The StudioLive range of mixer interfaces now includes a compact 16-channel model.We find out how well it performs on the road.
The choice between an analogue and a digital mixer for live sound use is an interesting one, especially where small-format desks are concerned, because they’ll tend to be used for a wider variety of perhaps more modest events. They’ll often be used by ‘volunteer’ operators too, who don’t spend all that much time behind the console, and will need something that’s easy to understand and operate.
That’s where the Presonus StudioLive 16.0.2 comes in. A dual-purpose desk that aims to offer ‘digital facility with analogue simplicity’, the 16.0.2 is a compact, portable 16:2 design with 12 mono microphone inputs plus additional stereo input options on the highest four channels. It has plenty of built-in DSP and effects, as well as four auxiliary (aux) sends. There’s also a two-way, 16-channel Firewire interface for recording and playback, a MIDI control interface, and a dedicated talkback facility. Although it’s designed to be suitable for studio recording too, I’m going to focus here on using the 16.0.2 as a stand-alone mixer for live use.
Each channel has a dedicated rotary input-trim control and everything else, including the meters, is shared with other mixer channels or functions. The stereo output has its own dedicated fader, as do the four analogue aux sends.
After reading the bits at the front of the Quick Start Guide to make sure I didn’t miss anything really obvious, I unpacked the 16.0.2 and started playing about straight away, to see if I could find my way around it without any instruction.
The first and most obvious thing I noticed about the desk in use was that it doesn’t have motorised faders or any fader bank or layer arrangement. The 16 channel faders control the corresponding channel output levels and that’s all they do: there’s no possibility of confusion or of adjusting the wrong ‘layer’ by mistake.
A strong point of digital mixers in general is the ability to store, copy and paste data settings, so that all effects parameters and settings can be copied and applied to another channel with a couple of button presses. They can also be stored as favourite settings for future use. The StudioLive 16.0.2 provides 80 scene memories that will capture comprehensive mixer snapshots for later recall. Various settings can be included or excluded from this process too. There are also some good ‘first base’ presets included for the more common channel assignments, such as kick drum, jazz piano and so on, which might be helpful while you’re getting used to the StudioLive 16.0.2.
A Guided Tour
The best way to describe a mixer’s basic functions is to follow the signal route roughly from input to output. Channels one to eight are mono strips that can take either mic or line signals via balanced XLR or separate TRS connectors. The remaining four channels have mono inputs but are also configured as stereo channels, taking the total count to 16 inputs. The channels all have solo-in-place buttons that perform a second duty as channel mute buttons, lighting yellow for solo or red for mute.
After passing through the trim control, the signal is processed by what Presonus call the ‘Fat Channel’, which provides non-effects processing such as dynamics and EQ. This is controlled and monitored by all the knobs, buttons and indicators on the main panel area above the faders.
This area also hosts the 12 LED strip meters that display most of the adjustable parameters. A bank of buttons over to the left of channel one determines the function of 12 rotary encoders. These can be used to set the channel-send levels to the four aux mixes and the two internal effects buses, and are also used for EQ adjustment.
Whichever function is selected, the LED meters will follow the action, and auto-range accordingly. Using the ‘Fat Channel’ is very straightforward: you press the appropriate channel select button and the ‘Fat Channel’ will control the selected channel until you switch its attention elsewhere.
Channels & Dynamics
The rear panel of the StudioLive 16.0.2 squeezes in plenty of connections, with the XLR inputs conveniently positioned at the top.
The rear panel of the StudioLive 16.0.2 squeezes in plenty of connections, with the XLR inputs conveniently positioned at the top.
Sticking with the signal flow, every input channel includes phase reverse, followed by a high-pass filter with a fixed 6dB-per-octave slope and a range of 24Hz to 1kHz — a range that’s printed alongside the accompanying LED meter. I like this simple visual indication, as it makes setting this all-important function as easy as it can be.
I’d really have liked to see an ‘all channels’ view, as high-pass filtering is an easy setting to overlook when you’re rigging up a live show in a hurry. Having said that, the 16.0.2 is a digital desk with comprehensive scene recall, so I expect that filter settings are something I’d save into a ‘blank’ memory and use as a starting point for every new setup.
Next we reach the gate, which again is very simple. It’s a single-knob, one-meter affair, so you just dial in the threshold you want. Just like the filter, the LED meter is directly above the encoder, this one calibrated in dB from 0dB at the top to -84dB at the bottom, in 6dB steps.
The StudioLive 16.0.2’s compressor section assigns four encoders that are used to set the threshold, ratio, response time and make-up gain. Each control’s LED meter has an appropriate scale printed alongside, except for ‘response’, which just says ‘smooth’ (for vocals) near one end and ‘tight’ (for snare) near the other. That’s probably as much as is needed here.
The compression ratio can be adjusted from 1:1 to 14:1, which should be enough for any live situation. The response time can also be set to ‘auto’, disabling the response encoder and applying broadly useful fixed values of 10ms attack and 150ms release.
A separate limiter can also be engaged if needed, recommended for ‘danger channels’ that might have to handle occasional very hot signals. This is something I regard as mandatory on any channel assigned to the man on the disco.
The basic channel equaliser covers three swept bands with a useful amount of control. The low and high bands can be used in either band-pass or shelving mode, and each has an encoder and a display used for setting the centre or shelf frequency, as well as another for the gain setting: a cut or boost of up to 15dB.
The mid-range band can be centred between 260Hz and 3500Hz, overlapping the low EQ by 100Hz and the high EQ by a useful 2kHz. This practical range means that a smooth response ought to be easily achievable. In addition, the mid-range EQ section has a ‘Hi Q’ option, which increases the mid-frequency Q curve from its default value of 0.55 to 2.0, providing a much sharper tool for finding and dealing with problem frequencies.
The adjustable EQ is a useful feature: it’s not quite a fully adjustable EQ circuit, but nice on a desk this small and simple, and I found the mid-range sweep to be nice and responsive. I spent some time with the EQ on individual sound sources and I liked working with it, never having any difficulty obtaining the sound I wanted.
As with all the elements of the ‘Fat Channel’, I found the EQ easy to use and, once I got used to the linear indications rather than a graphic screen display, I didn’t find any difficulty in achieving basic working settings. The EQ isn’t aggressive and there’s no lag between adjusting the controls and the display responding, something I found tended to make me a little less heavy-handed and a little more precise when making gain changes.
The pan function has an encoder of its own, along with a horizontal meter. Being a rotary encoder rather than an analogue pot, the control doesn’t have a centre notch, but the meter has a red segment in the centre, which stays lit and makes the middle easy to find. This control operates as a stereo pan on any paired channels, including paired aux buses.
Buses & Monitoring
As the StudioLive 16.0.2 is a straightforward 16:2 mixer with no in-line groups, routing options are confined to the aux and effects bus settings. Sends to the four aux buses are controlled by the rotary encoders, depending on which of the auxes is selected. The aux buses can also be linked to create one or two stereo outputs.
The main stereo output is under the control of a single fader, and — like the aux buses — can be selected on its own, so that all the effects within the Fat Channel can be applied. Your main mix is always where the faders are, so it’s possible to look at a graphic representation of the full mix and one aux mix at the same time, which is very useful indeed.
The StudioLive 16.0.2’s master section includes good talkback and monitoring facilities for a mixer of its size. There is a dedicated talkback mic input, situated on the back of the mixer with its own trim control, and the signal from that can be assigned to the aux buses in pairs. Talkback can’t be routed to the main stereo mix, which is perhaps both a good and bad thing depending on how you work.
The ‘talk’ button latches the talkback function, which is a pity, but presumably it would only take a bit of software tweaking in a future update to provide a ‘push and hold to talk’ option. As for monitoring, there’s a solo bus that can pick up the content from any channel, including the aux buses, and can be switched to be pre-fade or post-fade.
The monitor bus is used for feeding a control-room output on the rear panel, and also for supplying the headphone mix, which has an independent level control. This bus takes its input from the solo bus, the main bus and the Firewire return, and these inputs are summed so that you can select all three at once, if required. The headphone output is sensibly positioned on the front edge.
This is a pretty comprehensive monitoring section, and wouldn’t be out of place on a larger and more expensive mixer. The control-room outputs could, in a live application, be used to make an analogue recording or as an extra output for feeding a backstage relay.
There are many areas of the StudioLive 16.0.2 that I haven’t space to describe in great detail here, notably the Firewire recording capability and MIDI control, but those fall outside my basic remit of reviewing this desk as a candidate for live sound mixing. Of relevance to all applications, however, is the ‘System’ menu, which gives access to various global and housekeeping settings. It’s here that ‘pre’ and ‘post’ aux-send choices are made, the LCD backlight level is set, and security lockout levels can be changed in order to prevent inquisitive fingers from ruining your painstakingly crafted mix.
For the more adventurous, as well as where the application requires more than just the hands-on direct control available from the 16.0.2 as a stand-alone desk, the StudioLive can be controlled from a computer, using the Virtual StudioLive software. It can also be remotely controlled from a laptop, iPad or iPhone using StudioLive Remote.
When the desk is hooked up to a PC or Mac, the communication is two-way, and all parameters can be controlled and monitored. In this way, the StudioLive 16.0.2 can be thought of as having ‘virtual’ automated faders, as scenes recalled using Virtual StudioLive with fader positions enabled will actually change the channel and aux or main fader settings within the desk, overriding the physical fader settings. There’s a lot that can be achieved with this system, and having now described all this functionality and additional capability it’s hard to remember just what a compact, easy-to-operate little mixer this is, especially at its price point.
The StudioLive 16.0.2 boots up quickly (around six seconds) and during the time I spent with it was always stable and well-behaved, with no crashes or unexpected behaviour. I also like the way Presonus have designed the main panel, aside from the lack of dedicated output meters, with everything clearly labelled, despite the number of multi-mode controls and meters.
The rubber buttons are positive in operation and are illuminated so well that I thought they might be a bit bright in a dark venue, but actually they’re just right for me. The rotary encoders, meanwhile, are smooth and have a consistent mechanical resistance through their travel. The faders aren’t the smoothest I’ve come across, though: I found them to be a bit sticky when pushed on either edge of the plastic cap, but they were fine when shunted along the centre line.
I decided to let a couple of friends try the mixer: people who had recently expressed an interest in purchasing a new mixer for their respective organisations. I had to help out a bit at first, mainly with the EQ indications, but they both ‘got it’ fairly quickly without reading the manual, and one would have given me cash for the review model there and then!
They were both very taken with the way that settings could be stored and recalled, and they were impressed with the size, look and feel of the StudioLive 16.0.2 too. They were also both convinced that it would be easy to use for others in their organisations, who would only need to operate the mix faders and a couple of aux sends at most. They saw it as a good step up from analogue, maintaining simplicity but adding all the digital bells and whistles they desired.
I, too, see the Presonus StudioLive 16.0.2 as an excellent first digital mixer, as it retains an analogue feel with its dedicated faders, simple routing and ease of use, but is packed with all the essential ‘outboard’ processing needed to do a great live-sound job. It also has significant extra capability on tap for direct recording, remote software control and MIDI interfacing in the studio. In summary, it’s a small and easy-to-operate mixer with plenty of features.
To appreciate all that the StudioLive 16.0.2 can do, you really need to get your hands on one, but if you can’t do so right away, a good first step would be to find the full user manual online, and have a good read. I am also very tempted to buy one myself, as I can think of so many jobs for which this desk would be the perfect tool.