Allen & Heath GS3000

8-buss Console

Published in SOS August 1998
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Reviews : Mixer

Every home and project studio owner aspires to have a 'proper' professional mixing console as the centrepiece of their studio -- something like an SSL J Series would do nicely for me. Most of us, however, can't afford that kind of price tag (although Paul Allen, who founded Microsoft with Bill Gates, has a top-dollar AMS-Neve Capricorn digital console in his home studio, just for fun you understand). We tend to have to make do with something smaller, cheaper, less versatile, and too often somehow lacking the 'aura' of a real pro console. But help is at hand... Allen & Heath evidently decided that they would seek to design a console that would fill precisely this gap, and at a reasonable project studio price too. The result is the GS3000. Quite simply, it looks the business and anyone with any experience in the world of pro studios could walk into a GS3000-equipped studio and feel very comfortable because they can see at a glance that the place is properly equipped. And as we shall see, the GS3000 doesn't just look the business, it is the business. It's a console for the professional, not the dabbler, and virtually every pro requirement is catered for, with lots of additional neat touches that demonstrate that the GS3000 is capable of turning out commercial product, day in day out.

pros & cons

ALLEN & HEATH GS3000

pros
Lots of features.
You can use them all!
Exceptionally good muting system.
MIDI Machine Control.
Fully parametric mid EQ sections.
Valve warming section? Why not?

cons

Small faders stiff in operation.
Cluttered lower fader area (common in consoles in this price range).
No frequency control on HF and LF EQ sections.

summary

This is a totally serious console for the totally serious user. Feature packed it may be, but everything is there for a reason and there is absolutely no fat anywhere on the GS3000. Allen & Heath have set a new benchmark in project studio console design.

In an era when digital mixing consoles are becoming increasingly powerful and affordable, the Allen & Heath GS3000 is absolutely rock-solid analogue. See this as a disadvantage if you like, but you can at least be assured that this console is 24-bit/96kHz ready, which is more than any of the current crop of digital consoles can claim! Traditional analogue design also has the advantage that any engineer can walk into your studio and start recording or mixing. No training, no manual, just roll the tape and push up the faders. Although traditional analogue consoles will always lack the programmability of digital consoles, familiar appearance and methods of operation are very valuable features.

IT'S BIG

Be warned that the GS3000 comes in a very big carton; it's big for a project studio console and the pro technique of using a crane to fly the console in through a window may -- almost -- be appropriate in cramped locations (I didn't have enough headroom in my studio to stand the empty carton on end!). The GS3000 is itself a very satisfying size, although with respect to the wide range of facilities it provides, you could call it compact. The 32-channel version is just under a metre and a half wide and since it weighs 37kg you'll need someone to help get it in position. The construction of the console doesn't betray any of the obvious cost-cutting measures that are commonly employed on project studio consoles. The connectors are exactly where they should be -- on the rear panel -- so the cables are not visible for all to see, nor are they only partially hidden by the bolt-on meter bridge (the meter bridge on the GS3000 is actually an option, but once in place it looks like an integral part of the unit). The pots are all bolted to the front panel so you can be sure that no stress is being placed on the printed circuit board behind. Internally, the construction is modular, so that servicing is easier -- a circuit module could be sent for repair while the rest of the console was still being used as normal. Another nice touch is the arm rest at the front. Unfortunately I can't tell you that that it is padded leather, but it is at least slightly soft and provides a useful degree of creature comfort for protracted mixing sessions. The power supply is external, as is appropriate for mixing consoles, and is silent! Great big heatsinks on the back perform the work that is too often taken care of by a fan.

The Allen & Heath GS3000 is an 8-buss console -- a very popular configuration since the combination of eight mixable outputs and direct outputs from the channels (which the GS3000 offers) is enough to cover virtually every situation you are likely to come across in music studio recording. 24-channel and 32-channel frame sizes are offered which give, respectively, 52 and 68 inputs to the mix. The topology is in-line, meaning that each channel strip contains the monitor controls for one channel of the multitrack, as opposed to the (now quite rare) 'split' monitoring design where the multitrack monitors are somewhere else on the control surface. As a surprising bonus, the GS3000 includes a two-channel valve stage which can be patched into the console wherever necessary, and can also be used as a guitar input preamplifier. I have been saying for a long time that mixing consoles should have high-impedance inputs (as well as the traditional mic and line inputs), suitable for electric guitars and pianos etc. Here, at last, we have them and with valve warmth too! Although the GS3000 doesn't have fader automation (which you could hardly expect in its price range) it does have the potential for mute automation, which is really half the battle when it comes to mixing band recordings, and in addition it offers integrated machine control. This means that your multitrack(s) can be away in a machine room somewhere while you issue all the necessary transport and track-arming commands right from where you are sitting. Integrating machine control and automation into the console was one of the features that helped Solid State Logic to make their big breakthrough in the top flight -- Allen & Heath have made a similar breakthrough at the project studio level with the GS3000. Of course, machine control is nothing if it doesn't give you the functions you need and isn't easy to use, and we'll see later whether it does or not. But first...

IT'S HOT


Valve mixing consoles in current production are very few in number, and the GS3000 doesn't claim to be one, but it does have the benefit of a patchable valve 'warming' stage. Being patchable, the two channels of valves don't affect the sound quality of the GS3000 unless you want them to, and there are two ways of using them. One option is to use them as inputs where they will work as mic or line inputs (with phantom power for microphones). The valves are driven in a symmetrical mode where the positive and negative half-cycles of the waveform are distorted equally giving a pleasant warming effect. Alternatively, they can be switched to guitar mode where a guitar may be directly connected and only the positive half-cycle is clipped, leading to more obvious distortion. As well as using the valve stages as inputs to the console, they can just as easily be patched to insert points in the channels, groups or masters. So you can warm up a single channel, or the entire mix, if you wish. It's an interesting feature -- not essential perhaps, but I bet you will use it.

THE CHANNEL

Reassuringly normal. That's what many users, and virtually all analogue enthusiasts will want me to say. And it is. The GS3000 displays classic design and incorporates the best thinking of the last 30 years to provide a channel strip which is as straightforward yet effective as it possibly could be in its price range. Let me point out some of the interesting features, starting from the top. I was pleasurably surprised to see the gain of the line input ranging from -10dB to 40dB. The negative figure is actually of most interest here because it helps when something is coming in to the console at a high level and yet needs to be mixed at a low, but precise level. Being able to set the gain to a negative value allows the fader to be higher up in its travel where it has better resolution. Unfortunately this flexibility doesn't extend to the tape input which is merely switchable between +4dBu/-10dBV. The insert point is pre-EQ. On a console such as this, I believe it should be post-EQ (see 'Channel Inserts' box), but I can live with it.

"Anyone with any experience in the world of pro studios could walk into a GS3000-equipped studio and feel very comfortable."

The GS3000's EQ is, apparently, of the 'British' variety. Fair enough, Cornwall has been a part of Britain for as long as I can remember, so I suppose it has to be true, but this term, 'British EQ' really goes back a long way to the days when some Americans thought that certain British consoles had better EQ than their home-grown product. These days, every competent console manufacturer knows everything there is about equalisation in a technical sense and it is now an economic and functional decision as to what facilities, frequencies and slopes are provided in a console design. For many people, mixers still stand or fall by their EQ, but Allen & Heath's GS3000 can certainly stand tall, at least in the project studio sector. Two mid-frequency sections are offered with full parametric control. This means that each band has controls for frequency, gain and Q -- and it's a rotary control for Q, not a switch. Q ranges from 0.6 to 2, which still isn't quite as low on the low side as I would like (0.3 please), but apart from that, this is a good feature. The Q setting actually changes the range of frequencies over which the mid-band gain control is effective -- a low Q means a wide range of frequencies. High values of Q are most appropriate when drastic action of some sort is called for, either correctively or creatively. On this console, a Q of 1 is in the centre position of the control and it is detented, which I approve of. The other EQ facilities include basic HF and LF controls. Here, unfortunately, you don't get a choice of switched frequencies. This is a shame, but you can't have everything and a reasonable price tag as well. There is also a 100Hz low-cut filter and the all-important EQ Out switch, for reducing circuit noise (by a very slight, but useful amount) when EQ isn't needed, and for making comparisons with the flat signal.

CHANNEL INSERTS


If the channel insert point comes before the EQ then it is easy to set up a noise gate. Once you have found the correct threshold level, it will stay exactly the same and gating will be reliable, whatever else you do to the mix (apart from adjust the gain control, which you wouldn't have to do if you set it correctly in the first place). But many engineers find it better to insert a compressor after the EQ -- subjectively, it often sounds better, and there are good reasons why it should. Allen & Heath have chosen the first option and placed the insert point before the EQ. But the thing is that the muting system, with the potential for mute automation, is so good that you would hardly need ever need to use a noise gate. The insert point could have been post-EQ and we would then have had the best of both worlds.

Moving down the strip, the auxiliary sends look rather less capable at first sight than they actually are. There are four knobs, but the lower two can be switched (on an individual channel basis) to address aux outputs 5 and 6. Auxes 1 and 2 can be globally switched to either pre-fade or post-fade. Global switching of auxes is, of course, a cost-cutting measure, but it is, I think, a reasonable compromise here and any problem you might have can always be worked around by some other means. Auxes 3 to 6 are all post fade, which is most appropriate for reverb and delay effects. A red button close to the aux sends curiously labelled 'XFX' provides an additional stereo aux send when mixing.

The lower section of the channel strip is actually the most interesting and exciting part. This is where Allen & Heath have decided that the GS3000 will mimic a high-cost commercial studio console as closely as possible. Top pro consoles, as you will almost certainly have noticed, have two faders per channel strip. Project studio consoles just have one. Well the GS3000 has the full complement of two, and is all the better for it. The small upper fader controls the level going to the multitrack recorder. The large lower fader controls the monitor level of each track during recording and overdubbing, and the level of each track during mixdown. Yes, what I said is correct -- the small fader is the multitrack send and the large fader is the monitor. This is the exact opposite of the traditional in-line console, but it is actually becoming increasingly common, and when you think about it, it does make a lot of sense. You can build your mix as you go along, and there is no need to switch from the small to the large faders when you start mixing since you are there already! For some curious reason, although the large fader is smooth and easy to operate, the small fader is quite stiff. They do their job though. The group routing buttons are, a little confusingly, located next to the monitor fader (I still hate this clutter around the faders. I always have and I probably always will). They can, however, be switched to either the channel or the monitor signal path so perhaps this is reasonable. Both channel and monitor faders have large LED-equipped mute buttons controlling and signalling whether the source is sending signal to the busses. Big buttons with LEDs are indeed pro features because you need to see what's active and what's not, at a glance. These buttons don't latch because they can also be controlled by the muting system, which is a very powerful facility when mixing recordings of bands and other non-MIDI combinations of instruments. The console also offers Solo-In-Place as well as conventional PFL. There is also an alternative Mix B buss with a number of possible uses for the creative engineer. Both of these are important features.

MUTE AUTOMATION


Mute automation is great when you are recording a band as lots of unwanted noises tend to get onto the multitrack before, during and after the song. With MIDI instruments, mute automation isn't quite so important, although it can still be useful to create 'breakdown' mixes to edit into the finished song later, perhaps for an extended remix version. Although the GS3000 itself provides mute grouping and mute patching, an external MIDI sequencer is necessary to automate the muting. Mute grouping is handled by four buttons in the centre panel. Combinations of mutes can be set up and stored under each of the four buttons so that you can turn on or off any number of mutes with a single button press. If you have never used mute grouping you won't know how wonderful a feature it is -- believe me, it's very wonderful! Four mute groups is a good number, but there are times when you will want more. This is where mute patching comes in. It's a very slightly longer procedure to set up and recall a mute patch, but you can have up to 128 different patches which should be enough to cover any situation. These patches correspond to MIDI programs which can be recorded into and played back from a MIDI sequencer.

CENTRE PANEL

Oddly enough, there is no such thing as an auxiliary return on this console. At least there is nothing called an auxiliary return but there does just happen to be four stereo input sections. I like this approach because in my alter ego (one of several) as an audio educator I find it difficult to separate auxiliary sends and auxiliary returns in people's minds and there is a tendency to think that it is obligatory to patch the output of a reverb unit into an auxiliary return when, if the project calls for it, it can be just as easily connected to a couple of spare channels thereby enabling it to access the full range of EQ and other features. It may be just a conceptual matter, but I think Allen & Heath's presentation is correct. In fact, two of the stereo inputs are almost as fully featured as the mono channels, with gain, 4-band EQ (but with fixed mid frequencies) and all six auxiliary sends available. Full-size faders are the icing on the cake. The other two stereo inputs are more modest in capability, with only two of the aux sends (auxes 1 and 2) and small faders, but I can certainly find no fault here.

SOLO-IN-PLACE


Every recording console should have Solo-in-Place, it is so useful. Conventional PFL means that when you press the PFL button on a channel, you hear that channel alone at its full level, usually disregarding the pan setting. This is great for hearing that the signal doesn't have any faults, but it is difficult to assess its artistic merit properly. Solo-in-Place, however, works by muting all the other channels (even to the group and master outputs, so don't use it while recording -- or broadcasting!). Solo-in-Place goes hand-in-hand with Solo Safe. Solo Safe means that certain channels or auxiliary returns can be protected from the action of the Solo-in-Place function. The end result is that you can Solo-in-Place a single channel, and you will hear it at its correct level, correct pan position, and with any effects you have applied to that channel. Solo-in-Place is unbelievably effective for fine tuning a mix and as I said, every console should have it. The Allen & Heath GS3000 does have it. I think Soundcraft should look at the way Solo Safe is implemented on this console. The Soundcraft Ghost does have it, but it's not as good as this.

To complete all of the console's inputs before moving on, the GS3000 provides 2-track return inputs for three stereo recorders. This means you can have a DAT mastering machine, a cassette for 'quick and dirty' copies and a CD player for reference purposes, all permanently patched to the console ready for use at the push of a button. More than this, the console provides push-button routing so that direct copies can be made from Stereo 2 to Stereo 1 and vice versa, and from Stereo 1 to Stereo 3. It's a small thing, and Allen & Heath are not going to sell any more consoles because of it, but it shows they are thinking of real-life requirements and what really goes on in a session besides the fun stuff.

Having dealt with the inputs, let's look at the GS3000's outputs. There are eight groups, as you would expect from an 8-buss console, and they can be switched to work as subgroups feeding into the stereo mix buss if required. The group faders are calibrated, like the channel faders, up to +10dB which means there is always some extra gain in hand in case the meters on the multitrack are not quite hitting the end stops! Actually my personal preference is for group faders that have 0dB as their upper limit, as the master fader does here.

It is common practice these days in mixing console design to route the group outputs internally to the channel strips, in banks of eight, so that Group 1 feeds tape send outputs 1, 9, 17 and 25. I would have liked a set of eight outputs actually labelled Group Outputs since it would have been practical to wire these to a patchbay and wire the tape outputs directly to the multitrack to give the optimum compromise between flexibility and economy of wiring. You could still wire tape outputs 1-8 via a patchbay, but they would be affected by the Group/Direct switch on the channel which could cause confusion. Insert points are provided on the groups and on the masters. Auxiliary outputs, as you would expect on a console of this nature, do not have insert points so if you want to compress the send to the reverb from a mix of channels (what do you mean you've never tried it?) you will have to find another way of doing it. Typical, isn't it? Allen & Heath have gone out of their way to provide such a wonderful range of facilities and I'm still asking for more!

The GS3000 is very well provided for in the monitoring department. Once again, Allen & Heath have covered almost every scenario. Any console will provide control-room monitoring, with outputs for a power amplifier and headphones. Many consoles will provide alternate-speaker switching so that main monitors or nearfields can be selected. Many consoles will also provide a mono switch so the mono compatibility of a mix can be tested. Fewer consoles will provide all of the aforementioned and, in addition, studio monitoring so that you can play back a take over speakers in the studio and save the band a trip back to the control room to hear their work. The GS3000 goes one stage further and provides two studio monitor outputs, so if your studio has a drum booth annexed to it the drummer can have his own loudspeaker playback too. In fact, rather than providing loudspeaker playback in the studio, which is commonly done at a professional level, the way you will probably use the studio outputs is for foldback on headphones. The classic way of doing this is to use a pre-fade auxiliary send, but this takes time to set up and many people take the quick route of patching the main stereo mix to the headphones. The studio outputs of the GS3000 can be driven by a number of sources: auxiliary 1, the main stereo mix, Mix B or the control room monitor. The great thing is that you can mix these sources together, so you can quickly select the main mix as the monitor source, then if the singer (for instance) wants to hear more of a particular instrument you can add it using aux 1. If you really want to be clever you can invert the phase to 'add' less of a particular channel. Talkback, mute and AFL are also provided.

MACHINE CONTROL


When I first found out about MIDI machine control I knew that one day it would become important, and I think that day has definitely now arrived. If you have a multitrack that will accept MMC commands, which any modern multitrack (tape or disk) should, then there are few reasons why you should ever need to touch the multitrack again other than to insert tapes or for editing. Next to the stereo master fader there is a bank of seven transport control buttons: Record, Play, Stop, Rewind, Forward Wind, Locate and Mark. Track Enable switching is performed by holding the Record button while pressing the mute button on the relevant channel -- an LED glows to show you which tracks are ready for recording. This works very well. I connected the MIDI OUT of the GS3000 to my Fostex RD8 (which is a bit like an Alesis ADAT with a BRC remote control built-in) and it responded beautifully. I did wonder whether my other ADAT would respond to Track Enable commands since it, naturally, would be connected to the console to channels 9-16, but it all worked fine. So, one final polish and the front panels of my ADATs will never get any finger marks again! It might be possible to quibble about the single locate point, but it's amazing how much work you can get done when you stop worrying about entering locates for every verse, chorus, middle eight and guitar solo. The only real points of issue are the lack of a time display -- you still have to look at the multitrack for that -- and the lack of an audio-in-shuttle mode, although this is a problem that has more to do with MMC than the console itself.

A PROFESSIONAL SOLUTION?

The sound quality of the Allen & Heath GS3000 is fully in line with contemporary mixing console design for this sector of the market and I am sure you will be entirely satisfied. The muting and machine control facilities work well and you will probably wonder how you managed without them. The EQ is effective and I am sure most users will find it musical. The incorporation of a pair of valve stages may be considered something of a novelty, particularly since there is plenty of outboard equipment available that can do the same job, but it is certainly perfectly usable, and having the option of high-impedance inputs on a mixing console can only be a good thing. Analogue it may be, but the sheer range of facilities, and the way these facilities have been tightly directed at the serious professional user, make the Allen & Heath GS3000 a major contender in the project studio, and even the smaller commercial studio market.

  GS3000 24-channel £3804.48 (meter pod £783.27); 32-channel £4699.65 (meter pod £939.93). All prices include VAT.  
  Allen & Heath, Kernick Industrial Estate, Penryn, Cornwall,
TR10 9LU, UK.
 
  +44 (0)1326 372070.  
  +44 (0)1326 377097.  
  www.allen-heath.com  

 

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