Technology Showcase: Live Digital Mixers
Oct 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Kent Morris
Improved user interfaces combine with expanded feature sets and reduced prices.
As the ad says, digital has gone Midas — a clever way to indicate the anticipation live-sound engineers had leading up to the introduction of the original XL8. Despite, or perhaps because of, its rarified asking price, the XL8 has become a commercial success — with installations in churches, in performance venues, and on the road with headlining acts. The XL8's five independent bays afford the user the confidence to concentrate on the mix, assured that the console will function in almost any situation. Now word is out of a new Midas digital board, and engineers and designers wait once more to hear the details for what should prove to be a stunning sequel. The new console, named the Pro6, has the same AS50 architecture as the XL8 with the same advanced automation; a 64×35 layout (56 inputs on the work surface plus eight returns); and LRM mains outs. There are also 16 configurable aux and 16 matrices capable of being fed from any input source. Variable Control Association is an exciting new way to bring any voltage-controlled amplifier (VCA)-assigned channel to the master section. Additionally, newly developed and patented POP (population) groups are onboard, working like a standard VCA/DCA but without its associated VCA master fader. With a POP, the entire channel strip moves to the center for immediate control of, say, an acoustic breakdown during a rock band's concert. When the acoustic set is finished, the channels are instantly reset to their original positions. Thanks to these innovations, two or more engineers can be on the board at once without interference. In summary, the Pro6 is proof some sequels are indeed better than the original.
The RSS V-Mixing System from Roland may become an AV-standard product birthed from the RSS division of one of the music industry's iconic brands. With the programming resources of Roland and the high-band video expertise of sister company Edirol, RSS engineers have given the V-Mixing System an intuitive interface with 24 faders controlling 48 channels and a comprehensive DSP section complete with four stereo effects processors, graphic EQs, and built-in 24-bit stereo recording. One of the more significant attributes of the system is its integral digital snake using Cat-5e to deliver the company's 24-bit Roland Ethernet Audio Communication (REAC) protocol hundreds of feet without signal degradation. With remote control of preamp levels and lossless digital splits for monitors, broadcast, and recording — along with digital returns to the amp racks — the V-Mixing System offers a turnkey solution for houses of worship, live-music venues, and regional theaters.
From Down Under, a new mix craze has emerged: the Tango by Smart AV. Designed as a low-cost, touchscreen-based solution in environments up to 48 inputs deep, the Tango benefits from the firm's “Star Trek Enterprise” large-scale ARC technology. However, the Tango uses a scrolling screen overview display in association with touch selection of local channels for a total control capacity of 300 channels. Screen layouts can be configured for any application from general mixing to sound-effects spotting. All mixer controls are available visually in high resolution, and an extensive editor brings virtual keys into play for quick control of all editing parameters. The Tango represents an elegantly simple solution to the needs of the audio-installation market.
The cool factor registers high on the Soundcraft Vi4 console if for no other reason than the Vistonics II interface with its rotary encoders (knobs) and switches residing directly on the touchscreens. Add in two dozen configurable (aux, group, or matrix) outputs, a digital snake with multiple-stage-box support, eight revered Lexicon stereo effects processors, and 27 BSS graphic EQs, and the Vi4 becomes a world-beater. The standard system consists of 48 inputs arranged on 24 faders, thoroughly detailed four-band EQ, compressor, limiter, and gate on each input and output — all running on a Cat-5 link to stage. There is a fiber-optic version available at a slight premium. In all, the engineering team at Soundcraft has taken the best of the big-brother Vi6 and packaged it nicely in a take-home size.
A tabletop version of a Studer console is an intriguing idea since the Studer name is never associated with anything unsubstantial. However, the company's relatively small Vista 5 is a performance heavyweight, with unparalled sonic quality and the same operational principles as the Vista 6, 7, and 8. Inside the Vista 5, a newly developed Score Live DSP platform handles the number crunching with aplomb, to the tune of a total I/O capacity of 1700 points. Snapshot automation in conjunction with accessible mute groups and extensive matrix routing make the Vista 5 at home in FOH locations as diverse as churches and outdoor festivals.
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