Hands-On Review:Automated digital mixer—outstanding features, affordable excellence
By Chris Pearson
I remember when, not so very long ago, I bought my first automatable digital mixer. What a prize! It looked great! Very sci-fi, with no knobs, lots of flashing LEDs, a bright green fluorescent display, and those short, but oh-so-frolicking moving faders. Yesiree, it was a looker, and it really impressed the visitors. Good thing they never heard it! Its 16-bit, 44kHz converters were noisy and had virtually no headroom. Its I/O options were limited at best and there were no expansion slots that might have helped to improve the situation. After a couple months of wrangling with the beast, I returned it, bought a nice analog console, and never looked back.
What are friends for?
Happily mixing away in analog splendor, I paid little attention to the growing refinement of digital technology. Sure, I heard the claims, but they were no different than the claims of years past. Then, out of the blue, Musician's Friend called and asked if I'd like to review the Behringer DDX3216. I was between projects and decided it was time to test the waters of modern technology once again.
I eagerly freed the hefty 30-pound matte-silver and black mixer from its cardboard sarcophagus the moment it arrived, and could tell right away that this was going to be a much better experience than my first. The metal chassis was solidly constructed and the all-metal jacks were ready for studio duty. An LCD display dominated the upper third of the mixer, along with several assignable knobs and a panel of 32 buttons. After disconnecting my analog mixer, I moved the DDX3216 into place. I plugged it in, connected my Fantom keyboard and a TLM-103 condenser mic, and turned it on. After a short boot-up, the mixer was lit up like a Christmas tree and was ready to go!
I adjusted the trim on the keyboard channels to get a good, hot signal (lots of headroom—no clipping!). The Signal Present and Clip LEDs right next to the 1/4" input are a nice touch, very handy for quickly verifying that everything's hooked up properly. Even better, each channel fader has a 16-step LED meter adjacent to it. This is extremely rare in a small-format console and greatly increases the value of this board. You can assign the meter to display the input, bus output, or aux/effect signals. In fact, you can assign the meter to one thing—say, aux/effects—while the fader controls another. This is really useful, once you've got the levels set, for keeping track of your audio as it makes its way through the signal chain.
The DDX3216 has a lot going on, with 32 input channels, 16 internal buses, eight aux sends, 32 channels of four-band parametric EQ, four stereo digital multi-effects processors, and more. In order to fit it all into a 19" rackmount package, they use four fader banks that group Channels 1-16, 17-32, Bus Out 1-16, and Aux/FX sends and returns. The Fader Bank buttons are at the very top of the switch block and let you quickly switch among banks.
The LCD display reflects the function chosen in the switch block, such as aux sends, EQ, dynamics, automation, MIDI control, fader grouping, and test utilities. The dual-function controls under the display act as both buttons and knobs, and a quick tap and a twist are all that it takes to perform most edits. I was concerned that not having dedicated knobs for every function would be limiting but, in fact, it was just the opposite—everything is laid out logically and the text is especially readable.
As I learned with my first digital mixer, looks are nothing if the sound isn't there, and I was more than pleasantly surprised at this mixer's output quality. I did a little test to compare my analog mixer with the DDX3216. Using an active splitter, I split the signal from the TLM-103 and ran one leg into the Behringer and the other into the analog mixer. Then (realizing my own vocal limitations) I brought in a friend of mine —a singer with an excellent voice. I had her sing while I listened intently and flipped back and forth between the two mixers. I was genuinely surprised to hear how much noise the analog mixer added!
Balancing frequency ranges is, of course, a critical part of any mix and requires flexible, "musical" EQs to be effective. I created a background track for the vocals with the Fantom and, with a quick tap on the EQ button, I was able to scoop out a little bandwidth for the singer. Seeing the frequency, the level, and the spread (or "Q") of the frequency response was extremely helpful and the resulting sound was clean and clear.
Four digital multi-effects processors add serious sound power to the DDX3216. The effects types range from utilitarian reverbs, delays, and chorus to grittier effects such as ring modulator, lo-fi (for those who yearn for those vintage 8-bit converters), psycho-acoustic enhancer, and auto-filter. The reverbs were warm and lush, and I had no difficulties in crafting a convincing vocal hall. The other effects were equally impressive.
Back in the box
I was really impressed with this mixer—it's got the features you expect and then some. I especially liked the integral meter bridge, the solid feel of the controls, the intuitive interface, and most importantly, its sound. I reluctantly reconnected my analog mixer and put the Behringer back in its box. I don't think it will be long before my very own DDX3216 will be sitting in its place.
Behringer DDX3216 Digital Mixer Features & Specs:
- 32 channels
- 12 ULN (Ultra Low-Noise) mic pre-amps
- 16 busses and 8 aux sends
- 4 ? 1/4" outputs assignable to any bus signal
- Dynamic and snapshot automation
- 17 ultra-precise, low-noise, 100mm motorized ALPS faders
- Compressor/limiter, gate, 4-band parametric EQ, sweepable high-pass and phase reverse on all 32 channels; additional delay on channels 1-16
- Additional compressor/limiter (switchable pre/post) and EQ for stereo main mix
- 4 simultaneously operable effects processors with dozens of first-class algorithms, accessible from all 32 channels
- Full MIDI implementation
- SMPTE and RS232 (computer) I/O
- PCM/CIA card slot for storage of automation and more
- 2 option slots for ADAT1616, TDF1616, or AES808 cards