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.
First Night Out – Troubles
So 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 ahold 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.
Second Time Out – Minor Issue
So with the second unit in hand I pressed that into service for my next gig. This was going to be a unique gig because I was going to mix in 3 live performers over 5 mics so this was going to be not only a big test of this unit, but also how well it would mix.
A few minutes into setup I ran into an issue that I have read about from a couple users, the unit not issuing out DHCP address. For those that don’t know, the Soundcraft acts as a server to issue out IP addresses with it’s WiFi and Ethernet ports. For some reason, into my setup, it just stopped. I did some quick troubleshooting, gave it a reboot, and it has beenÂ stable since. To combat this issue I am going to suggest a tip below to help with this situation.
Otherwise the mixer was very solid for the live performance. Two wireless Sennheiser G3’s and three corded Sennheiser e835s. The mics were unfortunately fairly close to my speakers but between ringing out and enabling AFS the sound came out great. Controlling my sound for my dance segment is a breeze. At that point I just release my LPF cut off so all the rich bass sounds will come through, and bump up my master outs. All worked as expected.
Solid Use Now
It could be because of the firmware updates, but I have not had any real issues with both pairs of Ui16’s. Sound is clean and I am not getting some of the hiss that people are indicating they are getting. Could be because I don’t use phantom power, could be because I am not using the first two channels to bypass the DigiTech processing. But for reliability they have been great now.
Tips For Work Arounds
With the DHCP issue I got there is a work around. I happen to use a older Macbook Pro 2011 which has a Ethernet port on board, but of course you can do this with a newer Macbook Pro with a Ethernet dongle, or almost any PC laptop out there. Go ahead and hook up your laptop via Ethernet, and assign it a static IP. This way even if the unit fails with your wireless device, you can go back to your laptop and still have control of the unit in case of DHCP failure. I am hoping this is a generally easy firmware issue to fix.
This solution has not proven to work, and after some new firmware releases, this has not been resolved.
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) and who knows maybe Soundcraft will ultimately include them in the unit. But don’t expect to walk around beyond 60-75′ without being on the very edge of reception with a clear line of sight WITH the antennas.
Very Good And I Think Will Get Better
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. The unit clearly has potential, but also has some growing up to do. Having these many features in a shallow 4U rack mountable setup is the holy grail 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 failure made me really rethink if I should keep on with this unit, but I did decide in the end to keep pressing on. I do hope they can fix some things like more reliable WiFi connectivity, maybe some channel control options that you can group mutes and volume control with a single slider action. But these are generally minor things.
Do I recommend it? As of this point I will give a yes with a couple caveats. I have not taken this to dozens of shows to test this day in and day out. But for the use I put this through, especially on a outdoor wedding with high humidity and 95-degree temperatures and it held up to multiple hours of use in those conditions. I think from a build quality side it appears to be solid… yes, even with the failed unit I got. Nothing is ever 100% perfect and I can accept that I just got a bad unit off the assembly line.