Okay, I had to do it. I had to learn more about this inexplicable digital mixer made by Behringer that seems to be getting good reviews and selling fast. And it’s so inexpensive. What exactly is going on?

Well, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s true: Behringer made a product I can actually like. I still question myself at this very moment, but what’s not to like? Behringer’s X32 digital console manages to pack an impressive set of features into a good sounding and affordable package. When an ancient Yamaha 01V96 still costs $2,400 and only has 12 mic preamps and limited outputs, but the Behringer X32 has 32 mic preamps, 16 outputs and so much more … and costs only $3,000, it’s hard to look the other way for too long.

So what’s the X32 all about? It very simply presents as a compact, well thought out console that has all the features you would expect in a mid-range digital sound console. One of the big selling points is that Behringer wisely teamed up with its sister companies Midas (for pre-amp development) and Klark Teknik (for effects and networking). The 32 on board preamps deliver clean sound with low harmonic distortion and an ‘enhanced’ dynamic range. Midas doesn’t drop its name into any project, and you can tell these preamps were handled with care. They are all recallable and on the back, the 32 XLR connections sport a small LED light that illuminates when phantom power is on.

As for layout, on the input side you get four layers of 16 faders (Inputs 1-16, 17-32, Aux In and Fx Returns, and Buss Masters). Each fader has an LCD scribble strip, where you can set the color and channel name or icon. Each fader also has a meter readout, which is helpful. For any selected channel, there are dedicated hardware panels that allow knob control of gain, a frequency-selectable low cut filter, gate, compression and EQ. In each hardware zone you can hit the ‘view’ button, which will bring the controls up on the seven-inch TFT screen for more detailed visual feedback (there isn’t an external video connection).

On the output side, you have eight faders in the center of the console that work with four different layers (DCA or Group 1-8, Bus 1-8, Bus 9-16, Matrix 1-6 and Center channel output). It is an interesting choice that they only give you six matrix outputs, which could be limiting to some. To save room, they went with a rotary control for you stereo left/right bus. You get a rotary knob for level and a rotary knob for pan/balance and then you can either select the stereo or mono button. An odd choice, but at the same time, you don’t really mix the Main L/R fader on most consoles. It’s usually set and forget, with the occasional tweak, so I suppose this was a reasonable choice.

On the back, you find 16 XLR output jacks, which can be assigned to be any type of output you desire. There are also six channels of auxiliary input and output. These connections are line-level and via TRS jacks, except for channels 5 and 6, which are also available as RCA jacks for easy connection to a CD player or iPod. Speaking of which, there’s a handy space for you iPod (or phone) on the right hand side of the console. So hip.

You can store up to 100 scenes and there are clear buttons, including a Go button which seems ike a good idea. You can also save your scenes to a USB drive for backup or for transfer. There are also a whopping 36 user-definable buttons, which can be programmed for any instant control. They are laid out in three layers of 12 and on each layer, four controls can be on an assignable rotary control, which is pretty smart. The software and user interface are laid out well and make for intuitive and simple navigating. Nothing is too buried in places you can’t find more than once (I’m thinking of you, M7CL…). The laptop software is also quite simple and mimics the console software exactly.

Other bells and whistles include a built in two-track stereo recorder, which can record uncompressed, 24-bit WAV files to a USB thumb drive. You can also playback files from the stick, arriving on the third layer on the input faders. For effects, the console boasts over 150 effects, many from Klark Teknik, that run the gamut from reverbs and delays to emulators. You can have either eight stereo or 16 mono effect channels. There are also four channels of parametric and eight channels of 31-band graphic EQs that can be inserted on any input or output.

Rounding out the features, you could choose to do remote inputs and outputs by using the Behringer S16 digital snake, which connects to the console over Cat-5 using Klark Teknik’s AES50 networking protocol. Each S16 stage box (also very reasonably priced) has 16 remote mic pre-amps, 8 line outputs, Midi I/O (impressive) and 16 channels ADAT outputs. Stage boxes can be cascaded to increase channel count, but the console itself maxes out at 40 input and 25 output channels in total – between the stage boxes and the onboard inputs, so don’t get too carried away.

The console is also built to integrate with Behringer’s P-16 Personal Monitoring System, being able to feed the monitors directly from the console over the Ultranet network. Any mix or signal can patched to the Ultranet and fed to the P-16s.

Finally, there is a Cat-5 jack and USB jack for remote control. You can connect the console to a WiFi router and then, using a free App on your iPad or iPhone, control many of the functions of the console. It’s pretty slick and no additional software is needed.

Behringer is slated to release scaled down versions of the X32 console soon. They have all feature the same software and software capacity (40 inputs, 25 busses), but each version shrinks it into a smaller package with more limited onboard I/O and fewer faders and an even smaller price tag. There’s the X32 Compact, the X32 Producer (which is rack mountable), the X32 Rack (a 3u unit with no faders, but impressive I/O), and the X32 Core (a 1u rack mount which is really the brains of the software with very little hardware, meant to control stage boxes). Each scaled down version allows the unit to be priced even more incredibly affordably, yet gives you the software to do quite amazing things in a small package.

So, Behringer. The X32 is an impressive console. Really. It’s not meant to compete with some of the big and expensive consoles out there, but for anyone needing all the functions of a digital console, with decent I/O capacity, the X32 is a great choice, at an amazingly affordable price. Well done.