditionally call this a mixing "board" but over the last decade or so the sliders have been disappearing from these devices with all control done via phone(s), tablet(s) and/or laptop(s). The prices have not changed that much (and hence have actually gone down in price) but instead of wasting the parts budget on sliders, the money is going into processing power for the audio which is significant compared to mixers from just a few years back.

My requirements were broken down into "must have" and "desired" features. The must-haves include dynamics processing for each channel (i.e. compressor), reverb, phantom power, the ability to be controlled via a mobile device, greater than 16 mic inputs and the ability to record multi-track stand-alone to a USB device. As it turns out, I could only find one mixer that fulfilled all of my requirements and that was the Soundcraft Ui24R. Many of the contenders were really good and would easily do the job if multitrack recording is taken off the table or if only 16 mic inputs were enough. To be fair many of these systems can be expanded out to cover my input requirements and support multi-track recording when used in conjunction with a computer but my hope was to have my cake and eat it too, and the Ui24R checked all the important boxes.

(image from Get the Ui24R from them here )

I've only had the mixer for about a month and have not yet gigged with it but so far it has been remarkable. In addition to the must-have features, a few extras that came with it are worth mentioning. In addition to a USB slot on the front panel for a flash stick for recording, there is a second slot for playback that can be loaded with backing tracks and any other media that you want to playback during the show without an external device. In our case we've been using it to fill in for missing members during rehearsals. Another feature that has worked out so far is the user interface (UI) itself which you access via a browser on your phone, tablet or computer without installing an app. The mixer itself has a web server that generates the UI for up to 10 client devices, and the interface on all them has been great. It may be a sign of my age or experience but I've only had to consult the help document once and have used all of the major systems with no problem. In other words, the user interface is pretty well laid out.

Some other extras worth mentioning are awesome reverbs from my alma mater, Lexicon and dynamics from a company that's been in the game since the game started, dbx. I haven't used it yet but the first two channels on the mixer also have some builtin Digitech effects that include amp modeling. The first two monitor channels also have builtin feedback suppression, something that has been helpful since I started using the Countryman lapel mic.

If you just bought a headless mixer and it is not the Ui24R, fret not. ALL of the systems I looked at were a huge step up from previous generations of mixing board so no matter which system you've got, you probably sound better than you did before.

I would be remiss if I didn't enumerate the mixers I looked at and some of their more compelling features.

The Allen & Heath Qu-Pac 22 rack mixer was a very close second and in fact had features I would have liked on the Ui24R (though I stand by my choice). The Qu-Pac has a touch screen on the front panel allowing you emergency control if you somehow can't get a device to connect wirelessly (i.e. dead battery on phone). It also has dedicated digital audio outputs that the Ui24R lacks. These would be used if you were connecting to a bigger "house" system or broadcast booth and wanted to eliminate the, arguably small, distortion the D-to-A and A-to-D conversion creates when you connect with standard analog interfaces. I worked at Lexicon for a great number of years so I have a certain stay-in-the-digital-domain-when-you-can mentality. At any rate, the Qu-Pac is still a very good board if you need something that will record standalone multi-track and can get by with 16 mic inputs.

Another that nice board that is less than half the price of the Qu-Pac is the Zoom LiveTrak L-20R. Again, limited to 16 mic inputs but does have some controls on the front panel for emergency control and, most importantly, records multi-track standalone.

Honorable mentions include the PreSonus StudioLive 32R which has an amazing 32 mic inputs though sadly does not offer standalone multi-track recording. And the Behringer X32 Rack mixer with a very cool front panel UI and 2, count them, 2 AES50 jacks to connect to the devices digitally. The Yamaha TF-Rack 40-channel mixer also includes a nifty front panel user interface though, again, is limited to 16 mic inputs and no standalone recording. It was however, one of the few boards that provided an upgrade slot though I never investigated their add-on options.

There you have it. Though I am not really one to "declare" things, I can "declare" the Soundcraft a very decent product and look forward to sharing many recordings made with it.