BEHRINGER X32 IN THE STUDIO
FOR FIVE YEARS
by Mark King for proworkshop.com
This is part two of a two part adventure. You can read part one here. It's about how we coped with recording before the X-32 hit the market, the X32 Jurassic Years.
THE X32 LANDS IN MY HANDS
I think it was 2011 when I first saw a prototype of the X32 at a Namm show. It had motorized faders which was a fantastic feature. Overall I was very impressed with the way the X32 looked but how would it sound?
Apogee was coming out with a new converter system, oh no, another cycle of sell what I've got for half what I paid then buy the new one for twice as much? Not this time.
The x32 finally hit the market and I ordered one from my Sweetwater sales engineer in 2012.
|X32 FLAGSHIP MODEL
With few exceptions most previous Behringer products favored Windows or Unix software applications. In Europe, PC's are much less expensive compared to Apple Macintosh computers. In Asia where they're manufactured PC's are almost free.
I was wary of Behringer commitment to product support on the Mac but my fears have proven unfounded. Not only is the X32 supported very well on the Mac there is a full set of iOS applications available for iPad and iPhone. The iPad support for the X32 is really a huge game changer but that's for another article.
|POWERPLAY HEADPHONE STATION
The iPad app for the X32 finally gave me the freedom to engineer from anywhere in the studio. I can go into the drum room and balance up all the drum microphones by myself using the iPad X32 app. I can see the levels and tweak the gain controls remotely without having to run back and forth to the mixing console.
|X32R RACK MOUNTABLE MIXER
The Apogee hardware continues gathering dust in our warehouse. After five years of using the X32 equipment as our converter system I guess I should sell off the Apogee because I'm never going back to it.
X32 UNIVERSE EXPANSION
In 2014 we moved from California to a secluded 5-acre farm in Florida. Now we can really make a lot of noise without disturbing anyone and we have lots of studio space. We have a wonderful drum room and have expanded our drum set to a two-story rack system with an S-16 remote preamp box to plug the drum microphones in. (The X32R has moved to the keyboard room).
|S-16 REMOTE PREAMP BOX
The X32R makes a very nice keyboard mixer. I gave it an independent router for wireless control and have an iPad Pro to control it while fiddling with synthesizers. The 16 XLR inputs are fed from a Behringer Patch Bay which normalizes the synthesizers in to the mixer. This also lets me quickly substitute other synths as inputs to the mixer if I need to by going into the patch bay front panel inputs.
|S-32 REMOTE PREAMP BOX
During the first two years of owning the X32 I tried mixing on it exclusively but I really longed for some of my old favorites. I like my hardware 1176 compressors and my Lexicon reverbs. With my patch bay I can route signals wherever I want to. Working inside the X32 was very limiting by comparison. I could easily use the X32 mixer live and be totally happy with the built-in effects and processing but in the studio I wanted more power.
There is no owners manual for a recording studio. It's up to each engineer to design his hardware and workflow to match. I spent a good deal of time coming up with the system connections and the workflow I'm using today.
It took me five years to stuff the system out to the level it is today. I never imagined I'd buy all these remote input boxes and take the X32 system this far. It's a testimony to how well the system was engineered in the first place, how good the whole system sounds and how reliably it performs. My Mac has locked up a few times but the Behringer X32 has never locked up or done anything weird, I think that is pretty amazing for such a complex digital product, it's very robust. By contrast friends who've bought Presonus digital mixers have reported horrible incidents where the console locked up on a live show and they had to stop and reboot the mixer. Nothing could be more embarrassing and a total show stopper than the mixer locking up.
BIT DEPTH AND SAMPLE RATE
I have recorded and done mastering at 96K sampling rates and yes it did sound better to me than 44.1 but operating the DAW at 96K takes so much more system resources that it does not seem worth it to me for the very slight difference I hear when we get the project completed.
Rock music tracks that I mastered at 96k did not sound appreciably better once they'd been chopped down to 16-bit/44.1 for CD. Even worse, MP3 is what most consumers listen to and the possible benefits of the 96k sampling rate are even further diminished or eliminated depending on the content.
In my experience, if I do a digital audio conversion from 24-bit/44.1 to 16-bit/44.1 it sounds better than converting 24-bit/48 to 16-bit/44.1. 48k sampling is the standard for film and video so I switch to 48k if I'm working in these mediums. I also have a hardware sample rate converter to move files back and forth in real time between the two sample rates without leaving the digital domain. In my experience 48k does not sound noticeably better than 44.1k so I just stay with the 44.1 sample rate.
Most of my sample libraries are sampled at 24-bit/44.1k so using them with the computer set to 48k causes everything to resample, that drags the computer performance down dramatically, down to practically unusable. the first time it happened I thought my DAW was dying. It did not take long to discover there was a problem with the sample rate and the sample library I was using (EZ Drummer). Since I like and use sample libraries a lot I keep my music sessions set to 24-bit/44.1k and the system flies along with very little system resources required.
The X32 can only record at either 44.1 or 48k, there is no higher sampling rate. The X32's cousin, the Midas M32 can be switched to a 96k-internal processing rate but the input-output with the DAW is still either 44.1 or 48k, there is no communication with the outside world at higher sampling rates on the Midas version of the X32. The M32 running at 96k-internal loses some other features as a result. Inside sources have told me, off the record, that there is no advantage sonically to running the M32 at 96k internal, it's a marketing feature they added to the M32 to differentiate the M32 from the X32.
24-bit/44.1k sounds good to me, much better than the standard Compact Disc specification which is only 16-bit. We're currently using a Mac Pro Cylinder to run Logic X. The X32 is plugged directly into the USB port on the Mac. We're using USB-3 solid state hard disks that are four times faster than our old 7200 RPM spinning disk drives.
The digital/analog, split-console approach we're using allows the analog console to stay patched up with effects and processors, ready to mix as soon as tracking is complete. The analog console gives me all the insert points I was craving to use my effects processors and compressor-limiters.
I don't ever bounce any tracks, everything I mix on the Soundcraft is usually first generation coming out of the DAW. Reducing the number of digital audio bounces or eliminating them entirely makes better sounds to my ears. When the tracks are hitting my stereo mastering recorder they're first generation so my mastered CD stereo tracks are at worst only second generation.
HARSHNESS BE GONE
If you read part one of this story you'll remember I was talking about how harsh my original Digidesign system sounded? I think digital audio got a lot of bad press from all the crappy converters manufacturers were producing. Apogee figured out how to make good sounding converters, so have Midas and Behringer.
The original Motu system sounded pretty harsh to my ears too. I have not bought or had any experience with their products since 2005 so I can't say if they've improved.
The converters on my X32 mixer system sound very good, neutral, not colored and not harsh. Using the right microphones and preamps I'd call the sound sweet. I never thought I'd say that about digital audio.
I like to have at least 10 dB of headroom above whatever level I'm recording at. This is also part of the tonal magic, not operating so close to the maximum system headroom. With 24-bit recording it's unnecessary to record as hot as possible for maximum resolution.
The X32 is a great tool for studio recording and for sound reinforcement. The X32 is not just a product, it's an entire universe of products that interconnect logically and reliably. The network interoperability and quality components all function beautifully together.
My original investment has been rewarded with a long and stable hardware life-span. I've become so accustomed to using the system I can't imagine using anything else. This is the best and most versatile studio set up I've ever had.
Audio purists will question my choice of converter hardware and that's fine, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I really like the way our recordings are sounding. Customers who come into the studio and hear what we're creating are impressed and that is all that matters.
The X32 is one of those rare products that over-delivers. It sounds expensive but does not cost that much to get into it. It's an excellent product no matter how you use it.
Good music to all!
|THE FIRST BEHRINGER X32 DIGITAL MIXER