Update. This article was originally published on 6/30/15 and I have updated some of the final conclusions on 6/14/17 this after Harmon/Soundcraft replaced my original units and I have been using the latest beta firmware.
DJs are constantly looking for the holy grail of mixing equipment; compact, feature packed, & easy to use. Does the Soundcraft Ui16 hit the mark in the growing affordable digital mixer market?
Some people may wonder why I would even be reviewing the Soundcraft Ui16 since I had a pair of Mackie DL806s and sung their praises in this review just a month ago. While I did love the DL806, one of it’s biggest shortcomings is the design of the unit meant that you had to get not only a heavy rack adapter, but it also required 9U of slant rack space to mount it. While it makes sense for those that want to use it in a purely docked state, I knew that my next version of my setup required a standard rack mount unit. So my search began for it’s possible replacement.
The Soundcraft Ui16 began originally as the uMIX from SM Pro Audio which had a preview unit that came out at the MESSE 2014 show. Soundcraft worked at deal with uMIX, did a few tweaks, and the Ui series was born. Now there are a number of features that I am not going to focus on (like the Digitech processing capabilities) because those are more geared towards live bands, but be aware there are a number of effects that make this a compelling choice for live band mixing. But I am going to focus on how I am going to use this for my Mobile DJing setup.
Part of my push towards the Ui16 was to take advantage of not only regular rack mounting, but also buy shallow racks to take up less space and weight. The Ui16 is only 4.3″ deep which is crazy shallow and can also forgo the rack mounting and laid right on it’s back side, but for my requirements it fits in the SKB 6U Shallow rack nicely along with a PDU, and my wireless speaker transmitter (currently an Alto Stealth device). My modular design allows me to transport my “mic box” consisting of Sennheiser G3 receivers to either my ceremony rig or my main rig with just a couple attachments.
Make no bones about it, this is a feature-packed rig, and even at the MSRP there is a lot of value in what is offered. I am only going to be scratching the surface on some of the things the Ui series has to offer that makes this unit something to strongly consider.
For some, not having physical sliders, knobs, and buttons is going to be a stretch. But every company from Mackie to Behringer has it’s own take on what a virtual console should look like. Soundcraft has taken that and made their virtual console purely browser based. They made a pretty clean looking interface (which they have a demo of it here) that is very responsive, logically laid out, and will work on any modern browser. So you can pick up sub-$100 tablets and it will work, iPod Touch and it will work, Chromebook and it will work. They made a very wise decision going this route as opposed to be locked into a specific brand or application.
With having so many channels at your disposal, you may not have to use the majority on most nights. Soundcraft has thought of that and allows for custom views (up to 6) to hide unwanted channels. This is extremely useful to have only active channels viewed in your interface and not have to scroll through all the unused channels to get to where you want to be.
Automatic Feedback Suppression has only been available as separate Drive Rack devices to place in your audio chain. The Soundcraft Ui16 has included this option that lets one ring out your microphones in a fixed setup, and then switching to live mode provides added protection from the wayward guest using the microphone that does not know any better to stay away from a DJ’s speakers. So now dealing with softer spoken guests will give you some extra wiggle room to bump up that gain before feedback will occur. No AFS does not eliminate all feedback, but it does a damn good job in the hands of the right person.
On-Chassis mp3 playback and Recording
The Soundcraft has the ability to playback files on the chassis via USB and controlled by the interface. Now this is no substitute for real DJing, but if you had a failure of your laptop, decks, or battle mixer, in a pinch you can playback on your Soundcraft and give yourself some time to troubleshoot the issues. You can even control playback right above the master fader control.
You can also record in 16bit, 24bit, and 32bit WAV files and recording an entire set yields chunked up 2GB files. There is a dedicated USB slot for recording, so for those wanting to playback there are a number of USB slots on the chassis to utilize.
WiFi and On Page Configuration
Where some competing digital mixers require a separate router, the Soundcraft has one built right in. It is not perfect, the stock antenna appears to be too tiny for practicalÂ use and appears to be under-powered. However with a replacement +6dbi antenna I am able to typically walk through an entire reception room without fallout.
Now of course every WiFi router can be configured, but Soundcraft has your configuration page available in the main interface means if you are at a venue that they are on the same channel as your WiFi, you can quickly get to your configuration page and choose alternate channels.
You can also configure your WiFi to pass through an available WiFi access point so now with correctÂ configuration you can have both internet access plus access to the Soundcraft device.
Control Of Each Channel
On the Soundcraft you have the ability to configure a number of parameters including EQ, Gain, Gate, Compression. You can also save your configuration as a preset so you can replicate those settings on every channel you recall it to.
The Soundcraft Ui16 has 4 XLR outputs plus two headphone 1/4 ports that can be changed over to 2 additional aux outputs. Each channel is controlled individually. One negative is a mute group right now can’t be assigned to a main+aux channel which I hope Soundcraft can address in a future update.
So Much More
There are a number of other features on this unit, more geared towards live bands. I can’t put forth a objective review of these features so if some of these options interest you I would recommend some of the live sound forums out there who have pretty technical discussions on this.
Two playback “decks” please
I have decided to use the Soundcraft on it’s own for a couple ceremonies now. Overall it’s been very solid but I do wish that Soundcraft would have a simple two-player layout so I can do simple transitions between tracks. Since it’s a ceremony I can do a quick fade-out, stop the track, bring up the gain, and start the next track; but it would be much nicer to have a two deck capability.
In 2015 with the very first Ui16 I received in I used for about 30 minutes straight, all seemed good, and I took it out to my very next wedding. About 3 hours into it’s use (sound-checking and halfway into my cocktail hour) i noticed some odd noise. The sound would pop, literally fizzle down to no volume, and cut back. It did this a few times to the point I rebooted it. About 5 minutes later, total audio failure. I tried from a number of sources to see if it was an input, but this was on the output side of the coin. I bypassed it, and was fairly upset that it didn’t survive it’s first night out.
I got ah old of the company I purchased it from and RMAed it. I had to make a big choice if to chalk this up as a bad single unit, or bad overall design. I had heard some issues like it being noisy for live bands, but nothing to this magnitude. But I took a look at the big picture and decided to continue on trying this device out, and got a replacement.
From there I received a replacement for my primary reception system and got a second for ceremonies. In general I was mostly stable but I did run into a random connection issue every now and then.
Solid Use Now
First and foremost I had enough issues with my original Ui16s that I had some long discussions with Harmon on it. They agreed to replace mine since they were one of the first units out to consumers and everything we had done to this point did not result in 100% stability. So they shipped me two new units and I could not be happier along with the most recent beta release. It has been solid for many gigs now.
Poor WiFi Range: There is just not a lot that can be said about this. The unit has a poor design on for it’s WiFi transmitter. You can increase the range a bit by purchasing a +6dbi gain antenna (which coincidentally it looks like the original uMIX devices had these) or an external router. I opted for a very inexpensive but high range 802.11g router. In almost all cases I can walk most of a venue’s site with access to my device(s).
The Dreaded “Connecting” Screen: A handful of users, including myself, have had an issue with losing connectivity. Usually this is caused by one of two issues, overcrowding of the 2.4 GHz spectrum along with a weak router can make one lose connection to the device. The other is an actual hang up of the device so you lose access to the UI. For me I had an issue with the latter and as I noted above Harmon replaced my units and the latest beta firmware updates addressed made things stable.
The best on the market
It’s hard to really pin down a couple words to describe this. It is certainly a very capable box, and has the right set of features at a great price for Mobile DJs. Being able to walk around with a phone or tablet to different spots of the room and finely adjust sound is literally the perfect tool for the wedding DJ. Crowds constantly raise up and down with voices and you want to try to dial in a consistent sound, and the Ui16 allows you to do just that.
Is it perfect? No. The original random issues I was having was frustrating at first, but I did decide in the end to keep pressing on and I am very glad that I did with the replacement of my originals and the latest beta firmware I have had access to, these are a champ. Yes one should bypass the internal router if you are going to walk more than a few feet from the device, but it’s a literal small price to pay ($30 for a good quality inexpensive 802.11g router). These are critical pieces to my mobile DJ performance and they are worth their weight in gold.
Author Biography: Lou Paris of Paris Creative
Lou Paris has been DJing since 1988 and has a deep passion for music of all styles and genres. Coincidentally Lou is also a successful 20+ year IT professional and has merged many technology concepts to ensure a successful night of entertainment. Click here to learn more about Lou's background.