By RYAN COSEBOOM
I CAN REMEMBER BEING A YOUNG SONGWRITER INTENT ON PRODUCING ANDPERFORMING MY OWN MUSIC. My budget was smaller than the polyphony of most of my synths. Each piece of gear I purchased had to be versatile, sometimes in ways the manufacturer hadn’t necessarily intended, and I squeezed every last drop of functionality out of it. The PreSonus StudioLive 16.0.2 is a digital mixer that anyone in a similar situation should investigate.
The 16.0.2 shines as a 16-in/out audio interface for your DAW or a mixing desk for your small P.A. Since it can be both at once, you can do your live mix for the club while recording a pre-fader session to a FireWire-attached computer—all with a device that’s just a little bigger than your laptop. FireWire is a mixed blessing. Many of the latest ultrabooks are abandoning it in favor of USB3 and (on Macs) Thunderbolt. On the bright side, you can daisy-chain PreSonus FireStudio interfaces to the mixer for more inputs—something you can’t do with USB.
The main outs come in XLR, TRS, and summed mono, and run in parallel, meaning you can send your signal to five destinations at once. This is useful in clubs where there are multiple rooms or zones to fill with live sound. Four aux outputs are all configurable pre-or post-fader, with send knobs for each on the front panel. You also have the cool option to control certain features of the 16.0.2, including effects levels, the main output, and recall of scenes, using MIDI foot pedals.
Engaging one of the three multimode controls located at far left above the faders, then pressing the button above any fader, is how you solo or mute channels. Also here is a FireWire button that streams multitrack audio from your DAW to be mixed and processed through the 16.0.2. To the left of the first fader, the metering buttons let you view either input, output, or gain reduction due to any dynamics processing, on the channels’ ladder LED strips. As the faders aren’t motorized, a fourth button (Locate) displays the fader positions of a recalled scene on the LEDs, letting you manually match faders to them. You won’t hear unwanted level jumps, as the faders go inactive until you exit Locate mode.
Around back are 12 Class A mic preamps on XLR inputs (actually 13, as the talkback input uses the same reamp) plus 1/4" line ins. Channels 9–16 are grouped in stereo pairs, with each pair having one XLR in but stereo 1/4" ins — ideal for keyboards. Pairs 13/14 and 15/16 add RCA ins for consumer and DJ gear. Fat Channel
At the heart of the 16.0.2 is the Fat Channel, which is where the real sound-shaping power lies. There’s a single horizontal strip of knobs to save space and cost, but you get independent Fat Channels for every input, the aux and effects busses, and the main stereo out. Each includes, in order of signal flow: phase reverse, highpass filter, gate, compressor, three-band semi-parametric EQ, and limiter. Here, you also control pans and phantom power; panning has a cool horizontal LED display. All Fat Channel settings can be stored, copied, and recalled so you can call up a familiar live setup in no time. The Digital Out button sends audio post-Fat Channel to your computer should you want to print audio with all dynamics and EQ settings—leave it disengaged to record a “dry” session for later work in your DAW. Finally, a 31-band graphic EQ applies to the main output.
Effects and Monitoring
In addition to the extensive dynamics and EQ in the Fat Channel, the 16.0.2 packs two internal effects processors. Parameters show up on the LCD screen and are adjusted using the buttons and value knob directly below. The reverbs and delays included are surprisingly high in quality. Effects can be tweaked and routed easily using the large screen, and you even get a tap tempo button for delays.
A talkback channel can be routed to the aux sends that are feeding your monitors. While this is great for working with a band during their setup, it’s also a way to send a room ambience signal to performers who use in-ear monitors and therefore might otherwise feel isolated from the crowd and their bandmates onstage.
Next to the talkback is the solo bus, which works in pre-fader, after-fader, or solo-in-place mode. In pre-or after-fader mode, you can monitor individual instruments or aux sends in your headphones to fine-tune your sound or troubleshoot problems—all while leaving the main output signal undisturbed. Solo-in-place mutes any channels that aren’t soloed. This allows for quick troubleshooting on individual channels but, since it does mute channels in the main outputs, it’s mainly useful before the audience shows up. In the monitor section, you can choose what’s heard in the control room outs: FireWire returns from your DAW, solo bus, mains, or any combination of the three.
One of the most impressive things about the 16.0.2 is how clearly visual information is displayed across the 12 ladder LEDs and various backlit buttons. I found it simple to keep track of my settings across the various channels and was impressed with how easily I could see everything in a dark room.
I found it helpful to dial up a basic mix relatively quickly, saving the scene once things sounded acceptable. Then, after getting the aux sends set up for onstage monitors, I’d go back and tweak the mix, re-saving to another memory location. This let me compare two (or more) mix setups quickly—a huge bonus in a live situation.
I never got the sense that features were left off of the 16.0.2 to keep the price down and was often surprised at extras I wouldn’t have assumed it had. Some people may be disappointed by the lack of motorized faders, but on a board this compact and “analog” feeling, I didn’t miss them.
Having played loads of gigs, I know that many of the features—the aux routing, solo bus modes, and, of course, the Fat Channel—will be huge assets when racing against the clock during a sound check that’s behind schedule. Gear that relieves stress and helps us achieve great-sounding recordings and performances at the same time is worth our attention. The StudioLive 16.0.2 goes a long way toward helping you meet those goals, and then some.
PreSonus throws in all the applications you’ll need to max out the potential of the 16.0.2. Not only do you get the Studio One Artist 2 DAW, but also Capture—a streamlined program for live recording—and Universal Control with Virtual StudioLive. This controls all the mixer’s features from your Mac or PC (and makes managing stored setups easier with its browser), which you can extend to wireless control via the very thorough SL Remote iPad app. (You can’t control the StudioLive directly from an iPad; you need the attached computer as an intermediary.) This lets you listen from trouble areas you might not catch from behind the console. Another app, QMix (iPhone/ iPod Touch) controls what’s in each of the four aux sends, and since multiple instances can talk to Virtual StudioLive at once, iPhone-toting band members can dial in their own monitor mixes. Finally, Virtual StudioLive incorporates a streamlined version of Smaart, a set of analysis tools that graphically identify problems with your mix and let you fix them using the onboard, 31-band graphic EQ.
PROS Sounds clean and open. Very easy to learn. Sturdy build. Clear, eyepleasing controls and displays. Can do your live sound and send a pre-fader multitrack session to your DAW at the same time.
CONS Maximum sample rate of 48kHz is fine for live work, but audiophile recordists will want higher. Lacks perchannel insert jacks for external effects.
Ideal for mixing a small band or huge keyboard rig, live multitrack recording, or being the audio nexus of your home studio.
$1,599 list | $1,299 street