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Allen & Heath GS3V

Automated Mixer By Paul White
Published January 1994

Paul White discovers that this deceptively small console conceals a sophisticated VCA automation system that can be used independently or in conjunction with external MIDI devices.

The GS3 console, on which the GS3V is based, was the result of a concerted effort by Allen & Heath to produce a practical in‑line monitor console for the real world — not the world of the West End studio, but that far wider and arguably more dynamic ecosystem of the private studio‑owning musician. To fit in with the needs of this market, the GS3V is compact, ruggedly built, and designed to interface with the unbalanced ‑10dBV jack environment around which most small private recording setups are based.

Most consoles competing in this market sector offer in‑line monitoring combined with split grouping, and the GS3V is no exception. However, it differs from the majority of its competitors in that it does not employ a split EQ which has to be shared between the main input and monitor channel paths. Instead, the monitor path has its own dedicated two‑band shelving EQ (100Hz and 10kHz; +/‑14dB), while the main signal path benefits from a three‑band equaliser, the bottom two sections of which are sweepable (MF 300Hz to 12kHz; LF 20Hz to 500Hz, both +/‑14dB). This in itself is unusual — the four‑band equaliser is almost universal these days — but it seems a reasonable trade‑off when you consider that you don't have to share the EQ with the monitor section. Furthermore, the EQ may be bypassed when not in use, helping minimise overall noise.

My only criticism of the channel equaliser is the range of the Mid Frequency (MF) control, which only extends down as far as 300Hz. I find that when applying any degree of bass boost, there is often a need to combine this with some lower‑mid boost in the 150 to 250Hz region, but with the GS3V's equaliser topography, this isn't possible.

The LF control is particularly interesting, because it combines a shelving response with a tendency to accentuate frequencies around the shelving point. This helps to add low end punch without losing too much definition.

Signal Paths

The channel signal path is fairly conventional for this type of console, offering three possible sources: Mic, Line or Tape. Each mic amp has its own phantom powering switch and, when recording, the output of the Mic/Line switch is fed to the main channel path. During recording the monitor section handles the off‑tape monitoring and is permanently routed to the stereo mix buss. When you come to mix, the signal paths are swapped over so that the off‑tape signal passes through the main channel path, allowing full use of the channel facilities, and the monitor section becomes a spare line input for connection to MIDI sound sources, say, that are being fed 'live' into the desk, or even additional effects.

Both the monitor and main paths have pre‑fade cue controls, while the four auxiliary sends, which are on dual‑concentric controls to save space, are arranged such that sends 1 and 2 are fed from the main signal path while 3 and 4 may be switched between the main and monitor paths as needed. When sends 3 and 4 are switched into the monitor path, Aux Send 3 feeds Aux buss 1, allowing the same effects unit to be shared between the main and monitor paths. The monitor level and pan controls also come as a dual‑concentric 'pair', rather than as separate pots, but you quickly get used to this arrangement.

The master section includes four stereo returns with two‑band EQ and full buss routing, plus a very comprehensive monitor switching system which incorporates dual studio monitor switching and the facility to connect and dub between two stereo machines. The integral talkback mic may be routed either to the cue mix or to the busses and is controlled by a non‑latching switch to save embarrassment when slagging off the drummer!

The GS3 console has been around for a fair while now, so there's no need to go into too much detail concerning the audio section of the desk. But with the arrival of the GS3V, which now includes VCA fader automation as well as mute automation, the console is back on the map with a vengeance, representing possibly the most affordable route to automation currently available. What's more surprising, once the highly attractive retail price is taken into account, is the fact that the automation system is actually very good and very few corners seem to have been cut to deliver the goods at this price.

GS3V Automation

Like the GS3, the V is available in 16‑ or 24‑channel versions, with the optional GS3V‑EX expander module increasing the respective totals by a further eight channels. The external power supply can handle a fully expanded 32‑channel system and does not need fan cooling, which keeps things nice and quiet. As it comes, the desk can sync to the outside world via MTC (MIDI Time Code) or MIDI Clock with SPPs (Song Position Pointers), though a SMPTE hardware option is available for around £180 if preferred. This plugs in beneath the V‑PROM 'manhole' on the mixer front panel, which also allows the operating system to be updated by the user with minimal effort.

Unlike some automation systems which rely on external MIDI control, the GS3V can run without any external computer, though it is equipped to both send and receive MIDI. The console has, according to the designers, enough battery‑backed memory to store around 50 minutes of fairly busy mixing data, but because there is no integral disk drive, the only way to archive mix data is via a System Exclusive dump, either to a sequencer or to a MIDI data filer of some description (eg. Alesis DataDisk; Yamaha MDF1, etc).

The Atari ST‑based V‑Edit software included with the GS3V provides an on‑screen visual representation of both the fader positions and the VCA settings, as well as mute status, VCA grouping information and so forth. V‑Edit can be run simultaneously with your sequencer, using Steinberg's MROS or C‑Lab's SoftLink, or it may be loaded on its own. Although the GS3V console automation functions beautifully without the V‑Edit software, I must confess to feeling more comfortable when having the screen display to refer to.

The automation handles all channel fader levels and the stereo master fader, as well as remembering all the muting selections on both the main and monitor channel signal paths. Muting is also fitted to the aux sends and returns, which opens up several creative possibilities for effects usage. There's no VCA automation on the group faders, but as VCA subgroups can be easily set up using the main channels, this is no limitation. The monitor level controls aren't automated, but if these monitor inputs are used to handle additional MIDI instruments during mixdown, some degree of MIDI level automation can almost certainly be applied to such sources via your sequencer.

The VCAs used in the system are SSM chips, chosen because of their transparent sound and the fact that they require little in the way of expensive support circuitry. It's a little known fact that while passing a signal through one VCA may not cause any appreciable change in quality, passing the same signal through a VCA several times (as might well happen when recording, bouncing and mixing) can cause a noticeable deterioration in signal quality, unless the VCAs are well conceived. The development of the GS3V's VCA system was undertaken with this fact very much in mind, and judging by the commendable sound quality of this desk, the designers have succeeded. How the muting circuits operate is also an important design consideration — if they switch on and off too quickly they can generate clicks if audio is present (and sometimes even if it isn't); but in the case of the GS3V, FET switches are utilised with a switching time of around 10 milliseconds, which is fast enough to be positive but still slow enough to prevent audible clicks.

Using Automation

Before using the automation system, the GS3V needs to know what equipment it is connected to. There are several different modes of operation which largely relate to the interchange of MIDI information between the console and the external device, if one is connected. The three major modes are Off, in which case the console operates without MIDI; Basic; or Enhanced, the latter enabling V‑Edit to be used to its full potential. Even though the desk's internal automation computer doesn't rely on MIDI, the console can both send and receive mix information in MIDI format; the MIDI link is used to communicate with the V‑Edit Atari ST software included in the package. Mix mute data is represented by MIDI Note‑On data (the velocity information being used to determine whether the mute is on or off) while Controller information is used to represent fader positions.

The main automation controls are located in the far right console strip; this is shown in Figure 1 along with a brief explanation of the key functions. Each fader is accompanied by a pair of up/down arrow LEDs which show the fader's physical position in relation to the stored VCA level setting. In normal operation, the fader must be moved to the so‑called 'null point', ie. where it corresponds to the VCA setting, before it takes over control from the VCA; this null is indicated by both arrow LEDs lighting up. When searching for the null point, it's only necessary to move the fader in the direction of the illuminated arrow until both LEDs come on, and you soon get the hang of this.

It's possible to use the console in a simple snapshot mix mode, whereby up to 33 patches can be created comprising fader settings, mute information or both. These patches may be called up, just like synth voices or drum patterns, using MIDI Program Change commands from an external sequencer or keyboard, or they may be recalled manually from the console itself. However, on a console of this sophistication, it could be argued that the snapshot mode isn't making best use of the GS3V's available features, but it suits certain applications and is a welcome alternative to the dynamic automation.

Most owners, however, will utilise the dynamic mix automation facilities of the GS3V for the majority of the time, and the procedures involved are straightforward and easy to come to terms with. It works as follows...

The console syncs to incoming timecode — it even recognises the format for you — then, when you hit the big red Record button, you're off. As soon as the incoming timecode stops, the console stops recording automation data and the record LED extinguishes. During this stage you can record either fader level positions, mute switch activity, or both together.

If you change your mind about a level, or decide you now want to mute that aux send, the chances are that your mix data will need updating and refining several times before it is perfect. There are several ways of amending the data, the simplest being to erase either individual fader levels or, if it was really bad, the whole pass! If just a short section of mix data needs changing on a particular fader, you can punch in and out much as you would with an audio tape machine. This replaces all data on the selected fader(s) between the drop‑in and drop‑out points. Punch mode is also useful for recording level changes as a series of abrupt steps, as opposed to dynamic changes, which can be useful when mix memory is running short. In Automated Overwrite mode, the original mix data is only overwritten as long as the fader is being moved. Once you stop moving, the fader drops out of record.

...the GS3V automation feels far more solid and professional than you might expect from such a competitively priced console...

In keeping with most top‑end automation systems, a Trim mode is provided on the GS3V to allow fader movements to be added to the existing mix data rather than replacing it. This means that you don't have to move the fader to the null point before it takes control — you can simply set the fader and add 5dB, say, to a whole section if you want to. All these editing moves also apply to mute settings, but in Trim mode mutes are recorded as toggle events rather than as discrete on/off events.

In some circumstances, it's desirable to control the overall level of a group of channels from one fader (subgrouping) — a typical example being a drum kit or perhaps a group of backing vocalists. With this in mind, the GS3V allows you to create VCA groups with any channel fader as the master level control (and the same channels can be included in several different subgroups, if you can get your head around a reason for doing it). It's also possible to 'nest' groups, so that one fader controls a subset of the group while another controls the whole lot. A typical example might again be the drum kit, where the close mics form one group and the overheads and ambience mics form another. Each could be controlled from its own master fader, but another fader (such as the bass drum level) could be designated to control both together. There's no practical limit as to how complex these nested subgrouping operations can be on the GS3V, but take it beyond one layer and my head starts to hurt!

Individual faders and mutes may be isolated from the automation, so that you can handle part of the mix manually. In addition, three types of mute groups may also be created if required. The simplest grouping function is where a predefined set of mute switches operate under the control of a single mute button. Slightly more complex is the Toggle mode, where a predefined set of mute buttons toggle their status when a single button is pressed. In other words, when the master mute button is pressed, all the mutes change from their current state (be it on or off) to the opposite state — highly flexible. The final mute group mode is Solo Groups — a set of mutes in which each one is mutually exclusive to the others. In other words, when one mute in the group is turned on, all the others will turn off — useful stuff.

Function Keys

In addition to the main automation system, the GS3V has seven function keys which may be programmed by the user to send out a chosen MIDI message up to 14 bytes long. As delivered, the console comes with the function keys configured as MMC (MIDI Machine Control) transport controls, ideal for remotely controlling your Fostex R8 multitrack for instance. This data may be overwritten either by keying in the data on the V‑Edit screen or by using the Learn mode, which automatically records an incoming MIDI data message. The function keys may also be used to manually recall mix patches or snapshots, which can be extremely useful in live situations where timecode isn't available.


The audio performance of the GS3V compares favourably with other well‑designed, mid‑price consoles, the only area of contention being the channel EQ. On the plus side you don't have to share the main EQ with the monitor path, but on the downside is the fact that the channel EQ offers three rather than four bands and, more seriously, the Mid control only reaches down to 300Hz. These limitations aside, the GS3V EQ is both positive and effective.

At no time did I notice any loss of subjective sound quality attributable to the automation, and the mutes (thankfully) refused to click no matter how I tried to abuse them. Having mutes on both the main and monitor channel paths is essential, but having mutes on aux sends and returns is an extremely welcome bonus.

Even the 16‑channel version of this console offers a staggering number of inputs when you come to mix; not only do the monitor inputs effectively double the number of available line inputs, there are also four stereo aux returns. This brings the EQ'able inputs count up to 40 (if you don't mind counting a stereo input as two). And, because you can create VCA subgroups, there's no real need to use the group faders on mixdown — so you could use the group aux return points to pipe another eight line‑level signals into the mix, albeit without any EQ facility. That makes a maximum of 48 line inputs on a desk that's under 31 inches wide!

The automation system is actually very sophisticated, but never overpowering; you need only use the features you feel comfortable with. Personally, I like the visual feedback available from the V‑Edit software, and given that an Atari ST now costs little more than the SMPTE option for this desk, I can't really see any reason for not using one. This is especially true when you consider that the GS3V has no onboard disk drive for mix data storage; an Atari can double as a mix data filer for less than the cost of a stand‑alone MIDI data filer.

I did experience some problems when using V‑Edit in conjunction with MIDI Time Code from my Alesis BRC [ADAT remote control]. From what my MIDI analyser told me, the BRC wasn't passing on the GS3V's SysEx commands. Using the SMPTE option would bypass this problem, of course, but Allen & Heath's engineers are currently investigating a solution.

In all other respects, the GS3V automation feels far more solid and professional than you might expect from such a competitively priced console and it's sometimes hard to believe that the GS3V is positioned right at the low cost end of console automation.


To sum up, the GS3V is an extremely competent console which manages to be both compact and ergonomically comfortable. The use of dual‑concentric pots has saved a little console depth (though nobody likes dual‑concentrics quite as much as separate controls) and the only obvious omission is a channel phase switch (though, frankly, I'd imagine that very few people use these anyway). The automation is flexible, practical and well‑behaved, and in conjunction with an Atari ST the V‑Edit software provides a very professional‑looking screen display as well as adding a little extra functionality to the automation system. If low cost mix automation is next on your shopping list, then the GS3V is definitely one to check out.

V‑Edit Automation Software

The V‑Edit software provides a practical graphic display for the GS3V, though it is only available for the Atari ST running with a high resolution mono monitor. The physical fader positions are depicted by moving outline fader caps, while the VCA settings are shown by more solid fader caps running in the same slot. Many of the automation tasks that can be handled from the GS3V can be implemented more easily via V‑Edit, with additional visual information available that isn't accessible on the console itself. For example, if you create a VCA subgroup on the desk, you have to remember which channels are included in it; on the V‑Edit screen, this information is displayed. V‑Edit also includes on‑line help and dialogue pages which include keystroke information, SMPTE setup info and so on.


  • Good value for money.
  • Robust, flexible automation.
  • Good audio performance.
  • Separate 2‑band EQ for monitors.
  • Expandable.


  • Channel EQ is restricted to three bands, with limited bottom end range on the Mid band.
  • Use of dual‑concentric controls and stereo jacks for some functions can be a little irritating.
  • No onboard disk drive for mix storage.


One of the most cost‑effective, easy to use, automated mixers around. Its high level of performance and compact format make it suitable for a wide range of recording applications.