Allen & Heath Mixing Desks – The SQ line-up

Affiliate Disclamer

Allen & Heath Mixing Desks

8

Build Quality

9.5/10

Value for Money

6.0/10

Functionality

9.5/10

Workflow

7.0/10

Pros

  • Great build quality
  • Generous amount of I/O
  • Built in 96khz sound card
  • Touch Screen

Cons

  • Steep Learning Curve
  • Price
  • Can be confusing with multiple functions per controller

Allen & Heath SQ Series

We review the SQ line-up of mixers form Allen & Heath. Do they live up to the standard set by Allen & Heath in the past or do they fall short?

Released in November 2017 the Allen & Heath SQ series mixing desks are no longer newbies to the scene, but they are still leading the industry. Today we are going to explore the SQ lineup of mixers and look at some characterizing features that make these mixers top of their class.
Now if you’re unsure what a mixing desk is then don’t worry! While we will assume some prior knowledge, this article will get you’re comfortable with what a mixing desk is and how is can be used. So buckle up and let’s dive into the world of the Allen & Heath Mixing Desks SQ line up!

 

What is a mixing desk? – For the uninitiated (like me).


I would guess that if you’re have found you’re way to this article on purpose, then you’re probably know a lot about mixing desks already and are more interested in the meaty parts of this article. So by all means head on down, but for those of you’re who are not completely clear on what a mixing desk is or its uses then read on.

When I first started looking into mixing desks I had little to no experience with using one, and so the task of getting to understand them seemed daunting. But then one day I clicked, (warning, I am about to grossly over simplify) a mixing desk is basically a physical representation of the mixing screen in my DAW.

Crazy right (I know, not that crazy lol) but for some reason this idea really slingshot my understanding of mixing desks forward. So just like your DAW you’re have you’re usual:

  • input channels
  • output channels
  • midi channels
  • insert effects
  • send effects

…and this is what the hardware represents. In fact, I believe it is the software DAWs are trying to represent the hardware of times past here which explains the close similarities! To further our understanding at this point let’s take the below graphic as an example.

Here we see a very simple example of how a mixing desk is used in a basic live band setup. If you’re have ever wondered why there is a person standing in a booth at the back of a gig who looks like they are busying doing something else, this is what they are doing. They are controlling the incoming audio from the band, making sure the mix between them is right and making sure they don’t make the crowd deaf by keeping the output signals in check.

But why do these desks need so many channels with faders and knobs all over the show? Well why don’t we take our above example and flesh it out a little!

Yikes that has made the picture a little messy but you’re get the idea. There is a large amount of incoming and out going audio signals that all need to be routed correctly so that the show can happen! We have multiple inputs from the drummer that all need to be mixed together along with the rest of the band. There are outputs going to the main speakers and audio signals going back to the artists so they can hear what the rest of the band is doing. There could also be another audio signal being sent to the drummer with a metronome click sound to keep everything in time.

So bringing it back to the analogy, there is a lot in common with the mixer interface in your DAW as there is with a mixing desk. You have inputs, outputs and effects that must all be controlled/mixed together to make a smooth sounding mix. If you’re have even a little experience using a DAW and mixing audio clips and midi clips together then you’re have a good grounding and understand in the fundamentals of what a mixing desk can do.

 

Options in the Line-up


Now that we know what a mixing desk is all about we can get into the meaty part of the article about the SQ series of mixers from Allen & Heath. We have 3 models in the SQ line up the smaller SQ5, the mid range SQ6 and the bigger SQ7. The 5-6-7 in the model number appears to be another ambiguous naming scheme. So for us then, we can read it as the SQ5 is smaller than the SQ6 and the SQ7 is bigger than the SQ5 and SQ6 models. Bigger and smaller referring to the physical size and the number of channels on the desk. But keep in mind all three options are expandable to 48 channel / 36 bus, and they all share industry leading 0.7ms (0.68ms) of latency! Let’s get to it then!

SQ5

https://www.allen-heath.com/ahproducts/sq-5/

While it is considered the baby in the line up, this `baby` has the same feature set of its bigger brothers in a smaller 17.3″x20.3″x7.8″ rack mountable form factor. A few of the take away features are:

  • 48 Input Channels
  • 16+1x Motorized Faders with 6 Layers for 96 assignable Channel Strips
  • 16x Local Mic Inputs (XLR)
  • 2x ¼” Stereo Inputs (TRS)
  • 1x 3.5mm Stereo Input
  • 14 Assignable Local Outputs
  • 8x Assignable Soft Keys
  • 4x Dedicated effect send buttons

Click here to view the technical spec sheet from the manufacturer.


SQ6

https://www.allen-heath.com/ahproducts/sq-6/

The SQ6 adds to the size of the SQ5 by including extract fader banks, I/O and additional soft rotaries and buttons to increase the ability to control the mix. These soft knobs and buttons can be mapped to any feature you’re like so you’re have instant hands on control.

  • 48 Input Channels
  • 24+1x Motorized Faders with 6 Layers for 96 assignable Channel Strips
  • 24x Local Mic Inputs (XLR)
  • 2x ¼” Stereo Inputs (TRS)
  • 1x 3.5mm Stereo Input
  • 16 Assignable Local Outputs
  • 16x Assignable SoftKeys / 4 Assignable Soft Rotaries
  • 4x Dedicated effect send buttons

Click here to view the technical spec sheet from the manufacturer.


SQ7

https://www.allen-heath.com/ahproducts/sq-7/

Finally the big one. The fully kitted out SQ7 adds even more of what the SQ6 did, with extra faders, soft buttons and I/O. A true masterpiece of engineering. As you’re can see by the feature set below, not a lot changes when compared with the SQ6 and SQ5 models and so you’re only need to move up to the SQ7 if you’re require the number of inputs and output the SQ7 offers.

  • 48 Input Channels
  • 32+1x Motorized Faders with 6 Layers for 96 assignable Channel Strips
  • 32x Local Mic Inputs (XLR)
  • 2x ¼” Stereo Inputs (TRS)
  • 1x 3.5mm Stereo Input
  • 18 Assignable Local Outputs
  • 16x Assignable SoftKeys / 8 Assignable Soft Rotaries
  • 4x Dedicated effect send buttons

Click here to view the technical spec sheet from the manufacturer.

 

Features


Now that we have been introduced to the different models, let’s dive into some cool features available on all three.

Slink

https://www.allen-heath.com/ahproducts/sq-slink/

A proprietary Allen & Heath technology that in a nut shell, allows you’re to connect to external audio systems with the key advantage of accepting 48khz and 96khz inputs making it compatible with other Slink and Dsnake systems. The diagrams above and video below I have found the most helpful in explaining this functionality.


Copy & Paste

https://www.allen-heath.com/ahproducts/sq-5/

This is a huge workflow time saver, say you’re have many mic inputs from multiple performers and you’re have set up a nice EQ curve on one of the voices that works well and you’re want to apply this setting to all the other voices. Instead of trying to memorize the curve and then apply it to the other channels, the copy & paste functionality here allows you’re to take the exact setting and apply it to any of the other channels you’re like. So within second you’re can have all the voices EQ’d and you’re can spend more time on other things or even fine tuning the other EQ’s.


Stereo multi track recording to USB

https://www.allen-heath.com/ahproducts/sq-5/

It this the big night and 5mins before kick off you’re are told that the customer needs a multi track recording of the gig. No computer? No problem! All you’re need is a USB drive, plug it in and away you’re go. Now there is a small (and I mean small) amount of routing that you’re will probably want to do but the ability to record stereo and multi track data is a huge bonus. This way you’re don’t need to carry around a laptop nor plug it in and get it all set up.


Soft keys and knobs

https://www.allen-heath.com/ahproducts/sq-7/

Think of these like assignable midi controls, you’re can select any function you’re like (for example tempo tap) assign it to a button or rotary and this function will be right at your finger tips. This can even be set to a specific channel fader so that if you’re are on a different layer you’re can quickly adjust the fader level without needing to switch layers. Better yet if you’re are on the same layer and you’re move the rotary, the fader will move along with it!


4 Dedicated Effect Banks

https://www.allen-heath.com/ahproducts/sq-6/

Choose from a range of on board effects like reverb or delay, assign them to one of four effect bank buttons, and you’re have them on hand when you’re need to add a little `something` to the mix. If you’re are familiar with send and return effects in a DAW such as Ableton Live then the concept works just like that. Hit the effect button you’re want to apply, and then using the fader add the effect to the track. Simple!


Chromatic Metering

https://www.allen-heath.com/ahproducts/sq-6/

Above each fader there is a LED capable of the full spectrum of RGB colors. Per input channel, the db range and color range can be manually configured to display different colors when the input signal hits a specified db range. This means that you’re can have customized monitoring on each and every input.


Audio Interface

https://www.allen-heath.com/ahproducts/sq-6/

To top it all off each model includes a 32×32 96khz sound card so you’re can plug in to record and monitor directly form your DAW. Making multi-channel recording a breeze and, multi channel output like 5.1 surround, just as easy.

Many of the features above and more are explained in this video by D.O’B. Sound Pro.

 

Use Cases


This may be a little obvious to most of you’re but I thought showcasing some possibilities of the hardware would help paint a picture of how flexable the SQ range can be.

Stage

Got a big cast that needs their own mic and monitoring setup? No problem, anyone of the SQ line up and take on this challenge with ease. You will have full control over the input volumes of each cast member with individually set EQ and compression. You can on the fly adjust the volume of a cast members in-ear monitors and even communicate to them through the talk back input on the back of each of the SQ models.


Recording Studio – Orchestra

Perhaps you’re have been tasked to be part of a team that is recording an orchestra with accompanying choir for the next blockbuster movie. You are going to need to take inputs form Close mics, Tree mics etc… a truly mammoth task. The Allen & Head SQ7 will be your friend here. You can even take a high quality multi track recording on a USB drive as a backup to the other recording methods you’re will be using. You only get one shot at this on the day so you’re need to know the gear is reliable and will work! In situations like this it is reassuring to know that Allen & Heath’s worldwide support service through its network of distributors are there on hand to help you’re when you’re need it.


Baller Home Studio

You know what, this gear isn’t just for the professionals. So if money isn’t an obstacle and you’re have a real passion for music production or just really like cool toys. Why not upgrade your home studio with one of the SQ line up? You will be getting an amazing sound card for recording which you’re will be hard-pressed to outgrow, and after getting some hands on experience with the unit you’re will be very well-educated and could even get yourself a job behind a mixing desk. But best of all you’re will get mad respect from your peers when they see any one of these units in your room!

 

Final Thoughts


These are industry leading units with amazing features, build quality and expandability. Today we have covered off what a mixing desk is, what options are available in the SQ line up. We have dived into some features shared between them and looked at different use cases. Hopefully this has given you’re a little more knowledge around the SQ line-up.

Have you’re had any experience with any of these mixers? Have I missed anything you’re would like me to cover? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts with the community.

I look forward to hearing about your experiences!

Thanks for reading.

 

Credits
  • Drum Kit SVG- By TheresaKnott – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Drum_Kit_3.svg, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25933511
  • Balck Guitar SVG – By maxim2 (Open Clip Art Library image’s page) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Singer Grey – By Nan Palmero from San Antonio, TX, USA – Rockstar with Glasses and a Cowboy Hat, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39932358
  • Bass guitar – By AJ – Open Clip Art Library image’s page, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11066835
  • SQ Images – https://www.allen-heath.com/

 

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