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PreSonus StudioLive 16.0.2 • 16-Channel Mixer and DAW Interface


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A Digital Mixer and FireWire DAW Controller for Live Performance and Recording

 

$1,499.95 MSRP, $1,299.95 street

 

www.presonus.com

 

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PreSonus sure is on a roll these days. They have had a spate of major releases in the different arenas of mixers, interfaces, and software, while also managing to provide multiple offerings within those categories. For example, at the Summer NAMM show, PreSonus unveiled three new interfaces, the AudioBox series, and presaged the imminent 2.0 launch of their still fairly new DAW, Studio One. As well, they added to their already-successful digital mixer line.

 

One of PreSonus’s strengths is the way their products all benefit from their brethren’s technological innovations. For example, best practices in the company’s interfaces wind up in the front ends of their mixers, and software developments in their DAWs inform the sophisticated and evolved utilities for their hardware.

 

This integration is evident in the new StudioLive 16.0.2 ($1,499.95 MSRP, $1,299.95 street), a FireWire 16-analog input mixer that PreSonus introduced at the show as the “baby of the digital mixer line.” But this baby sports some mighty grown-up specs.

 

PreSonus’ twin talents of software and hardware design are evident in the 16.0.2. It functions equally well as a live 16-channel mixer, a recording board, and a front-end device with multi-track capture and editing capabilities, owing to its integration with the software that drives it, Universal Control and PreSonus Capture. The unit also ships with a lite version of PreSonus’s DAW, Studio One Artist. One of the 16.0.2’s greatest strengths is the way it integrates DAW-playback and live performance. This makes it perfect for anyone who employs pre-recorded tracks in their show, from click tracks to Ableton Live sequences to audio and MIDI tracks. As a testament to how fully evolved the 16.0.2 is from its inception, an iPad app called StudioLive Remote is also available, allowing you to control the mixer wirelessly.

 

Note: As with all Pro Reviews, we encourage you to get specs and detailed product descriptions from the manufacturer’s website (http://www.presonus.com) or from your favorite retailer (such as Musician’s Friend). We also encourage you to download the manual, graciously provided by PreSonus for free, found here. What we’ll do in the following pages is to explore the 16.0.2 the way the reviewer experiences it—in real time (or nearly so), with space in between the forum posts for questions, and “getting a word in edgewise.” (Please keep in mind, posts must be strictly on-topic.)

 

The 16.0.2 is not just a mixer, but an entire software-hardware approach, and it’s worth it to take a moment and go over the various pieces that comprise that system. So before we discuss the functions and workflow of the StudioLive 16.0.2 in a session, let’s take a look at the individual components included in the package.

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What’s in the Box

 

The 16.0.2 is a 16-analog input mixer sporting 17 physical faders: 12 for channel inputs (8 mono, 4 stereo), 4 buses, and 1 L/R stereo master. The 12 channels are outfitted with PreSonus’s new XMAX Class-A solid-state mic preamps and have individual phantom power switches.

 

The top and the bottom of the channel section looks fairly normal, with faders on the bottom and trim controls on top. In between is where you see PreSonus’s innovative approach. There are several switches, but only one multi-function rotary control. This is the result of the 16.0.2’s Fat Channel, which basically appropriates the entire front-panel real estate to display the parameters and functions of a single channel. We’ll get to the Fat Channel in a moment.

 

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Robust and Compact

 

Two things I observed right away when unpacking the 16.0.2: 1) how substantial (i.e., heavy) it is, with a robust, heavy-duty quality to it; and 2) how condensed and un-huge it is. If you told me I was receiving a 16-analog input mixer with 17 faders, I never would have guessed it could be just slightly wider than my 15" MacBook Pro.

 

If you plan to move around with the 16.0.2—even if it’s just from the basement rehearsal room to an upstairs bedroom for recording—you’ll appreciate its compact footprint.

 

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All Aglow

 

The front panel uses color-coding quite well, allowing you to quickly and easily group functions together with your eye. The switches, metering, and displays are multi-colored as well—in addition to being quite bright—and are perfect for reading in a room with subdued lighting.

 

For fun, I took a photo with the lights dimmed. Check out how the switches glow!

 

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Around Back

You’ll notice from the angle of the opening photo that the 16.0.2 rises toward the back. This provides a nice bit of room for the back-panel jack bay, as shown below.

 

Note the talkback mic connection at the far left: It also has an XMAX preamp, a level control, and selectable phantom power. Pretty good for a talkback mic!

 

The Main Outputs have both XLR and balanced TRS connections, which output in parallel to each other and to the Mono Output. The Mono Output (with its own Level control) is handy for theater and worship applications where you might want to feed a mono-summed signal of the mix to an offstage location, such as a green room or choir loft.

 

Stereo channels 13/14 and 15/16 have RCA jacks in addition to XLR and 1/4". Nice!

 

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Software Integration — A Major Component

 

Also inside the box are two FireWire cables (6-pin-to-6-pin and 6-pin-to-4-pin, for direct connection to Mac laptops), a hard-copy quick-start manual, a power cord, and three discs (in two packages) for the software. The three discs include the following:

 

Disc 1

• Universal Control with VSL, Drivers

• Full manual in pdf form

 

Disc 2

• PreSonus Capture (the recording/editing software for multi-track recording and basic editing).

• 16, 24, 32-track demo recordings

 

Disc 3

• Studio One Artist (a lite version of PreSonus’s full-featured DAW, Studio One)

• Demos and Tutorials (including videos and songs)

• Reference manuals (pdf)

• Sound Sets (supporting audio and virtual instrument files for Studio One)

• 3rd Party (demo programs from Toontrack and Native Instruments)

• Jambalaya recipe (PreSonus are proud natives of Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

 

Here’s a photo showing everything in the box that’s not the mixer. Note that in addition to the manual, cables, and discs, there is a PreSonus sticker and two adhesive-backed padded foam strips, which you can place on the bottom of the 16.0.2.

 

 

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Universal Control with VSL

 

Because the computer-based software is a huge benefit in operating the 16.0.2 (and because showing the physical disc doesn’t do it justice), following are descriptions and screen shots of the software included on the discs.

 

 

Universal Control is the software utility that allows you to control the mixer from the computer. Of course, communication is bi-directional, so any changes made with a physical mixer control (switch, knob, or fader) are reflected on the computer screen, and vice-versa.

 

Universal Control has four tabs: Overview, FatChannel, GEG (graphic EQ), and Setup. Overview (shown below) looks most like a traditional mixer. You see the expected sections for (proceeding bottom to top) faders, channel-monitor switches (Mute, Solo, Select—part of the Fat Channel operation, described below), effects and aux bus levels (the horizontal bar graphs), EQ and dynamics, Gain (the horizontal meter just above the Gate display), and switches for phantom power, FireWire Input select, Phase Reverse, and Post DSP select. The color of a switch on the screen corresponds with its physical mixer counterpart. This shot shows the Overview of the mixer.

 

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There are a few things to note here. The three stacked graphic displays (just below the horizontal level meter) show Gate, Comp (compressor), and EQ. Look for a moment at a detail shot of the Gate, Comp, EQ displays (immediately below).

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(Note: screen shot altered with shading/brightening effect to highlight graphic displays.)

 

 

 

Look carefully here and you’ll see whether an effect is active or bypassed (e.g., Channe1 1’s Gate is active; Channel 2’s is inactive), and the shape of the envelope. EQ curves are shown when engaged for a specific channel (see Channels 3–10).

 

If you activate a Gate, you see the results of the gain reduction in the meter to the left of the channel fader. Referring back to the screen shot at the top of this post, note the dramatic gain reduction for Channels 1, 4, and 7. Similarly, these meters show the gain reduction applied by the Compressor as the signal rises and crosses the threshold setting. DAW users are used to seeing this, but remember, this is monitoring your physical mixer!

 

The group of four bar graphs (1–4) just below the EQ display shows the levels of the four Aux buses. Below that are two level controls (A, B) for the internal DSP effects buses. When mixing “in the box,” having two internal effects buses is a real plus. More on the effects later.

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Let’s Get Fat, Y'all!

 

The second tab in the Universal Control shows PreSonus’s unique and innovative Fat Channel. The basic idea is that when you Select a channel, that channel’s parameters take over the entire front panel. They get “fat” and throw their weight around, hogging a huge portion of the available interface—which is a good thing!

 

We’ll explore the Fat Channel in a separate section, but this shows you that you can craft individual channels using either the computer or the mixer.

 

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Graphic EQ

 

Click the third tab from the left, and you’ll invoke a 31-band GEQ. Again, you can do this on the front panel, but the advantage of using Universal Control is that you can see all 31 bands simultaneously. (On the mixer, you have to view the sliders in sections.)

 

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Setup

 

The fourth and final tab on the Universal Control utility is a Setup screen. The left side controls which parameters can be excluded when recalling Scenes. (You can even password protect your settings using the Lock Out feature.) The right side is for setting MIDI parameters. If you plan to do a lot of Scene Recall, you’ll be using the Setup screen to get the best of both worlds: preserving session-specific, on-the-fly adjustments while importing pre-programmed scenes and templates.

 

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Capture Software

 

PreSonus not only includes a copy of their DAW (Studio One, described below), but another capture/edit piece of software that has a learning curve with a slope of zero or dead flat. In other words, it's dirt simple.

 

Capture allows board operators and band members who don’t want to fuss a simple and impediment-free way to instantly record their 16-track performances. All channels are automatically routed to software tracks. You simply arm the tracks, hit record, and go. If you’ve ever operated a cassette deck or an old-school telephone answering machine, you can work Capture.

 

Capture works flawlessly out of the box, letting your record 16 tracks instantly, while you take time to interface your 16.0.2 with a full-featured DAW (whether that’s Studio One or something else).

 

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In addition to a straight-up capturing interface, Capture allows for some basic editing. You can zoom into a user-defined area and perform a deletion. This is handy for the “housekeeping” tasks of trimming the dead air that surrounds the music on the front and back ends of the recording. Knowing you can do this in a jiffy means you don’t have to worry about hitting the record button just before the downbeat. Hit the Record button as early as you like, then go back to preparing for the session to start. When the song ends, you can close down open mics, fade the master, etc., and hit Stop when you get around to it. A quick session with the eraser and scissors tools will trim the ragged edges of your file so that they're neat and tight.

 

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In the screen above, Tracks 1 and 3 have been split (indicated by the dark vertical lines) using the scissors tool from the tool palette above. Tracks 1 and 2 have adjacent regions selected (light blue highlight) for imminent processing (erasure, deletion, etc.).

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StudioLive Remote for the iPad

 

Unfortunately, an iPad is not included in the box along with the 16.0.2, the cables, and the software. ;) But if you already own one (or will acquire one), you will very soon (PreSonus says September 2011) be able to operate Universal Control wirelessly, using the iPad app StudioLive Remote. You still need a computer hooked up to the 16.0.2 via a FireWire cable, but you can then run all the functions from your iPad.

 

This would be very useful for sound engineers looking to control the 16.0.2 while walking around the venue, or for giving control to performers (both onstage and in the studio) or anyone else who’s not behind, or within easy reach of, the board.

 

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[Edit: A previous version of this post stated the 16.0.2 version of StudioLive Remote was already available. When it is, we'll post a notice here. -JC]

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The Skinny on the Fat Channel

 

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the 16.0.2—and what represents the most radical departure from the traditional mixer paradigm—is PreSonus’s Fat Channel. This feature affects the actual design and control layout of the board, as Fat Channel obviates the need for many dedicated knobs covering the entire channel section of the board.

 

Here’s how it works: By pressing any of the 17 Select switches (one for every fader on the board) you transform the entire board into one wide—or “fat,” in PreSonus’s lingo— channel strip. The key parameters, including EQ and dynamics processing, are spread out, using the LED meters to display their parameter values. Here’s a schematic (taken from the manual) that shows the signal chain of each channel:

 

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Now look at a rendering of the main section of the mixer, also from the manual:

 

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You see the modules in the signal chain represented on the board, with the appropriate number of faders assigned to the modules parameters. For example, the Compressor takes four meters (“Channel” numbers 3–6) for indicating Threshold, Ratio, Response, and Gain.

 

The EQ section needs six meters (“Channels” 7–16) to represent both Frequency and Gain across three bands, Low, Mid, and High. Two additional switches below each band control On/Bypass and Shelf (On/Off). With Shelf off, the EQ functions as a narrow-band parametric EQ.

 

Fat Channel has more implications than just setting up individual channels, too.

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Fat Channel Continued

 

Here’s a summary of all the functions under the Fat Channel’s domain:

 

• Add dynamics processing and EQ to every input and output

• Create sends and effects mixes for all four analog Aux

• sends and both internal effects buses

• Engage phantom power for each mic preamp

• Meter inputs, Aux and Main outputs, and gain reduction for all 16 channels

• Copy, save, and load Fat Channel and GEQ presets

• Recall your fader position for stored mixes

 

 

Not Just Input Channels, Either!

The Fat Channel is available for every input and output on the 16.0.2, but what you may have noticed from the list above is that the Fat Channel applies to buses and effects, too. So though it’s called “Fat Channel,” it also works on buses. Here’s a table, copied from the manual, that shows the Fat Channel’s extended reach beyond just channels.

 

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Hi Jon:

 

Unlike the talkback mic inputs on the 16.4.2 and 24.4.2 which are XMAX preamps (and recordable), the talkback mic preamp on the 16.0.2 not an XMAX circuit (and not recordable). In all 3 mixer models, phantom power is always on, so don't use your favorite ribbon mic to talk to the band :)

 

Wesley Smith

Product Planner

PreSonus Audio Electronics

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Hi Jon:

 

SL Remote integration is not currently available for the 16.0.2. We are in the very final stages of testing it right now and it will be available shortly after the Universal Control update this coming month. SL Remote 1.1 will also add full support for the new 16.4.2 firmware features that are included in the Universal Control update and will be available for FREE on the App Store. The Universal Control 1.5 update will be a requirement to use SL Remote 1.1 and it includes a new driver and some minor bug fixes for VSL.

 

Obviously, we'll let everyone know when both updates are available!

 

Wesley Smith

Product Planner

PreSonus Audio Electronics

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SL Remote integration is not currently available for the 16.0.2. We are in the very final stages of testing it right now and
it will be available shortly after the Universal Control update this coming month
.

 

Thanks for clarifying, Wesley, and welcome to the StudioLive 16.0.2 Pro Review! Good news that the Remote iPad app for the 16.0.2 is imminent. And I guess I won't die if I my bandmates can't hear my talkback instructions in XMAX fidelity! ;)

 

Forumites, if you have specific questions for PreSonus about the 16.0.2, feel free to post them here.

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Hey Jon!! Great job. Let's hope PreSonus doesn't get too wet from the rains scheduled to come their way this weekend.

 

I thought people might enjoy the video I did at Frankfurt Musikmesse, where the 16.0.2 was first introduced, if they want a 4.5-minute overview. I think Rodney Orpheus gives fun demos, too - I love his line about the "Wheel of Me."

 

[video=youtube;B78MNyMCUss]

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The Fat One

It’s hard to describe the benefits of the Fat Channel because so much of one’s appreciation comes when working with it in a real session. It is an adjustment to go from “many vertical knobs” per channel to “many horizontal LEDs” per channel, but it really works.

 

Though it sounds like a plug-in effect that gives your sound an analog warmth, Fat Channel changes the whole paradigm of digital mixing — in a good way. I can’t stress this enough. PreSonus departs from the tradition of making a digital board impersonate an analog one, and employs Fat Channel for what digital control does best: re-assigning functions, hardware and visual feedback that changes depending on the task at hand.

 

Hooking up and assigning individual mics and instruments to specific channels is the first step in incorporating any mixer into your studio or stage rig. In doing this in my own studio, I found the 16.0.2’s Fat Channel makes this incredibly quick and intuitive. The Fat Chanel approach could just as easily be named “Fast Channel,” as it treats an individual channel as the “belle of the ball” once you hit the Select switch. In other words, there are no other channels in your view when you’ve got your desired channel’s Select switch activated. It’s all about Channel 3 (or whatever).

 

This is important, because when you’re setting up for a live show, you might only get four or five thumps on the kick drum from which to adjust not just the level, but the entire sound. Then it’s on to the snare or the overheads, where, again, you may get only a few seconds and a handful of strikes to make your decisions. Being able to set Dynamics and EQ on the inputs as quickly as I did, with all parameters visible, was very handy.

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Four other aspects to the Fat Channel, as it pertains to a channel setup, are worth exploring:

  • Pan

  • Digital Out

  • Copy/Load/Save

  • Link

 

Pan. All panning on the 16.0.2 is made via the Fat Channel. Hitting the Select key on any input or output bus shows you its pan position (the L/R placement in the stereo soundfield) via a horizontal LED meter. Use the dedicated rotary controller to set the placement.

 

The meter is well designed. In mono, the center lamp in the 15-segment meter is red and always lit. When you roll left or right of center, amber LEDs light up to tell you how far from center you are. In Stereo (either a stereo channel or linked mono pair), the meters indicate left-right position by showing both the right and left sides. The channels move in congress with each other, with hard left/right represented by two amber LEDs at the widest positions, and moving inward from there until, meeting at a single red LED, they become centered.

 

My only wish is that there was a way to get quickly back to center. Analog boards have a detent that helps this, and software usually has a click+modifier key, but there’s no equivalent here. Still, the red/amber combination makes visual spotting and adjusting a breeze.

 

3 Mono Channel Pan Positions

 

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A mono channel panned left of center. Note that only the center-position LED is red. All others are amber.

 

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A mono channel panned center.

 

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A mono channel panned hard right.

 

 

Here's what the pan display looks like for two linked mono channels (1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8) or a stereo channel (9/10, 11/12, 13/14, 15/16).

 

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A stereo/linked-mono channel panned wide, but not quite hard left/right (which would be represented by single amber bars in the maximum L/R positions).

 

 

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A stereo/linked-mono channel panned center, or with both channels collapsed to mono.

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Digital Out. This control gives you the choice of sending either the unprocessed or processed signal over the FireWire bus.

 

With Digital Out engaged, the signal is sent with both EQ and dynamics processing. When the light is off, the unprocessed signal is sent. This is analogous to the recording practice of “monitoring with effects, printing dry.” If you’re going to capture a show in all its “here and now” glory, the way the audience and musicians heard it, you’d engage Digital Out. If you want just the raw data, and will clean it all up later, opt for the unprocessed channels to hit your DAW.

 

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Copy, Load, and Save. The 16.0.2 includes a “clipboard-memory” function consisting of three switches: Copy, Load, and Save.

 

If you Select a channel and then hit Copy, you now have all of its settings within the clipboard. All other channels (every one except the one you’ve just copied from), plus the four aux buses, the master L/R bus, and the two effects buses will blink. Pushing any combination of blinking buttons will turn them solid. Survey your work to make sure you’ve got it right, and then hit Load. The settings from the copied channel have been pasted to the selected channel or channels.

 

This is just about the easiest scheme I’ve seen for copying settings from one channel to another (or others).

 

What’s nice is the intermediary step, after the initial copying, where some switches are solid (the ones you’ve pushed) and some are still blinking (unselected). This allows you to select channels in any order, and without losing track of which ones you’ve already pasted to. After you get the right combination of “blinkers and solids,” press the Load button as a final step. It’s a nice bit of insurance to assemble your destinations before pulling the trigger. If, on the other hand, you’re just copying from, say, Channel 3 to Channel 4, this intermediary solid/blinking stage doesn’t slow you down any.

 

For any channel, aux or effects bus, or the L/R bus, you can use the Save button to capture any settings for later recall. Saved settings can be named and stored in a particular location and category (drums, vocals, guitar, etc.) in the Channel Preset Library. Saving is handy for creating “input channel templates.” You then use the Load button to recall previously saved Fat Channel settings. You can choose from your own creations or the 50 Fat Channel presets in seven categories that ship with the 16.0.2. There are 49 additional user-created slots to store your own.

 

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The Copy, Load, and Save buttons create a versatile clipboard-like functionality for saving settings, copying settings among channels and auxes, and loading pre-programmed setups from the library.

 

 

Although you can copy settings to adjacent channels using the three clipboard switches, there’s a better way, using Stereo Link.

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Stereo Link. Adjacent mono channels and aux buses can operate as a linked stereo pair. The pairings are fixed as 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, etc., but with any channel or aux selected, hitting Link activates the appropriate counterpart in the pair. The settings from the Selected channel/aux are temporarily written to its partner in the Link assignment, and either channel/aux can act as the master.

 

For example, if you have Channel 2 selected when you hit Link, its settings will be applied to Channel 1. Conversely, if Channel 1 is selected, it will be the master, and apply its settings to Channel 2. The pasted info that goes to the linked channel is only temporary (just as long as the Link switch is engaged) and does not overwrite the channel’s original settings. This is a great way to set up slightly different settings—one on Channel 1, the variation on Channel 2—and use the Link feature to A/B the settings for the linked pair, just by alternating which channel acts as the master when Link is activated. You can tell which channel is the master, because its number appears in the Selected Channel LED read-out in the Fat Channel display. Pasted settings include dynamics, aux, and main assignments.

 

As far as the 16.0.2’s four stereo channels (9-10, 11-12, 13-14, 15-16), Link must be activated to send both channels in the pair (odd and even) over the stereo bus. Even with both jacks occupied by plugs, the 16.0.2 sends only the odd-numbered channel unless Link is engaged. Once Link is engaged, however, the pair is treated as a stereo signal in every way: the pan control becomes stereo; if sent to a stereo aux send, the pan control to that aux is also stereo; dialing in dynamics or EQ will be applied to both; etc.

 

Link gives the even-numbered, right-side channels the master status, temporarily applying its settings to its odd-numbered counterpart.

 

The behavior is a bit different regarding the FireWire bus, however. When used as an interface, or front-end to Capture or other DAW, odd and even inputs are always present and hardwired to their correspondingly numbered tracks, regardless of whether Link is engaged or not. To the 16.0.2 in interface mode, having a cable in the even-numbered jack (with signal present, obviously) is enough.

 

Again, this is another great studio/live integration tool and handy for instantly summing stereo tracks to mono. It allows you to, for example, route stereo channels (keyboards, drum submixes, guitar multi-effects processors, complex delay programs, etc.) to a recording device retaining a mono assignment for the small stage. If you decide, at the venue, that you really could hear the effect in stereo to good effect, simply hit the Link button. The DAW hears the same thing regardless.

 

Linking is a powerful tool, and important enough that PreSonus gives it its own dedicated switch on the left side of the board.

 

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Link any adjacent pairs of mono channels or toggle between mono and stereo inputs on the stereo channels (9/10 - 15/16). The 16.0.2 maintains a versatile independence between the stereo L/R outputs of the mixer, and the hardwired, channel-to-track assignment of the FireWire bus.

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