(Above) Audio supervisor and author Cory Allen on the set of Black Ink Crew: Chicago.
The Behringer X32 family of products was released two years ago among a sea of digital mixing consoles and has become a popular affordable choice for audio engineers to use for everything from middle school talent shows to big rock concerts. In the area of location sound recording, more and more mixers are finding ways to incorporate X32’s into their workflows. The various forms of the X32 offer a powerful set of tools that can fit into a variety of situations.
As with other digital consoles, the X32 is very flexible when it comes to routing and expansion. Inputs can be rearranged at the front end of the mixer’s channels, and each output source can be individually selected. The AES50 ports allow access to remote S16 and S32 units for additional input/output capability at up to 100m away. One of the most powerful features is the expansion slot found on all models in the X32 family, allowing them to interface with industry-standard protocols such as ADAT, MADI, USB & FireWire, and Dante. More on that in a bit.
The big thing that separates the X32 from the rest of the field is that you can choose between five models depending on how much space you want to it take up and how much integrated control you need. There’s the 35.44”/90cm-wide X32 Desktop Console, as well as the X32 Compact which gets rid of half of the I/O and 8 faders to bring the overall width down to 24.6”/62.5cm. The X32 Producer further shaves down its control surface to fit within a standard rack, and the X32 Rack and X32 Core mount into a rack taking up 3 RU and 1 RU respectively. This variety of form factors makes it incredibly easy to incorporate an X32 into your custom-designed desk, cart, or rack without sacrificing functionality.
The more compact models with little-to-no control surface built-in provide many options to control the mixer. Using a standard Local Area Network, Behringer’s X32 Edit software allows you to change every aspect of the mixer from any computer running Windows, OS X, Linux, or even Raspberry Pi! The X32 Mix app brings the same full functionality to iPads and Android tablets. Adding S32’s or S16’s gives you as many inputs and outputs as the full-sized console, but keeps your configuration modular. This can be extremely valuable when setting up in a variety of difficult locations.
For the past four months, I have been using the X32 Rack on Black Ink Crew: Chicago, a reality show produced by Big Fish Entertainment for VH1 which follows the daily lives of tattoo artists inside and out of their shop. Because the X32’s internal recorder is only 2-track, this configuration uses a Dante card to subscribe two redundant Sound Devices 970 recorders to the X32’s direct outputs and mix busses, totalling 36 time code-stamped tracks (18 on each recorder). Dante also provides the flexibility to send confidence returns back to the X32 so all of the monitoring can be done locally at the mixer.
The touchscreen control matrix.
When shooting in the shop, the crew needs to be ready to follow conversations as they split up and move around freely. To help cover all of this unpredictable action, the show supplements the portable cameras on the floor with PTZ cameras installed in every room. Each camera requires a unique mix and story producers require their own mixes to freely listen in on each cast member on the fly. Add a monitor mix for myself and the total comes to 14 mixes. The X32 Rack in the control room easily handles all of these simultaneously with the help of Gotham Sound’s custom touchscreen-powered matrixing user interfaces. As a cast member moves from camera to camera, I simply tap a button to remove them from one camera mix and tap another to route them into the other mix. Each story producer has an iPad displaying a custom interface with constantly updated channel names. With a quick tap or swipe, producers can route or mix their own combination of cast. The X32 Rack’s on-board controls can only control one channel at a time, but with the addition of a Livid 32-encoder MIDI controller, I have instant access to the gain and fader level of each input. The interfaces communicate with the X32 Rack via UDP network protocol, and makes the changes instantly, while keeping the table-top footprint efficient and minimal.
It’s difficult to avoid Behringer’s reputation for cheap, unreliable hardware. On this show, it’s even more of a concern since the X32 is the backbone of the entire control room audio system. However, my experience has been quite positive overall, with no major issues to report. After 67 days of production, I feel confident every time I power on the mixer and watch it boot into the same state in which I left it. Even if the X32 did suffer a critical failure, a 30-second Google search reveals that more X32 Racks are in-stock at a nearby musical instrument retailer waiting for me to load on to it a pre-configured scene file, a thought that sits comfortably in the back of my mind.
The Black Ink Crew: Chicago control room. The X32 can be seen at the top of the front rack.
That said, there are a few things I feel it lacks. The insert points for each channel are fixed, forcing the isolated tracks to exist pre-EQ and pre-dynamics; I wished every day for the recorded tracks to have compressors/limiters in front of them. The Midas preamps, while clean even when pushed to their limit, don't have as much power as I would like and I find myself maxing out the gain for the MKH 50’s in the interview rooms. Also, the metering doesn’t seem to be accurate; A channel which appears to be well over 0 dBFS in the mixer sounds clean on the recorder and registers lower on the recorder’s meters with all gain stages between them set at nominal. The X32 lacks a finesse and refinement often found in analog location mixing consoles.
Overall, the Behringer X32 line is an impressive line, especially considering the cost (ranging from $799.99 for the X32 Core to $2,299.99 for the full-sized console). The feature set, expansion options, and customizations available for these mixers are amazing, even when compared to digital consoles four times as expensive, making them a great choice for all kinds of production applications.
---Cory Allen is a New York-based sound mixer and audio supervisor and the founder of Milkman Media.
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