Studio Pro-Audio

Allen & Heath Qu-16 review

Sat, 31 Aug 2013 10:40

Allen & Heath Qu-16 digital console

Following the success of their GLD range, Allen & Heath once again brings a versatility and power together into a compact package with the Qu-16, their latest digital console offering. But this little beast is so much more than merely a mixer. It boasts a fantastic array of features across multiple applications, sealed up nicely into a slick, modern package.

Allen & Heath, the British audio company famous for their warm sounding analogue consoles and fantastic EQs, have evolved like any front leading audio equipment manufacturer, starting with the custom MOD1 quadraphonic console built for Pink Floyd in the early 1970s, and culminating in their flagship iLive digital console series today.

Their name can also be found on a number of studio mixer/audio interfaces in the ZED range and their GS-R24M is an innovative mix of a high quality analogue console, a Firewire audio interface and a DAW control surface. Given this wide range of digital and analogue technologies A&H has under its belt, it is no wonder that the Qu-16 was born, filling the gap between the GLD-80 and ZED ranges and bringing their technologies together.


Allen & Heath describes the Qu-16 as a: ’rack mountable digital mixer for live, studio and installation’. The goal here was obviously compact versatility. Basically, to cut to the chase, the Qu-16 is three things: a digital mixer, an audio interface, and a DAW controller. But it doesn’t end there. It has a few more tricks up its sleeve that we’ll talk about shortly. First, the main I/O features.

The Qu-16 has got 16 local mono inputs (mic/line, XLR and TRS), a dedicated talkback input, three stereo inputs (TRS), four stereo FX returns, 16 busses, 12 mix outputs (LR, Mono, Mix 1-4, Stereo Mix 1 – 3), four stereo FX engines, an Alt out, a 2TRK out, and one AES3 digital output. The Alt, AES3 and 2TRK outputs can be individually assigned in the mixer routing facility to be fed from a variety of sources. Considering its size, this is already impressive. Also, there is a dSNAKE remote audio port for connecting to A&H’s GLD-AR2412 or GLD-AR84 remote stage boxes and a network port for connecting to a computer for MIDI over TCP/IP control or to a wireless router for live mixing control via the Qu-Pad app. I’m told that when using the 24-channel GLD-AR2412 only the first 16 inputs are available. Each input channel is driven by A&H’s recallable AnaLOGIQ preamps. This means that you get total recall with every scene change without having to physically adjust each preamp again. Of course, you can’t have total recall without motorised faders and the Qu-16 is no exception. Every fader moves.

As mentioned, the Qu-16 is also a multi-track audio interface. A USB port on the rear of the console enables users to connect to their Mac for instant, 24x22 Core Audio-compliant multi-track recording. This disappointed me a little bit; however, as this means that it does not work with a Windows PC. Hopefully A&H will decide to add PC drivers in future updates. In any case, using the Qu-Drive direct multi-track recording feature, it is possible to record and playback multi-track audio directly from USB drives plugged into the console. Nice!

The usual suspects that one would expect to get on any digital mixer are all there. There’s trim, polarity, HPF, gate, insert, 4-band PEQ, compressor and delay for all inputs; inserts, 1/3 octave GEQ, compressor and delay on the main LR and mono mix outputs; and inserts, 4-band PEQ, compressor and delay on stereo mix outputs.

There are four stereo iLive FX engines as well, and along with the built-in signal generator and RTA with peak band indication, you’ll never need to lug an external rack again. Rack? What’s that? Additionally, all features are nicely indicated and navigable in the 800x480 full colour touchscreen display.

Still, there’s more. The Qu-16, as mentioned, is a DAW controller. When connected as a USB audio interface, control data will be streamed concurrently to and from your DAW. All that is required is to assign it in your DAW. What protocol this data is carried by, exactly, is not clear from the A&H documentation.

Now, there’s one thing to know about the Qu-16 in terms of its firmware. V1.0 does not support the following features:

USB key transfer of scenes and mixer setup user assignable custom layer

Qu-Pad wireless remote app for iPad

dSNAKE port for remote audio connection

Compatible with ME personal mixing system

User permissions to restrict operator access

Apparently these features will be added to the V2.0 firmware in the summer of 2013.

In use Unpacking the Qu-16 from its box I was immediately impressed by its sleek construction. It looks somewhat similar to a serifed ‘L’ on its side, which brings a very modern twist to the whole package. This makes the enclosure very thin and lightweight, which of course belies the true power of this little mixer. First thing I did was put it next to my home studio setup, plug in the USB cable to the Mac, plug my studio monitors into the Alt outs, and turn it on. Sure enough, it was instantly recognised by the Audio and Midi Setup dialogue of OS X. Since I only had a couple of days with the Qu-16 and didn’t really have a gig to use it on at that point in time, I decided to take the route of using it as an audio interface and feed it some audio from the computer to get a feel for its facilities and processing. I must admit it took me a little while to understand how to assign the incoming audio streams from the computer as, of course, I didn’t read the manual first and kind of just took an approach of happenstance discovery. Turns out the USB functionality has to be switched from Qu-Drive to USB-B Streaming in the USB setup dialogue and the USB button in the preamp section of each channel turned on. Once all was assigned properly I was getting clear audio on every and any channel from the computer. I then chose to feed an un-mastered mix of previous material I had recorded to get a feel for the on-board processing. I enabled all the FX channels and fed the audio into the first stereo input channel in order to link the stereo processing I was about to apply. First thing I did was play around with the EQ and compression. I found the EQ was typically smooth, which is to be expected of Allen & Heath. Boosts and cuts sounded great and even at extreme settings, there was minimal phase shift and brittleness. I found the compressor to be very effective and it fattened things up nicely. This particular mix was a live mix directly off of the stereo bus of a console so it had a lot of snare and lacked bass. Setting the compressor to a fast attack with a medium release quelled the snare a bit and caused the bass to step forward a little due to the decreased dynamic range. I then turned my attention to the FX engines to see if I could add a bit of space to the otherwise dry and tightly focussed recording. I set the first FX engine to an EMT plate reverb and, to my ears, it was just luscious. It really gave the mix the space it was lacking and I was sold. What I liked about the FX is that the graphic representation of the processor changes through the categories to look ‘retro’, for want of a better word. To me this just makes the process a bit more pleasant than looking at a sterile GUI. The wrap I had a chance to check out the Qu-16 at Prolight and Sound 2013 in Frankfurt and was instantly impressed by its features. I found it easy to navigate and a joy to mix on, which added to its allure. Being such a small footprint mixer it’s actually quite amazing how many features they’ve been able to pack in and personally I can’t think of any other product in its class that can accomplish the same things, never mind with equal precision, but even at all! Well done, A&H, you’ve hit this one out of the park.