This is the final part of the review of the Behringer X-32 digital desk, during which time, it has really gained momentum and begun to turn more heads. The feature set and price are pretty hard to argue with when it comes to this area of live and studio sound.
I’m looking at the additional hardware available - namely the S16 AES50 stage box and the PowerplayP16M personal monitoring mixer. These are both connected via CAT5E cable with runs of up to 100M. This means that your heavy, un-flexible and prone to breakages multi-core that would usually be used to connect to the stage box is not required. Now this is nothing new in itself, but again at this price it sorta unusual.
S16 This is simply a 16 in (with Midas designed remotely controlled preamps on XLR) 24 out stage box. 24 outs is a little misleading in that there actually only 8 analog outputs on XLR connectors but an additional switchable 16 ADAT connections, which can be configured to be assignable outs (routing controlled via the connected X-32) or direct mirrors of the 16 analog inputs. There’s also a headphone output for monitoring selected signals - another useful feature. The only downside is that all inputs are XLR so you will either need a convertor cable or DI box to plug in jack connections
The S16 is conected to the X-32 (or any other AES50 enabled device) via CAT5 E cable, just hook it up to either one of the AES50 (A or B) ports on the back of the desk and it auto senses. Clocking can be internal or AES50 - making the stagebox the master or the slave. Once hooked up, you can route any of the inputs via the X-32 routing pages to map to any of the 32 inputs on the desk. Similarly, outputs can be routed from any of the available outs - Bus, direct outs, monitor outs AES50 channels, talkback etc etc. Additionally, you could set up a second X32 to take all the inputs from the stage box , or any of it's own possible IO and run as a second mix - ie: for monitors or a broadcast mix etc. Only limitation is that only one desk can be in control of the Mic Preamps.
MIDI - S16 also has MIDI connectors on the back so that you could be running scene changes from on stage to the X-32 if you desire. This highlights one limitation on the board - there simply is no MIDI control outside of patch changes - for instance you may want to mute a pair of channels, activate an effect send or dip a fader from a control change - you can’t presently do this without changing scenes.
Monitoring One thing that is pretty useful with the s16 is the ability to set amp channel gain and headphone monitoring. Select the required channel using the rotary encoder to set the mic amp gain, and ditto for the headphone monitoring, you can choose from any of the 16 input channels, output channels or P16 channels to listen - for instance this can be useful for on stage fault finding, or just running the talk back from the desk to a couple of P16 channels and listening on the phones, for an simple one way comms.
Powerplay P16M In addition to the AES50 bus which will handle 48 channels of IO per bus - theres two on the X-32, theres also the Ultranet port - an additional CAT5E cable that can handle 16 channels of audio. This is where the P16M comes in, you can route the same array of audio possibilities to 16 channels over Ultranet with sub 1ms latency. You can then plug in the P16M - monitor mixer which has access to those 16 channels and set up mixes that suit your monitor needs. The final stereo mix is output of headphones and the stereo audio out on 1/4 Jacks. Each channel has level, pan, 3 band EQ, plus the final output also has EQ plus a limiter to tame the dynamics. In practice it's a doddle to setup, with grouping and pairing functions to control pairs or sets of channels in the mix. You can then store these mixes in any of the 16 locations. Its a system designed for easy distribution of monitor signals, allowing up to 48 to be connected using Behringer routers - you cant use standard network switchers for this, but they are not excessively priced. It is possible to take the Ultranet feed directly from the S16, which has a separate Ultranet port, with only a single AES50 connection from the X-32 if you wish.
All in all, it tops off what is a well thought out, self contained system. Solving many live and studio issues over a single wire. I’ve said it before - I really do think the X-32 can be considered to be a ground breaking desk, bringing together a lot of high end features in an affordable package.