About a year ago, I was in the market for an inexpensive digital mixer. Behringer pretty much OWNS this end of the market. I decided to take the plunge and buy one. I’ve been using it for about a year. Question being: Does a lower-end Behringer digital mixer do the job effectively? Answer: Yes, in about 95% of the ways one would want, and the minor issues can be dealt with.
The XR18 has 16 actual XR inputs with preamps, and 8 outputs, of which 2 are designated as “main” outputs and treated specially in the software. You need a tablet to control it; I ended up using a Lenovo Yoga Tab 3, due to its reasonable used price, large battery for an inexpensive tablet, and reasonably nice screen. You can use any iPad or Android tablet you like. iPhones and Android phones can be used for individual musicians to control their mixes, but I’d avoid using a phone for the main mixer view even if you can get it working, you need screen real estate to be effective under pressure with that.
Mitigating Wi-Fi issues
One of the issues with all the Behringer digital mixers is that the internal Wi-Fi access point doesn’t deal well with interference. This can strand you without access to it if you’re in a busy Wi-Fi area during a show. You can mitigate this in a few ways:
- Get an inexpensive Wi-Fi access point and plug it into the Ethernet port. Get one with at least two LAN ports. You won’t be using the WAN port unless you really want Internet access from the Wi-Fi access point.
- Plug a laptop into one of the WAN ports of the Wi-Fi access point. You’ll always have wired access through the Windows, Linux, or Mac OS mixer app.
- Set the Wi-Fi access point to have its own SSID, and make sure your tablet stays attached to that SSID. Don’t access the Internet at all from your mixer’s internal Wi-Fi network if you can help it. If you have a laptop with both Ethernet and Wi-Fi hooked up to the access point, use the laptop. You can lift this rule temporarily if you need to update firmware or do other actions that require Internet access.
I’ve found that the XR18 is very effective for live shows and for multitrack recordings. The preamps are not identical to those in the higher end Midas unit (looks identical, better preamps) but they are sufficient for most purposes.
I’ve found that I can routinely run 16 channels into my rack mount computer (Yak Slack Rack) over USB 2.0 without any dropouts, at 128 sample latency. Your mileage may vary.
I’ve found shows easy to run on this mixer; even without lots of digital mixer experience I’m able to get a show of about 8 inputs running quickly and effectively, and am able to save settings for later use. I’ve never been stranded without Wi-Fi tablet access when using an additional external Wi-Fi access point (as mentioned above).
If you want better preamps, get the Midas MR18 instead. Almost identical, but with better software and preamps.
If you’re looking for slightly more channels without breaking the bank, go for the Soundcraft Ui24R. Costs about $500 more, but has 20 XLR inputs with preamps, and 2 more line inputs.
If you want 32 inputs, you can try the Behringer X32 Rack, and add a Behringer S16 input box. But that’ll cost you about $1K for the rackmount mixer (with 16 inputs), and another $700 or so for the input box.