“The GLD-80 is a stellar addition to the Allen & Heath range. It’s compact. It’s powerful.”
British-made consoles are undoubtedly the leaders in live sound reinforcement. If I had one rand for every Midas XL or Soundcraft MH series console requested on international tech riders, I would undoubtedly be a rich man. Of course, those aren’t the only console brands on the market and certainly aren’t the only options.
One console manufacturer that I’ve always put in the same bracket is Allen & Heath, the Cornwall, England based company that has been manufacturing professional audio products since the early 1970’s. Indeed, all of their early consoles were hand-built in a small factory in London for such high profile acts as Pink Floyd and The Who and they have continued to build on that legacy as they are now a massive multi-national company that stands for both quality and reliability. Their heritage is solid, and the progeny of their consoles proves it.
In the last ten years or so, there has been a massive move into digital. There are now myriad digital consoles on the market; some incredibly powerful and sophisticated and some basic but the main goal is the same in all variants: compact design, power and efficiency. However, there has also been a massive debate raging about the merits of analogue vs. the downfalls of digital and there are many who would argue that analogue consoles sound better and digital sounds sterile.
Given this, there has been a large effort from digital console manufacturers to combine the convenience of digital with the sound of analogue so now we have a slew of next generation products that have been manufactured in this vein.
Having said that, there are also a few manufacturers whose brand name implies a certain standard of quality beyond debate, and, to me, Allen & Heath is one of them. They too have made a huge venture into digital and with the success of their iLive series, they have set a very solid and well-respected foundation to build upon.
It is no surprise, then, when they release other products to fill the gaps in their market and one of these products is the new GLD-80 medium format digital mixing console. I was given one by the SA distributor of A&H, Midrand-based Audiosure, for this review and, as it just so happened, I was able to take it with me to a gig in Boksburg where SA rock icons Van Coke Kartel and Taxi Violence were set to perform.
Let’s see how it fared.
Allen & Heath GLD-80 Features
The Allen & Heath GLD-80 is slick, well put together, and lightweight. Carrying the boxes around, I started to doubt whether there was actually anything in them but sure enough, the three packages I was given for this review contained what is called the Control Surface (the mixer part), the 24-channel GLD-AR2412 stage box, and the 8-channel GLD-AR84 expander unit.
All stage box peripherals are connected via CAT5 cable for easy, one-cable connection, which is a complete pleasure. A full GLD-80 system can accommodate a maximum of 48 input channels, which breaks down to 44 microphone inputs and four line inputs, including input from a USB stick.
As far as outputs go, it can supply a whopping 30 which breaks down to 12 on the AR2412 stage box, four on each of the two possible AR84 expanders for a total of eight, and a further eight on the surface itself. Two stereo digital outputs on the AES/EBU and S/PDIF protocols are also offered as standard along with an option slot which supports the following cards:
ACE (Audio and Control over Ethernet)
Dante (Multi-track recording)
MADI (64-channel, bi-directional i/o)
M-Waves (server-based DSP processing)
Ethersound (low latency networking standard)
Mini Multi Out (24 channel ADAT, Aviom and Hearback)
So, as you can see, the connectivity issue with the GLD-80 is, well, actually a non-issue and as I alluded to before, the GLD-80 has also got a USB I/O bus that can perform a stereo recording, playback from input, and storing and recall of scenes. Now, let’s take a closer look at the control surface.
The GLD-80 has a slick and straight-forward design and includes 20 faders, 4 layers and 80 channel strips in total. The input section at the left side of the console has 12 faders and the master section to the right of the console has 8 faders; both with four layers. The GLD-80 incorporates an 8.4 inch colour touch screen that is the centrepiece to the console’s control GUI and setup. It has high-end 1dB-stepped recallable head amps and eight stereo RackFX that all return to their own separate stereo strips with their own PEQ (they do not have to be routed to input strips on the console) and a huge range of FX are available for easy assignment.
There is full processing on all input strips including gain trim, polarity, HPF, insert, gate, 4-band PEQ, dynamics, and delay and likewise, for each output strip you get a PEQ, a GEQ, compression, and delay. Mix modes include LR, None (for studio use), LR+M (sum) and LCR.
There are 16 DCA’s which double as mute groups and a total of 30 assignable buses which can be designated as aux, group, matrix, main or FX send buses.
There is a built-in talkback, RTA and signal generator as well, along with 10 user definable “soft keys” and colour coding for all input and output strips.
At the Van Coke Kartel / Taxi Violence gig at Stones in Boksburg, the console took about 10 minutes to connect and start receiving signal. After connecting the AR2412 stage box via a single CAT5 network cable, the GLD-80 instantly saw it and we were good to go. Being that this was my first time using it, I decided to go with Show Template 1, which gave me six DCAs, six auxiliaries, four preset effects buses with returns, and a LR bus.
The first thing that struck me as we started the sound check with “Kick!” was that there was a certain warmth to the console that was lacking in many of the other ubiquitous digital consoles that I have experience with. Since I had worked many years prior with Bomb Squad Sound and Lights, the company that had supplied the familiar DAS line array for the event, I knew what to expect, which was actually key to this review.
The GLD-80 seemed to almost sound like it was analogue and since A&H is a company that has never let me down, audio quality-wise, my expectations were heading towards fulfilled.
Another thing that struck me about the GLD-80 was how easy it was to navigate. Chris, one of Bomb Squad’s senior engineers, had no problem at all picking up the consoles’ operation and in no time he was wizzing around its interface with ease. Stage monitoring was also accomplished without a hitch and there was absolutely no feedback with days and days of headroom available to us.
However, here and there we were obliged to make tonal adjustments and accessing the GEQ on the relevant output channel was as easy as selecting it and pressing the GEQ flip button. Instantly we were supplied with a 31-band GEQ represented by the position of the faders.
Probably the most helpful feature of the console is the channel strip section, complete with all the parameters that you need to process an input. Every parameter is available at the push of a button and a twist of a knob. As long as the “Processing” button is pushed, all parameters are reflected on the touch screen. The EQ sounded precise and “British” in nature and the compressor was accurate and effective. Once again, the EQ sounded very “analogue”; very similar in sound to the legendary Mh3000.
Perhaps my single gripe about the console is that despite it having a +27dBu maximum output level, the meters show peaking beyond +12dBu at the output meter and +6dBu at the channel meters.
This, I suppose is their attempt to encourage engineers to practice proper gain staging, but gives the impression of clipping which is not occurring. This, however, is quite minor.
The GLD-80 is a stellar addition to the Allen & Heath range. It’s compact. It’s powerful. The connectivity options are wide and varied, and not to mention simple, and the interface is slick and straight-forward, making it inviting to almost anyone that has a basic knowledge of audio mixers.
Most importantly, however, is its sound quality, which is absolutely fantastic. I, for one, was highly impressed by the GLD-80 and I’m sure anyone that uses it will have the same experience.
Suggested Retail Price:
GLD-80: R 79,995.00
AR2412: R 22,995.00
AR84: R 10,795.00
Tel. No: 011 790 4600