This compact console offers an enticing set of features for both live and studio use — and does so at a highly appealing price.
Shortly after Behringer’s parent company The Music Group purchased British live-sound console veterans Midas, Behringer announced a range of compact analogue mixers. News of the Xenyx UFX series was largely overshadowed by the hotly anticipated (but then still in development) digital X32 console, which is a shame as these compact analogue mixers promised a great deal: dual effects engines, four auxes, four-band EQs on the mic channels, and one more thing: multitrack recording, either to a computer, in interface mode via Firewire or USB, or directly to an attached USB hard disk, at up to 24-bit/48kHz.
Like many Behringer products, these mixers took a while to come to market, but two years after the announcement I finally got my hands on the largest model, the UFX1604, and I’ve now had the pleasure of using it on a number of gigs, and even at a few festivals. Indeed, it really has been a pleasure, but before I go into all that, I’ll run through its functions and features.
As its name suggests, the UFX1604 is a 16-input desk (the ‘04’ bit refers to the number of buses, which mostly work as you’d expect, but with a few space-saving compromises). The input channels comprise eight mono mic/line inputs (of which the first two can also accept high-impedance instrument signals) and four stereo line channels. As is often the case with such mixers, the stereo channels have a slightly more limited EQ section than the mono ones — four fixed bands, rather than the high/low shelving and sweepable mids of the mono channels — while the mono inputs also trump their stereo counterparts by each featuring a simple one-knob compressor.
All channels have an EQ bypass switch, four aux send controls (of which auxes 3 and 4 can feed either the built-in effects or their own output jacks), mute and solo switches, and ‘pre/post’ switches that determine whether the interface/USB record feed is being taken before or after the EQ and fader. The mute switches prevent a channel’s output reaching the main bus, as you’d expect, but they also send that channel’s output to an ‘Alt 3-4’ bus, which has its own rotary fader that feeds its output to the main mix. So you can either have a two-bus desk with normal mute-switch operation (if you forsake the Alt bus), or a four-bus desk without mutes. This kind of well-reasoned compromise is typical of this desk, by the way, as you’ll see.
Two of the stereo channels (13-14 and 15-16) can be set, via a switch, to return two independent stereo signals from an attached computer, with all the aux-send and routing options that those line inputs have access to. Finally, all channels, as well as the master fader, are controlled by a full-throw (100mm) fader.
The output connections on the top panel comprise balanced stereo mix and control-room jacks, outputs for the Alt 3-4 bus (also balanced), and not one but two headphone outs, which share a single volume knob. Then there are two pairs of RCA phono two-track I/O sockets. Around the back of the mixer resides yet more socketry: another iteration of the mix outputs (on XLRs this time), plus four aux outputs and four stereo aux returns (again, all balanced), and unbalanced TRS insert points for the first eight channels. Here’s where you’ll also find the Firewire and USB sockets for interfacing with a computer, plus the USB type A socket for connecting to a hard disk or thumb drive; a three-position slide switch determines which USB/Firewire socket the desk will use.
Like the rest of the desk, the master section is remarkably well-equipped for something of its size. For starters, there’s a talkback mic, which has its own level control and can be set to send to the headphones, the main mix, the aux outputs, or any combination of those (the talk switch is non-latching). Just below that is a basic transport section, which can be used to start or stop the USB recording and playback (and even cycle through tracks on your disk), or it can be used to control the transport functions in your DAW when in interface mode, using either the HUI protocol or standard MIDI messages. A three-digit display tells you or how much time is left on your disk when recording, as well as showing various messages that help you set things like the record sample rate, playback mode (single-track or continuous), and so on.
Next to each aux master output is a switch that globally sets its operation to pre or post fader, while auxes 1 and 2 can be set to send to Firewire/USB interface channels 13 and 14 (in place of those input channels). Aux return 3 (which is also the FX A return) can be sent to the aux 1 output via a switch, which is handy for sending some vocal reverb to a wedge — you just have to remember to designate aux 1 for the singer’s monitor when you’re setting up (I failed to do this once, which proved a little awkward when a singer asked for some reverb during a gig).
You can also send the aux 3/FX A return to the aux 4/FX B send, which opens up the possibility of sending some of the FX A processing through the FX B engine, or if you need reverb in two different monitor mixes, for sending aux 3 to another stage wedge, at the expense of your second effect. This arrangement isn’t as flexible as having individual aux sends for each return (as some larger mixers do), and it limits you to having the same wet/dry ratio of FX A in the monitors as for front-of-house, but for the size of gig that this desk can accommodate, and given its low price, it’s not a show-stopper (and, from my experience using it, is actually a fairly sensible compromise).
Above the aux section is where you’ll find the monitor control facilities. The control-room output knob is accompanied by five source switches: main mix, CD/tape (the phono inputs I mentioned earlier), Alt 3-4, Firewire 1-2, and Firewire 3-4. Alongside those switches are corresponding buttons that send the same sources to both the headphone outs.
Completing the master section is a stereo, 12-segment ladder LED meter, which shows the main mix level or the level of any soloed sources. A switch below this chooses between solo-in-place or PFL modes.
The effects section is fairly typical of the kind you find on mixers like this; in this instance there are two identical sets of controls for the two engines. A 16-way rotary switch selects the effect, and these are split into four groups: Reverb 1 (cathedral, concert, club and chamber), Reverb 2 (plate, gated reverb, reverse reverb and ambience), Delay/Mod (delay, chorus, flanger and phaser), and SFX/Dual (rotary speaker, pitch shift, delay plus reverb, and chorus plus reverb).
All the treatments do what they say on the tin, and each effect has at least one editable parameter, controlled via its own Edit knob (in many cases, a second parameter can be selected by pressing the Tap/Select button, and then adjusted using the same knob). This means you can edit, say, a reverb’s decay time and pre-delay, or a delay patch’s delay time and feedback, independently — which actually makes these effects much more useful than many you’d find built into budget mixers. Each effects engine also has its own four-LED input level meter.
Of course, a mixer is more than just the sum of its features (of which the UFX1604 has many). The user experience depends largely on how the thing ‘feels’ to use, how easy it is to navigate, whether it behaves predictably and, of course, how it sounds. Happily, the ‘UFX experience’ is a very good one. The controls are all well spaced apart and have a good, consistent feel, while the light top panel, clear labelling and bright colour-coding mean you always know where you are with it — which is vital when you’re in the fray of a gig or festival. All the switches have a pleasant, positive action, and while it would be unrealistic to expect an LED for every switch, the mute and solo statuses are usefully indicated, as is gain reduction on the compressors.
In terms of how sturdy and well put together it is, I’d say it’s on a par with similarly sized Mackies and Soundcrafts. The pots don’t wobble, the faders don’t stick, and the chassis and casework feel very well assembled — and that’s still the case after extensive use.
Sound-wise, again, I have no complaints. Unlike some older Behringer mixers (in particular the old Xenyx ones with the ridiculously bright blue power LED), which would often sound strained before reaching the limits of their headroom, the UFX1604 seems to have headroom for days — certainly more than enough of the stuff given sensible gain structure. The EQs are extremely usable, with plenty of range and enough overlap in the mid bands to accommodate all your EQ’ing needs, while the compressors simply do their thing in the same way that equivalents from the likes of Yamaha do, even levelling out in a largely transparent way, being most useful with the knobs set to around a quarter of the way along their travel. There’s obviously an increased risk of feedback the more they’re used, but with care they can really smooth things out without any audible drawbacks.
Perhaps even more significant, though, is that the UFX1604 has been rock-solid for me — I’ve used it at numerous gigs, across a range of venues, and even at a couple of festivals, so it has travelled around a fair bit, but never once has it let me down. I must admit that this was something of a concern when I started using it — Behringer’s reputation for building reliable products hasn’t always been stellar — but this example has been very well-behaved indeed.
It’s not only a live-sound desk, however: I can see it being very useful in home studios, too, where the inclusion of two headphone amps, built-in effects, high-impedance inputs, a decent monitor-control section, and two stereo computer returns obviate the need for a host of otherwise necessary hardware. This mixer, a laptop, a mic and a set of headphones really would be all you’d need to get started, and it’s a setup that would happily scale up to modest live-band and gig-recording duties.
To sum up, if you want an analogue live mixer that’s capable of recording sans laptop, or you want a studio setup that you can easily dismantle and take on location or to gigs, I can’t think of a cheaper or more cheerful option than this.
When you take price into account, there really isn’t anything that competes. The Mackie Onyx 1640i comes close, but can’t record directly to disk (you’d need a computer), and the same is true of the U and F versions of Midas’s Venice — although they are rather more ‘professional’ desks in their own right.
As a stand-alone recorder, the UFX1604 works much like the Cymatic LR16 and Allen & Heath Ice 16 do. Before you start, you have to connect a disk (I tried both a ‘proper’ USB hard disk and a few high-capacity thumb drives). Upon connecting a disk, the LCD will show either ‘Hi’, ‘Lo’ or ‘Slo’ to indicate whether the drive is capable of recording at 24-bit, 16-bit or not at all, respectively (the ‘Slo’ warning tells you your drive won’t be able to write quickly enough). In my tests, only the ‘proper’ disk was able to record at 24-bit — one of my thumb drives would only capture at 16-bit, and the other was too slow, but I’ve had similar experiences with both of the stand-alone recorders I mentioned earlier.
Recording may be started and stopped using the desk’s transport controls, whereupon a new set of files is created, but note that you will always end up with 16 WAV files for each recording — you can’t be selective about which channels you capture; it’s all or nothing.
I’ve recorded a few gigs on the UFX1604, and the results have been more than adequate, with sensible desk gain structure (ie. no red LEDs!) leading to clip-free recordings on every occasion. Of course, recording only the close mics on a stage leaves you with a rather dry sound, but there’s nothing to stop you plugging a couple of ambient mics in but leaving them turned down or muted so as to avoid feedback, as these signals will still be captured to disk provided you’ve set those channels to record pre-fader.