Best Digital PA Systems

Digital PA systems are rapidly changing as technology continues to develop more powerful, compact, and faster computer systems. That means there’s a lot to think about when purchasing a digital mixer. However, if you’re looking to dramatically increase your capabilities as a live sound engineer, digital PA systems will enable you to make mixes you couldn’t dream of executing on similarly sized analog consoles.

Digital User Interfaces: A personal choice

Flexible routing, instant recall of sessions, and expanded mixing capabilities are some of the most typical advantages of digital over analog PA systems. However, where most digital consoles differ is in their interface. While there is no one interface that fits everyone’s workflow, there is enough variety in the market to cater toward any audio engineer’s preferences.

Digital mixer interfaces can get pretty complex, so expect some degree of a learning curve. As such, it’s important to test-drive a digital mixer to see if it complements your workflow before making a final purchase. While you’re trying out digital mixing consoles, keep the following in mind:

What to Consider Before Buying

  • What style of mixing interface is best suited to your needs?
  • How many inputs and outputs will you need?
  • Do you want the mixer to connect to a digital stagebox, and if so what type of connection will you need for the stagebox (e.g. Dante, dSNAKE, or another protocol)?
  • What kind of wireless and/or wired connectivity do you need? For instance, would you like to control the mixer with your iPad, your PC, or both?
  • Will you need to setup the PA so that volunteers, assistants, or others with less experience can utilize the system with minimal guidance?

Depending on your answers to the above questions, one or more of the following five extraordinarily powerful digital mixing consoles will suite your needs.

Soundcraft Si Impact

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Soundcraft Si Impact

Overview

Starting at $1,949.99

Soundcraft has painted some innovative new colors onto the digital mixer paradigm with their astonishingly affordable Si Impact digital mixing console. Using FaderGlow technology, the console has customizable color-coded faders to help any engineer seamlessly navigate complex mix arrangements and routing. Four hardware-based Lexicon effects processors and built-in genuine DBX dynamics processing on each of the 32 input channels means that you’ll also get fantastic sounds with little effort.

Pros
  • 32 XLR inputs
  • 16 XLR outputs
  • DBX dynamics processing on each input channel
  • 4 hardware-based Lexicon effects processors
  • 8 VCA (voltage-controlled amplifier) groups
  • 20 aux buses
  • 4 fully customizable fader layers with FaderGlow technology to color-code different layers and channels
  • Cat 5 connection for stageboxes
  • Expansion card slot to interface via MADI, CobraNet, Aviom A-Net, AES/EBU, BLU link, RockNet, and Dante
Cons
  • 5” color touchscreen (2” smaller than all other units)
  • Only 8 ¼” inputs
  • Can’t be used as a DAW controller
  • Wireless control only with iPad

Behringer X32

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Behringer X32

Overview

Starting at $1999.94

Originally released in 2010, the Behringer X32 was the pioneer of affordable digital mixers. It’s easy to see why with features like DAW remote control via USB, 8 stereo effects processors including Lexicon and EMT simulators, and wireless connectivity for iPhone and iPad. The X32’s intuitive user interface combined with its extensive mixing power allows you to focus on making your mixes shine. Plus, at this price point you’ll have some cash leftover for new speakers.

Pros
  • 32 XLR inputs
  • 16 XLR outputs
  • AES50 connection for stageboxes
  • P-16 personal monitoring connectivity
  • DAW remote control
  • iPad, iPhone and computer remote control connectivity through the X32 App
  • MIDI I/O
  • Midas-designed mic preamps
  • 16 mix buses and 6 matrix buses
  • Expansion port for audio interface cards
  • 3-year warranty
Cons
  • Other than 6 aux inputs and outputs, there are no ¼” connections
  • No wireless control over personal monitoring systems

Allen & Heath Qu 32

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Overview

Starting at $2,999

Allen & Heath specialize in making mixing consoles. This focus has led to the exceptional build quality and design of their Qu 32 digital mixer. The Qu 32 offers lightning-fast processing speeds, ample inputs and outputs, and user-friendly fader controls. Automatic Mic Mixer technology helps balance up to 16 mic inputs when an experienced engineer isn’t around. Furthermore, once the mixer has been setup, an iOS app with simplistic controls allows beginning users to successfully navigate the system. This makes the Qu 32 a great choice for scenarios where a volunteer or assistant needs to run the board after it has been setup.

Pros
  • 32 XLR/¼” inputs
  • 24 XLR outputs
  • 33 motorized faders
  • 4 stereo effects processors
  • 4 DCA (digital-controlled amplifier) groups
  • Capacity for 11 monitor mixes
  • Onboard memory to save up to 100 scenes for instant recall
  • dSNAKE stagebox connectivity
  • DAW controller via MIDI
  • Compatible with ME personal monitoring system
  • Computer control of mixer via Ethernet
  • Automatic Mic Mixer technology can balance up to 16 mic inputs
  • Built-in 18 channel USB recorder
Cons
  • Wireless remote control of console only on iPad
  • Android compatibility only for control of personal monitoring system

PreSonus StudioLive 32 Series III

Overview

Starting at $2,999.95 (not available on Amazon yet)

The PreSonus StudioLive series was originally designed with the intention of closely resembling analog mixers to reduce the learning curve of migrating from analog to digital consoles. With the recent release of the PreSonus StudioLive 32 Series III digital mixing console, PreSonus has solved the shortcomings of their earlier models while maintaining their intuitive interface. The addition of cutting-edge vintage compressor and EQ emulations on all channels adds the perfect analog vibe to polish your digital mixes.

Pros
  • 32 XLR inputs (16 of which are XLR/¼” combo inputs)
  • 3 main XLR outputs and 12 additional XLR outputs
  • 4 effects buses
  • Vintage compressor and EQ emulations on all channels
  • 55 channel AVB (Audio Video Bridging) Ethernet Interface
  • 33 motorized faders
  • 24 DCA groups for submixing
  • Wireless remote control for Apple iOS devices which can be used by musicians to tweak their own monitor mixes
  • Built-in SD card recorder
Cons
  • Insert effects limited to no more than 4 channels
  • No Android connectivity

Yamaha TF5

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Overview

Starting at $3,599.99

The Yamaha TF5 digital mixing console was designed for users who want to get great sounding mixes with minimal effort. This means it’s great for both entry-level and advanced users. An onboard library of top-notch effects presets streamlines your workflow and gives you usable starting points for almost any sound source while GainFinder technology helps you set the ideal gain for all your inputs. One-knob EQ and compression allows you to easily tweak the severity of your effects. Combined, these features create a unique digital mixer that takes the stress out of live mixing.

Pros
  • 32 XLR/¼” combo inputs
  • 16 XLR outputs
  • 1-knob compression and EQ
  • Extensive effect preset library
  • 20 aux buses
  • 8 DCA groups
  • 8 effects processors
  • 1 expansion slot for Dante connectivity
  • Compatible with Tio1608-D stageboxes
  • Onboard memory to save up to 200 scenes
  • Wireless control of console using iPad
  • Wireless personal monitor mixing via iOS
  • GainFinder for easy gain setup
  • Computer control via Ethernet (PC or Mac)
  • Footswitch input for effects
Cons
  • Wireless console operation for iPad only
  • Expensive for a 32-input console