Audio interfaces are the heart of every producer's studio. It's the gateway from the real world into the digital realm, and vice versa. They come in tons of different variations, and there is one for every producer's setup. If like me, you've outgrown the standard desktop 2-4 in/out style that so many other artists have, and are in need of something to accommodate your growing synth collection, there are still countless options for you to choose from. Do you go for a rack-mounted interface? A live mixer? A live mixer with a soundcard? What about price and user interface? What about space? As you can see, there are many questions one must ask themselves. There isn't really a wrong answer so much as there is the right answer for you. I came across a worthy solution in the form of PreSonus's StudioLive series. They come in two formats, aren't ridiculously expensive, and are versatile in their applications. In this review, we'll be taking a look at the rackmount version of their StudioLive 16, the 16R in a studio environment.
What is it?
As mentioned, the StudioLive series comes in two formats, a full-sized mixer, and a scaled-down rack version. Where the full-sized has motorized faders, screen, and overall tactile experience, the R version forgoes all of that for a compact input-output only style with all the rest of the controls accessible via the desktop software. While they might look totally different, there are some carryover features. The R series comes in 16, 24, and 32 inputs.
While the full-sized series might be a more enjoyable and immediate experience, the R series is more than capable of handling whatever you throw at it. The 16R can be used as either a mixer or stage box, meaning you can use it in a live setting and control it via a network connection. If you should find yourself in need of more inputs, you can also use this connection to daisy-chain multiple units together to increase your amount of ins. Both also feature an on-board SD card port that allows you to record standalone performances right to a card, which makes both variations portable recording solutions, but perhaps the R series even more so. You can also control the 16R via the iOs app.
The 16R also comes with PreSonus's plugin suite that features Fat Channel classic modeled preamps, EQs, compressors and more, all running on DSP. This is included with the R series and would cost you $499 if purchased alone. For a full list of features, click here.
What do I think?
When I started collecting synths, I quickly realized that I was going to need a better solution to record everything than using my Xone 92 as a line mixer. While that worked, I only had 4 inputs and had to either record everything individually or as stereo out. Being in the music tech industry, I was nearly overwhelmed with all the different options. A full-sized mixer would be awesome, but space was limited. I also didn't have a rack at that time, but it just so happened that I was sent the On-Stage Stands Rack Cabinet, and thus, it was time to step up my hardware game.
Taking the questions I proposed earlier into consideration, what I was personally looking for was something with as many inputs as possible, that wouldn't break the bank. I don't record many vocals, so mic pre-amps weren't a necessity. Like many of its competitors, the 16R has the ability to switch between line and mic inputs, which is perfect for my needs. Although I haven't taken advantage of it yet, one of the biggest selling points for me on the 16R was the ability to record directly to an SD card should I take it on the road, which at some point I'll do. Whether that's recording a live performance on stage, or in some desolate cabin in the woods, I won't have to worry about not being able to capture my ideas in full. Granted, it won't be the most minimalist setup, but it will work flawlessly. As far as the hardware goes, it's a very straightforward design, which is something I look for when reviewing things. Software-wise, it's a bit of a different story.
The 16R comes with PreSonus's UniversalControl app, which is used to control your interface since there are no external controls. It took me quite a while to understand how to use it, with the biggest issue being that I couldn't get any sound out of it. Once you learn your way around, it's fine - at least for the most part. The manual doesn't do a great job of explaining how to best route your audio, which can cause a headache. After I did figure it out, I pretty much just left it, and have only had one issue since, which was that for some reason, there wasn't any audio coming out of my monitors, but there is out of my headphone out. It caused me to lose an entire day of work trying to figure it out. While that sounds awful, it's only happened once, and I'm under the impression it's more user-error than not. I should probably set aside my pride and contact support if it happens again...
I've not used any of the Fat Channel DSP effects, but when I record any vocals on it, I have found the EQ, compressor, and gate to be quite good. I'm a bit weird in that I like to have as clean and raw of a sound as possible when recording my synths, then processing later, which you can still do on the 16R, adding even more flexibility and options to your recording process. For me personally, I try to keep things as simple as possible, so getting deep on DSP effects and such isn't something I'm super interested in. Maybe in the future, I'll be more open to it, but for now, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Overall, my experience with the 16R has been great. For now, it does exactly what I need, and does it well. If I need to expand, I can simply add another unit and double my setup with ease. There are some drawbacks to not having any external controls, such as a tactile experience and having to deal with software, but the portability, size, and flexibility outweigh those factors for me. Although it's not the cheapest option out there, and UniversalControl could be a bit more userfriendly, or perhaps the manual could be more in-depth, but in the end, the PreSonus 16R is a great interface that's worth your consideration.