Allen & Heath’s Qu series goes from strength to strength, with the latest offering more I/O, more faders and more mix groups.
The Qu24 is a 32–input console with a fader count of 25 (including one fixed master). There are 24 mono inputs on the back panel with on–board preamps, plus a further three stereo input pairs and a stereo USB playback facility. Despite its compact size the Qu24 manages to house a full local complement of inputs and outputs on the back panel (there are no fewer than 24 analogue outputs on this thing!) making it a direct drop–in replacement for an existing analogue mixer if desired. A comprehensive complement of DSP including EQ, dynamics and effects is controlled by a combination of top-panel controls and the LCD touchscreen, and mix control is enhanced, compared to the smaller Qu16, by the addition of sub–groups and a matrix facility. The Qu24 offers moving faders for total recall, four effects processors, USB audio streaming of 32 tracks direct to PC- or Mac–based DAWs, an integrated direct–to–drive 18–track QuDrive recorder, and it is fully compatible with Allen & Heath’s dSnake and ME1 personal monitor system, both of which can be programmed from the desk . As if all this isn’t enough, you can also control all the mix parameters over a Wi-Fi connection using the QuPad iPad app and a wireless router.
When the Qu24 arrived I was surprised at how small the box was, and when unwrapped it was apparent that a lot of thought has gone into producing a functional but very compact unit. It looks great, with its all–black surface, nice obvious control blocks and clearly grouped functions. There’s no element of gimmickry or flashiness in the external design, and the console has a very purposeful ‘pro’ look to it that I find ergonomically very pleasing and effective. Those more used to their mixer lighting up like a Christmas tree may initially wonder where all the bells and whistles are, but when you get around the surface everything you need is there, and the uncluttered layout is helped by appropriate and intelligent use of the colour touchscreen. The printed labelling is on the small side, but it’s clear enough and the use of white text on a blue background stands out well from the black surface, even under coloured lights. The Qu24 has a strong all–steel casing that is unusual in that it looks, from the side, like a very thin mixer that has been bent around into a three–sided shape with the connectors at the rear. The space directly below the control surface is consequently empty — there are no side panels so there’s no need for cooling fans as the air can circulate freely underneath. However, this space is actually really useful for keeping your tape, Sharpies and lunch items out of sight. The casing is very well made, as with every other A&H product I’ve come across, and I can personally endorse the makers’ claim that it’s strong enough for a large person to stand on without causing any damage. I mean, they can’t go around saying things like that without expecting someone to actually try it, can they?
When fired up, the Qu24 was ready for action very quickly (about 10 seconds) and the surface layout and I/O connections are so obvious that you can get your hands on those sexy motorised faders straight away.
The faders operate in two factory–preset layers; one for the mono input channels and one for stereo inputs, effects returns and mix buses, with orange or blue LEDs telling you whether the fader is controlling a channel or a bus. There is also a third custom layer available, which contains a convenient pick–and–mix combination of inputs and buses configured for any particular user and/or live application. Setting up a custom layer is very easy using the touchscreen, by choosing Setup / Control / Custom Layer and simply touching one of the 24 fader slots on screen, then using the rotary encoder to dial up what will be assigned to that fader slot. As far as I can see, anything that can be controlled by a fader can be assigned to any fader in the custom layer, and multiple assignments are allowed — you can set them all to control channel 1 if you want to, and all the faders will move together! More sensibly, there’s a useful incremental facility where the next channel or bus in ascending order is automatically assigned to the next fader in sequence, by repeatedly tapping the ‘plus 1’ button on screen, saving the trouble of dialling them all up one–by–one. I really value any kind of user–customisation, especially when it comes to fader assignments as I (like everyone else, I guess) have my own ideas about what I want on my main fader layer during a performance. The Qu24 even allows a ‘custom layer only’ setting where, for example, a guest user will only be able to control what’s been assigned within this layer and cannot get at anything else.
Upon pressing the appropriate button (or both buttons together for the custom layer), the faders fly quickly, smoothly and pretty quietly to their new positions — they’re not silent but they don’t chatter or clatter like some I’ve used. As the Qu24 has 24 faders and 24 mono inputs, there’s no need for input patching, so input 1 is controlled by fader 1 and so on. I took a little while getting used to the ‘second’ layer as I’d have liked the mix bus masters to start at the left–hand side, or at least right after the stereo inputs and before the effects sends, where I could locate, say, stage monitor feeds in a hurry. As the fader assignment for the two default layers is fixed there’s no need for an illuminated ident strip as with the more upmarket GLD series, consequently getting your finger to the correct fader quickly means you have to look where you’re aiming until you get used to the surface. There is space for tape or magnetic labels if needed.
Although most controls are ‘shared’ and accessed by one channel at a time, as is standard practice with small–format digital mixers, each channel fader does have mute, select and P/AFL buttons, and a small three–segment signal level meter, which is useful for a quick glance at the surface to check that nothing’s in danger of clipping and that the expected incoming sources are in fact present at the board.
To access the huge range of processing functions available within the Qu24, a single set of hardware controls and the touchscreen display are laid out across the upper part of the surface. This is called the SuperStrip and it controls only the currently selected channel or bus (whichever one has focus), with the touchscreen and its associated access buttons also used for configuration, metering and other control options. If the fader layers are like the Qu24’s flight deck then the SuperStrip is the engine room, where all detailed adjustment is made and processing functions are controlled. There are dedicated controls for the main parameters — preamp level, high–pass filter frequency, four–band parametric EQ, dynamics and pan — and a greater degree of control over individual parameters is possible via the touchscreen. One of the most useful features of the touchscreen control is the little tab which appears in the lower left corner, and allows access to whatever further level of control is appropriate to the currently displayed process, changing its function according to what information is on screen at the time. Take the preamp adjustment, for example: touching the preamp part of the main channel screen brings up another screen that allows adjustment of things like phantom power, polarity and channel linking. The little tab at the bottom now says Source, and touching this brings up a really easy–to–follow screen where the channel source can be chosen as local input, dSnake or USB, and the individual channel assigned. Very neat, very clever and, although you are stepping through a couple of screen pages, it doesn’t have a menu–like feel and manages to provide low–level access that is obvious and very nicely displayed. Only ‘legal’ options are ever presented to the user, so there’s no danger of wreaking havoc by making unfortunate choices.
There’s a lot of precise control available in the SuperStrip, and I think the feature set within the processing section has everything you are likely to need from a console of this type. The dynamics and EQ work very smoothly and with an excellent correlation between the on–screen display and what you hear, which I think is an important point as this can give confidence to the user, who may under certain conditions need to trust the display. The dynamics section is very comprehensive for a small console, with four different manual and automatic operating modes. The channel processing settings can be stored in internal libraries, either as separate presets for graphic EQ, parametric EQ and so on, or as a combined channel preset. There are some factory presets available, which can be useful as a place to begin, but the real value of this function is the ability to store, name and recall any particularly effective settings that may be needed again in future. Overall I found the level of control, the ease of access and the audible results very rewarding, with no apparent quirks or problems. The way in which different EQ designs work is obviously a matter of personal taste, but I’d be very surprised if anyone can find much not to like about the processing within the Qu24.
The integrated effects are inherited directly from the Allen & Heath high–end iLive consoles and emulate various industry standard processors. Four stereo effects processors can be loaded into a virtual effects rack; a library of effects and presets is available for loading into the four rack slots, and levels are controlled using a ‘sends on faders’ approach. The most commonly used effect for live sound will be reverb, and there is a good range of ready–made settings available in the library list. Basic parameters are accessed directly from the effects screen, and there’s an ‘expert’ button which allows detailed editing. The effects return channels have a four–band parametric EQ available for further control. A nice touch with all the effects is the graphical display, which makes different processors and settings more memorable, and there’s a very neat button which flips the graphic between front and rear panel views — basically the processing is controlled from the front and patching the effect is accomplished from the back panel. I found something in the preset library for every situation I encountered, and I really liked the quality of the reverbs — and made use of the classic Symphonic Chorus a couple of times too! I got the feeling that the effects section within the Qu24 is a bit of a hidden treasure just waiting to be explored and exploited...
One of the main attractions of going digital is the ability to store and recall mixer settings, either for individual performances of bands and venues, or for a number of different scenes within a live show. The scene memory within the Qu24 has 100 available slots, which can store all the mixer operating settings, or selectively bypass certain parameters if needed — for example you may want to capture and recall different fader positions but you may not want to revert to an earlier master fader setting, so it’s essential to be able to exclude certain elements from your scene recall.
For me, the Qu24 is just about ideal in every respect as a great little workhorse console with a big enough feature set to cover most small–to–medium live work. About the only thing I could find missing was analogue inserts, which I myself hardly ever require, but a much–loved outboard unit can always be connected using the analogue outs and returned to, say, one of the stereo inputs.
There’s a lot to the Qu24, and what I like most is that it works really well on a number of different levels: if all you need is basic mixing, you can just plug it in and get going with only a few minutes of getting used to the surface, whereas if you need a lot more than this it’s all there waiting to be used. The Qu24 is a go–anywhere solution for live sound and I’d be more than happy to own one for my work. On my wish list would be a little bit more user–customisation for the mix-bus fader layer, and maybe a slightly wider space for the custom layer scribble strip. Apart from that, I love it!
Check out also the consoles in the Soundcraft Si Expression, PreSonus StudioLive and Behringer X32 ranges, as well as the Tascam DM3200 and Yamaha’s 01V96i.
The ability to make live recordings at a gig is a great additional feature, and the Qu24 allows direct multitrack streaming through the USB port to any suitable DAW application — and it’s bi–directional, so multitrack returns from the DAW can also be routed back into the live mix. If this isn’t enough, there’s also a built–in QuDrive recorder function, controlled from the touchscreen, which captures multi–channel audio direct to a USB hard drive. In other words, the Qu24 is also a complete multitrack recorder needing only an external drive to make it fully functional.
It’s becoming very cool to run remote control of lighting and audio consoles, especially in theatre venues, and the Qu24 lets you do this by using a free iPad app called QuPad. With a wireless router plugged into your Qu24 you can enjoy remote access to all the live mix parameters, and the surface controls can be used at the same time, so one person could be stage side looking after foldback levels, while the operator at the board works the front of house. Even if you don’t really need the remote capability, connecting an iPad will give you a larger screen display.
The Qu24’s soft keys are very useful and can be programmed to perform various functions — for example, I used one to act as a kill switch for the effects sends by setting up a mute group for this purpose and assigning a soft key to it. The Qu24 has no fewer than 10 of these keys so all those often–used functions should be well covered.
It’s possible to customise the way in which P/AFL operates in a number of useful ways, including a very handy ‘LR to P/AFL’ function, which routes the main left/right mix to the monitor bus if there is no individual channel or bus P/AFL switch active. This is useful for identifying and isolating individual sounds, for example if you can hear something in the mix but you’re not sure where it’s coming from, or you want to compare a single pre–fader source with how it sounds in the mix using headphones.
- Compact, neat and very functional mixer.
- High-quality audio with great effects.
- Flexible audio streaming and control options.
- Fast, easy and largely intuitive operation.
- Great entry product for digital mixing.
- No analogue inserts.
- Surface labelling difficult to read in dark venues.
An elegant, well made and powerful mixer that is easy to use, and would make an excellent replacement for an existing analogue mixer.
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