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!