Monday, September 13, 2010

Presonus StudioLive Review - Part 3: Negatives & Conclusion

Everything in audio is a tradeoff. Every design decision is a compromise between cost, quality, size, efficiency, user preferences... and countless other priorities. So there are a lot of things I could complain about with StudioLive. In many ways I think my concerns belie my desire for a higher end console. However, my business just wouldn't support the cost of such a device. Let me reiterate that the StudioLive is not one of those higher end boards. It was not intended to be and we should not expect it to be. My purpose here is to try and understand what the tradeoffs are. 

The biggest issue I have with the console while using it is general navigation of features. I've found that I can fumble around for quite a while trying to figure out how to route signals to the headphone output. Also, depending on what mixing mode I'm in I can have a difficult time figuring out how to make quick EQ changes. More concerning is the fact that I've often found myself editing EQ or dynamics on the wrong channel, or editing settings which are turned off. I think channel EQs should be ON by default, but they are not. To address this I've set up scenes where everything is routed and activated the way I want it. As part of my system test process before a gig I call up the right "startup" scene and make sure everything is working right.

Another navigational issue I have is how the Fat Channel controls are laid out. I would like to see some separation between the dynamics and EQ sections. I would also like to see the EQ laid out more vertically. I am visually impaired and I cannot always rely on being able to read the silkscreen labels to see what settings I'm changing. I think this is one of the tradeoffs. I suspect it's cheaper to manufacture the board with the Fat Channel knobs lined up above the faders. This allows those knobs to be used for multiple purposes and streamlines production. But, in my opinion, it makes the user interface a bit clunky at times. I may start using the control software to make more of these changes. Speaking of the Universal Control software, I've found it to be overall a useful tool for working with the console. But it forces some unnecessary clicking around and scrolling to get where you want to go. This is something that has not been available for very long and I expect improvements to be made to it. 

It's worth noting that many of the user interface issues I have with the console are likely due to the fact that it only gets occasional use. If I was using it daily or weekly I'd probably get more accustomed to it. Compared to some of the early digital console models usability is a big step up on this board. But it's not something I feel like I could just rent out and feel like an uninitiated sound engineer could use without issue.

I've had a few odd firewire connectivity issues with the console. I had originally written that the console needed to be powered down when connecting firewire, but it turns out that is not always the case. I did a couple of "on the fly" connections and reconnections in testing last night and it worked flawlessly. But when the pressure is on it hasn't always worked so flawlessly. I've never had issues once connectivity was established, but I've occasionally had issues establishing connectivity. It's almost always been right before a show and the fix has been to power down the console and reboot it, or, in a couple of cases, to yank the firewire cable and run the show without the computer. I'm now in the habit of carefully establishing connectivity first thing when the mixer is powered up. I did have a power failure once mid show and had to do a portion of it without the computer. But the console restarted quickly and continued to run without issue.

There are some other limitations of the StudioLive. One is the lack of an external or redundant power supply. Another is the limited digital connectivity options. I would like to be able to use digital snakes or audio distribution networks, but that option is not available without going through the firewire interface somehow. The delay and reverb effects require some TLC to sound good, but they are usable I also wish there were more options than simply reverb and delay.

Lastly, I am beginning to question the notion of doing simultaneous live mixing and recording with the same equipment. I've done it and proven that it can be done, but I usually find I want different input levels for recording and for live mixing. If I switch to using the target gain method for mixing then the input levels will probably be too low for recording purposes. It would be nice to send the recording feeds post-fader, but on a separate board so they can be managed appropriately.

Perhaps you can see again that many of my concerns about the StudioLive are simply pointing me to higher end gear. In the end it has found a comfortable home in my rig and has been used for everything from a small club music festival to a homeschool convention and graduation to an intimate acoustic show with a national touring act. I expect it to be part of my work for some time to come. For me it has provided greatly increased functionality for the price when compared to most analog options available and increased usability for the price when compared to many digital options available. As long as one understands its limitations I don't have any problem recommending it for professional use.


  1. Thanks for the honest and objective review! I notiice you have Logic and wonder if you have tried using MainStage with the Presonus for instrument effects for a live show?

  2. Hi Bob, I have not used it with MainStage, but I would be interested in that kind of setup. I'm actually using Logic Express so I don't have MainStage. I do intend to upgrade at some point.

    I did set up the StudioLive with Logic as a makeshift delay. It seemed to work fine in the shop, but I never got to test it in a real setting because I ran out of speaker cable and wasn't able to implement it.

    Thanks for reading.

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