I've been tapped to spec out an audio console for my church. I'm going to purchase a 24x4 board, and have looked at Behringer, Mackie, Carvin, Peavey (Architectural Acoustics) and Soundcraft. Any advice would really be appreciated.
In my pretty extensive install experience and opinion, the best 4-buss board in the under-$3000 price range is the Allen & Heath GL2200, which is around $2200-$2500 for 24 channels, depending on where you source it from. It is actually a genuinely nice and surprisingly good-sounding desk. I installl a lot of them in churches, and my clients have been universally pleased with this mixer.
If you have to go under $2000 for 24 channels, the Soundcraft Spirit LX7-24 is a much better value than the Mackie SR for not too much more money. Better faders, slightly better EQ (with 4 bands instead of 3), and a few more features. It's not nearly as good as the Allen & Heath, but better than the alternatives in its price range by a good margin.
I'd cross Behringer and Peavey off the list right now, if you want a board that will hold it's value and sound good into the future. The Carvin sounds better than the Behringer or Peavey, but takes a BIG depreciation hit after purchased, and I'd be a bit worried about local support and parts availability. I have not seen much in the way of serious sound systems with Carvin mixers or other products in them.
It seems to me that the Gl2200 should also be in the sub $2k range. I agree with scratching the Behringer and Carvin off the list. I would also avoid Mackie, but I think I would actually rather have a MAckie than a Spirit. However, if you can extend to about $3800, you could be into a Midas venice with 24 mono channels and 4 stereo channels. The Midas preamp and EQ, cannot even be touched by any of the other brands listed. Not even by their high end desks. In my experience you will never regret the extra money spent. They are durable consoles, small footprint, and VERY highly respected. You really can't buy a board that sounds better until you spend $40,000 or more. These little Midas consoles are being used even by high end national touring acts. The preamp has plenty of gain, and sounds incredible. The EQ is very natural sounding and the response on it is amazing. Even a 2db cut or bosst is audible, yet beautiful. My venices go to almost every single show with me in case I run across one of the other consoles mentioned.
You should also concider what size and function you are going to need in your church. Just because you can purchase a more expensive mixer, doesn't mean you need to. If you don't have adequate supporting gear the most expensive board isn't going to do anything. You should also concider if your church needs a "tour quality" board. I have grown up in churches of all shapes in sizes (as few as 15 and as many as 3000) 95% of church goers wouldn't notice the difference between a $1500 and $5000 board. They just want to be able to hear. This is not an endorsement to buy cheap gear, but you may not need to go overboard. If your church regularly brings in professional outside musicians (tours, ect.) that use your in house gear, then you should probably err toward a more expensive unit.
I have had fabulous luck with Mackie equipment that I have used and it seems to take the abuse better than the Soundcraft equipment in my experience. If your church is like many, you do not always have experienced people working with sound. With the Mackie equipment I have only rarely experienced dead channels and poor work inside the unit itself. Most problems are user error. This is helpful when trying to fix problems during a service on the fly.
Whatever you buy, do make sure that you buy a mixer which will meet the needs of the church five and even ten years down the road. One of the reasons I install a lot of 32-channel Allen & Heath GL2200 boards in churches that right now might be able to get away with a 16-channel Mackie is because of future growth and the ever-expanding needs of worship teams and the general need for better sonic control. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to re-engineer systems that someone else had recently (within the past 5 years) installed that met the needs of the church at the time, but which didn't take into account the potential future needs of the church. Re-engineering and revising a system is MUCH more expensive than simply doing it right the first time.
Right along with that, buying the nicely-equipped 32-channel board instead of the budget 24-channel or 16-channel mixer might cost a few hundred dollars more, but it sure is less expensive over the long haul than buying the cheaper board, and then having to replace the whole thing a few years down the road.
I do notice the difference between the $1500 board and the $5000 when it means channeling, miking, and EQ'ing compromises; and with them, feedback and poor sound quality due to logistical and operator control limitations. Everyone else does, too. Sometimes the $1500 console will do the job just fine. But when the $1500 board is pressed into duty in a situation that needs the resources of the more expensive mixer, that's where the shortcomings rear their ugly head.
Buying expensive gear for the sake of buying expensive gear is poor stewardship, but cutting corners based on needs by buying less-capable equipment is a false economy in the long run. My experience over the years as a church musician, consultant, and contractor has taught me this over and over again.
Last edited by michaelhoddy; 02-25-2003 at 10:21 AM.
I am sorry Mark, but buying nicer gear can sweeten the sound of the rest of a rig that may sound cheaper. I really cannot adequately explain to people just what the difference between sound quality is between something like a Mackie, and the little Midas. Alll I know is that EVERY single person that used one for the first time was absolutely amazed. I haul my little Midas around with me not only because it makes a good system sound better, but because even the cheapest of systems automatically sound ten times better when the mics are run through the Midas. Mackies are extremely good for being physically durable. Thats is if you buy a 1604 or smaller. As soon as you get into the 24x4 and up they have some serious problems. I can not tell you how many Mackies I have seen with blown channels, or an aux send might die, or other similar problems. What boggles me is that these problems are different each time. I even saw a console that aux 2 had gone out on from channels 14 through 23. The odd thing is that this isn't even the standard block of 8 problem that many non modular consoles tend to have. Another huge problem for Mackie consoles is dust. The pots and faders are extremely sensitive to dust and dirt etc... They can develop huge problems very easily. This may just be a little extra pre amp noise at the top of the pot, or it could end up being a crackly fader that pops and cracks so badly that renders it unusable. Also, the pots are cheap and don't clean easily. I am sure that all of these design flaws are a purposeful thing from Mackie because it allows them to manufacture them so much cheaper. I would still rather have a Mackie than any other console in it's immediate price range.
One of the other problems with Mackies, especially the 4 bus series is the lack of EQ. First, it only has three bands. Secondly, the EQ is very noisy, and is prone to creating very large hollow phasy sounds when boosted or cut past about 4 db. Typically with a decently tuned system and the right mic for the task, you won't need more than this, but the problem with a Mackie is that only 4 db of cut or boost very rarely will even audibly affect the signal, so more or less EQ is almost necessary. The hardest part about using the Midas EQ is getting used to the fact that the slightest movement on the EQ has an audible and beautiful effect on the source signal. I am a firm believer that if I hauled a Mackie 24x4 around as much as I have hauled my Midas around that I would probably only have two working lines left on it. The only way to really impress upon a person just how good a Midas sounds is to tell them to AB the board. You will know in 5 seconds just why the Midas is popping up in so many places. I have run into many engineers that are buying these little Midas's to carry with them on tours in case they don't see a larger Midas or Soundcraft series 5 in the venue when they get there.
I even had Social Distortion's engineer have me bring my Midas out of the car and put away an Allen Heath 48 channel ml5000 that had 16 aux, VCA, parametric Eq etc... I thought this was pretty cool that he would sacrifice features for that Midas sound. At least I thought it was cool till I found out that meant I had to mix the opening band on the same channels without touching the EQ or the gain pots, just using the faders because he did not want to mark channels
ok... I respect what I've read from "x" and "michael" on much of the boards, so I can take some advice from two individuals that seem to know what's up . I'd love to AB the Midas board with several others. Do you happen to know where I can find a list of dealer reps in my area. I'd love to hear them and find out what I've been missing. Even though I'm a teacher, I can be taught. Also, I do agree that you should buy gear for 10 years down the road, not just now.
check Midas's website, or contact any proaudio rental place in your area. Many companies are starting to stock a lot of these due to the sound quality to price point ratio. One other funny story. When doing a Pete Yorn show, Robbie Mcgrath (now FOH for Rolling Stones) starting having problems with a rental $40,000 Innovason console they had brought in. He got so frustrated with the problems that he conisdered screwing all the automation and on board effects from the Innovason, and sharing channels with me on the little Venice that I had provided for the opener. He had mixed on them before, likes them alot, and even is a quoted endorser on all their ads. Luckily, he was going to let me actually mark his channels so i could touch the gain pots and EQ's