Portable mixers often get a bad rap. They tend to be thought of as a quick setup system, to just get by with poor sound quality, but hey, it "gets the job done." Even in my own mind, they tend to never occur to be a permanent or long-term solution.
As loose as the installation was, it allowed them to be extremely self contained, more consistent, and did not require them to need a full sound check every time they performed.
What happens, though, when they are? What happens when a touring band needs a low cost, easily portable system that they could use on fly dates, church shows, or festivals?
Talking with Mark Anderson of Nashville, Tennessee, he almost had the same sentiment about setting up a portable system for the nationally touring Christian group, Sanctus Real. Anderson began working for Sanctus in 2010, and was the production manager and FOH engineer for Sanctus Real from 2013-2015.
During his tenure, Anderson was tasked with setting up a new system for the band to take out on dates that would fill a variety of needs for the group. To my surprise, he landed on a Behringer X32 Producer for Front of House (FOH) and the X32 Rack for monitors, combined with a Behringer digital snake S16 for IO.
In my own history, I have used a very similar combination of gear for some smaller festivals and church gigs. I have also always heard of groups using a setup like this regularly on tour, but I didn't expect Sanctus Real to be using this setup. In my mind, Sanctus is this huge group that I always heard on the radio, performing songs such as "Lead Me" or "Forgiven," well before I ever thought about moving to Nashville.
I think myself and others often see these groups using nothing less than top of the line production gear, but especially in the Christian music industry, that might not always be the case.
In our conversation, I found his choice of the X32 family to be fascinating for many reasons, but there were many factors from his perspective that went into his decision. The biggest concern was cost. When looking at available options, Anderson spoke about the product pretty favorably, when he said, "You are pretty limited on inputs and outputs, but it's pretty powerful for the price." For between $3,000 to $4,000, the band could procure the Producer, Rack, and S16.
As for functionality, the Rack was designed to serve as the master control and head amp for the system. The audio was digitally spit to the Producer for FOH. For monitors, the band was using a wireless in ear system, and used the iPhone app to control their mixes.
Another major concern was the flexibility of the system. Back in the beginning, there was not money for a beautiful custom designed rack solution, and in the joking words of Anderson, the system was "kinda ghetto."
However, as loose as the installation was, it allowed them to be extremely self contained, more consistent, and did not require them to need a full sound check every time they performed.
When it came to moving the system around, it was obviously easy to do so, and it also took up a small footprint in the trailer. When it came to fly dates, though, it got a little more interesting. The group was able to move things around and fly with the Rack and or Producer in a Pelican case. Basically, they could put their portable mixers in a fly case and easily fly it to their next gig. In a world where consistency is everything, this is huge for them. This was necessary for them when they would go into a church where maybe they didn't have much negotiating power, or were not sure what type of setup they would be walking into.
While it is becoming more common now, I asked Anderson if he had ever just used the Rack for FOH and mixed off of an iPad, and he remembered one instance right off hand. He talked about a set of three shows over a weekend. One of the shows was a fundraiser, one was a festival, and one was an acoustic show. Instead of dragging in the full setup for the acoustic show, he was able to simply run the entire show off the Rack and mix from an iPad. His only point of advice while doing such a setup was to make sure that you have a "reliable and secure router." He noted that in a very small setting, the risk is lower, but in a larger setting, you run the risk of wireless interference causing dropouts in connectivity to your iPad. This can obviously cause some issues, so it is best not to cheap out on a low-end router.
I couldn't help but think that by having this system; it would reduce their setup time dramatically. Anderson agreed, and said that they actually even found ways to make things even faster by leaving stage snakes prepatched and coiled up in the back of the rack cases. The X32 Rack and the S16 each only take up two rack units and are only a few inches deep. This left a lot of room in the back of the rack to store their stage snakes, making setup extremely easy and quick.
Finally, we spoke about reliability and durability. I often hear how the Behringer X32 family is great for a small church application, but it wouldn't be able to stand up to the rigors of road life. I asked how many dates the X32 was used for, and while he couldn't give me an exact number, he ensured me that it has been used over the course of a couple hundred dates without failure.
The group is still currently using their system.
When it comes to portable setups, I always think small, but I think this example shows that not only can many groups do this, but also that many do. Sanctus Real has performed hundreds of shows with this setup, and sounded great doing so. This goes to show that it is not just the gear that makes a great sound, but the band as well.