A Skeptic Looks at the Behringer X32


You want my perspective on the Behringer X32?
  
This is the place in the conversation where I generally hesitantly ask, “Do you want the polite answer, or do you want my honest and politically incorrect answer?” 

But I know which one you want. So here goes:

Behringer is marketing this, as some have said, as “a Midas design wrapped in a Behringer blanket.”
When I first heard it, I discussed that concept with Midas factory people, and in the process, I learned some fascinating new swear words. . . .

The first report was “The X32 has Midas preamps,” which also generated substantial “highly colorful invective” from Midas.

The second report was, “Midas helped us design the preamps” which, I’m told, is enough closer toward the truth, so that you can even see the truth from there (“ *cough!* They made a phone call.”), but still brought colorful invective into the conversation.  

At that point, it appears that Uli Behringer’s name was brought into the conversation, and the Midas guys were reminded who it was that signed their paychecks…. Now they try so very diligently to stay out of that conversation, but they do toe the party line when you push them.

From an outside-of-Behringer perspective, the X32 board is kind of confusing to me: it is actually far better built than Behringer analog boards, and it both works and sounds better than the previous Behringer digital board (which gave new scope and clarity to the term “hot mess”).

A friend whom I trust (and who drives an Avid SC48 regularly) may have said it best: “Huh. It doesn’t suck. Who’da thought?” And now he recommends the X32 to small churches.

The board sounds pretty good. I can’t comment on “better than the other guys” because I don’t have that comparison data, though I do know that Behringer has earned their reputation for over-statement (see above).
A better question for the entry-level digital board world is, “Does it sound pretty good?” And yes, it really does sound pretty good! It doesn’t suck! 

Does it sound better than the other guys? No, but it's not unusable. 

It’s not as easy to use as some others digital consoles; in fact, they actually are consistent with Midas on that issue: neither digital console is very intuitive! But it’s not ridiculous. It can be learned.

The more important question is whether it will last as long as the functionally bulletproof industry leaders (who have asked not to be named in an article about Behringer). The answer to this one is as yet unknown, but I haven't met a single person who was willing to even entertain the idea that it might.

The X32 doesn’t have the legacy of durability on its side. Behringer analog consoles have had a rough failure rate (in my experience) over the past year, and the first shipment of X32s had a 50% fail rate (my experience; I’m told it was closer to 30% nationally), but they seem to have fixed that; recent shipments have not had failures: none. I confess that I am going to be very interested to see how long they DO last.

Behringer has got a few things incredibly right:

·                     Price point. ‘Nuff said. Ain’t nobody does price point like Behringer does.
·                     Moving faders. I don’t know that most churches need moving faders, but some a lot of sound guys want to have ‘em just to have them. (One of my concerns: moving faders strike me as the best candidate for the first break point on an economy-built board.)
·                     Gadgets: It’s easy to add Behringer personal monitor mixers and (“AND!” Are you listening, Soundcraft?) their digital snake. No, I know that nobody in their right mind, buying a board in this price range needs a digital snake. But they want one.
·                     It doesn’t suck! Either in sound quality or in usability. Again: that’s worth noticing. This is a very usable board.
·                     Price point. Did I mention that? This is an awful lot of digital mixer for $3k. Wow.
·                     Durability: This is the scary part of the conversation.

The thing that scares me the most is what I call the TT24 Syndrome: There was another price-point-driven digital mixer a few years back that comes to mind. I won’t mention the brand name, because that’s not polite, but it was a great mixer, when it came out of the chute! It sold well and performed well over the first couple of years. They were wonderful!

And then the factory had some challenges: they had done quite well in developing the board and selling the board, but they didn’t do as well supporting it. And pretty soon, the firmware updates were fewer, and there was more time between them, and they didn’t solve as many of the outstanding issues… Eventually, the whole project was kind of swept under the carpet in the back of their unnamed Woodinville warehouse, and nobody ever talks about it any more.

Behringer can smile and point to features all day long, but the real-world success of the mixer won’t actually be determined in 2013, and probably not in 2014 either.

On the other hand, for a $3000 mixer with all these features? You know, it doesn’t suck. I think I'm impressed!

1 comment:

TheBeej said...

Thanks for being honest. I am the Worship Arts Tech Director at a church of about 2000. We are in a holding pattern right now with our auditorium, which only holds 700, as we figure out the next steps in building a new auditorium. This means that we only spend money on equipment that will get us to the new auditorium. This led us to buying the Behringer. We don't need it to last 10 years. We just need it to get us through 3-5 years.

I can say that it is perfect for us right now. There are 5 volunteer guys on my team and we previously had an analog board. The learning curve wasn't bad, the sound is good, and its pretty fun once you've really gotten comfortable. We did have to send it back for a broken motor on fader 14, but I didn't have to pay for anything and I got a loaner x32 from the store I bought it from.

I have found myself desiring some more available FX, but I have been able to make do. For $3,000, which included a 3 year warranty, I am happy with the purchase while looking forward to a "real" board come the new auditorium.