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Review: PreSonus StudioLive 16.4.2AI

June 30, 2014
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A digital console that is much more than a mixer

The StudioLive 16.4.2AI adds network and remote-mixing capabilities to the wide array of features of this mixer/interface. The Fat Channel controls are front and center, making it easy to adjust dynamics and EQ on individual tracks.
When PreSonus introduced the StudioLive Series several years ago, it caused a stir: Here was a digital console in the $2,000 price range that offered mic preamps, DSP on every input and output channel, a FireWire recording interface, and integrated production software. With its Active Integration (AI) series, PreSonus has expanded StudioLive’s capabilities by adding network control and remote mixing via iPad and iPhone, offering audio interface options on an expansion card (FireWire 800 stock, Dante or Thunderbolt), and including Smaart audio analysis (see Figure 1).

The StudioLive 16.4.2AI features 16 analog inputs, four subgroups, and a stereo mix bus. Six aux sends can feed external monitor mixes while another four are dedicated to onboard reverb and delay effects with associated returns. This gives you a total of 10 sends. (The 24.4.2AI and 32.4.2AI increase the number of sends to 14 and 18, respectively.)

Each input channel includes the PreSonus XMAX Class A mic preamp (with individually switched phantom power); TRS line in and insert jacks; Solo, Mute, and Select switches; and direct analog output. Inputs may be routed to the L/R mix, four subgroups, or 10 aux sends. Each bus has a noise gate, compressor, EQ, and limiter. The aux and effects sends add a highpass filter—a smart move given the need for it on monitor mixes. Channels and auxes can be linked for stereo operation in traditional odd/even pairing.

Every input channel and mix bus has a dedicated FireWire send for easy channel-to-track recording, alleviating the need to make the assignments yourself in software. In addition, each channel has a digital DAW return from FireWire that can replace the analog input. Having used other mixers that require menu access to swap an analog input for a digital return, I found the PreSonus approach easier and crystal clear: If the digital-return switch is lit, the signal is coming from the DAW.

This also makes overdubbing with zero latency a no-brainer. Monitor the analog input during recording and switch to the digital return for playback. There’s no need to impede your workflow by opening a menu to play back an overdub.

Fat Channel The Fat Channel is a set of centrally located controls for adjusting EQ, dynamics, bus assignment, and aux send levels, one channel at a time. Fat Channel settings can be stored and recalled from a library or copied and pasted (with the exception of polarity, phantom power, and aux and effects-send levels).

Four effects sends are organized as two reverbs and two delays. Reverb parameters include decay time, predelay and (for some algorithms) early reflections: The Large Hall program, in particular, is excellent for snare drum and toms. Delay parameters include delay time, feedback, Time X (the note value when using the tap function), and in the case of the filtered delay algorithm, filter frequency, gain, and Q. I loved the filtered delay since I typically chop off the highs and lows to keep the delay out of the way of the original sound. As with Fat Channel settings, reverbs and delays may be stored and recalled from a library or within mix Scenes.

Every StudioLive bus features a gate, compressor, and EQ. The 16.4.2 AI does not have the global EQ on/off switch found in the larger models; you’ll have to switch each band on or off separately. The main, aux, and subgroup outputs also feature 31-band graphic EQ, which proved handy for tuning a P.A. and sculpting a wedge mix.

Fig. 1. Each mic input features an XMAX Class A preamp with individually switched phantom power. A card slot is available for FireWire 800, Dante, or Thunderbolt connectivity, while pre-insert balanced direct outputs are available on D-Sub connectors.
Live With a Net(work)
The most exciting feature of the StudioLive AI line is networking. PreSonus furnishes a USB Wireless stick with the console, or you can connect the StudioLive to a router using the rear-panel Ethernet port. I used the Ethernet port to attach the 16.4.2AI and a MacBook running Universal Control AI to a wireless router for the remote devices. (Note that the StudioLive 16.4.2AI does not work with all routers: PreSonus recommends a D-Link DIR-655, which worked very well. )

I used this feature to create an onstage network, running SL Remote via iPad and assigning several cue mixes to band members’ iPhones running QMix-AI. (SL Remote and QMix-AI are free apps available from the App Store.) The mixer’s Systems menu contains pages governing network access and permissions. Our network gave the iPad front-of-house access for all remote functions, while allowing each iPhone control only over the respective musician’s aux send. It was awesome!

If you are concerned that musicians will totally ruin their mixes, you can give them the “Wheel of Me,” a clever feature in which a single dial controls the “me” channel(s) and a second dial controls overall level of the band—very cool!

Captured Live Using the included Capture 2 software, recording to a DAW has never been this painless. Open the program and the Record Now option appears: Click this, and recording starts immediately. The system I tested offered resolution up to 24-bit/48kHz; a free firmware update in June will add 96kHz sampling rate and the ability to link two consoles. (Using 96kHz will not require the user to sacrifice other assets such as processing.) Each mixer channel is prerouted to its own track. If the mixer channels have been named, Capture 2 imports the channel names to the tracks. When the recording software is networked to the mixer, the analog inputs automatically switch to track outputs on playback. Perfect for a virtual soundcheck!

As you’d expect, the StudioLive 16.4.2AI integrates with PreSonus Studio One production software, and it worked without a hitch as an audio interface for Pro Tools, Digital Performer, and Reason.

Home and Away: OK! PreSonus packed a lot into the StudioLive 16.4.2AI. While it is equally at home with live and studio work, it makes an excellent recording interface: There is no disappointment in sound quality in any of these situations. A major bonus is the inclusion of Capture 2, as well as Universal Control AI. The system’s networking capabilities will be especially welcomed by working bands that need to manage their own mixes.

With the StudioLive 16.4.2AI, you’ll be amazed at what two thousand bucks can buy these days.

Steve La Cerra is an independent audio engineer based in New York. In addition to being an Electronic Musician contributor, he mixes front-of-house for Blue Öyster Cult and teaches audio at Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry campus.

SUMMARY

STRENGTHS Comprehensive DSP. Secure wireless control via iPad and iPhone. Easy integration with Capture 2 and Studio One software. Built-in Smaart analysis tools.

LIMITATIONS No pad on the mic pre. Manual faders. Limited reverb and delay parameter-editing onboard.

$2,499; $1,999 street
presonus.com

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