Another Year Goes By... (Behringer XR18 Two Years On)

This was just planned to be a quick post here, to talk about how things have been going with my Behringer XR18 digital mixer. Nearly another year has passed since I switched from the Mackie DL1608 to a Behringer X-Air XR18, so I've been using it for about two years now. The last time I wrote about it, I had assembled a make-shift front-of-house "console" consisting of an Asus touch screen, a keyboard/trackpad from Logitech, and a Raspberry Pi 3b microcomputer. Since then, I've made a few ... improvements.

There are now two of the Pi-based touch-screen consoles, in new custom-built cases, complete with cup holders. The idea is that one is to be used for front-of-house mixing, and the other used as a stage-side monitor mix position. The FOH console is usually connected via WiFi, and the stage-side console hardwired to the router in the system rack.

As part of the project, a new system rack has also been constructed, with components mounted front and back. The configuration allows all connections for input and output to be on the same side of the rack -- both the mixer "front" and the amplifier "backs". Auxiliary power and network connections are also placed stage-side. One "console" sets on the top of the rack, with matching dimensions.

I also doubled the number of wireless mics. I'm still leery of spending a lot of money on UHF wireless gear, so I purchased another pair of the Samson Concert 88 systems, made quite affordable by what I can only assume is an error on the part of Amazon (the 500MHz band units were marked down substantially, where the now-discontinued 600MHz units are still at the regular price. In fact, they really shouldn't even be available for sale at this point, as they're technically no longer legal for purchase. But... I digress...).

[UPDATE: The 600MHz units are no longer available at Amazon]

The whole system was put to a test this past Saturday on a gig for my band, 7Souls. The mixing system worked flawlessly, supporting both an engineer at the FOH console and the monitor mixer stage-side with ease -- once we got going. For some reason, I had a difficult time getting the wired console to connect to the mixer. That particular unit sometimes doesn't boot on the first attempt, and I'm thinking I may need to rebuild it. It's also possible that I was simply trying to get things running too quickly.

To say that I'm still extremely please with the XR18 would be an understatement. It continues to perform flawlessly. I've yet to experience more than a couple glitches, and I'm very pleased with my decision to move away from the Mackie. 

In fact, the only real technical issue we faced during the evening was related to the wireless gear. The rack ended up being placed up stage right, behind my position at keyboards. Subsequently, the  wireless mics were projecting their signals away from the receivers, resulting in drop-outs as our front-line vocalists moved around. This means that I'll need to modify the receivers so that they can use a remote antenna system -- my thought is to mount one antenna on each speaker stand. This will allow me to place the actual receiving antennae in a more appropriate location. Before mounting the new receivers, I took a look at how the fixed antennae are installed.

From the looks of the circuit board, it looks as if Samson actually had something like this in mind. There are actually solder points on the board for antenna connectors. And, there's plenty of space to add professional BNC connectors so the receivers can be fed by an antenna distribution system. The screw in the picture is the stud that mounts the existing antenna, and area marked CN1 is where I think Samson had possible intended "bigger and better" antenna to connect. The question mark is the correct value for the R39 resistor, when coupling the receiver to a standard 50ohm UHF antenna. 

[UPDATE: The antenna system is done and ready for the road. I discovered that my two older Concert88 receiver circuit boards are completely different from the two new units, so I had to do a lot of improvising to get the new wiring done. More later, maybe....]

The other shortcoming of the PA, as it exists, has to do with stage monitoring. 7Souls is a seven-piece band. Ideally, each member should get their own monitor mix. Right now, I only have two channels of amplification for stage monitors, and there are only six Aux outputs from the board. As of this past week, the drummer and I are using wired in-ear monitors, since we don't move around the stage. This past weekend, we ran two monitor mixes into four wedge monitors for everyone else. In a couple of weeks, I'm planning to increase the number of available monitor amp channels to at least four, which will help a lot -- at least until more band members are able to afford in-ear monitoring.

Even so, there still won't be quite enough mixes for everyone to have their own mix using the conventional Aux outputs. While the answer is to expand into Ultranet monitoring, the cost of entry could be relatively high -- although, now that I think of it, the P16-M personal mixer is really not much higher than a basic wireless IEM package. I could conceivably grab one for myself, and use it to drive my ear-buds. Since Ultranet is completely separate from the rest of the mixer, that would free up an Aux bus for use by another band member. What the heck, right? It's not like I'm not fully committed to living in the Behringer infrastructure at this point.... Guess I'll just add something else to the shopping list!

And, bottom line? Yes, I'm still quite pleased to have made the switch to Behringer!

Brit Floyd

I've always liked Pink Floyd, and even went to see them live back when most of the band was together. It was a good time. But, now Pink Floyd is gone as a band, and while Gilmour and Waters tour (separately), their shows aren't exactly the same. So, I'm left to enjoy the shows from the tribute bands, Several Species and Brit Floyd

Last night, I went to see Brit Floyd at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore. The Lyric is a wonderful old venue that's been tastefully modernized, and so it retains its historic charm inside, while being a thoroughly modern facility.

The show was simply amazing. I got great seats about 15 rows back from the stage, and very near the center, for my friend Erik and I. And, I was able to get a few really nice photos and videos with my Pixel 2. 

Clink a thumbnail to see full-size images...

click a thumbnail to see full-size images...

Erik and I are hard-pressed to tell which of the tribute bands we prefer. To be honest, we may be a little biased, as a mutual friend plays with Several Species. But one thing I can say with certainty: I enjoy both of the tribute bands' shows more than I did actual Pink Floyd shows. Part of that may have had to do with the venues. Pink Floyd was play coliseum by the time I saw them, where Several Species and Brit Floyd play more intimate venues. And, they both have better sound systems than Pink Floyd did.

Anyway, enjoy the pictures. I may add some video later on as well.

Half a Mind?

Back in July, and again in September of last year, I told you about Behringer's Deepmind 12 analog synthesizer. As exciting as that instrument is, and as much as I'd like to have something that resembles the old Sequential Prophet 600 I owned many years ago, the Deepmind 12 is just a touch to rich for my blood.

Behringer Deepmind 6 six-voice analog synth.

Today, however, I've learned of the Deepmind 12's new little brother, the Deepmind 6. It's kind of like having half a mind, in that it has 6 voices to the original's 12 voice architecture. Otherwise, it's nearly identically spec'd. The only other feature missing is WiFi.

Sequential Circuits Prophet 600

Like my old Prophet, it's a 3-octave analog keyboard with patch memory. The Behringer also adds four effects engines and an aftertouch keyboard, which my old Prophet lacked. Selling at about $700, it's about the same price as I paid for a used Prophet 600 ... back in about 1990.

According to Pete and Rob from Midas, it's in production now, so delivery is imminent. Looks like it may be time to get serious about selling off some unused keyboard gear....

Yeah, there's also a keyless version of the Deepmind 12, but I'm one of those guys who really doesn't want a synth without a keyboard.

Thanks to hispasonic.com and sonicstate.com for the images and video.

Digital Audio Update Update

Yeah, this is an update to an update from back in April, where I talked about the possibility of getting rid of my Mackie DL1608 and moving to Behringer's X-Air XR18. The short story is that I did it, and generally, I'm pretty happy I did.

I've got the mixer, along with a power conditioner, a wireless router, and a powered USB hub wired up in an old rolling rack I had laying around for the time being, and that's generally working pretty well. I do want to eventually do a new stage rack that will contain my power amps, the mixer box, computer gear, and the few bits of outboard gear I'm using in a single rack -- on wheels, of course.

That laptop is a pretty ancient Dell with a single-core Celeron processor, running a funky Linux build. That allows me to run the full version of the Behringer X-Air app, which gives really deep access to the mixer and enhances my ability to save configs, on a machine I already had. I will be experimenting with another "computer" in the near future. More on that as it develops.

Since April, I've mixer a few shows on it, including two outdoor jobs, one of which was a multi-band mini-festival. In every case, the mixer has performed flawlessly, despite my still getting up to speed with it. The only problems I've had so far are related to the el-cheapo Android tablets I'm using, and those problems have only been on the outdoor gigs, where they are difficult to see in sunlight.

One area where Behringer has been lacking, however, is in keeping up with control app development. There is still no real parity between Android and iPad and PC/Mac/Linux applications, and Behringer hasn't updated anything. I got into some conversations with the fellow that Behringer had contracted to do the Android development, as he also develops an app for several other digital mixers (search for Mixing Station on the Play store to see if it's available for your mixer), and helped to convince him to release his personal version of the Behringer X-Air app. He's done a fantastic job with it, and added a ton of functionality. And, it fixes a meter display issue on certain Android tablets running Lollipop.

Any The Wiser, sorta on stage at the 4th Annual Wilde Lake Family Picnic, September 17, 2016, at Wilde Lake Park in Columbia, MD. That's me on keyboards, mixing from the stage.  Follow Any The Wiser on Facebook . --  Jeremy Crites photo

Any The Wiser, sorta on stage at the 4th Annual Wilde Lake Family Picnic, September 17, 2016, at Wilde Lake Park in Columbia, MD. That's me on keyboards, mixing from the stage. Follow Any The Wiser on Facebook. -- Jeremy Crites photo

For the most recent gig I mixed (and performed at -- photo above), I used the new Mixing Station Pro X-Air app on the Android along with the Linux version of Behringer's X-Air Edit on the laptop. For the opening band, the keyboard player used one of the smaller tablets to handle his own monitor mix.

I should mention that, while I have my XR18 in a rack, it can also be used in a "stage box" configuration, by simply dropping it on the stage and plugging in.

While I miss the excellent iPad app from the Mackie, I think the X Air more than makes up for that in functionality and flexibility, and I'm pretty glad I made the switch.

Beyond the mixer, I also added a few new twists for this gig, and everything just worked perfectly. Once the PA was set up, I used an app on my old iPhone, which is now used as a media player, to pump pink noise into the PA. I then used an app called X Air iEQ on my iPhone 6s to analyze and automatically set the baseline EQ the mains and monitors. The process took all of 5 minutes for the mains and three monitor mixes.

Once that was done, I decided to try out a new piece of kit I picked up from dbx, called the goRack. The goRack is a neat little device that's really intended for solo or duo acts to help make getting good sound in difficult rooms easy. It incorporates a number of functions, including sub-harmonic synthesis, compression, EQ, and anti-feedback control into a very simple little box. I decided to turn on all the functions and put the thing to a test.

My sub-woofers are fairly small, but well built and tuned. Still, in an outdoor setting, the bass disappears pretty quickly, so I felt that a little help was in order. Also, my mains tend to be a little harsh, so I set an appropriate EQ preset. I next dialed in a little light compression, just to tighten things up. I made all these adjustments while pumping "break tunes" off the old iPhone through the PA.

Once I was happy with the overall sound, I setup the anti-feedback section (which was really the reason I wanted the goRack in the first place). There are a couple of settings you can choose, and I decided to go with a narrow band, but otherwise fairly minimalist setting. Once I had that entered, I grabbed the lead vocal mic, cranked up the channel, and pointed the mic right at one of the main speakers from about 15 feet away. There was a short "meep" of feedback (and I mean very short), and that was it. Even with an "MC" using a wireless and walking all over in front of the stage, we never heard another hint of feedback the entire day. All of the musicians commented on how good things sounded, both in the house and on stage. I was pretty impressed, too. Usually, anti-feedback devices are very heavy handed, carving out wide swaths of important frequencies to battle feedback.

I only had one goRack, which was enough to handle the mains and one monitor mix (I run mono mains almost exclusively), but I'll be ordering a couple more in the next week or so for sure! Here's the kicker on these little goRack boxes. For some reason, they're selling most places for under $30! At that price, you almost can't go wrong. And, if you ever perform as a solo singer/guitarist, one of these along with a powered speaker or two, are just about all you need for a PA system. Of course, your mileage may vary, but at $30, it's almost impossible to go too far wrong.