Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

Behringer X32 road test : we’ve had some feedback!

By Paul AtkinsJanuary 14, 2013

PRODUCT REVIEW

paul_atkinsPaul Atkins
Paul is an engineer, producer, composer and musician who these days spends a large portion of his working life mixing FOH sound either on tour or in-house at London venues – including the legendary 100 Club.

His studio credits include Lucky Soul, The Hope Rebellion and Nick Evans and he tours with Various Cruelties, Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed & ZZ Ward mixing FOH.  He’s also performed on stages around the world and on many recording sessions over the last 20 something years.

After my review of the Behringer X32 was published, Behringer got in touch, rather promptly, and we’ve engaged in a conversation about the X32, its components and my opinion of it.  Long story short, they were surprised I didn’t like the sound of it when so many others do and I was offered another unit to trial as they suspected the one I used ‘had processing applied’ which skewed my perception.

I agreed to try out another one but asked that they also provide a Midas Pro 1 or Pro 2 so I could try them along side each other.  They didn’t like that idea. I explained that I wanted to try an X32 next to one of its Midas cousins because the retail price of the units are the closest of any digital desks on the market that both use Midas pre amps. I haven’t heard back again from them yet, but I wait eagerly.

Below is the majority of the initial email from Behringer, published with permission, followed by my last reply.

Dear Sir,

Thanks for your story about the X32, authored by Mr. Paul Atkins and published November 4, 2012.  Since we first shipped units to stores on 27 July this console has garnered not only phenomenal sales (over 23,000 units sold) but critical acclaim as well; often from some surprising quarters. This and my own personal experiences are why I found Mr. Atkins’ comments about the X32’s sonic performance puzzling. Clearly, there is a disconnect between Mr. Atkins and the thousands of users who have posted their positive experiences on forums such as www.soundforums.net.

First off, the X32 was developed in concert with the MIDAS engineering team; with the specific goal of delivering outstanding sonic performance.  MIDAS consoles are arguably the best sounding digital mixers available and our design team set lofty goals for the X32. This started with a proprietary analog mic pre design and then continued through the ADC stage where we opted for Cirrus Logic CS5368 converters and Analog Device AD21273 DSP’s; the very same components found in many $50,000+ digital consoles!

If you follow Prosoundweb.com you would have read Geri O’Neil’s account of the digital mixer shootout they staged in August.  In this post http://forums.prosoundweb.com/index.php/topic,139676.0.html Geri summarizes the findings of the side-by-side comparison with the SL24 and LS9 and in his words, “…I liked the Behringer better than the other two.”  While listening tests can be subjective to some extent, it is indeed rare to see a product generate so pronounced a difference of opinion between those who liked it and those who did not as would seem to be the case with Mr. Atkins’ opinion of the X32.  Certainly the people who participated with Geri are well known and very well respected engineers in their own right.

I found Mr. Atkins’ comments about the sonic performance of the X32 when compared to the SC48 as the difference between recordings made in “a typical home studio to one made with expensive converters and preamps” as overreaching and inaccurate.  The X32 was designed around a 40-bit Floating Point DSP architecture while the SC48 is still based on last-generation Fixed Point processing.  Floating point mix processing offers unlimited internal dynamics versus the fixed-point design of the SC48. In addition, the X32 offers only 0.8ms of latency which is the lowest latency of any digital console to date, while the SC48 measures at 2.3ms. From a technological point of view, it is impossible that the sound is “thin” or “harsh” as it is routed through MIDAS Preamps, Cirrus Logic AD/DA converters and Analog Devices DSP’s.

One of the earliest and most thorough reviews of the X32 was conducted by SOS and can be found here http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/aug12/articles/behringer-x32.htm.

Their testing was extremely stringent and combined listening tests with laboratory measurements and the evidence is irrefutable; they loved the X32. Professional users from all over the world are talking openly and extensively about the X32 on public forums and are universally impressed with its sonic performance; see this link for an example: http://soundforums.net/juniorvarsity/4393-x32-discussion-131.html.

There is always a chance that Mr. Atkins’ loaner X32 had processing applied that skewed his perception of its ability to perform as expected.  This is most often what we have found with new users who are trying to get a baseline from which to set up their own mix.  Every digital desk has its own intricacies and I would hate for the X32 to leave him with the wrong impression just because it was not set up correctly.

To that end I invite Mr. Atkins to contact me with his contact information so that I might arrange another loaner or to try and troubleshoot this unit. I believe strongly that once he has experienced the X32 properly configured he will join the legions of converts who are truly impressed with not only the value proposition that this console offers, but its sonic perfection as well.  We would also be more than happy to engage in a “blind test” shoot-out with professional engineers to have them compare the X32 with any other digital console such as the SC48 or others costing even twenty times the price.

And my latest reply to Behringer follows overleaf;

Dear Christian

My idea to compare an X32 directly with either a MIDAS Pro 1 or 2 was partly inspired by Joe Sanborn’s claim that the X32 has “…!Cirrus Logic CS5368 converters and Analog Device AD21273 DSP’s; the very same components found in many $50,000+ digital consoles!”.  He fails to clarify which $50,000 + consoles he’s comparing your product to but by making the comparison suggests that the X32 sounds as good as mixers worth more than 10 times the price. The Pro 1 is only around $15,000 so Joe’s comments also suggest to me that the X32 should fare well in a direct comparison.

I somewhat agree with your MIDAS colleagues that “the markets and customers, and therefore the requirements and specs for both products are too different and not directly comparable”, yet price, and therefore markets and customer differences didn’t prevent Joe from making the above comparison. Moreover, Joe describes my comments about the sonic performance of the X32 when compared to the SC48 as!”over reaching and inaccurate” and goes on to talk about 40-bit Floating Point DSP architecture, 0.8ms latency and how “from a technological point of view, it is impossible that the sound is “thin” or “harsh” as it is routed through MIDAS Preamps, Cirrus Logic AD/DA converters and Analog Devices DSP’s.” Impossible is a strong word, and in this context implies that he has no faith in my ability to listen critically.

In my review of the X32 I aligned myself with the comments made by your MIDAS colleagues when I said comparing it with an SC48 isn’t a fair fight because the X32 and SC48 are aimed at different markets because of their retail price. The reality is that I was presented with the opportunity to directly compare the two consoles because the X32 was brought in as a replacement for an SC48 in a venue that I work at. Not an ideal stand in, in my opinion, but it was the only solution to the problem. And that’s the kind of work around which happens in the real world.

I’m fully aware that, on paper, there are many technological differences between a Pro 1 and the X32 but Mr Sanborn boasts about the technology in the X32; including the fact that it uses MIDAS mic pre’s. Yes, they’re aimed at different markets, but then again, so are the $50,000 desks he says use “the very same technology.”

In a nutshell, all I’m asking is for the opportunity to compare two digital consoles, made by the same parent company, because as far as I’m aware the retail price of the Pro 1 and the X32 are the closest of any two digital consoles on the market that both use MIDAS mic pre’s. I’m fully aware that, on paper, there are many technological differences between a Pro 1 and the X32 but audio products are designed to be used in the real world and not in laboratories; hence my eagerness to compare the two side by side in an actual venue.

I thank you for your time and would like to ask you to reconsider your decision and provide both an X32 and a Pro 1 for a side by side, real world comparison.

Maybe I’ll have another reply to share with you next month. Watch this space!

Paul Atkins
January 2013

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