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Are Allen & Heath Zeds decent sounding vs a digital desk?
Old 4 weeks ago
Here for the gear

Are Allen & Heath Zeds decent sounding vs a digital desk?

I've got a Presonus Studiolive 16.4.2 for recording and mixing at home and like the sound and particularly the processing on every channel, but want a desk with more channels. So obviously considering a Studiolive 24.4.2 but also considering going analogue - budget limited as I'd be selling up the 16ch desk and adding a little cash so looking at an Allen & Heath Zed 420 or 428 as there are some good second hand prices.

Can anyone comment on whether I'd hear much of a difference sonically? Any analog warmth or magic to be had from the Zed 4 bus desks? And particularly interested in the channel EQ - I'd love to continue doing 90% of my EQ on the desk, so can anyone say if these are 'nice sounding'? They look flexible enough for drum and guitar multitracks but without hearing them you obviously can't judge how musical sounding they are. And lastly how are the preamps on these desks? Quiet enough? Warm? I'd be using it for overdubbing guitars+vox and mixdowns but could split the desk and track the drums from direct outs with a little EQ if they sound nice. Obviously it's no Neve but going from completely digital to a decent analogue desk would surely harvest some analogue sound? Cheers!
Old 4 weeks ago
Lives for gear
cavern's Avatar

I had the ZR-16 for a few years and the SL 24.4.2 AI for a few years.
I liked the fact that the Z had inserts on the master bus but the Presonus SL 24.4.2AI is the better desk IMO cleaner and the effects are quite usable.
Also the drivers on the SL are less finiky than the Z dice drivers.
Latency is also better on the SL, runs well at 64 samples.
Old 4 weeks ago
The Zed 420 won't add any mojo to your sound, also it has only stereo recording through usb keep that in mind!
Old 4 weeks ago
Lives for gear
James Lehmann's Avatar

Originally Posted by handyspoon View Post
looking at an Allen & Heath Zed 420 or 428 as there are some good second hand prices.

Any analog warmth or magic to be had from the Zed 4 bus desks?

And particularly interested in the channel EQ

how are the preamps on these desks?
I have a ZED428 so I will try to answer some of your questions (albeit from the perspective of someone who never uses the USB 'feature' and has no idea what a Presonus desk looks like by way of comparison).

There is little to no "analog warmth or magic to be had from the Zed 4 bus desks" so if it's specifically that which you seek you'd be better off looking elsewhere. Traditionally, older boards like the Soundcraft 200B are what to look for in this regard. The ZED 4-bus are extremely clean, quiet mixers - for my work this is a plus, but clearly for you it puts them more or less directly opposite what you say you want.

The channel EQ is very good - genuinely useful and musical sounding to my ears. Again, people will argue all day about what constitutes 'character', but the ZED 4-bus EQ is very nice both for corrective duties and for changing the timbre, certainly compared to many other cheap desks I've used.

The preamps are really very good and I often use them for getting things down quickly and cleanly. I have other 'boutique' preamps (DAV, Metric Halo, etc) for mission-critical sources, but honestly whatever I record with the ZED pre's is never disappointing, at least I never stop to worry about it.

Considering what you pay for these boards on the used market, they are really a bargain if you seek a clean sort of sound - 24 preamps and 4 buses, all with Direct Outputs, Inserts, decent EQ and a clean-sounding, capable mix bus that doesn't get 'confused' or choked with a bunch of hot source material... well, you can do the maths.

In the interests of honesty I need to state that I have experienced some crackles on the mute & bus switches (fixed with De-Oxit) and I have had to replace the power supply on mine which failed a couple of years ago. These boards are made in China and in my opinion cannot compete build-quality wise with older A&H boards made in the UK, but then again, if they were made in the UK I suspect they would be double the price. Hopefully with a new power supply my 428 is good to go for at least another 10 years.

The two main workflow drawbacks you need to assess with these boards for studio use are a) the fan and b) the less than stellar monitoring section. If you can plot your way around those two limitations and don't require a markedly 'coloured' sound from your mixing desk then the answer to your question "Are Allen & Heath ZEDs decent sounding vs a digital desk?" would be a resounding yes, especially if you can find a decent used one for a fair price, as I was lucky enough to do.

Last edited by James Lehmann; 4 weeks ago at 12:42 PM..
Old 4 weeks ago
Gear Guru
Brent Hahn's Avatar

I have a steady client I mix for, who has produced quite a few records with his Zed and a Native PT rig. He tracks with no outboard anything.

I usually mix at his place, entirely ITB using his extremely limited plugin selection, which is basically the stuff that came bundled with PT plus a couple of nice reverbs and Autotune. I could type for days about little gripes, plus in broad strokes it works. It has its own sound and vibe, and outside people like it enough that it's providing him (and me) with more work all the time.

I have more issues, actually, with the rooms than with the rig (and I'm schlepping 4 big bass traps over there in about an hour).
Old 4 weeks ago
Here for the gear

Thanks for chipping in all. Ended up finding a 24 frame Allen + Heath GL2400 locally. Ran a few tracks through it to test all the ins and outs it, it's no SSL but man it oozed character, preamps and mix busses are absolutely silent and the EQs are gorgeous, and the Zeds are based on it so the input really helped sway me. Now to heat up the soldering iron and start on that 24 way loom....
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