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NAB 2024: Allen & Heath Talks CQ Series Digital Audio Mixers

Allen & Heath Marketing Specialist Richard Starr gives viewers a close-up look at Allen & Heath's CQ Series digital audio mixers with their touchscreen and physical controls, automatic mic mixer, presets for conferences, garage bands, and more, and remote operation capabilities in this interview with Streaming Media's Shawn Lam from the Allen & Heath booth at NAB 2024.

Allen & Heath Marketing Specialist Richard Starr gives viewers a close-up look at Allen & Heath's CQ Series digital audio mixers with their touchscreen and physical controls, automatic mic mixer, presets for conferences, garage bands, and more, and remote operation capabilities in this interview with Streaming Media's Shawn Lam from the Allen & Heath booth at NAB 2024.

Shawn Lam: It’s Shawn Lam here for Streaming Media Producer at NAB 2024. I'm here with Richard Starr from Allen & Heath, and we're going to be talking about the CQ Series of audio mixers. So let's start off here. In front of us, we have a CQ18T. So what kind of a market is this product designed for? I mean, it's not like an analog board that has all the faders and it's so compact, but it has 16 XLR inputs. Who's this designed for?

Richard Starr: I would think about it as a context where you'd normally use an analog console and you wanted to get the benefits of digital, like having compression and EQ and gates and effects built in and all the benefits of wireless control and things like that. So where you'd normally use an analog console at a corporate gig or a small garage band or home recording, all of those places, you can easily swap out a CQ and get all the benefits of digital, and still it kind of occupies the same space.

Shawn Lam: So the first thing that users will notice is that there's a lack of physical faders on there, but what controls are available on the CQ series that make up for that?

Richard Starr: So obviously you can control everything through the touchscreen, but the CQ18T features some physical controls on it that will help you get that precision that you may want from tactile controls. So there's this main encoder that's kind of the touch and turn, so you could touch any parameter on the screen and adjust it and you get really fine control. Then there's also these smart encoders that will follow whatever's on screen. They'll change color to indicate what you have selected, and it's very intuitive to know exactly what you're controlling. And you can also program them to specific functions. So if you don't want them to necessarily follow the screen, you always want access to say your main level or particular input channel. You can assign those to those encoders and they'll always have access to them regardless of what screen you're on.

Shawn Lam: So that gives you that precision that you want--because the rotaries work really well on there--but you can also use the touchscreen and the capacity of touchscreen works really well. How many touch points can you have at the same time on there?

Richard Starr: That's a good question. I think it's about three or four that you can control at the same time. So you could adjust about four faders using your fingers. Personally, I'm still more of a touch and turn guy.

Shawn Lam: So out of the box when you turn this unit on, users can just operate it from scratch and set up each input with their own parameters, but there's also a bunch of presets. So in our market we do a lot of corporate and conferences and it's mainly vocals, but you also cover band types of formats. If you have a small garage band or a larger jazz ensemble, there's different presets that are built in there for different configurations. And then beyond that, you can then choose to change if you want two keyboards or a saxophone or a trumpet or something like that.

Richard Starr: Correct. There are two types of main channels on CQ. There's what we call quick channels, which are kind of easy one-knob control. So, for example, with a vocalist, you'll say, "Okay, this is a lapel mic or this is a handheld mic, or this requires some remove like de-essing." So there'll be really easy one-knob controls where you can make simple adjustments if you don't know too much about actual audio mixing. But if you want to get more nitty gritty and you're a corporate engineer and you really want to be able to access all the fine controls, you can convert it to what's called a complete channel. And then you'll see parametric, EQ, gate compressor, everything you're used to out of a digital console, and you can access all those functions by converting it to Complete.

Shawn Lam: So let's talk about the EQ. There are three different options available. So where are they used and when?

Richard Starr: On every input channel there's a standard parametric EQ, and then on outputs you have the option of either using a graphic EQ or you can use what's called our feedback assistant. And this will replace the graphic EQ and it will automatically monitor the channel. And so if you start to experience feedback, it will in real time do cuts at particular frequencies to eliminate the feedback automatically for you.

Shawn Lam: And that's surgical slices. So if you've got a resonant frequency, something causing feedback, you can either rig out the board in advance or while you're live, you can just have it set up so that it is taking those frequencies and it's slicing them out so that you're not getting that feedback.

Richard Starr: Correct. And you can either have those frequencies permanently cut out from your mix or you can have it live adjust so that it cuts it while the feedback is there and then slowly brings it back out so you don't lose those frequencies from your actual input channel.

Shawn Lam: And that's nice when you've got a walker and talker with the microphone and he gets too close to this PA speakers, he calls a bit of feedback, he realizes that the feedback goes away quickly, but then he goes back into a safe zone. You want to get that range back again.

Richard Starr: Exactly. You don't want to necessarily lose that from your mix.

Shawn Lam: In terms of when you have a panel discussion, we often have the issue where there's multiple people and they're using the microphones and talking over each other. And when you're trying to ride the faders, you end up leaving a lot of open microphones, which isn't always the best. It raises the noise floor. Now you guys have the auto mic mixer built in, so how does that work?

Richard Starr: I'm glad you brought that up. So we do have an automatic mic mixer built into all of our CQ series, and basically it will kind of listen for whoever's actually talking, whichever mic is coming through the loudest. And it will duck the other channels to make sure there's no background noise coming through and nobody's interrupting each other. And you can assign priority to particular channels. So if you have the host and you want to make sure that they're not interrupted by a guest necessarily, if you're the most important person on the panel, you can make sure that your mic always has priority over theirs and they can't interrupt you.

Shawn Lam: It's such a fantastic feature to have built in because the speed at which it recovers, it opens those gates is just so fast. You're not really clipping the start of someone's attack when they're using the mic for the first time. Whereas when we're riding the faders, sometimes we've got more than, it's not subsecond latency, we're pretty slow on it sometimes to get it up or we're leaving things open just to be safe.

Richard Starr: So if you're doing a corporate gig and you have a conference and you can just go on your phone and let the mixer do it for you,

Shawn Lam: Let's talk about the phone. So you can use the device on the touchscreen itself, but you can also connect this to either Windows or a Mac computer, correct. As well as iOS or Android. That's right. Phones or tablets for remote control. Now, one of the things I appreciate about it compared to some other brands is that the interface on those remote devices looks the same as the touchscreen. Every capability is in there, and I'm not having to relearn another gui, another graphic user interface. So kudos to you guys on designing it like that. That works great.

Richard Starr: And that turned out to be necessary because of our CQ 20B, which is the only model in the series that doesn't have an actual touchscreen built into it. So it was necessary to have an app that had full control of everything you could do from the screen, but do it remotely from your device.

Shawn Lam: And so the 20B, that's the stage box one that you intend to put that on the stage and you operate that one remotely? And that has to be Wi-Fi or Bluetooth?

Richard Starr: Wifi or ethernet. So if you can use the integrated Wi-Fi, or if you want to connect it to your facilities network, you can also set it to ethernet mode and connect it into your other router.

Shawn Lam: And the main difference between them, right, is the number of inputs. A few fewer on the 12T.

Richard Starr: The 12T has 10 mics pre-built in plus a stereo input, and that one doesn't have integrated Wi-Fi, so you'd have to use an external router. And it's also missing these soft encoders, whereas the AT does have them.

Shawn Lam: Let's talk about USB. There are two USB ports on there, USB-B, and then this that's the A there. What are they used for?

Richard Starr: So the USB-A port, you can record stereo mix down, and then the USB-B port can do multi-channel recording to or streaming to a computer. So you could easily do, if you have say a garage band or if you're just mixing at your church, you can easily record multi-tracks directly to a computer. And there's also an SD card slot. So you can do multi-track recording and playback right to SD without a computer around.

Shawn Lam: Yeah, I mean all of those features built in on a unit like this, it just makes the value proposition so much greater. In our use case, it's taking the output from here, putting it into a live streaming software like vMix or OBS. We don't tend to use the multi-track in that scenario. We'll use a mix down and we'll mix it down in here, but we can also take multiple channels using the ASIO drivers and record every single channel here. But we can also record ISO record each channel as well as the outputs and the AUX outputs on this SD card, right? Which is really kind of neat. All of this on an SDHC card.

Richard Starr: Right. Say if you're recording a podcast and you wanted to do an onsite recording with someone who couldn't necessarily come into your studio, you can easily just bring your CQ and an SD card, no need for a computer record multitrack, use AMM, and then bring it back and mix it on your computer afterwards.

Shawn Lam: We've talked a little about the USB and the outputs, but inputs as well, right? You can take in a feed from the same connected computer if you want to play back music or there's a prerecorded video or something like that, you can bring it in here and then that works as an input. But you've also got Bluetooth, so how does that work?

Richard Starr: You can play back USB multi-track and any number of channels can be set to either the analog inputs or USB input and you could toggle each of those independently. So let's say you wanted to play guitar along with a multi-track, you can just remove the guitar channel and connect your guitar in and you're playing along with the multi-track, and you can mix in your own instrument with other instruments. And then the Bluetooth input you could use. So if somebody comes up to your live gig and says, "Hey, I want to play this song off my phone when I'm walking out," you could just connect wirelessly through Bluetooth to the console and all of our consoles support that.

Shawn Lam: And then probably you want them to turn their phone on flight mode so it doesn't ring, so we don't hear your messages Bluetooth on. Fantastic. Alright, thank you very much, Richard. It's been a great look at the Allen-Heath CQ-18T and the whole CQ line.

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