December 13, 2012

iPad Controlled Digital Mixing Console Comparison

The Apple iPad has quickly become more than just a tablet for reading books and watching video. It is now a fully functional tool for doing all sorts of things including controlling your home security system, creating music, or having control of your home entertainment system. The pro audio world has found new and interesting ways of incorporating the iPad as well. Keyboard controllers, audio interfaces, DJ controllers, and live sound mixers are all getting a tech facelift with the application of the iPad. One of the more practical and prominent uses has been the iPad’s ability to sync with digital mixing consoles to control everything from monitor mixes to EQ settings. We first saw this with the introduction of the Presonus StudioLive and the StudioLive Remote application.

Since we first saw this at Winter NAMM 2011, more mixing consoles have been showing up which allow for intuitive and wireless control of digital consoles with an iPad. With more of these consoles coming out in the last year, and the prospect that many more are soon to follow, we thought it best to compare the features and functionality of some of the current digital mixing consoles that utilize the iPad interface. There are other mixers out there like the Behringer x32 and the Presonus StudioLive 24.4.2 which feature iPad integration, but it will be best to compare those mixers which share similar I/O for a more accurate comparison. For that reason we will be looking at the Presonus StudioLive 16.0.2, the Mackie DL1608, and the Line 6 StageScape M20d. We will also preview another addition to the iPad digital mixing console line, the Roland M200i.

Presonus StudioLive 16.0.2

Presonus StudioLive 16.0.2

The Presonus StudioLive 16.0.2 is the little brother of the Studio Live 16.4.2. Their main differences are the amount of I/O and the size of each with the 16.0.2 being smaller than the Presonus StudioLive 16.4.2. The StudioLive 16.0.2 has 8 mono mic/line inputs, 4 stereo mic/line inputs, fat channel for controlling EQ and FX, FireWire connectivity, and a whole bundle of software including Capture and Studio One Artist which are great DAW’s for recording in the studio or out at the gig. There are plenty more features on the StudioLive and we have a full overview of the 16.0.2 which goes over the features of the mixer. But for our purposes here we need to talk about how it integrates with the iPad.

StudioLive Remote is the app used to control the functions of the Presonus Studio Live. To get this connected, a computer needs to be setup with the Presonus StudioLive and the Presonus Virtual StudioLive software. This is how the iPad will be communicating with the Presonus StudioLive. If you are recording shows through their live sound recording DAW Capture, then bringing your laptop to the gig already makes sense. However some users may find that bringing an extra virtual interface in addition to the iPad may be a bit excessive especially when all the engineer will be doing that night is mixing front of house and stage monitors. The software and the app are free so no extra purchase there.

Presonus Studio Live Remote App

All of the functionality within the Fat Channel (StudioLive’s hub for controlling EQ and FX) is integrated with the StudioLive Remote app. The app does have some serious thought put into it. When a channel has been selected, you can turn the iPad on its side and all of the controls for compressors, gates, EQ, etc. now have their own touch functionality within that channel. It’s a nice feature and expedites mixing to a new level of ease and functionality. We were able to see this being used practically when we interviewed Edwin McCain’s touring sound engineer Brent Moreland as he walked us through how he integrates the StudioLive and the iPad remote control into his live sound setup.

For a while Presonus was the only game in town when it came to iPad integrated digital mixing. When Winter NAMM 2012 rolled around, a couple other companies began to stake their claim in the iPad mixing universe.

Mackie DL1608

Mackie DL1608

Winter NAMM in Anaheim, CA is the place for the first demo units of new gear to be showcased. With a heap of press and media surrounding the event, 2012 brought us Mackie’s answer to the iPad digital mixing market with their product the Mackie DL1608. Mackie has been making serious strides with their design and implementation of portable and user friendly pro audio gear like their portable speaker system the DLM Series Loudspeakers announced in August 2012. The hardware of the DL1608 is solid and features 16 inputs all with the high quality Onyx mic preamps. The main out comes out stereo via XLR and the DL 1608 also houses 6 1/4 inch auxiliary inputs. The only analog controls on the DL1608 are the 16 gain control knobs for each channel. Everything else is done digitally through the iPad making the DL1608 a true digital mixing console in every sense of the word. That may be a blessing or a curse as you cannot mix without the iPad. If you are someone who likes to grab analog faders and knobs but also have an iPad handy to walk around, the DL1608 will leave you disappointed with its absence of those tactile functions.

Mackie Master Fader is the app used to control the Mackie DL1608. It’s free and they have some interesting features which separate it from the Presonus StudioLive Remote app. For instance there is a glow and grab feature where the faders, EQ, and FX controls literally grow larger and illuminate to show you which channel you have selected. I personally like this on an iPad where precise controls can often get muddled depending on how you touch the screen. The design of the app is very nice and has lots of colors and easy to navigate controls. The EQ and FX sections have a look and feel that resemble a much more user friendly design than the Presonus app but the Mackie Master Fader app is considerably more limited in features for mixing than its Presonus counterpart.

Mackie Master Fader App

For the iPad to work you do need to purchase an additional wireless access point which isn’t a total deal breaker but it would have been nice to see the integration of the DL1608′s own wireless network. This may have increased the price point of this already affordable digital mixer, but it seems that future incarnations of the DL1608 from Mackie or other companies might want to consider this. Incorporating all of their own components into an iPad digital mixing device will make these mixers all inclusive and eliminate the need for third party devices.

Another great feature of the DL1608 is the ability to sync the mixer with up to 10 different iPads. My imagination leaves me only slightly stumped about how this can be applied practically. The option for each band member/performer and engineer to have their own iPad during sound check and performance is an interesting technology and has the audio geek in me stoked about what the future will bring as this technology evolves. A couple other noteworthy features are that the DL1608 will charge your iPad, when connected a 17th channel is added for playing music from the iPad for intermission or backing tracks for the band, and you have the ability to record your main mix straight onto the iPad.

Line 6 StageScape M20d

Line 6 Stagescape M20d

The Line 6 StageScape M20d is the PA system we wish we all had when we were starting our garage bands and playing friend’s birthday parties. The StageScape features a touchscreen interface that recognizes when a connection has been made to an input and displays that with a graphic which you can change out for an avatar or an image of whatever that performers input represents on the stage and in the mix. Once an input is connected, a number of presets are displayed on the StageScape which allow for EQ and FX for a channel depending on how you want things to sound. When you want to EQ the kick drum to have more punch for instance, you select the tweak button, and you have an X/Y plane with familiar terminology for anyone when describing sound. For the novice, this is a great advancement in digital mixers. This seems most applicable to the band or performer who does not have the knowledge or time to setup mixes for each channel at a gig or rehearsal.

The StageScape has 16 inputs (12 mic/line inputs and 4 line inputs). Line 6 touts this as a 20 input device with the other 4 inputs including things such as an aux in, USB inputs, and an input for linking other Line 6 gear. 20 inputs, yes, but most bands and performers will only be using the 16 inputs when setting up for a gig. But when you are using the StageScape with your iPad, you will need to utilize the USB port on the back to connect a wireless hub or wireless dongle.

Line 6 Stagescape Remote App

Because the StageScape is basically a computer and mixer combination, your iPad can be synced up with the StageScape via the internal menu options on the StageScape. The Stagescape provides you with an access code to synch your iPad and this is so no one at the venue can hack into your WiFi network. The app used to control the Stagesape is called the Line 6 StageScape Remote. When you open the app you will notice that it looks exactly like the StageScape console so all of the adjustments you make with your iPad are reflected on the console and vice versa. Another nice feature is the ability to record your shows or rehearsal onto an SD card, USB hard drive, or your computer. You can start and stop this recording from the StageScape console or from your iPad. You can also record a 20 second clip of a sound check which is stored in the internal memory (no SD card, hard drive, or computer needed) so the band can walk out front and listen to their mix.

Preview: Roland M200i

Roland M200i

The yet to be released Roland M200i has been getting a lot of buzz and will likely see a release early in 2013.

The Roland M200i features 32 channels of digital mixing with 24 inputs, and you can mix directly from the console or with your iPad. It requires a WiFi USB dongle for the iPad to be synced to the mixer. You can also connect the iPad to the mixer via USB which provides a data connection and charges your iPad. You do not need a computer to set up a WiFi network much like the DL1608 and the Line 6 Stagescape. Roland put a few features in this mixer that are absent from the other three here. Features like motorized faders that stay put even in the midst of scene changes, and the ability to select banks of channels for the 16 faders allowing for 32 channels with condensed real estate.

The app for the iPad when controlling the Roland M200i looks to be more advanced than the Mackie Master Fader app or the Line 6 Stagescape Remote app in terms of graphic EQ and channel selections, but not quite as aesthetically pleasing as the Studio Live Remote. It does however feature a robust set of EQ and FX controls as well as the ability to mix levels very intuitively on the iPad itself. The M200i comes in at a much higher price point than the three compared here because of the 32 channels, 24 inputs, motorized faders, built in EQ and FX controls, and you are also paying for that Roland level of quality.

So lets review:

Presonus Studio Live 16.0.2

  • Tons of built in FX and EQs all controlled with the iPad
  • Ability to mix with or without an iPad
  • Needs a computer to run iPad mixing
  • No ability to record onto iPad or console (need a computer and Capture)

Mackie DL1608

  • No computer needed to run iPad
  • Glow and grab feature allows for better feedback and control of mixes
  • Control the mix with 10 iPads simultaneously
  • Can’t mix without an iPad
  • Additional purchase of a wireless access point

Line 6 Stagescape M20d

  • Easy to use for the novice
  • Ability to record with or without a computer from an iPad
  • Ability to mix with or without an iPad
  • Need a USB WiFi dongle

One important thing to note for those of you thinking about buying one of these: these mixers will not power your speakers and monitors. The price required for say the Line 6 StageScape and a full array of monitors, subs, and mains will end up running you above and beyond the cost of a traditional analog console, amplifier, and passive speakers. But at the end of the day you get what you pay for and the inclusion of digital FX and easy to use controls may be an investment worth saving the analog headache of setup and sound checking.

So whether you are a novice looking for a simple EQ/sound check solution or a more seasoned veteran looking to get out from behind the desk, integrating an iPad with one of these digital consoles may be a worthwhile solution. There are other iPad controlled mixers hitting the market soon from Alto, Behringer, Allen & Heath, and there are always those companies keeping their secrets held tight until Winter NAMM 2013. Expect some video and blog content covering anything new we see on the show room floor.

What do you use for your live sound setup? What are your thoughts on using an iPad to mix? Which one of these consoles looks most appealing to you? Let us know your thoughts and ask us any questions you may have in the comments below.