I have a small confession to make, when the Allen & Heath GLD-112 arrived recently for review, I was a bit disappointed. Not at all disappointed with the desk itself – it is a very, very nice desk, (read the review in Audio Media November 2013) – no, I was disappointed that it wasn’t a Qu-16. Now that may seem silly as the GLD is a much more comprehensive and capable mixer with all sorts of features not available on the Qu-16, but I’ve been waiting for the Qu-16 for a long time now. But has that wait been in vain? I finally got to unpack one to find out.
The desk is a 22-channel mixer with 16 XLR inputs equipped with mic amps and three stereo inputs. Part of my excitement over the unit was generated by the confluence of a range of Allen & Heath technologies. You get 16 moving channel faders (17 including the main fader), touchscreen and hardware control of channel parameters, FX rooted in the same algorithms as the bigger desks, access to audio over Cat5 via the dSNAKE technology, on-board multi-track recording over USB direct to a USB drive (not to a USB flash disk), separate USB connector for audio streaming to and from your Mac (I’m reliably informed they are working on Windows support), an iPad app, and interoperability with the new ME series of personal mixers, all in a 19in rack space.
Look the part
Where to start? Well how about the finish. The Qu-16 feels like a proper bit of kit and not a toy. All knobs and buttons feel positive and professional. Only the feel of the motorised faders reflect the fact that this is not an expensive desk. There was a lot of speculation before release about this fitting in your hand luggage, and well yes if you are Catherine Zeta Jones, but no if you’re only Michael Douglas (or indeed any other normal human being).
The wraparound design is striking, practical, and guaranteed to catch the eye at a gig. The specs are online but a few notable things: 16 busses; RTA with peak band indication; separate mic and line inputs; mics on XLR, line on TRS jack; two stereo line inputs on 0.25in jacks, and a third on the surface on mini jack (for your walk in music, of course); 10 outputs on XLRs alongside main L and R; and a patchable AES stereo output with another patchable output on TRS jacks.
If you plug in a dSNAKE (8- or 24-channel boxes are available) it will give you audio over Cat5; however, you can select on each individual channel between local input at the desk, remote from the dSNAKE stage box, or USB. The USB can be audio streamed from your PC or from your attached USB ‘Qu-Drive’. Remember though this doesn’t add channels to the desk. So an AR 2412 will max you out at 22 inputs. However, they can be 22 mic inputs, three will be stereo pairs but nonetheless it is a way of upping your mic channel count. If I was using the Qu-16 in a venue with existing tie lines I might be tempted to buy an AR 84 and use it locally for just such a purpose. Remember though that currently using an AR box does not add to the absolute number of channels, if you are tempted to be grumpy about this please read on.
There is a subtle problem with the sheer range of facilities on the Qu-16. It fools you into thinking you have bought a much more expensive system. The Qu-16 offers so much that we get piqued when we run up against a limitation. Like the issue of the dSNAKE channels or the fact that the Qu-16 can record 18 tracks of 24-bit 48kHz audio – a little voice in my head says, ‘Where is the 96kHz? Why not all the channels?’ (we are such ungrateful people). Just remember this is not a twenty grand desk.
Setting up the mixer is, relatively speaking, fairly simple. Out of the box everything is routed to main L and R so if you plug in a mic and open the channel fader you will hear something, which in digital desk world is kind of reassuring. While there are no sub-groups – beyond mute groups of course, four of which are available on board – you do get layers. Top layer is your 16 mic inputs (also selectable to dSNAKE inputs or USB returns) your second layer controls, three stereo inputs, FX sends and returns, and your 10 mix busses. The third layer is a custom layer, which you can build using any mix of inputs, FX sends or returns, or mix master faders.
A quick tour of the effects and stuff reveals all the hard work those five ARM processors are doing. You get parametric EQ, compressor, limiter, gate, and delay on every channel. You get 28-band graphic EQ on all mix outputs. The Qu-16 has four on-board FX slots, selectable from a range of reverbs, delays, and modulators. These effects can be inserted into single channels or combined in an effects mix.
I should mention compatibility with the new ME series of personal mixers, but I can’t do more than mention it as the ME is worth a review on its own. The iPad app allows remote control over WiFi and once connected is nicely responsive and is a useful live tweaking tool.
In summary, the Qu-16 has all the joys of digital in a well-crafted package at an attractive price. A desk that records as a multi-track, offers audio over Cat5, iPad remote, well-established workflow and effects, and the extensibility of a personal mixing system. On top of this, it is a desk with a professional feel and features set that integrates with the Allen & Heath GLD system, sharing the same stage boxes so when it’s time to upgrade things are simple. Hats off to Allen & Heath, the Qu-16 may well be the Sultan of Swing.
Alistair McGhee began audio life in Hi-Fi before joining the BBC as an audio engineer. After 10 years in radio and TV, he moved to production. When BBC Choice started, he pioneered personal digital production in television. Most recently, Alistair was assistant editor, BBC Radio Wales and has been helping the UN with broadcast operations in Juba.