Since just before New Year 2013, I’ve owned and loved the (now discontinued) Line 6 StageScape M20d digital mixer. It has provided me over ten years of solid performance, and rave reviews for my bands’ sound at gigs. But over the past few months I’ve struggled with a sudden onset of malfunctions in my M20d. (Sadly, it’s been reminiscent of my beloved dog Dixie’s recent decline and passing.) I decided it was time to look for a new unit, and I ultimately settled on the Soundcraft Ui24R.
Why a digital mixer?
Before talking about the Soundcraft Ui24R, here’s my history with digital mixers. Released in early 2012, the Line 6 M20d was the vanguard of a whole generation of touchscreen (and later screenless) digital mixing consoles. These units put portable, professional mixing power in the hands of local bands. They featured a complete range of powerful sound tools, such as gating, compression, multiband parametric EQ, and quality digital effects like delay, reverb, and even voice multipliers. The M20d even featured a multiband compressor for the main channel, allowing a studio-quality mix polish for the audience.
Around that time a number of other digital mixers emerged such as the seminal Behringer X32 and its classier cousin the Midas M32. These units are sort of a gold standard for many small concert venues and houses of worship. They’re not only still in production but still receiving new feature updates from time to time. Other manufacturers also still produce units like QSC, Mackie, Allen & Heath, Zoom, PreSonus, Yamaha, and more.
I’ve become accustomed to a high degree of features and running my band’s sound with all these onboard goodies. I couldn’t imagine going back to analog mixers, and dragging a ton of gear to gigs to provide quality sound. Nor did I want to deal with latency issues in relying on a digital interface and outboard DAW for mixing. So I knew I wanted a full-featured replacement digital mixer.
Specifically, I wanted portability — eliminating boards with lots of faders and knobs, like the granddaddy X32. Fortunately, most digital mixers can be connected to computers, tablets, and phones via WiFi for remote mixing. Why bother with more components that can go bad over time, like motorized faders and light up switches? Instead I looked at “board in a box” units like these:
I also wanted my band members to be able to mix their own monitor feeds. I wanted the flexibility of many more auxiliary sends, to support more band members at once with their own mix. And of course I wanted to make live recordings to pinpoint issues in our shows, learn from our mistakes, and improve as a band. Time to do some research!
The Behringer X32 Rack is doubtless the most bang for the buck for processing power, flexibility, and ubiquity. But it lacks XLR+1/4″ “combi” inputs for easier connection to gear like keyboards and modelers. I have DI boxes for those situations, but they add one more element of gear and complexity. In addition, the X32 Rack only offers 16 inputs — to get all 32 channels you have to add another $1000+ breakout box. Other units featured some combi inputs, and more inputs in total.
Behringer’s mixing app situation is… complicated. Their own apps frequently break with phone or tablet OS updates, and go for long periods without fixes. Some third party apps do better update tracking. But all of them are equally butt ugly, and potentially confusing for band members mixing their own feeds.
The Mackie and Zoom apps are slightly more attractive. But inexplicably, they’re only accessible via iPad. Band members with an iPhone, or an Android phone or tablet, would be left out of the game. That’s a deal breaker. Similarly, PreSonus’ QMix-UC app is available on Android and Apple for personal mixing. But I could only mix with a laptop or iPad — not via my Android tablet.
As for recording, the Behringer XR18 only captures to a computer running digital audio workstation (DAW) software. The Mackie’s the same. The X32 Rack captures a stereo mix, or to a computer, unless you add another $300 card for multitrack recording. The PreSonus also only records 2-track stereo mix without a computer.
Finally, the PreSonus reputation for roadworthiness isn’t spectacular. Furthermore, neither PreSonus, Mackie, nor Zoom are widely used. Behringer dominates this market due to value. But Soundcraft has a reasonable installation base and many fans, and very few detractors, compared to competitors.
Why the Soundcraft Ui24R?
The Soundcraft Ui24R also solved all my requirements handily:
- With 10 combi inputs and 10 standard XLR, it easily handles our 6-piece band, with a full set of drum mics, with many inputs to spare.
- In addition to the stereo left and right outputs, there are 8 outputs for aux mixes.
- It can be controlled from a web browser on literally any device — laptop, phone, or tablet — even a Linux system!
- Although there’s no screen — meaning if you can’t connect, you can’t mix — it has Ethernet for guaranteed connection.
- The mixing interface is gorgeous and easy to navigate. No OS update worries or vendor lock-in. Sweet! Check out the live demo, about 2/3 of the way down the product page.
- Unlike the Behringer X32, I needn’t add an extra peripheral, or a DAW, to record raw tracks live. With a USB 3.0 flash drive — Sandisk makes one for about $8 for 32GB — I don’t need a DAW to capture gig recordings.
While not a requirement, the Soundcraft Ui24R offers subgroups and matrix mixes to simplify mixing. Finally, if I decide to move to a different platform in the future, the Ui24R is a great fixed-installation option as well. For a few hundred dollars I can connect a large touchscreen monitor via HDMI for easy control. That would make for a nice rehearsal room option!
After having made my decision, I went shopping online. I found an open box special on the Soundcraft Ui24R via a reputable dealer I’ve used in the past. So I laid down my money.
The story so far
Now that I have the unit in hand, I’m very happy with the decision. The mixing app took very little time to master, and offers a generous number of options. I can lock down mixes on any device (such as a bandmate’s) so they are restricted to their own mix. This helps them be confident they won’t “break” anything while mixing themselves.
I added a dual band router that I recently swapped out at home — the Soundcraft Ui24R easily configures to attach to another access point via either WiFi or, in my case, Ethernet cable to the router. Now I don’t have to rely on its weak internal WiFi, and I know my bandmates will stay connected at gigs.
I also remembered, after learning and experimenting with the mixer, that I have a couple old laptops hanging around with touchscreens. Throwing one on top of the mixer has made for a fantastic experience in the rehearsal room. I haven’t fully decided on bringing a laptop to shows. But it’s enticing and probably good planning to use it to run the mixer via Ethernet in case the WiFi situation goes south. I don’t need to worry about the laptop’s age — as long as it comfortably runs a web browser, I’m in business, thanks to the UI24R’s unmatched cross-platform functionality.
The band is also getting ready to make the plunge for in-ear monitors. I’ve dipped a toe in the water with the Linsoul KZ ZS10 Pro and a Behringer P2 ultra-compact headphone amp. So far I love this new way to deal with sound! I’m looking forward to bringing the band fully into a new era of high fidelity mixes.