By Paul Overson
It may not be fair for me to review the new PreSonus SL32 AI console. After all, I’m already a fan of their predecessor the SL24, and actually own two. Still, checking out new gear is what we do (it’s a dirty job), and who better than someone who knows the ins and outs (literally and figuratively) of PreSonus gear.
For the uninitiated, the PreSonus SL32 (it’s full name is PreSonus StudioLive 32.4.2AI) is a 32 channel digital console that can operate as a standalone mixing board, or be integrated with a computer…and can be remotely accessed wirelessly with iPhones and iPads. (No, there is no Android version. Why? PreSonus tech guru Bob Tudor explains HERE.)
The AI part stands for Active Integration and it is the encore to the original StudioLive series. Like the original SL, the AI series also includes a 24 and 16 channel frame size. There are a lot of major upgrades in AI and the mixers are just one part of a new PreSonus “ecosystem.” You can check out all of the features at the PreSonus site (http://www.presonus.com/products/StudioLive-AI-Series) or take a look at the overview from Live2PlayNetwork.com/SPLNetwork.com’s own Rev. Bill HERE.
As I said before, I own two of the original SL24s. I replaced a large format Allen & Heath and an old workhorse Soundcraft Series 5 with them. And in the process ditched hundreds of pounds, the need for a large truck and two full racks of outboard gear. As much as I like my SL24s, I have already arranged for my biggest client to buy the SL32AI. Here are a few key reasons why.
Sometimes I had bands with six members using in-ear monitors (IEMs) and I didn’t have enough Auxes to do stereo mixes for the band. This feature gives me the ability to have more mixes for stereo IEM’s.
2 Fat Channels Per Input
This is worth its weight in gold! I can set EQ and compression for the lead singer’s voice when he or she is speaking between songs on “A” and then dial in an ideal—and different—sound for the actual singing in slot B. This also comes in handy for that guitar player who plays a Tele on some songs and a Les Paul on others. This part is important: Unlike an Edit/Compare function, All of the Fat Channel settings are saved, per channel, into the scenes.
6 “Quick-Pick” Scenes
I setup a scene for a modern drum sound and then changed the EQ for a ’60’s drum sound and then recalled the scene for whichever type of music the band played. The buttons were quick and very easy without having to scroll through a list of scenes to find the one that I needed.
4 EFX Engines
I have had to use an external MPX1 for effects in the past because the SL24.4.2 has just two EFX engines, and my needs exceeded that. Two is good, four is better.
WiFi Capability With Included Dongle
I can now scan the room and see what networks are available without having to setup the computer. The WiFi is also part of that ecosystem thing. The AI series includes speakers and eventually you will be able to communicate with everything over WiFi. The previous series of consoles had the ability to be controlled over WiFi with a computer, iPad or iPhone but getting that to happen meant you HAD to have a computer. In essence, the iOS devices communicated with the computer and the computer communicated with the console. This takes the computer out of the equation unless you are using it to record with the included Capture and Studio One digital audio workstation software or running Smaart.
Having two channels for EQ for each channel is an interesting take, especially on a digital mixer where different scenes can be recalled. But the SL32’s A/B EQ is convenient and its utility is easily apparent. I dialed in a vintage sound for each of the drums on the B channel, and used the A channel for a more modern sound. Then I saved each scene.
I used scenes all the time on my SL24s but I had to be careful. It took a fraction of a second for the scene to switch so the audio muted which meant a momentary “pause.” In the AI generation, an improvement was made to scene-loading. It’s faster. Which means the audio does not have to mute. But there is fast and there is instant. And toggling A/B memories is instant.
For many engineers, two separate effects engines is adequate (the SL32AI already has compression on every channel), however no one seems to complain when you lug in outboard gear to enhance the sound. With the SL32AIs four engines, the need for the external gear is, at least for me, eliminated. If all you need are time-based FX that may be your experience as well. Two of the SL32AI’s effects engines are dedicated to reverbs and two are dedicated to delays. There are no modulation effects on board. So if you are someone who likes to add chorus to the backing vocals, you’ll still need an external device. But if you are a meat-and-potatoes, reverb-and-delay kinda guy then you will have everything you need. The vocals can have their own reverb, the drums another. Delay can be added to the lead vocals without compromising the reverb on the backing vocals, etc. What’s nice is it’s all self-contained.
Let’s talk about mic pre-amps for a moment. Most engineers will tell you that they are the foundation of any good console analog or digital. Everything else can be top notch but if the pre-amps are not right then the entire console will be mediocre. The preamps on the SL24 are no slouches, but we thought the SL32AI sounded better so some of my engineer friends and I thought we’d do a head to head comparison. Check the video for the results. We heard an audible difference and assumed something had changed with the pre-amp design. We were wrong. The difference we were hearing was all software. Something called the “summing engine.” For those who like to dig deep, you can click here for a full explanation from Bob Tudor on SoundProLiveNetwork.com. For the rest of you Tudor and the German engineering team behind the Studio One DAW worked closely together to optimize the audio engine in the SL32AI. On top of that, while there are no new top-secret physical parts and pieces, the analog portions of AI have found improvement by way of power layout and placement. As Mr. Tudor told us,the same parts might be present, however the circuit was measurably improved. This in conjunction with the software design improved the sound.
While I had previous PreSonus StudioLive mixer experience, it is worth noting that even though the board uses cutting-edge digital technology, it is very intuitive to use. Any engineer (or musician) that knows their way around an analog mixer can easily figure out the layout, dive in, and get good sounds happening in a modest amount of time.
Sure, there are deeper features and functions that require a little digital knowledge and/or study to use, but they are enhancements and not something you have to know before gigging with the console.
Those considering the SL32.4.2AI will be glad to know that it survived the drop test. At a recent gig at a high school where I was evaluating the board, it was inadvertently bumped by my crew (which consiste
d of, you guessed it, high school students). The console was in the case bottom in the front of house area and knocked off its makeshift stand. It fell with one end hitting the floor fairly hard.
Of course, I feared for the worse, but the console worked fine. Whew!
The Presonus StudioLive 32.4.2AI is so much more than a live console. It blurs the line between live and studio mixers. Interfaced with a computer it functions as a multi-track recording console. You also get SMAART integration. And, while its soul is pure digital, it feels like it has an analog “heart.” The user is granted knob-turn, fader-riding satisfaction rather than dealing with clumsy menus or playing with a mouse.
Great stuff. But all of those software and iOS and wireless bells and whistles wouldn’t mean a thing if the SL32AI didn’t provide studio-quality sound and an intuitive interface. It does.
(PreSonus StudioLive 32.4.2AI $4999.95 list, $3999.95 street)