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PreSonus EarMix 16M Personal Monitor Mixers

Bill Evans • February 2019Road Tests • February 12, 2019

Let’s start with a disclaimer. I have been a PreSonus user since buying my first BlueTube unit many years ago and, over the past few years, I’ve used a PreSonus mix system (RM32-AI) and 328AI speakers on every gig I’ve done. Ok, I’m something of a fan.

The system I received consisted of the StudioLive 32R rack mixer, an SW5E AVB switch ($399/street), an NSB 8.8 stage box ($599/street) and a trio of EarMix 16M personal mixers ($399/street, each). For this review, I’ll be focusing on the EarMix.

‡‡         What’s What

The SW5E is a 5-port AVB switch. It sits between the mixer and the stage box and personal mixers. “Wait,” I can hear people puzzling, “do I have to buy another box to use the EarMix system with my mixer?”

The answer is that no, you do not; but there are big advantages to adding it. It allows two things. First, you are running a star network rather than just daisy-chaining between devices.

Rather than getting into counting digital “hops” on a daisy chain, the star topology minimizes system latency. Also, the SW5E provides Power Over Ethernet for the EarMix units, so you don’t have to worry about power adapters.

The NSB 8.8 is an 8-in/8-out AVB stage box, which is just what it sounds like. It’s great for drums, percussion/conga stations, keyboard rigs, basically any place on stage with a bunch of audio sources. The outputs can feed powered wedges or in-ear transmitters. Both the SW5E and the NSB 8.8 are built like tanks. Did I give the stage box a toss just to see if it could take it? Why yes, I did. It’s built to take some abuse.

The star of the show is the EarMix 16M. Designed to work with its StudioLive Series III mixers (yet compatible with other AVB-enabled systems), this 16×2 AVB-networked personal monitor mixer provides an expandable, monitoring solution. Each EarMix 16M accepts 16 mono channels of input via AVB networking (Cat-6 cabling) and multiple units can be networked with a StudioLive Series III mixer.

Once routing is set up to EarMix’s 16 input sources, the user simply pushes a select button for access to that channel’s mute; solo; EQ (LF/HF shelving; sweepable MF), along with pan, one-knob limiter and level controls. The stereo aux input also has a level control. Rotary outputs for line out and phones level include 8-step LED meters and all buttons are backlit for ease of use in on dark stages. After perfecting a monitor mix, the scene can be saved to internal memory; up to 16 mix scenes can be stored/recalled locally.

In addition to its Ethernet/AVB ports, there’s a pair of 1/4” TRS line outputs (if you’re using the EarMix to control, say, a single powered wedge, a switch on the control surface will sum those to mono) and an 1/8” aux input for connecting an external audio device.

EarMix’s 1/4” TRS stereo headphone output sports a respectable amount of gain. Most users will find it plenty loud. I was somewhat baffled by its 1/4” headphone out when nearly all IEMs use an 1/8” plug. Most ear buds come with an 1/8”-1/4” adapter, but we all know how easily those get lost. It would be nice if there were both 1/4” and 1/8” outs, but if your users plan to connect wired buds directly to EarMix, pack a handful of adapters.

‡‡         Setup

My setup experience was likely not the norm. I’ve been using PreSonus rack mixers for a while and am pretty comfortable (or at least I was pretty comfortable) with controlling it via the Universal Control Surface app. I’ve done that both with a Mac Mini in the rack and with just an iPad. Most users will be mixing and setting up from a console, which will look different.

The shows I mix these days are mainly own band. Even on gigs where there is a house sound tech, I carried the RM32AI and ran the monitors from the stage. In the last iteration of the never-ending band, I had to run everything. Everyone in the band ran their own in-ear mix using either the UC app on an iPad or the Q-Mix app on an iPhone or Android phone. So, I figured that I could wing getting this system set up. While the end result was something I was pretty happy with, and the physical setup was a breeze, the middle part — setting up the digital routing is where things went awry. But, that was operator error — essentially me thinking I could wing it.

If you’re planning to implement a system like this and aren’t immersed in how digital patching works in the PreSonus world, you need to spend some time getting your head wrapped around it. It offers so many options that it can be paralyzing if you go in uneducated. There is a document about digital routing and setting up an AVB network available at PreSonus.com. To be honest, I tried to read it multiple times. The writing is that perfect storm between way too geeky for mortals along with an assumption that anyone other a complete rookie already knows all of this stuff. There have been better, more successful attempts at explaining digital patching/routing — including the “PreSonus StudioLive Series III Tricks” article that ran in the August 2018 issue of FRONT of HOUSE. I recommend reading that. There is also a series of good video tutorials on the PreSonus site. But don’t try to wing it.

Once I figured out how to name each EarMix box and determine which AVB banks fed which banks on each EarMix, it got easy. There are user-friendly features to help along the way. I loved the button in Universal Control that would make the lights on a chosen EarMix light up so we could tell which one was which.

‡‡         Power is Everything!

Power to the EarMix boxes was provided over Ethernet — a real plus. But use Cat-6 cables. The manual says you can use Cat-5, but the crappy cables I had purchased over the years from Fry’s would provide power, but only enough to light the EarMix up and use the controls. They would not carry enough juice to provide actual audio on the headphone jack. Once we got enough power to goose the output enough, we used a variety of headphone types ranging from the Sensaphonics IEMs to big, over-the-ear Sony cans that the keyboard player uses. It powered all of them without a problem. I usually carry a beefy stand-alone headphone amp for those Sony’s and was prepared to use the EarMix’s line outs to drive that, but didn’t need to.

‡‡         Wrapping Up

The EarMix boxes do not include a mic stand mount. One is offered, but it’s pricey ($80/list/$59 street). That may seem like a minor point, but for my tests, the EarMix boxes sat on the floor, which removes a lot of the system’s convenience.

I remember writing years ago that the day was not far off when anyone working in audio would have to have a solid understanding of networking. With systems like this and the increasing penetration of technologies like AVB and Dante, that time is here. I should knuckle down and learn the networking part and so should you. Ecosystems like this are really the norm now outside of gigs or venues small enough to be using much more basic analog mixing systems.

I like the system extensions represented by the EarMix, SW5E switch and NSB stage box. They are well-built, sound great and are really well-designed. There is a learning curve to the setup, but once past it, the EarMix 16M system offers powerful, flexible hardware control of individual monitor mixes. I continue to really love the 32R and using the Universal Control app on an iPad and in the end, it’s nice to have both virtual and physical options.

At A Glance

Powerful, Flexible Monitor Mix Control System

Designed for use with PreSonus StudioLive Series III mixers, yet compatible with other AVB-enabled systems, the PreSonus EarMix 16M personal monitor mixer is designed to serve as an expandable, networked monitoring solution for stage, installed sound systems and studio recording. Each EarMix 16M accepts 16 mono channels of input via AVB networking, and users can network multiple units with a StudioLive Series III mixer.

PreSonus EarMix 16M

PROS

  • Very flexible system
  • POE is very convenient
  • Solid, road-tough construction

CONS

  • Some learning curve to understanding digital patching
  • No included mic stand mount for the EarMix

FEATURES

Analog I/O:

  • 1/8-inch stereo aux input
  • 2 Balanced ¼-inch TRS line outputs
  • ¼-inch TRS stereo headphone output with loud, clear headphone amp that can drive low-impedance in-ear monitors

Digital:

  • 16 mono channels of input via AVB networking
  • 2 AVB Ethernet ports
  • 24 bit, up to 48 kHz operation

More Features:

  • 3-band EQ with sweepable mid frequency on all channels and main mix
  • Limiter on all channels and main mix
  • Stereo channel linking
  • Channel grouping
  • Solo and Mute
  • Mix scene Store and Recall; store up to 16 mix scenes locally
  • 16 Signal present and clip LEDs (one for each input)
  • 8-segment stereo output meter
  • Channel Level rotary control with 8-segment level indicator
  • Aux Input level control
  • Independent Monitor (line out) and Phones level controls
  • Routing setup from StudioLive Series III consoles and UC Surface

STATS

  • Size: 9.4 x 7.6 x 1.8”
  • Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Price: $399/street (not including stand mount)
  • Manufacturer: PreSonus
  • More Info: www.presonus.com

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