Recording Reviews: PreSonus StudioLive 32SC Series III Digital Mixer and Accessories Review
A powerful mixer for stage and studio that can grow with your needs
P reSonus is a name that should by now be familiar to just about everyone who works in pro audio. Currently celebrating their 24th year in business, this Louisiana-based company has released a wide range of products over the last quarter century - everything from mic preamps and outboard processors to computer audio interfaces, nearfield monitors, and even their own Studio One DAW. While I’ve owned a few of their products over the years, the one thing I had limited previous experience with was their line of StudioLive mixing consoles, so when I was offered an opportunity to borrow and test out one of the latest third-generation boards, I jumped at the chance. And I’m really glad I did, because this is a really cool system.
What You Need To Know
- The StudioLive 32SC Series III is a 32 channel 32-bit floating point processor-equipped rack-mountable digital console with 40 mix channels and 26 mix busses that is powered by a dual-core FLEX DSP engine that provides a whopping 286 simultaneous processors.
- Measuring 17.59” W x 22.97” D x 6.51” H and weighing in at 23.15 lbs. the StudioLive 32SC packs a ton of mixing features into a relatively small and lightweight package.
- The construction is mostly metal, with some plastic. Weight is also kept down in part by the shape of the board, and the angled surface also makes it easier to see everything when you’re sitting in front of it.
- The board itself is equipped with 16 main inputs - 8 mic / line inputs on balanced combination XLR / 1/4” TRS jacks and 8 that are mic-only XLR inputs. The Class A XMAX preamps sound quite good for board preamps and offer up to 60dB of gain. They are transparent-sounding and quite clean over most of their range, although they do get a bit noisier in their highest 6 dB or so of their gain range. All the preamp settings of the board are completely storable and recallable.
- Other things you’ll find on the back panel include six assignable mix outputs on XLR jacks, as well as four additional ones on balanced 1/4” TRS jacks. A pair of balanced TRS 1/4” Monitor Out jacks for feeding your studio monitors are included, along with stereo Tape In and Out connectors on RCA jacks.
- There are also a pair of stereo Aux Inputs on 1/4” TRS jacks, as well as Mono Sum and stereo Main Outputs on XLR jacks. Both the Main and Mono Sum XLR outputs have small trim controls next to them to adjust their output levels.
- You also get a stereo digital output in AES format on an XLR connector. An additional XLR jack for a Talkback mic is also provided, and it supports mics that require 48V phantom power. A USB 2.0 connector, a network Control Ethernet connector and an Audio Network Ethernet connector for AVB networking are also located on the rear.
- An IEC power receptacle and power on/off switch are also mounted on the back panel. The 32SC can be powered by 100-230V at 50-60Hz, so it’s compatible with the electrical systems of most countries - all you need is a compatible IEC cable. A standard US-style IEC cable was included with the review unit.
- The user interface of the StudioLive 32SC Series III is bright and colorful, with back illumination on all the buttons. If you’re like me and like lots of lights, you’ll love it. The brightness level can be user-adjusted.
- The 32SC has 17 touch-sensitive, motorized 100mm faders. These can be used to access additional channels with the by now-familiar “bank” style buttons, which are labeled Prev(ious) and Next on the StudioLive Series III boards. These buttons also allow you to access the four stereo effects returns from the onboard effects processors (FX A - FX D), the two stereo Aux Inputs (Aux In A1 and A2), as well as the Tape In and even the Talkback assignments and configuration.
- In addition to the fader, each channel also has Select, Solo and Mute buttons, as well as a small 3-LED level meter directly below the buttons, and an electronic LCD “scribble strip” & panning indicator directly above. When a channel is selected, all of the channel’s main controls are available with what PreSonus calls the “Fat Channel.” This used to confuse me when I read about it in ads, but it’s basically just one set of comprehensive controls located on the upper left side of the board that is used to edit the parameters of whatever channel you select. You can only edit one channel or bus at a time with the editing surface, but Fat Channel processing can be used on all channels and busses simultaneously, with no processing limitations.
- The Fat Channel control section include knobs and switches for selecting and adjusting the channel’s various parameters. You can select from four different input sources (analog input, AVB network, USB, and SD card) and multiple channels can be assigned the same source if you wish, so “multing” and parallel processing are easy. Each input channel and mix bus offers Fat Channel modeled plugins.
- Phantom power (48V) and phase invert are available on all input channels. Adjacent odd/even channel pairs can be linked for stereo. EQ and compression can be flipped in terms of their order in the signal path too.
- Dedicated controls for editing the EQ are also found in the Fat Channel section, with four buttons to select the desired band (low, low-mid, high-mid and high), and three knobs to adjust the Q, gain, and frequency of the selected EQ band. A fourth knob is dedicated to the EQ’s high pass filter, which can be set from off all the way up to over 1kHz. The high and low EQ bands can be set as either peaking or shelving filters. The EQ’s graphic on-screen display also features a really helpful RTA.
- The standard EQ version is the four band, full-parametric, or you can choose from two other modeled EQs - a Neve-style EQ and a “passive” Pultec-style EQ.
- You can also adjust the channel’s compressor. A standard compressor option is available, along with FET-style and tube-style modeled compressors. The interfaces for the later two bring to mid the classic 1176 and LA2A style units, and they offer a similar sound and response.
- Need an expander / gate? Yes, they’re included too.
- Additional plug-ins that were once available from PreSonus as options (the Fat Channel Complete Collection) are now bundled with their Series III S mixers and provide 11 additional modeled EQ and compressor processors. With names like FC-670, Alpine EQ 550, Brit Compressor and Comp 160, you’ll recognize some of the inspirations here too. These “hybrid” plugins are also compatible with Studio One, making them even more versatile.
- Of course, individual plugin and channel settings can be copied, saved and recalled.
- A more comprehensive multi-segment level meter is included in the Fat Channel section, along with individual meters for the gate and compressor, so it’s always easy to see exactly what’s going on with the selected channel and its processors.
- The Master fader has a pair of dedicated output meters, and the fader substitutes a GEQ button in place of the Solo button that’s found on the individual channels. This calls up the 31-band Graphic EQ screen for the main stereo outputs. Presets for the graphic EQ can also be saved and recalled.
- In addition to the physical Fat Channel controls, you also get a really nice 7” touch screen, and many parameters can be adjusted with it instead of using the Fat Channel knobs and buttons if you prefer. It also provides a view of the various processors and their settings.
- The onboard processing isn’t limited to just the Fat Channel compressors, gates and EQs. You also get a FLEX FX multi-effects processor with four slots, each of which can load a modeled reverb, delay, chorus or flanger processor. Four dedicated effects busses are also provided, so you don’t have to give up any of your main mixer channels or auxes. As with pretty much everything else on the board, presets can be saved and recalled, and a collection of presets are included to get you started.
- Speaking of aux sends, 16 FlexMixes are available. These can be used as aux mixes, subgroups or matrix mixes. 16 buttons for accessing each of these mixes are located along the left side of the board.
- Full recall is supported, including everything from the fader positions to the EQ settings to the mic preamp gain settings. Storing and recalling settings is handled through the touch screen, and the process is fast, simple and intuitive.
- Want to record the gig? You can do so straight to the onboard 34 channel multitrack SD card recorder. Signals are sourced immediately after the input (mic preamp) stage, and before the processors and faders, giving you a solid signal that you can later use for a band-less sound check at the next gig.
- But that’s not the only recording option you have. The 32SC also has a built-in 64 x 64 channel USB 2 computer audio interface - a very impressive I/O count that is unmatched by any other digital console that I’m aware of, making the board an excellent tool for recording straight into your DAW of choice, as well as a highly useful tool that can augment your DAW at mixdown. You can also record / playback 64 x 64 streams via AVB, and with the PreSonus digital patching, this can include any stream on the AVB network, including FlexMixes, etc.
- Speaking of DAWs, the StudioLive Series III 32SC also offers very tight integration when used with the PreSonus Studio One DAW. A license for a downloadable copy of the somewhat awkwardly-named Studio One 4 Artist software is included with the board, which can be upgraded to the full Studio One 4 Professional DAW for a reasonable additional fee. You’ll need a Mac running macOS 10.11 or higher, or a Windows PC running Windows 7 64-bit SP1 or higher to run Studio One.
- The StudioLive 32SC Series III can also emulate Logic MCU and HUI control protocols, so it can be used not only as an audio interface, but also as a control surface for other DAWs too, such as Logic and Pro Tools.
- A full set of transport controls is located below the touch screen in the Master Control section of the console. You can also store and recall scenes and DCA groups (there are 24 available) with the other controls located here.
- In addition to Studio One Artist, there’s other software that comes bundled with the 32SC, including PreSonus Capture 3.0 live recording multitrack software, which records up to 34 tracks. It can store StudioLive scenes with the audio, and can also be used for virtual soundchecks.
- You can also remotely control the StudioLive 32SC Series III mixer using UC Surface, an included app for Mac and PC computers, iOS and Android from PreSonus. Additionally, you can also let the musicians control their own monitor mixes using the bundled QMix-UC app for iOS and Android. The board and the control devices (tablets, phones, etc.) need to be logged in on the same wireless network.
- The StudioLive 32SC Series III supports the PreSonus AVB (Audio Video Bridging) Network standard. This allows you to connect multiple consoles, as well as other peripherals to expand the size and capabilities of your system. To test this for the review, I was sent a NSB 16.8 stage box, an EarMix 16M personal monitor mixer, and a PreSonus SW5E PoE AVB switch.
- The NSB 16.8 stage box (the smaller 8x8 NSB 8.8 stage box also available for $599.95 “street”) is a optional unit that can be added to a StudioLive 32SC Series III to increase its input and output capacity.
- Measuring 16.7” W x 7” D x 4.5” H and weighing 6.2 lbs. the NSB 16.8 stage box is made mostly of metal and it comes with 16 mix / line inputs on combination XLR / 1/4” TRS jacks. it connects using standard computer-type, user-supplied Cat 5e or Cat 6 RJ-45 networking cable, and is also compatible with the heavier-duty EtherCon cables.
- The NSB 16.8 includes a built-in 2-port AVB switch. Of course, remote-controlled XMAX preamps for each input channel are also included. Locking AVB and XLR input jacks help keep everything secure on stage.
- The power switch and IEC power input jack are mounted on one end of the NSB 16.8, while the other side has the two Cat6 AVB jacks.
- The NSB 8.8 and NSB 16.8 stage boxes can be rack mounted with optional rack ears, but they’re equally at home sitting on the stage floor or in your tracking room.
- If you only need to connect one stage box to your mixer, you can do so directly, but most users will want to opt for using a PreSonus SW5E PoE AVB switch, which supports cascading multiple consoles and can throttle non-AVB traffic to prioritize bandwidth use and insure very low audio latency, which can be an important factor when putting multiple StudioLive mixers and NSB stage boxes on a single network.
- The SW5E is AC powered, and an IEC power plug jack is the only connection on the rear panel.
- The SW5E has five locking ports on the front (four that feature Power over Ethernet), with LED indicators for PoE and link status for each port. It supports nanosecond sync accuracy, and is compatible with non-PreSonus AVB-enabled equipment too. It can be rack mounted with an optional rack tray.
- One of the least-loved jobs of any live sound tech or studio engineer is dialing up monitor mixes or cue feeds for the musicians. It’s not that it’s a tough job in and of itself, but musicians are rarely satisfied with whatever mix they’re given, and will often ask for adjustments. So why not let them dial up their own cue mixes? That’s the idea behind the EarMix 16M.
- The EarMix 16M is a 16x2 AVB-networked personal monitor mixer. Each EarMix 16M measures 9.4” W x 7.6” D x 1.8” H and weighs only 1.2 lbs. It is powered by an included 24V DC power adapter, or via PoE - Power over Ethernet - from the SW5E or other AVB switch.
- The top panel sports a master section with separate level controls for the line out, aux input and headphones, as well as 16 channel select buttons, and a set of buttons and rotary controls that allow the user to make changes to various parameters of the selected channel.
- The back of each EarMix 16M has a jack for the power input, a pair of 1/4” TRS line output jacks, a 1/8” stereo aux input, as well as a 1/4” stereo headphone jack. AVB in and AVB Thru jacks are also included.
- You can connect multiple EarMix 16M units (up to 24!), and let each member of the band adjust their own monitor or headphone cue mix. What really makes this cool is that you can route any 16 channels, including FlexMixes, to each EarMix 16M on the AVB network, so for instance you can send the drummer each individual drum channel but a mono vocal mix, while the vocalists get separate vocal channels but a mono drum mix, and the guitarists get just the channels they want. Then they can create their mixes from their choice of channels.
- While you can put it on practically any surface (such as a music stand or guitar amp), an optional microphone stand mount for the EarMix 16M is available ($59.95 “street”) which would be a great accessory for both live and studio use.
- This is a sophisticated, feature-rich, modern digital console, and while the user interface is very well designed and intuitive, you shouldn’t expect to use it as a replacement for your 32 channel analog board the same day you purchase it. Plan on spending some study time learning the board’s layout, features and capabilities before you try to use it at a live gig or for studio recording with paying clients.
- In order to use the full analog input channel count of the board, additional inputs need to be added using the AVB network. Adding a single NSB 16.8 stage box (or a pair of NSB 8.8 stage boxes) will bring the channel count up to maximum.
- The onboard effects, while nice sounding, are basically limited to reverb, delay, chorus and flange type effects.
- High sample rate operation (88.2 kHz / 96 kHz) is not supported.
- The headphone jack’s location at the front of the board is convienient for tabletop use, but may not be readily accessible with some rack installations.
I know this is a long review, but it could have easily been twice as long - I have only hit on some of the things that this board can do. For more details on how various aspects of the board operate, be sure to check out the multiple videos from PreSonus that are listed in the Resources section below.
Having spent a few months with it now, I have to say that I am really impressed with the thought that went into the design of the PreSonus StudioLive Series III 32SC Digital Mixer. It sounds excellent - nice and clean, and while high sample rates aren’t supported, many users won’t miss that. Equally at home in a modern recording studio or on the road handling FOH and monitors for your live show, it offers a high degree of flexibility along with surprising ease of use. The USB interface, Logic MCU and Pro Tools HUI control emulation capabilities, and advanced integration with PreSonus’s own Studio One make it a great partner and control surface for your favorite DAW too. It’s packed with great sounding processors - and you have them available on every channel without having to decide which ones you want to use them on, plus you also get four stereo effects processors for reverbs and delays too. Having the ability to choose different processor types for compression and EQ on each channel provides you with lots of sonic options and there is an impressive number of processors available for your mixes - this is great for live use, but it can also take some of the load off your host DAW computer’s CPU when you’re in the studio too.
The AVB network is a terrific feature, allowing the board to expand with the user’s growing needs simply by adding a NSB 16.8 or a couple of NSB 8.8 stage boxes to it, or even by networking multiple consoles. Being able to let the talent dial up their own on-stage monitor mixes (or studio cue mixes) using the EarMix 16M is a real time saver that will also make them happier - and that’s always a good thing. With tons of auxes via the FlexMixes, you’re not likely to run out of options here either. With an EarMix 16M for each band member, you won’t have to deal with disagreements over the cue mix - everyone can have their own individual monitor mix, and dial it up to suit their preferences. Since the networked devices interconnect with commonly-available Cat6 cable, wiring is simplified too.
I honestly had my doubts going into this review that one board could work so well for both live and studio purposes, but I readily admit I was wrong. This really is a board that has the flexibility needed to handle both live performances as well as studio recordings. PreSonus has created a powerhouse system that you can configure to meet all of your mixing needs, no matter where you’re working. -HC-
Want to discuss the PreSonus StudioLive 32SC Series III Digital Mixer or have questions or comments about this review? Then head over to this thread in the Studio Trenches forum right here on Harmony Central and join the discussion!
PreSonus StudioLive Series III 32SC rack mountable digital mixer ($2,859.95 MSRP, $2,199.95 "street")
PreSonus NSB 16.8 stage box ($999.95 MSRP, $849.95 “street”)
PreSonus EarMix 16M personal monitor mixer ($499.95 MSRP, $429.95 “street”)
PreSonus SW5E PoE AVB switch ($599.95 MSRP, $429.95 “street”)
PreSonus StudioLive 32SC Series III product web page
PreSonus NSB 16.8 stage box product web page
PreSonus EarMix 16M product web page
PreSonus SW5E PoE AVB switch product web page
You can purchase the StudioLive 32SC Series III digital mixer from:
You can purchase the PreSonus NSB 16.8 stage box from:
You can purchase the PreSonus EarMix 16M from:
You can purchase the PreSonus SW5E 5-port AVB Switch from:
StudioLive Series III introduction
Creating a monitor mix
Using scenes and mix groups
Setting up a matrix mix
Digital Patching (Soft Patching)
Wirelessly controlling a PreSonus StudioLive Series III mixer
PreSonus EarMix 16M setup and CueMix UC
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.