Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Allen & Heath SQ vs Behringer Wing

For those of you who know me, you know that in addition to being a propeller head of the highest order, I am also a professional audio engineer.  It's not my day job, but something I tend to do on the side.  Given that, I've started haunting the r/livesound subreddit.  A few months ago, someone asked about the Wing vs other options.  I've been thinking about it for a while and decided that was a good time to put my thoughts on "paper".  As people found the answer useful, I thought I'd publish it here lightly edited.
Here's my take: those who love the Wing, really love it. I know some local engineers who have it and sing its praises. But I know others who don't. The split tends to be along the lines of X/M32 users love it and those who have used higher end consoles (DiGiCO, Yamaha, Studer, etc) don't like it as much.  Given that, as you're looking at a low/mid-level console, you need to ask the questions below.  And do note, this comparison focuses on the Allen & Heath SQ vs the Behringer Wing.
Like any question of this type: it depends on factors such as your budget, needs, and your choice of alternative.
Here's what I've started saying / recommending:
Are you an existing Behringer/Midas user (specifically into AES50)?
If so, then the Wing will likely be an upgrade, especially if you're hitting the top end of I/O in the X/M32 range. Below is my take on the pros/cons. Someone with more Wing experience might be able to add to the list.
  • Pros
    • More channels that can all be stereo (aside: is this a major upgrade as most vocal mics, instruments and other inputs are likely mono and won't benefit)
    • More effects (autotune clone anyone?)
    • Big touchscreen
    • It is newer so should be supported longer than a new X/M32 today
    • Fully remappable surface (you can make any fader on any layer be what you want it to be like the A&H SQ line and GLD before it as well as higher end consoles)
    • Generally more of everything
    • More flexible input/output mapping vs the X/M32 (yes firmware 4.x makes 1:1 patching possible but it's still more complicated than is necessary)
  • Cons
    • Bigger than a M32 Live / X32 Compact / X32 Producer (that might matter if you're having to move it constantly like a touring band where a smaller/rack mountable console might be better)
    • New patching system that is still different than the industry standard grid patching layout used by A&H, Yamaha, DiGiCo, etc.
    • (personal opinion here) Potentially a more cramped layout as they added DAW controls that are not necessary for live sound and (potentially) unnecessarily split the fade banks. The X/M32 (full) has 16 mix faders and 8 DCA/bus faders plus the mains fader. The Wing is 20 mix/DCA faders and 4 mains(ish faders). Yes, then can be remapped, but in my usage I found it to feel a bit cramped. Probably with time it might become more comfortable.
    • No real path upwards (Next step up is Midas Pro or Heritage series that may need new stage boxes to support 96kHz vs 48kHz for the Wing/X32 and the price difference is immense vs the path up in the A&H line)
    • You MUST have a stage rack as the Wing only has 8 inputs on the surface vs 16-32 on the X32/M32 mixers (the SQ series is similar)
    • No offline editor (as of Jan 2022) and iOS/Android apps still developing to meet feature parity.
Are you looking to start new with a Wing-level budget?
  • Consider the Wing of course as it's a fine console and will be broadly supported and see above for pros/cons vs X32/M32.
  • Consider the Allen & Heath SQ line as it has similar feature set:
    • Pros
      • 96kHz (there is discussion as to which is better, but it is a thing)
      • More options to upgrade (same stage racks work with the Avantis @ $10K and the dLive C/S-series $18k+)
      • Uses industry standard patching options (grid-based UI, same as DiGiCo, Yamaha, Avid, and A&H)
      • Three surface options giving same processing but flexibility for selecting the form factor / fader count needed (SQ5 16+Main, SQ6 24+Main, SQ7 32+Main)
      • Generally considered better sounding than the Behringer / Midas consoles, though of course opinions vary
      • True offline editor and feature complete iOS/Android apps
    • Cons
      • Stereo inputs consume multiple channels vs the Wing
      • Fewer FX and what they have are descendants of the 2004 iLive FX which are not always the best
      • Proprietary Slink port for audio connections vs AES50 which is a standards, though it has limited adoption outside the Behringer/Midas world.
      • More expensive components (surface, stage rack, add-in cards) than the Behringer side
For myself, I ended up skipping the Wing and SQ altogether and bought a Allen & Heath Avantis and love it. It has almost everything I could have wanted (short of a dLive, DiGiCo SD or Yamaha CL/QL) at a price that is probably better than anything else on the market at that range.

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