Is the Behringer Xr 18 a good thing

Behringer X Air XR18 review

18-channel digital mixer

Faderless and powerful

Behringer's X Air XR18 digital mixer is making use of a current trend: wireless remote control via tablet computer. And if a console is commanded in this way, the faders, rotary encoders and buttons on the console are more or less idle. So why not reduce the hardware to the bare minimum and relocate all control elements to the virtual level behind the glass pane of the iPad?

This is exactly what the X Air XR18 does. And admittedly, the thought of it has something! Why lug a more or less large mixer with you to the gig when the iPad is ubiquitous anyway, be it as a teleprompter for texts and notes or also for playing click tracks. The virtual operation of the mixer should be easy to handle, at least when the PA and monitors are mixed on stage.

Professional FOH and monitor jobs, on the other hand, are rather problematic with purely virtual user interfaces. In order to be able to react quickly and reliably, the mixer needs faders to be touched and the most important functions must be on real operating elements that react in real time. Nevertheless, tablet remote controls are also welcome guests on large professional stages, as the monitor can go to his musicians during the sound check and listen in and readjust directly in front of the monitor boxes. A measure that creates trust!

Details

Mechanical

Coming straight out of the box, the Behringer X Air XR18 turns out to be a rather inconspicuous slide-in unit that can be made 19-inch wide with the help of two included adapters. The front panel of the metal housing is densely populated with sockets, while the connection for the power cable, the main switch and ventilation slots are located on the sides. Its round shape suggests a small fan on the right, but this is not the case. Rather, the XR18 works completely convection-cooled and therefore silently, but produces plenty of waste heat, the case is significantly warmer than lukewarm. Therefore, when mounting the rack, make sure that there is some distance to neighboring devices, and there should be no heat build-up in the case.

If the device is not operated in the rack, but simply placed there, two circumferential bumpers made of rubber-like plastic ensure stability. Two metal brackets on the front act as handles. The most eye-catching accessory is the rotatable and swiveling WLAN antenna. So that the antenna is not damaged during transport, there is a bracket support that securely fixes the antenna.

But the XR18 can not only be integrated into a network via the integrated WLAN: An Ethernet socket marked "Remote" allows the connection of a router, the small slide switch next to it decides whether the XR18 will work as a client or its own with the internal WLAN Network, i.e. to build an independent access point. Mixing is possible via MIDI using a hardware controller such as the Behringer X-Touch, while the USB port allows a computer to be docked and provides extensive recording options after installing the drivers from the Behringer homepage. Last but not least, Behringer's own network protocol should not be missing: The Ultranet socket connects the XR18 with the Personal Monitor System from the same company. Musicians can use small mixing consoles (P16-M) connected via a network ring to access the aux paths of the XR18 so that they can put together their own monitor mixes.

The Behringer XR18 hardware.

The analog signals reach the interior via 16 XLR / jack combination sockets. Channels 17 and 18 combined as stereo “Aux In” only have jack sockets. In the row below there is space for the analog XLR outputs of the six aux paths and the L / R sum. Behringer has installed these sockets turned upside down by 180 degrees so that the unlocking of the plugs can be easily reached and easily switched when the input patch panel is fully occupied. Good idea! A headphone connection and volume control are also accessible on the front panel.

install a software

In order to put the Behringer X Air XR18 digital mixer into operation, the appropriate, free remote software must first be installed: X Air Edit is available for the Windows, Mac OSX and Linux operating systems. Tablets are supported on Android and iOS. The rest is simple: slide switch to access point, start mixer, reset as a precaution, and the network of the XR18 appears on the remote device. Now start the software - done!

The main window of the XR18 app

The app The first thing that strikes me is the extremely well thought-out and easy-to-understand structure of the Behringer app. I installed it on my iPad. So I courageously decide to take the XR18 with me to the upcoming gig the next evening. A jazz quartet wants to be catered for on a small scale in front of around 150 people. This is not an overly stressful task and is ideally suited to scrutinizing the test candidate.

As everyone knows, good preparation is half the battle, so I try to set up the XR18 in advance as much as possible. In order to label the channels, after a short search I find the “Scribble Strip”, which enables the naming of all channels, aux and effects busses. The whole thing can be saved in the show menu as a single scene or snapshot or as a superordinate show.

Nine channel strips are always visible in the main window of the app. If I want to reach the remaining channels including the four effect returns, I scroll to the left. Each channel has a mute button for muting, as well as a large fader that reacts easily and without delay when you run your finger over it. The level meters on the right work accurately and follow the signals with almost no delay. The channel is selected by tapping the fader or the area above, so that the control elements appear in the form of a horizontal, scrollable channel strip.

First I see the preamplifier with gain control, button for 48-volt phantom power and phase reverse switch. Using the link button, the channel can be connected to its neighbor to form a stereo pair. In addition to the analog input signal, the corresponding return channel of the USB interface can alternatively be made audible. There is a toggle switch and a trim control for adjusting the levels. A low cut, which can be tuned from 20 to 400 Hertz, removes low-frequency impact noise and can also be used for targeted thinning of the bass range.

The aux send controls in the channel strip for the six aux buses and four effects paths.

If I scroll the channel strip one further to the left, the send controls for the six aux buses and the four internal effects paths appear. Alternatively, the aux levels can also be leveled with the main faders (sends on fader) by calling up the bus or effects loop in the leftmost column.

Switching to the routing menu reveals a wide range of options: First of all, each XLR output can output any signal as an alternative to the six aux buses, regardless of whether it is a channel, effect return or USB input. The signal taps can also be moved individually within the channel strips: directly behind the input, pre-fader with or without EQ (for monitoring purposes) or just behind the channel faders (post-fader). You can also define for each tap whether the mute button affects the aux bus or not. Individual pre / post switching per channel is not possible with the current status of the software. If I fade back to the main level, the overview shows the aux mix as a yellow bar. Unfortunately there is no color differentiation between pre / post switched routes. This would further improve the clarity.

Effectively

Next is the dynamics section in the form of a noise gate. Threshold, attack, hold and release are adjustable. There is also a range control that determines whether the gate completely closes the signal path or just makes it a little quieter. The three alternative expander characteristics serve the same purpose, and as a fifth option, the gate section works as a ducker. Any other channel or mix bus can be used as a control signal; a key filter works out the frequency range relevant for triggering better if necessary.

In the following compressor, the range of functions is similarly generous. All relevant parameters are available and, as a special feature, there is even parallel compression on board. The uncompressed signal can be continuously mixed with the compressed signal using the dry / wet control. If you like it simpler, you can reduce the gate and compressor to a simple threshold control.

The XR18 also comes with a fully parametric four-band equalizer. Each +/- 15 dB gain is possible, the filter quality varies continuously between 0.3 and 10. Optionally, all filters also work as high-pass filters or shelving. As a bonus, the EQ has an analyzer (RTA) that uses 100 bands to provide information about the frequency mix of the signal. A useful tool that you won't want to be without again soon.

Compressor section with dry / wet fader for parallel compression.

The following insert point brings the XR18's virtual effects rack into play, which has four slots. They can be used either stereophonic or double mono. The control takes place via the four aux send controls, i.e. branching with later parallel mixing. At the same time, these effects can be integrated serially via the insert points. Only the toggle switches in the Effects menu decide on their position. In other words: If an effect is used serially, it is no longer available for the aux send controls and vice versa. Behringer offers 61 plug-ins to choose from, ranging from reverb and delay to modulation effects, graphic equalizers, exciters and transient designers. The quality is good to very good across the board and optical similarities with some legendary studio reverb devices and compressors are intentional.

The six aux buses and the main sum also have compressors and fully parametric four-band equalizers, which are transformed into graphical 31 bands at the push of a button, including an analyzer. It is not possible to delay channels and buses individually, for example to adjust the time of the PA loudspeakers located further back in the room or to move the main PA a few meters backwards to the level of the bass drum and the instrument backline. This is perhaps a bit too much to ask for a “musician's desk”, but it would definitely be “nice to have”. The technical resources for this are undoubtedly available.