This major update to PreSonus’ popular multi-purpose mixers endows them with a host of new features — including, for the first time, motorised faders!
The PreSonus StudioLive mixing consoles have always been interesting products, and whilst they have consistently delivered good audio performance and a pretty comprehensive feature set, they have stuck to their ‘analogue-like’ non‑motorised faders. This wasn’t a particular issue for users migrating across from the analogue mixer world, but it did restrict the modern workflow expected of a typical fully digital console. The Series III models (available in 16, 24 and 32-channel versions) make good on that and a lot more besides, and the StudioLive desks are now pushing for attention in this increasingly crowded market. The name ‘StudioLive’ says everything about the design philosophy and target market of these consoles; they are perhaps more focused on studio integration than some of their purely live‑sound rivals, and have an advanced level of integration with PreSonus’s own Studio One DAW application.
Writing a brief review of current digital mixers is a bit of a challenge, as they are all so feature-rich these days; however, when you strip away all the various bells and whistles, you do actually have to mix on them, whether for a live show or in a recording situation (or sometimes both at the same time) so the surface workflow and layout are just as important to me as the list of impressive tricks they can perform. The StudioLive Series III has inherited the clear, logical and easy-on-the-eye approach of the previous AI models in the series, and if you favour a more hardware‑oriented approach using banks of dedicated, clearly labelled buttons, as opposed to a screen-based menu approach, then this console should very much appeal to you.
The third-generation StudioLive 24 has 25 touch-sensitive motorised faders and 25 fully recallable preamps that employ PreSonus’ established XMAX input circuitry. The StudioLive 24 is a 24-input, stereo output console with 24 mic input channels (plus one for the talkback mic), four fixed subgroups and a stereo output bus; on the analogue output side there are, in addition to the main stereo outputs, no fewer than 16 outputs that can be configured to deliver audio in a number of ways via the internal ‘FlexMix’ options. The StudioLive 24 includes a 38-in/38-out USB recording and playback interface, AVB networking capability and direct onboard recording to SD card. An upgraded ‘Fat Channel’ provides comprehensive and powerful signal processing, a choice of internal effects and additional routing options such as multiple matrix mixes.
The surface layout is neat and well-spaced despite there being a generous number of illuminated buttons, all clearly labelled with their respective functions. On the StudioLive 24 the first 16 input faders sit to the left of the master fader section and the remaining eight to the right; depending on the fader mode these right-hand faders can be selected as DCA masters, aux inputs or mix/effect masters, but no matter what fader view is currently selected pressing the ‘inputs’ button over on the left side will always return the faders to their default input-channel assignment, a bit like a ‘home’ button.
At this stage it would be fair to say that the StudioLive 24 has a whole host of capabilities other than as a basic digital mixer, and I will cover the main features that appealed to me during my time with this console.
On first unpacking the StudioLive 24 I was drawn to its extremely sleek, low-profile appearance; the front edge of this console is much lower than many and I found it very comfortable to operate the faders when sitting behind it. It’s a striking, good-looking surface with a clean, ordered look about it that made me want to get my hands on the faders and start getting audio flowing. The controls are grouped in logical, uncluttered sections and even though I counted something over 160 buttons on the top surface, the layout, the colouring and illumination scheme make it seem pretty friendly and undaunting even for the new-to-digital user. This is, for me, what the StudioLive approach is all about — it’s a one-button-per-feature design where just about every function is directly accessible from the surface without the need to get into menus or screen swiping, and as such all the normal mixer functions are easy to control.
The StudioLive 24 Series III has 24 XLR inputs, of which the first 12 are standard XLR connectors, and inputs 13 to 24 have those combi connectors that will accept XLR plugs or balanced/unbalanced line input jacks; if a jack is inserted it will disconnect the XLR input and bypass the preamp stage. There is an additional talkback mic input, and this has its own XMAX preamp with permanent phantom power applied, and the flexible routing options mean that it can function as an extra mic input if you are caught short.
The XMAX preamps are discrete‑component Class‑A designs that, interestingly, run on 30V supply rails for ample signal headroom. I do like the sound of the StudioLive and in my studio workshop it sounded full and clean with all processing bypassed. There are two stereo auxiliary line inputs on rear‑panel TRS connectors for use as external effects returns or as additional line‑level inputs, and the StudioLive also provides an additional pair of RCA inputs for using a local media player or other audio source. There are also RCA outputs that present the main stereo mix signal for local recording — these inputs and outputs take up very little room on the back panel yet can be extremely useful at times!
A separate monitor mix output is available for control-room listening or similar recording applications and these outputs can be handy for sharing the headphone mix via an external amp if necessary. Analogue outputs are very well provided for. There is a mono sum output next to the main stereo mix outputs, and these have an individual level control adjacent to them which is great for balancing the sub feed in an install — in a multi-user environment such as a house of worship these controls will be out of sight and therefore probably won’t attract the attention of a guest user!
There are 16 additional outputs, and they appear on a combination of jack and XLR connectors on the back panel. All the sockets appear to be good quality, and I was pleased that the inputs weren’t equipped with metal latches — these are all very well in their way but I’ve had one or two jam in the past and I generally prefer them without this facility.
One of the best features of the StudioLive 24 is the flexible nature of the mix outputs. The 16 ‘FlexMix’ busses on the StudioLive 24 each feed an analogue audio output on the rear of the mixer (eight XLR, eight TRS), and how you use them is completely up to you — they can be configured as auxiliaries, subgroups or matrix mixes, and it’s nice to have the flexibility available. These busses can be paired for stereo operation and can be routed to the AVB network if desired. What I like best about the FlexMixes is their easy accessibility — each one has a dedicated button on the top panel and with a single press the entire source mix for that FlexMix bus is brought into focus on the console surface. This is a key feature of live mixing where aux sends are involved, and is also a wonderful facility to have in a studio setup — you can give 16 musicians their own individual mix, access each at the touch of a button, and store them all in memory!
The output story doesn’t stop there either — the StudioLive 24 is also equipped with four fixed subgroups whose outputs are available via the USB or AVB network ports. This totals 20 mix busses in addition to the mains and effects. Although not strictly mix busses, the provision of no fewer than 24 DCA groups gives another degree of user control over groups of channels.
Digital mixers generally have a single set of channel processing controls, and they are used to control and adjust the parameters of whatever input channel is currently selected or ‘in focus’. In this way a comprehensive set of functions — including on-screen displays — are available when adjusting any channel, without having to replicate all the controls as on a traditional analogue mixer. On the StudioLive this set of controls is known as the ‘Fat Channel’ and here the user can access everything from input trim to advanced dynamics.
Without diving into too much detail (all of which can be found in the downloadable online user manual and various feature descriptions on the PreSonus web site), the Fat Channel appears as a set of buttons and dedicated data controllers, grouped into a section above the channel faders. The Fat Channel is where the input source (analogue, digital, AVB network or SD card replay) is chosen, input level is trimmed using the large clear LED ladder meter, and polarity inversion, phantom power and so on are applied. You can assign the channel output to mains or subgroups from here, create channel pairings, and copy all the parameters for loading into another channel; there is also a save/load function that allows all the channel settings to be stored and recalled so that all your hard work in creating a perfect channel setup can be used again. All you have to do is press any channel (or master fader) ‘select’ button and the Fat Channel has focus on that channel and in effect becomes its channel strip, endowed with all the processing goodies that PreSonus have built in.
There are eight multi-function rotary controls with corresponding selector buttons and scribble-strip displays, and these will change according to the context in which you are currently operating. Section 5 in the user manual contains a detailed description of the Fat Channel operation but here you can access every channel setting; depending on what type of channel is selected the Fat Channel controls input source, all EQ and dynamics controls, routing, and so on.
The Input button brings up a channel overview on the Fat Channel controls for instant adjustment and also displays the parameters on the touchscreen so you can see at a glance what the channel is doing and what processing is being applied. It’s really one of the best channel summary screens and access facilities I’ve ever seen on a digital console — clear, logical and so easy to understand and use. There are so many useful features in the Fat Channel: gate, compression, EQ (complete with RTA) and all the standard processors, and there’s also a delay on every channel and mix, separate limiter, HPF and output routing. In addition to channel processing, the StudioLive 24 has six-band parametric EQ on all mix outputs, so this Fat Channel really is stuffed full of good things. As if this wasn’t enough, from the Fat Channel you can also copy, paste and save channel setups for later recall, and one of my favourite features is the A/B comparison, enabling a single button press to toggle between two settings so you can compare tweaks and decide which you prefer or use it as a stored setting for, say, different guitar patches during a performance.
The StudioLive has a virtual effects rack where four processors from a selection of onboard effects can be assigned to internal effects busses. As with so many features on the StudioLive, there’s indeed a dedicated button marked ‘FX’ that brings up the currently loaded processors onto the screen and from there any selection/adjustment is carried out using the touchscreen and control wheel. There’s a plug-in kind of look to this section, with vintage-style screen graphics supporting the vintage effects, and it’s both clear and attractive. All the effects I tried sounded absolutely fine, but what I really liked was the fine control available on every parameter and the excellent screen graphics; the presets are a great starting point for any effect and should cater for a wide range of requirements without too much fine-tuning needed at a basic level.
Each effects slot can be individually muted (I’m not sure if these buttons can be configured to all work together; I didn’t find that option, but that would be handy for live shows) and the tap‑tempo button also acts as a reset or null switch for any single parameter within the FX, Fat Channel or Graphic EQ pages — press and hold it, move any control and that parameter resets to its default value. How neat is that?
Organisers of live gigs often ask for a recording to be made, particularly of corporate events and usually to enhance the audio side of a video recording. The usual question is, “By the way, can the video guy take a feed from your gear?” and it’s often asked after everything else is set up when, let’s be honest, there are other things on your mind.
Many of today’s mixers — digital and analogue — have the ability to record the stereo mix on to a USB stick, or maybe you feed the ‘tape out’ into a laptop, but what comes from the desk isn’t the same as what is heard in the room, as some sources may not even be going through the PA system. That’s where a multitrack recording option is a brilliant thing to have, especially if you can record direct from the channel inputs before any faders or processing, so the captured tracks can be mixed later.
Some well-featured mixers have a USB port that can be used to stream multitrack audio, and some can even record direct to a portable USB hard drive, but the Series III can record multitrack audio direct to a suitable SD memory card (the kind used in most digital cameras) simply plugged into the slot on the top surface. The status and control screen is, as always with the StudioLive, clear and logical and displays all the information you need about what’s going on, record time elapsed and remaining, and so on. My understanding is that a 32GB SD card can record 16 tracks plus the main left and right mix for about three hours, so that should be more than enough time for a live session if you change the card in the interval. That all makes integrated multitrack capture about as easy as it can possibly be, and the only thing you have to worry about is remembering to start recording!
The ability to use multitrack recordings as soundcheck sources can be a great timesaver, and can also help with scheduling at a live event. By recording a band’s soundcheck play‑through or pre‑recording a sample track you can use this to balance the PA without the band being present for some (or even all) of the time.
When the SD replay function is active the StudioLive Series III lets you choose which channels are being fed from the live source on stage and which from the SD card — and there are other possibilities including simultaneous live tracking and sound effects. The fact that all this can be done without connecting any other equipment is a huge bonus for the hard‑pressed sound engineer, and whenever I’ve used virtual soundcheck replay the band have been more than happy (a) to not be kept hanging around longer than necessary and (b) that they can hear what they sound like from out front and can ‘advise’ on the mix.
The scenes and presets features of the StudioLive 24 are extensive and impressive when you dig into what they can do. I particularly like the way the ‘scene safe’ function — which lets you ‘freeze’ certain channels, preventing them from being changed when a new scene is recalled — is implemented, and it’s clear what you are making safe and what’s being saved for recall. The Fat Channel presets are also saved in a similar way from within the individual channels and can be recalled along with aux and mix bus routings.
I was able to keep the StudioLive 24 with me for a few weeks and always enjoyed using it. The aesthetics are very appealing and I love the low profile table‑hugging shape, the smooth fader and rotary action and most of all the instant‑access function buttons that populate the surface. The eight scribble strip readouts have nice clear characters, and while there isn’t a background colour option on the strip, screen colour choices can be applied to the select button underneath the strip using the channel settings (the default colour being blue). Once I got used to the colours being a little way below the scribble strip screens, everything was OK, and I like the fact that the buttons retain their colour settings even when not active — they are just not as bright.
The ability to create a ‘whatever you want’ custom fader layer is extremely useful, and every channel, mix master and DCA group master can be assigned to the user layer so that whatever faders you need readily to hand, they are always there on the surface.
StudioLive Series III mixers feature AVB Ethernet connectivity that enables networking of multiple StudioLive 24 mixers and computers, and the ability to stream up to 55 audio channels to and from a Mac or Windows PC. The rear-panel USB port can stream 38 audio channels (both ways, simultaneously) for recording using a DAW application — using the PreSonus Studio One app yields additional integration benefits. As with the SD card, every input channel can take its source from the analogue input or the computer return.
The networking facility makes running multiple desks — say, house and monitor — an easy and efficient process with no additional hardware required, and there are rack versions of the StudioLive Series III range [16R, 24R and 32R] that can function as a remote stagebox. This may seem like overkill for a simple mixer-at-the-back / stagebox-at-the-front setup, but as the mixers can be controlled wirelessly with the appropriate app then monitors could be mixed stage‑side without the need for an additional hardware surface. That said, a ‘dumb’ remote stagebox would be a very nice thing to have and would increase the StudioLive Series III’s capability and appeal for smaller single‑desk events.
The StudioLive 24 can be operated via a wireless connection; there’s an Ethernet port for running a router (a computer can also be directly connected here) so that a Mac, Windows PC or iPad/Android tablet running the UC Surface app can control most of the desk’s features. As is becoming very popular these days, performers can also control their own monitor mixes from the stage by using PreSonus' iPhone/Android/iPod Touch app called QMix‑UC.
The StudioLive Series III represents a real step up for the series, adding not only motorised faders but a load of other enhancements too; the whole package is very nicely presented and the workflow is clear and logical, with a very good degree of integration between physical controls, touchscreen and parameter/performance display. As always I haven’t by any means covered every feature of this neat but full-featured desk, and I’d strongly encourage anyone interested to visit the PreSonus web site and download the various documents available there. My impression of the StudioLive 24 was very positive and it was a delight to use both in the studio and abroad at live gigs and rehearsals. It’s an attractive little package that packs a much bigger punch than you might think.
Obvious competitors include the Behringer X32, the Allen & Heath Qu series, Soundcraft Si range, and many more.