Allen & Heath SQ Series
Allen & Heath SQ Series
By Adam Biggs.
Adam is the proprietor of Biggsounds Productions. Servicing New South Wales and southeast Queensland for 15 years, Biggsounds have a dedicated team of live engineers and also provide quality audio, visual, and lighting equipment to the pro audio, education, community, and worship markets.
The SQ-5 and SQ-6 are 48 channel, 36 bus digital mixers with 16+1 and 24+1 faders respectively. The SQ-6 has an additional eight assignable soft buttons, and four assignable encoders with soft buttons.
It’s incredibly quick and easy to teach someone how to run this console. If you’re getting a lot of walk-ups, you can get any competent tech up and running on their show in five minutes. There’s not a lot of menu-based workflow to deal with, which is one of my bugbears with some other consoles.
A lot of our younger techs have been using Allen & Heath Qus or GLDs, and the SQs take the best parts of both. We love everything being on one layer in the Qus, because it’s very easy to get to things. But then, that’s a limitation. With SQ, you’ve got six layers as per a GLD or a dLive. The ability to custom configure your layers, setting up your work flow to suit you, is the thing that’s really sold us on Allen & Heath.
NEW FEATURES, NEW EFFECTS
We love the new ‘CH to All Mix’ button. The ability to hit one button and see where a channel’s going across all of the busses is a brilliant feature. It’s like a backwards ‘sends on fader’. You can grab your main vocal channel, for example, and at a glance, see its level in all your auxiliaries.
We’re now starting to see a lot of the effects and hardware emulations from dLive come into the SQ firmware. We use the Tube Stage Pre-amp model a lot on things like bass amp mics and snare bottoms to give a channel some ‘crunch’.
Allen & Heath have also just updated the SQs to run Automatic Mic Mixing, which is great for corporare work. In terms of processing on-board, the SQs are extremely usable, and we assume that there will be features that won’t come across from the dLive, simply from a processing perspective. Considering the price point we think that’s reasonable.
CHANNEL EQ AND COMPRESSION
Having the touchscreen to work with in addition to the EQ encoders on the surface makes the SQ workflow very fast. While they don’t have dedicated encoders for all controls of each band, it’s still very quick to access, and having a separate encoder for the high pass is really handy.
Operating the SQs is very ‘analogue-y’ in the sense that you’ve got all of the essential channel controls in front of you and along the side of the screen, as opposed to ‘touch and scroll’ operation. You can get quite aggressive with the channel compressors, but I tend to use compression subtly. Happily, they’re also great for that, and very transparent.
SOFT BUTTONS AND ENCODERS
Once you get used to having a certain number of assignable buttons and encoders, you can never have enough. You can pretty much run the entire console from soft keys.One of the big differences between the SQ-5 and the SQ-6 is that the SQ-6 has four assignable encoders with their own assignable buttons on the left-hand side of the screen. For example, you can set up the encoders as effects sends, grab a channel and then just wind up your reverb without having to leave your master bank. If you’re busking a mix, and you’ve got to get things up very quickly, you can.
But, if you don’t have them, you probably won’t miss them. This does mean a slight change of speed when you move from an SQ-6 to an SQ-5. Realistically, in terms of the physical space available on an SQ- 5, I think it was one of the obvious things to lose, rather than soft keys. I’m more attached to the soft keys than I am to the encoders.
PREAMPS AND FADERS
The SQs on-board preamps have lots of head room, and great sensitivity. While we are usually using the SQs with our AR racks, we have had a few situations when we’ve just gone straight into the on-board pres. I’m very interested to see how things change once we can connect our dLive racks to our SQs. The sensitivity on the faders is also great, and everything feels very, very pro. In your small movements, you really get that very ‘every dB counts’ feeling.
DCAS BUT TO SPILL
As a regular dLive user, I set up my DCAs to spill across the faders with the touch of a soft key. Quite a few dLive users also own SQ consoles, and across the board, they’ve been saying it would be great to have spill groups on SQ because it will make it a very versatile console. We’re all very excited about the SQ because it has so much of the dLive architecture.
We’ve multitracked several shows with the direct USB out and had really great results. We connected straight into a Mac running ProTools, and it’s been rock-solid.
We haven’t done anything that’s mission critical through the onboard USB-based multitracking, simply because I don’t think you can rely on the speed of most thumbdrives to make them stable. They might work fine for a 20 minute recording, but if you’re trying to track an hour-long set with 30 channels, you’re most likely going to run into errors. They are, however, completely fine for stereo recording.
SQ MIXPAD APP
The SQ MixPad app is excellent. It does require a newer iPad or Android device, and we’ve had to swap iPads between a couple of our venues, as some of them were three years old. Interestingly, it’s not as fully featured as the Qu app, which is because the Qu app needs to run the rack-mounted versions. So, you can’t do quite as much with your effects, but in terms of just general gig usability, it’s great.
I’d like to see Allen & Heath make the SQ’s scene and file management a little more flexible. It certainly does what it needs to do at the moment, but it’s not flexible enough for a musical theatre production, for example.
Possibly they’re not really trying to cater to that market for the sake of product line delineation. It’s certainly capable in its current form; it’s easy to save shows, and upload shows onto a drive. You don’t get the granularity that you get with the more expensive consoles; for example you can recall safe an entire channel, but not individual channel processors.