Allen & Heath GLD-80 Digital Mixing Console
The GLD-80 and GLD-AR2412 AudioRack system—a great package, at a great price, that is both simple and intuitive for volunteers to use, but has a feature set that even experienced engineers look for.
The reality is, any new sound board will make you feel like a kid at Christmas time. But, working with churches, my immediate instinct is to look at any product with an eye for ease of use by church volunteers, many of which have no working experience outside of the church setting.
That said, straight out of the box, this board looks like something that makes sense without even turning it on. The control surface layout looks as though the Allen & Heath (A&H) guys spent a great deal of time thinking about packing a lot of features into a system that would be easy and intuitive to get your mind wrapped around, even for the average church volunteer. The labeling is clear, the fader banks make sense, the control strip across the top is laid out well, and the surface is very uncluttered. And the presence of a “Select” button that opens its accompanied window in the touchscreen makes for a feeling of “this is gonna be easy.” They even placed the “Copy/Paste” function buttons right at the front of the mixer—no paging through windows, just do it on the fly.
The GLD-AR2412 AudioRack, which upon unboxing and plugging a supplied network cable into the console, started talking with the console with no required addressing (once again, simple).
At this point, you would be immediately aware of the ease of physical setup that could benefit the average mobile church, or a church installing a system themselves. So, the reviewer decided to put this to the test—Do the “guy” thing and not read the directions. How far can you get before you have to pick up the manual?
I tend to view technical systems through the eyes of a church volunteer, and I’m always looking for items to recommend to other churches that might not have a lot of help. So, if I can recommend something that’s quick to get up and run on, that means whomever is on the receiving end will be more successful day one. Then whatever help they need won’t be “how to make it work” but “how to improve what they’re already doing.”
Open the “Quick Start” brochure (didn’t get far without reading), and you find the console shows up from the factory with several scenes that assign channel and fader layout in fashions that make it immediately usable to most any small church. I chose the Factory Scene 1, which laid out 46 inputs on the left bank of 12 faders in four layers, six mono aux mixes (which were used for wedges), one stereo aux mix (which was used for the drummers headphone mix). It also sets up four effects sends with four stereo returns (on the same master page—nice idea), six DCAs, two matrix outs, and six group sends. Along with this, the left/right master ends up on nearly every page.
Then, a quick unplugging of the existing console on the system we’re demo-ing this on, patch the A&H audio rack in, patch in the Cat5 to the board, and we’re up and running.
Immediately, I realize our PA sounds better—and without any system EQ. Remember, we just plugged in this board straight out of the box. Smooth, with a low end that sounds a little like something you’d hear on surround sound at the movies—deep and powerful without being overwhelming.
So, on to setting up the board as the band walks in. I was quickly able to select individual channels and label them accordingly with the pop-up keyboard on the touch screen. A quick perusal of available effects suddenly made me wish I had all day to set this up, as I’m now seeing that the engines will emulate such classic effects as “480 Hall” and a multitude of modulation effects … stay focused—remember, the band just walked in. Pull in four effects that emulate what I’m used to using for the average mix (two reverbs, a chorus, and a simple delay), already assigned to sends and returns in a fashion that made sense, thanks to our “Factory Scene 1.”
Start channel walkthrough as the band starts plugging in, and now I notice something really nice. The worship leader’s guitar normally has this slightly annoying thing in the hi-mid that’s not there, and his guitar has tremendous low end that I’ve not hear on it before—cool, but engage HPF (high-pass filter) and keep moving.
Another very useful feature: each channel strip [appears] as a knob that can be either the gain, the pan, or one of two user assignable functions.
Also, as mentioned before, the presence of a “Select” button on all channel strip functions (mic pre, gate, HPF, EQ, compressor, and routing) opens the associated control window for each function on the selected channel. This means one less button or screen to push to get where you want to go.
Drums sound great—smooth, deep (once again) but controlled. Dialing in some crispness on the snare and toms makes me notice that the upper mid range of the EQ is very usable and smooth. Another neat feature: pressing down on the EQ frequency dial controls Q on the particular frequency band I’m on.
Now I start adding things to the different monitors, by pressing the “Mix” button on each of the aux send masters, channel faders now become aux sends—very familiar to digital boards. Then I accidentally stumble on a very useful feature. While a particular mix has its “Select” engaged, the “Mix” button on the individual channel reveals the send levels by turning the master faders into “Aux Send” faders. One can now look at what’s being sent to all aux’s on a master bank one input channel at a time.
The band starts playing. Faders up— the mix sounds nice and full. Dial down the gates on the toms, add compressors to the bass and vocals, now add one to the acoustic. An interesting note: this compressor is doing a nice job of leveling, but it sounds very natural and transparent—almost like it’s just a nice, full input without compression.
Now, add some effects, pan a couple of things slightly, and check with the band on their monitors. “Wow … this sounds really good,” says the worship leader. The woman singing harmony with the quiet voice asks to be turned down in her monitor—not turned up because she has a quiet voice. Another interesting note: no monitor EQ—remember, we just pulled this board out of the box.
Add a little compression to the main mix … it’s here I notice that the compressors (on each channel and every output) all have four different compressor “models,” including two that are fashioned after recording-style compression. I pick “Opto Slow,” dial down the ratio, and continue mixing.
At this point it should be noted that we plugged this board in about 50 minutes ago. The band has been setting up and rehearsing now for about 20 minutes. Aside from programming a scene mute and adding a couple of headset mics for the presenters, we now have a new board set up on our system, a mix to six wedges and one headphone, a mix dialed in (sort of), and a happy band. Oh … and it sounds great.
As you can see, the GLD-80’s feature set is robust, offering even veteran engineers options that would make them pleased. But it also has stuff that is incredibly helpful to the church market, like the onboard RTA (real-time analyzer) that can help one quickly identify feedback, the ability to record and playback from a USB memory stick, or the fact that the AudioRack I/O has a port that directly interfaces with Aviom personal monitor mixing system. The expandability that is possible through the available card slot leaves a lot of room to dream about what could you do. Its layout and workflow are incredibly efficient. Allen & Heath does indeed have an iPad remote mixing app in the works. Though we were not able to pin down a release date, the app will be in an upcoming firmware update. It’s also interesting to note that the available balanced inputs/outputs on the control surface might seem limiting at first. But if you consider that the average small- to mid-sized church generally needs a couple of iPod/CD inputs, and a couple of media feeds at FOH (assuming wireless microphones and such are on stage near the I/O rack), you’ve really got what you need in the right places. It’s almost as if the Allen & Heath guys were thinking of us church folks when they planned this.
I want to highlight the touch screen, too. I found the layout of it very easy to read on the fly, and the graphics looked great. I never found myself feeling “confined” or having trouble reading this quickly.
Now, there were a few things I didn’t like that much. I feel that the LEDs on the channel strip area, especially around the EQ section, are not an articulate source of information, and often looked a little bit like a “smear of light” due to the fact that the LEDs are not surface-mounted (I can see where low light or even sunlight might accentuate this). But after about 30 minutes of mixing, I was only starting to get used to this. The faders do feel just a little bit on the flimsy side, but not cheap. And, I could also see where some might consider the mic preamps to not have the clarity or edge that they would prefer (remember the mention of smoothness and considerable low end “umph”).
But I don’t find these to be “deal breakers.” Instead, I’d encourage anyone who is looking at consoles in this price class to demo this one, as well. The feature set, ease of use, sound quality, and expandability really set it a part in many ways. In fact, in some ways, this console is a better value than others in the same class for more money. But don’t take my word for it—demo it. The final word on whether or not a console is the right one for your church needs to come from you and your volunteers after you have put it and other consoles you may be considering through its paces. But I believe you will find that your experience will be similar to mine in that this was an easy console to learn. The short learning curve allowed me to get comfortable and confident quickly, in turn allowing me to focus on mixing and enjoying my task.
BRENT WHETSTINE is the technical systems engineer at Traders Point Christian Church in Indianapolis, where he’s been on staff for nine years. He’s worked in live production for over 20 years and feels blessed to serve God and His church through technology, and equipping the saints to do the work of the church. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife, three dogs, and several chickens.