After four or five gigs with the CS18ai, including two multi-day festivals, I think I’m ready to go ahead and share my thoughts. First of all, everything is right about this board: the price, the capabilities, and the work-flow. I’ll explain why below:
Here’s my setup: a CS18AI, a Presonus RM32, a Motu AVB switch, a MacBook pro an iPad 2, and a cheap router from Walmart. Now I don’t have a need at this time for 64 channels and 32 mixes but if I did or if you do, let’s throw another RM32 in the mix. Then you’d be looking at a maximum of around $8,500 all in (including the Macbook pro, iPad, routers, and CAT5e cable) and now you have a digital mixer, with motorized *and* touch sensitive faders, wireless control by iPad (or by laptop, or by the CS18 ai itself), a 64×32 digital snake and stage box, you’ve got an RTA on any channel anytime you need it, you’ve got advanced DSP features like delays on any mix, and did I mention you can also record in studio quality by pressing a single button and have all 64 channels ready for post editing? Or you can spend twice that much and get half of those features with another brand. It just seems like a no-brainer to me.
Now for the review: The CS18ai did take me a little bit of getting used to, even being very familiar with other PreSonus boards and experienced on more traditional format digital boards like the Yamaha M7. I made a few mistakes early on (thinking I was one place on the board when really I was somewhere else); but after the first few bands in a throw and go format, I started to get the hang of it. Once I did get the hang of it, I was mixing as fast as I ever did on an M7 or maybe faster.
Recording has been a breeze so far working in conjunction with the CS18ai and the RM32. I’ve also had no problem connecting and using the iPad for wireless control, even with my bottom-of-the-barrel router. If you need to truly rely on the wireless connectivity, I would strongly suggest getting a high dollar router, and use a router that PreSonus recommends as compatible. However, our cheap one has been working just fine at relatively short distances. I was even able to successfully mix front of house at a large show almost exclusively on the iPad.
I honestly don’t know what to compare this setup to; I can’t imagine that it even has any real competitors in the under $10,000 range. But it wouldn’t be a fair review if I didn’t mention the cons as well. The touch screen is a nice feature but the surface response isn’t anything to write home about. It’s not too bad to really impede work flow but that would be a nice improvement if it worked a little bit more like an iPad. (But we have to be reasonable, they can only do so much at a price point of around $2,000 for the CS18AI). The way the parametric EQ works takes a little bit to get used to and honestly, it does slow down the work flow a bit. This is probably my biggest complaint. The talk-back function should be easier to setup. More on the software side: I would love to see the RTA feature available on the iPad app.