Edit Oct 18 (again) I just want to point out that I am not a professional, and this is definitely a biased article towards PreSonus. I have been asked multiple times what I think about the new PreSonus board compared to other boards, namely the X32. Ive done my best to correct factual errors, but please don’t take this as Gods Golden Truth, this is simply my experiences with the two boards and how I think PreSonus is poised to become the new industry standard with this board (in this price range) unless Behringer can respond accordingly. If you want more detailed information on the boards I would encourage you to check the respective websites. Also I did not go into much depth with the DAW functionality of either board since 1) I have not used it much 2) PreSonus’ DAW integration is not yet available. If you have any other questions feel free to comment below or tweet me @lyndondueck and I’ll do my best to answer your questions and provide insight as to my opinions on both boards.
When PreSonus announced the PreSonus StudioLive Series III, I was ecstatic. I became a fan of the PreSonus mixers after using their Series I and Series II mixers. The tone and sound processing is what sold me, but the ingenuity and forwarding thinking to make it easy to use a digital board while still trying to stay relevant in the digital age were all factors that made me into a PreSonus fanboy. The only thing that I wished for was a bit more of a digital interface (The Series I and II are more analog focused) and some more modern features that sound boards like the Behringer X32 had made standard, so when the Series III came out I was eager to see if it lived up to the hype and if it matched to other boards that were dubbed “industry standards.” (Spoiler Alert, it did)
I’ve used both the Behringer X32 and the StudioLive SIII so I’m going to go ahead and give my opinion and try not to be biased at all…
For context, I installed a PreSonus SIII in my home church and use a Behringer X32 at Chapel Services at a Bible College and various other events.
Right off the bat the PreSonus gets a win for aesthetics. The Blues and Blacks mesh nicely to create a very visually appealing board, coupled with the fact that everything is laid out in such a way that navigating the board is easy, its an obvious win in my book. The X32 maintains a darker look with dark greys and less focus on colours except for coloured LEDs in some places. This may be of benefit to those who are looking to maintain a dark aesthetic, but to me it actually makes it harder to navigate. The PreSonus has a lighter workspace on the faders, and then a darker workspace where the buttons and LEDs can be found allowing for a clear separation of sections and making it easier for my eyes to quickly and visually understand different areas of the board.
The build quality of the PreSonus is premium with a nice aluminum finish. The buttons are responsive and colourful, the touchscreen is a nice touch (no pun intended) as well. The knobs on the Fat Channel are easy to rotate and feel satisfying. PreSonus also includes a spot to place a tablet making it easy to have additional information displayed at your finger tips (their App is fantastic, more on this later) but its also a great resting place for when you aren’t walking around the venue with the iPad. The faders feel great and are very responsive, they are motorized as well. The channel strip screens are bright and easy to see, though they only contain one colour (white). Each of the buttons on the channel strips are colour customizable as well so you can group sets of instruments into different colour codes.
Edit Oct 18: I think its important to note that the Series III StudioLive has been completely redesigned compared to its predecessors. A lot of people that have had experiences with the previous models may not even look at this model, but its important to treat it as something entirely brand new, because it is. And its worth talking about. I truly believe that its going to become the new industry standard over competitors like the X32.
The X32 also includes a premium build quality. An aluminum finish with plastic sides with a nice grip if you are using this board on the road and are constantly setting it up and tearing it down. It does lack a touch screen, but there is a display for seeing what you are currently working on. The channel strips displays can be customized with various colours making it incredibly easy to distinct different groups of instruments (if you have a colour coded system). It also has a slightly larger input signal LED light strip compared to the PreSonus. The motorized faders feel great, and the buttons are responsive. The knobs for adjusting EQs and settings leave much to be desired with no satisfaction when rotating. I also find my finger slipping off them frequently when I’m trying to do precise adjustments. The X32 also includes a spot to place your phone (Im assuming) but its so small it doesn’t fit my iPhone 7 and likely doesn’t fit many other modern smartphones that are getting bigger and bigger. I guess you could place a DB meter device here if you wanted? But right now it just looks like wasted space and Id rather see something like that iPad holder on the PreSonus.
Board Navigation and User Experience
When the StudioLive Series I came out, PreSonus began working on the “Fat Channel” experience. This was a section of the board that contained all of your adjustments for EQ’s, compression, gates, and more. You would press the select button for the channel/aux/section you wanted to edit and then your fat channel was switched to editing this selection. One of the major things that made PreSonus lag behind on the Series I & II was the heavy emphasis on an Analog experience. The board looked like an analog board, especially the way that everything lined up, this made it confusing when you would try to edit something and not realizing you first had to hit the select button to get the whole strip to become your workspace. PreSonus addresses this in the Series III by creating clear definition between the faders and the fat channel. The Fat Channel has been redesigned to be sleeker and easier to use, but also contains more features. When you hit select on a channel, the Fat Channel AND the touchscreen both switch to the selected channel. Say you want to edit EQ’s for example, you can choose to use the tactile knobs on the Fat Channel to adjust, while simultaneously getting a live look at your EQ waveforms on the touch screen. You can also choose to exclusively use the touch screen controls if you want.
In contrast, the X32 relies solely on knobs to edit EQ’s and other settings. There is a dedicated Equalizer section that can be accessed by hitting select and then turning the EQ knobs. While this gives a more familiar Analog experience, I found it cumbersome compared to the StudioLive. The lack of touchscreen was also frustrating. I found myself time after time touching the X32’s screen and getting frustrated with the lack of response. Instead there are knobs below the screen that correspond to different settings currently visible on the touch screen. The X32 does however provide quick access to different settings pages with buttons to the right of the screen, compared to the “home” screen on the PreSonus.
One thing that I was most surprised about on the X32 was the lack of user functions. On the PreSonus, you can set up a customizable layout for your faders. Because its rare that I would use all 32 channels of inputs on the PreSonus on any given Sunday, I would move all my vocals/instruments to the left hand side, and then use the 8 channels to the right of the main fader as special faders for FX, Subwoofer Master, DCA groups and more. This made it easy to not have to switch back and forth between different pages and views, something that I find myself doing CONSTANTLY on the X32. On the X32 because I have drums on 1-16 and some guitars on 17-32, I have to constantly switch back and forth when I want to boost or reduce volume of any given instrument. There is a dedicated area for BUS masters which is handy for our FX’s that we run, but I find that this is mostly wasted space due to the way we run monitors on the X32 (using the power play system). The X32 does have 4 user assign knobs on the right hand side along with 8 buttons, but I find that these pale in comparison to the full user programability of the StudioLive.
Because of the layout of the X32 I find myself tripping over areas and getting confused as to where I am. Am I editing a bus? an FX? Or am I on the main FOH? I can’t tell you how many times Ive accidentally started editing a monitor mix because I thought I was in the FOH. I think the biggest shortcoming here is the fact that the selection buttons are scattered throughout various places on the board whereas on the PreSonus, any fader edit selections are on the left, so I can always quickly glance to the left and know right away what I am editing.
The solo, select and mute buttons on the PreSonus are a little close together so if you aren’t paying attention sometimes it can be easy to accidentally mute something you meant to solo. These buttons are much more spaced out on the X32.
All in all, for board navigation, the StudioLive gets a win from me here.
Both boards feature 16 buses. The PreSonus has 12 XLR and 4 TRS outputs and the X32 has 16 XLR outs.
The X32 requires you to use a bus if you want to mix in FX which causes you to lose potential monitor mixes where as the PreSonus has 4 dedicated FX busses on top of the 16 mix outputs. This is huge especially when working with larger mixes.
Another win for PreSonus.
Built In FX
Both boards come with a modest selection of built in FX. The FX that come prepackaged with the X32 I have had more success with in terms of quality and sound. Both companies offer additional sound downloads and you can use a laptop to run more FX. Right out of the box, I would be tempted to give X32 the win, however, because they force you to use one of your busses here, they get the L from me. The fact that I have 4 separate FX busses on top of the 16 in the StudioLive is enough to grant them a win…just use the FX from their website or your own via a computer…
Sound Processing and Tone
Ive always been a fan of how the sound processing in the PreSonus is. The X32 I struggle to get a sound I truly enjoy, even after spending a great deal of time EQing. The EQ system is pretty basic on the X32 whereas on the PreSonus you can choose from different signal processing presets including Vintage and Passive EQ, tube and FET compressor and more. Its really flexible.
The PreSonus features 32 XLR inputs (16 of which double as TRS inputs). It also includes various Aux and Tape inputs. I had no shortage of inputs while using this board. It also comes loaded with a USB port and 2 ethernet ports. 1 for controlling the board, and 1 for running a digital snake (which until this month was not available). Being able to plug a laptop in via USB and get full control of the board and full 40 track recording is awesome. Something that the X32 lacks. You can buy an X32 with an USB expansion card, but I could never get the darn USB port to work, apparently it was never enabled according to some reddit posts I saw.
Both boards feature networking for running iPads and other mobile devices to control the sound board and monitor mixes. A mainstay in modern sound.
Behringer has had a digital snake solution out for a while, PreSonus only recently came out with their digital snake that supports the Series III (which uses AV/B networking, the only soundboard to currently use the protocol).
I’ll be frank, the UC Surface App for the PreSonus StudioLive Series III is the best mobile app for a soundboard that I have used, and I’ve used a lot of them. It looks beautiful, it works very well, and its easy to navigate, which is the biggest thing. With the X32 app I find it hard to navigate, while it has most of the same features, its just hard to use.
One of the great things about the PreSonus app is that it allows you to setup different views. I can setup a meter view to see all incoming and outgoing signals and place my iPad on the convenient iPad holder, and then setup my MacBook as a dedicated Fat Channel editor/viewer. If you run multiple tablets you could have mounts around your board to give various views and overviews so you know whats going on with various sections of your board at all times. The X32 app is merely a control app, which is great if you want to simply gain control while walking around the venue, but it doesn’t provide anything meaningful like the UC Surface App.
Edit Oct 18: I’ve been told that PC apps are quite in-depth and offer a lot of features, but again I found them hard to look at and navigate. Maybe I’m living in the millennial era of “make it look pretty” but to me its a huge plus if it looks great and provides the same functions.
The StudioLive Series III has a dedicated section for recording, which is nice if you are using this board as a studio board or just like to record everything. You stick an SD card in, hit record and away you go, take the SD card out after and put it into a laptop with Studio One (included with the board!!!) to edit your recording and export it for the masses. The PreSonus features full 40 track recording to the SD card.
The X32 does allow you to record to USB but there aren’t any recording buttons that are front and centre so it requires a few extra steps. The X32 does also allow 2 track recording to a USB stick.
Scenes work mostly the same between the two boards. You can save everything (including Mic Pre-amps now!!!). You are required to save scenes to a USB stick on the X32 which means if you just bought this board and don’t have a USB stick, you’ll be heading back to the store to grab one. A bit of a bummer, however the benefit of this is the ability to save your scenes and take them with you so you know no one will mess up your stuff, great if you have multiple people using the board.
The StudioLive does not have a USB port so you can’t save scenes to a USB stick. It saves them internally to the board. You do have the option to copy scenes to a computer if you have a computer plugged in, so this could be a way to back up your scenes to prevent them from being messed up by nosy people.
Edit Oct 18: It was pointed out to me in a reddit post that the X32 does indeed have scene saving to the system itself. I personally never got this to work as intended, it saves scene names but not scene settings, so I am not sure if there is an issue with the board or the configuration we have.
At the end of the day, both of these boards complete the same objective and have very similar feature sets. What sets the StudioLive apart from the X32 is the attention to detail PreSonus has taken in everything from the aesthetic of the unit, to the placement of features on the board, navigation and more. I find myself enjoying using the Presonus way more then the X32. Using the X32 has become a bit of a chore, and just isn’t fun to use. If you already own an X32 should you jump over to the PreSonus? If you have a disposable income, sure, but you aren’t going to gain much other then a more pleasant user experience.
If you are looking to buy a new board and dont already own digital, I would definitely recommend the StudioLive Series III. Now that they have their digital snake option coming out, its truly a game changer and is going to give the rest of the boards in its class a run for their money.
If I missed anything, let me know down below and I’ll be sure to add it in! Please note, I am not a trained audio professional, my views are my own.
Edit Oct 18:
Apparently PreSonus liked what I had to say, thanks guys! You guys are killing it and I won’t be surprised if the StudioLive Series III becomes the industry standard. Other companies should be wary.
So rad! Sharing this around the office…. THANK YOU!
— PreSonus (@PreSonus) October 18, 2017
Edit 2 Oct 18: Please note that this is a comparison of the Series III, not the 32 AI or earlier versions of the PreSonus, which I will agree, leave much to be desired. The Series III is a major step up compared to previous PreSonus boards and those who actually take a look at them will be surprised how different they are from their predecessors.