Allen and Heath Avantis Review 2024, the best console for Church, Theater, Schools and Event Spaces.
Avantis Desk Features, Specs and Applications
Avantis is a 64 channel / 42 buss configurable mixer platform featuring a 96kHz XCVI FPGA engine with class-leading 0.7ms latency plus add-on processing from dLive mixing system.
Avantis and Avantis Solo are both built on the same 64 input / 42 bus 96kHz mix engine with the only difference being the amount of physical control and I/O available on the mixer. Just pick the form factor that best suits your application or mixing style.
Allen and Heath Avantis Features:
• 96kHz FPGA Processing
• 64 Input Channels
• 42 Bus
• Fully Configurable Mix Architecture
• dPack Upgrade for Additional dLive Processing
• 12 RackExtra FX slots with dedicated stereo returns
• Two 128×128 I/O Ports for Audio Networking
• 16 DCAs
• Range of Remote Expanders
History of Avantis, and My Usage
Since coming on the market in 2019, The Allen and Heath Avantis has been a force in the Digital Console market. The desk, paired with the GX4816 stage box expansion and I/O flexibility is an attractive option for budget conscious venues including Church, Bars, Event Spaces, and Small Touring Gigs. I am a strong advocate for the Allen and Heath lineup, including Avanits and dLive systems. Most of my YouTube channel content is focused on the Avantis or dLIve. Having installed, mixed on, and trained hundreds of people how to use the Avantis, I feel comfortable now sharing my thoughts on the Avantis.
With the versatility of the concept of a live event, summarizing how the Avantis would work for most people is a somewhat daunting feat. For the purposes of this review, I will highlight the feature sets that most people use. My review is based on experience with and without the dPack installed.
The Avantis operates at 96khz, which for the non-technically astute, means the desk is capable of high-fidelity audio, and more importantly, better than most of its peers, especially at this price point. The Pre-Amp UI is available to the operator on both screens. If you tap a channel’s name with your finger, the applicable channel’s processing will be displayed if the “processing” menu is selected. Interestingly, on several Avantis consoles that I worked with, I found the UI to get stuck at times, especially if you had two processing windows open on each screen simultaneously. Within the pre-amp screen, you can set the Gain and Digital Trim. The gain can also be controlled via a hardware encoder on the desk. The desk also comes with a pre-amp library to model specific sonic signatures on the desk. I found the pre-amp models to be noisy, and not to sound very good. I spoke with an Allen and Heath rep about the problem, and they simply informed me I was using them wrong. The usage couldn’t be simpler, so perhaps there is more to discover. After 3 years of weekly usage though, I’ve still not found a situation where I like the pre-amp models. Somewhat of a disappointment.
The desk is capable of operating entirely from inputs over the expansion card slots, such as Dante. I found the capabilities of the Digital Trim to be particularly useful in this application. You can also easily connect networked Allen and Heath desks to each other using the Tie Lines routing feature set.
Moving through the processing section, the Avantis includes a high and low pass filter, with an adjustable curve for the high pass filter, which is a very nice touch. I found the filters to be somewhat frustrating, as in some situations, I found myself unable to aggressively cut low end quick enough without also cutting desired information from the source. This can be remedied, but I would like to see Allen and Heath add additional filters with a more aggressive roll off. I also found the limit for the movement of the filters to be frustrating, with upper limits for the high pass and lower limits for the low pass.
The sound engineer’s Swiss army knife, the equalization capabilities of the desk are easy to use, intuitive, and get the job done. While I prefer the EQ setups on competitors such as the Yamaha QL5 due to optionality with the flavor of EQs offered, and the ability to get razor precise with Q and positioning, in general I find the ability to use either encoders (hardware knobs) or the touchscreen interface to adjust the EQ to be more than effective. I do want the ability to more finely adjust EQ settings, as I prefer very specific frequencies for the drums, and I often fight the encoder to land where I like to be.
The compression tab of the processing workflow offers great functionality, including several features not found on other desks outside of the Allen and Heath ecosystem. In the compression pane, the desk offers the capability to filter out frequencies that trigger the compressor, right from the compression UI. In addition, several compressor software models are available, although some are not able used without a paid software upgrade. In my ex The out of the box compressor works as expected with standard controls adjustable by encoder or touchscreen.
One exceptional feature set available on the Avantis is the ability to run in-line parallel compression right from the compression screen. With no limit to the number of channels that can take advantage of this feature set, this is a differentiator for the Avantis, and at this price point places the desk well in the lead of comparable desks.
The effects processing on the Avantis, particularly if equipped with D-Pack leaves little to be desired. Comprehensive coverage of Reverbs, Delays, and extensive capabilities with up to 12 effect unit slots available. With the ability to reconfigure the desk, leveraging all effects units is possible, but limited if you require more mix buses or matrixes. More on this capability in the routing section.
Overall, I found it relatively easy to get great sounding reverbs, and delays on the desk with nearly endless optionality for configuration of the specific parameters of the reverbs. For most applications, the available effects will be more than satisfactory.
One somewhat annoying aspect of the desk is the inability to use Deessor without using an available effect rack, which can be limiting at best. Given the ability to simultaneously operate the Dyn8 on every channel, this is a baffling omission.
With comparison to other desks at this price point, the Allen and Heath effects processing is a clear winner.
The routing capabilities are virtually endless, with a few caveats. From an interface screen, you can select the number of auxes, matrixes, groups, and FX sends based on the use case. This feature set works exceptionally well, albeit with a few annoying limitations:
- You can’t create more FX sends beyond the max of 16.
- You can’t route groups to groups, which makes a group sum workflow not practical on the desk.
The lack of group to group summing in my opinion is the biggest single missing feature set that would squarely place the Avantis into a tour class desk. Here is to hoping Allen & Heath rectifies that.
Reconfiguration of the desk causes the surface to be inoperable, making on the fly reconfiguration a non-starter. Another annoying aspect of the reconfiguration process is there is no way to select which bus will be removed if you’re lowering the count of a given bus. This can lead to frustrating rerouting situations.
Patching on the desk is a breeze, which a straightforward patch screen reminiscent of the Dante Controller. The ability to zoom in closely on the screen for more precision during the patching is an immensely helpful quality of life feature.
The Avantis offers a significant amount of expandability features, including sharing many I/O options with the more expensive dLive systems. For several installations I’ve found integration with Dante, Waves, and the GX stage boxes to be a seamless experience. One very cool feature is the ability to use the I/O expansion slots in multiple insert points on a single channel. For example: Say you want to route your kick drum to Waves, and then to an analog compressor for extra sauce. The Avantis can easily accommodate such a task right from the processing menu on the UI. The only true limitation of the Avantis is the hard cap of 64 channels. If Allen & Heath offered more channels, the feature set of the Avantis is so good that they would likely kill their own dLive product line.
The UI for the Avantis is the one frustrating aspect of the desk. Allen and Heath made waves (not plugins) by introducing two massive screens into their desk that started at $10,000. While the more expensive dLive systems also offered two screens, the Avantis promised a different experience where the screens were the primary method for control of the desk. Allen and Heath largely carried over much of the workflow from the dLive system to the Avantis. All of that on paper sounds incredible. However, the breakdown in the UI begins really from some of the most fundamental aspects of mixing. Channel selection is accomplished by tapping a channel name on the desk. Intuitive and straight forward. However, there is no complementary physical button to achieve the same. This limitation can be problematic in a number of use cases. For example: with the two-screen layout, each screen is aligned to a ‘bank’ of faders. The fader banks are labeled bank A and bank B. If you select a channel on one bank, you’re presented with processing options on the corresponding screen. However, if you want to use the other screen to adjust the processing for the selected channel, the desk doesn’t seem to consistently allow this. In some situations, you can have two processing screens open at once, presenting a confusing layout to the user. Further, many of these desks are installed in the Church / house of worship market, which can introduce confusion among volunteers.
Beyond selection challenges, I found that the desk seemed to lock up from time to time, with both screens freezing or becoming unresponsive. Over two years of using the Avantis and mixing over 60 shows on the desk, I still discover UI bugs can cause the desk to freeze. Another area of annoyance is the adjustment and processing of the effects UI. For whatever reason, during my regular workflow I find myself with two FX screens open at times, and the desk doesn’t seem to respond correctly to either. While these gripes sound like nit-picks for another wise highly capable desk, the utilization and design of the screen layout needs improvement.
One additional strange omission is the lack of a “precise” adjustment modifier, which can be very helpful if you’re looking to pick an exact frequency or processing setting. I find this to be frustrating when EQing drums specifically, when trying to get an exact resonance or boost a specific frequency.
The overall useability of the desk is still very good all things considered. At the price point, the UI blows out the competition of every major competitor by a long shot. Even for more expensive desks in the Yamaha lineup, Midas lineup, and even DigiCo lineup, the Avantis has a far superior UI and workflow. I still can’t understand why the UI of all of these desks is so ugly, but function over form certainly prevails here. In some situations, learning the menu layout can be daunting, but with comparison to other products, the same problem exists and is easier to deal with on the Avantis.
If anything is true about the Avantis, it is first and foremost a mixing tool. To evaluate the mixing experience, I consider a number of factors:
- Encoder quality and feel
- Fader quality and feel
- Precision of operation
- Sound quality
In short, the Avantis is a dream to mix on. The quality of sound is second to none with the 96k processing under the hood. I have found the build quality of the desk to be exceptional, with one enduring caveat, which I will address in the subsequent section. The Avantis feels significantly higher quality than its brethren, even desks at much higher price point. I demoed the Yamaha DM7, mixed on both CL5 and QL5 for years. I’ve demoed Lavo, Digico, SSL, and Midas. Out of all of the products that I’ve worked with, the Avantis and the Allen and Heath dLive are the top with respect to build quality, feel, and the feeling of precision, second only to DigiCo’s 100k+ consoles. The Avantis is made of solid metal construction and the faders and encoders feel tactile. I do wish Allen and Heath would have elected to use metal on faders as opposed to a plastic material, but at the price point, that ask is improbable.
With respect to the operation of the desk, I find it practical to make on the fly adjustments with ease. I’ve gone from an out of the box factory setup to a full studio quality mix in a matter of 2-3 hours on the desk, which is impressive considering you’d still be trying to figure out the X32’s patch or why Yamaha doesn’t allow you to configure your desk the way you want to.
Long Term Problems
The enduring problem with the Avantis and other Allen and Heath desks is the persistent issues with sticky faders. After just two years of limited operation in a permeant install, an Avantis installed in 2021 is nearly unusable due to sticky faders. Over my time using the desk, I believe the problem to be a hardware engineering blunder. The mechanical operation of faders is a simple belt and motor system. You’d expect that the mechanics of the desk would be capable of detecting an obstruction and preventing the motor from breaking the fader control system. However, this is not the case. You might be wondering: why on earth would you block your faders? The short answer is, blocking the faders isn’t that difficult. Dust entering the fader channels, your hand, or anything else that could even slightly obstruct the fader operation seems to immediately and embarrassingly break the fader system. This problem is very much exacerbated by ganking channels (linking two together), which causes faders to move together in concert. In one install, two fader banks were replaced on the dLive system for sticky faders, and the Avantis at that location required full replacement. The problem is so persistent I considered starting a console repair business, but Allen and Heath will not return my emails or phone calls. Allen and Heath has introduced software calibration features to try and alleviate the problems, but I found them to be rarely effective if ever. It really is embarrassing that Allen and Heath’s hardware engineering could be so good in all other aspects and to contain a fatal design flaw. At any rate, I’m making assumptions about what the problem truly is based on my experience.
Overall, I highly recommend the Avantis and recommend it to any Church, Theater, Event space, or school. The Penn Group resells the Avantis. If you’re interested in purchasing one, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org