PreSonus StudioLive RM32 AI Mix System

OK, so right from the top. Gonna be hard for me to be aloof and objective here. Because the PreSonus 32RM AI represents nothing less than the ability todo something i have been trying to achieve with PA that I can afford for a decade.

It would be hard to have not heard, but all of the companies making serious 16-32 channel affordable digital consoles have announced a rack-mount version with wireless control. They have all announced but only one has shipped and that is the Presonsus in 16 and 32 input versions.

The RM32 AI is all the mixer I ever need in just four rack spaces, It has no control surface. And i am just fine with that. OK, to the point that i bought (that’s right, bought as in paid for with my own money) one.

For about 40% less than the cost of a 24-input digital console with old-school stuff like faders, I get 32 of the excellent PreSonus XMAX preamps. And for the first time, they are totally programmable and recallable. I get 16 aux mixes, a main stereo mix and a summed mono version of the main out, That’s the box.

But when the UC Surface software is launched on a Mac, a PC or an iPad, it all comes alive. basically, this is a StudioLive 32 AI with no control surface. Control happens via the computer or iPad. All of the same stuff as the physical desk. Gates and comps and fully parametric EQ on every input. A 31-band graphic that can be accessed without digging into menus.

That last part is important for more than just the graphic. Talk to anyone who has used more than one of the digital mixers out there that run in the $3K range. And no matter which one they profess to be their favorite, most will tell you that the PreSonus StudioLive is the easiest to walk up to cold and just start mixing. The interface and ease of use has always been the best in the biz at this price range.

All of the inputs including a stereo Tape In and all outputs are available from the front panel. Outputs are mirrored on the back on DB25 connectors for install applications. On the back you also have SPDIF and both Ethernet and Firewire 800 for control. There are a couple of MIDI ports that currently don’t do anything but that are there for “future development.” (I have a few suggestions of how to use it….) The plate that the Ethernet and Firewire is on is removable and future updates will allow you to take that one out and replace it with one that includes a Dante option for audio transport and control. There is a firmware update that PreSonus say is “coming soon” that will make the current Ethernet port AVB capable. A USB port on the front, along with the included USB wifi dongle turns it into a totally networkable device.

As is typical for me, I did not have a ton of time to get familiar with the RM32 AI. before the first gig I literally went through the input channels and preprogrammed it with presets from the included library. and did a line check. I made a couple of minor EQ adjustments based on what i knew i was doing on the mixer I used previously. After testing mics, I turned off the gates on the vocal channels. The standard setting were just a little “clang-y” for me. I will eventually make adjustment to soften them a bit but for now the easiest thing to do was shut ‘em off.

In term so of actual mixing, the only thing I had a hard time finding was were to send a little grease back through the monitors. I personally prefer a dry monitor but my primary singer wants some reverb coming back at her. Getting to that was not totally obvious. But once you know that it is just a case of engaging the Aux Inputs button and there it was. That page is also where you set level for the Tape In and talkback mic. The product guys at PreSonus tell us that in the next update of UC Surface, those “aux Inputs” will not require any click or virtual button push to access. If you scroll to the left in the fader bank, these inputs are going to appears after input channel 32. Much easier.

And it point to a major advantage of this kind of all virtual/no physical approach to a control surface. On the most expensive physical surface you can think of, there will always be lint’s to how much can change in a software update. Because you have physical knobs and button and faders. When it is 100% virtual as (UC Surface is and Bob Lentini’s SAC system was when I first got my hands on it and and my ten-year search for a system like this that worked and that i could afford first began), making a change like adding to the faders available on the main view is just a software update. It opens up a whole new universe of options.

As mixing becomes as much about software as hardware, the interface is as important as the placement of controls on an analog desk and the interface of UC Surface is as straightforward as it gets. And this is key… There is virtually no difference in the interface as you move between platforms. I did the gigs for the review on a provided Windows 8 Sony touchscreen desktop computer and have also used it via FireWire on my macBook Pro and wirelessly with an iPad. The only difference in the interface is that on the iPad, the smaller screen means that you can’t see the gates and comps and EQ on the selected channel all at once. There is a sort of A/B switch that goes between comps and gates in one position and EQ in the other position.

The key to the ease of use is a concept that PreSonus has used since the very first version of the StudioLive console came out. The Fat Channel. On a console, it means that the controls for comps, gates and EQ are always present and the only thing that changes is changing which input channel is “addressing” the Fat Channel. This approach remains on the virtual version in UC Surface.

The gigs? Easiest ones i have done in a long time. And on the very first one, we booked five more at the same venue. And—this has never happened to me before—the manager who books the venue specifically noted the sound quality of the system when she gave us a list of dates from which to choose. BTW, we were using the RM16 AI that was sent for the review with the Windows touch screen and using that to drive PreSonus 328AI top boxes over a single PreSonus powered 18” sub.

So what’s not to like? I had a couple of minor things. As mentioned previously, I wish the presets on the vocal channels had gate setting that were less harsh. And while the wireless works great once you get it setup and everything talking, getting it to that point was way harder than I would have liked. And given that the wireless control is a big deal for a system like this, It really does need to either be easier or the documentation for making it work needs to be more obvious.

And i want to address an issue about the StudioLive stuff that i have heard from a number of audio dudes and dudettes. Let’s talk about effects.

Yes, other systems include effects that the StudioLive stuff does not. On all of the StudioLive mixers—the RM series included—you get four internal sends and returns that are by default ganged into a pair of stereo effects. The available effects include some really nice sounding reverbs and basic delay. And that’s it. No modulation or other time-based effects and no distortion or wacky filter effects.

On the consoles, I understand the complaint. While i am just fine with basic reverb and delay on 95% of the gigs i do, I know some people want things like, oh, maybe a bit of a chorus effect on a backing vocal. I get it. And on the consoles the answer—FireWire out to a computer and then plug-ins via the included Studio One DAW or a Waves Rack—was a pain. But on the RM series It’s a moot point. You need a computer to run it. So you have one. So the extra gear is zero. And let’s be real here. No one’s on board effects are as good as what you can get from companies that specialize in them. I have never heard an onboard anything that sounded better—or usually even as good—as the equivalent made by Waves. And if you use StudioOne which is included with an RM series mix system, then there is not even an additional cost. For me it is a steak versus sizzle thing. Good EQ and comps and reverb and delay. That’s steak. That’s what I need. Modulation and distortion effects? Need em for my guitar maybe but in the PA for a good solid mix? They are sizzle, not steak. If you make a decision based on effects over basic mix elements and interface, then you are buying sizzle and even a crappy steak can sizzle pretty good, if you know what i mean.

If I want sizzle, I prefer this… The QMix app for iOS devices allows me to assign a specific Aux mix to a specific iOS device and holder of said iOS device can tweak their own “more me” monitor mix right from their phone That is some sizzle i can get behind.

My mixing needs are not the same as a rental company. I don’t need to keep anyone happy except myself. And for me, compact, easy to use, great sound, intuitive interface and good, solid sound quality is everything I need.