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.
From mid-size churches to regional theaters, blues clubs to corporate venues, digital consoles have become the norm for new installations and retrofits. The flow away from analog toward digital continues to accelerate as user interfaces improve and features rise while prices drop. Though the demise of the analog console is still in the distant future, the trend is obvious: Live-performance environments are embracing digital at analog's expense. Interestingly, since all sound begins and ends in an analog form, digital will always be a temporary state requiring analog-to-digital (A/D) converters on the front end and digital-to-analog (D/A) converters on the back end. However, digital shines in the interim mixing-and-storing state with its ability to save and recall complete scenes and reconfigure itself for myriad applications. As the digital choices continue to expand, consultants and designers are able to specify consoles oriented toward the task at hand and rely less on general-purpose devices. With ever more robust power supplies and improved fail-safe architecture, digital mixing consoles are a reliable, productive addition to any installation project. Here, then, is a closer look at the latest offerings in live digital mixers.
With its modular approach to digital mixing, Allen & Heath's entry is enjoying good success across a number of genres. With up to 64 inputs driving an impressive 32 outputs, the iLive system can be considered a large-format design in a mid-format package. Based on an interface card system termed MixRack, iLive is able to fit almost any application without overspending for unwanted features. Flexibility is iLive's longsuit, and the recent addition of an offline editor means the system can now be configured prior to the installation with less time spent onsite. Also new this year is the iLive configuration utility, making it possible to design a specialized system online through three menu screens — one each for the control surface, the MixRack, and accessories. Individual modules can be dropped into virtual slots until the desired system is complete. Once completed, the design can be sent to an Allen & Heath sales rep for order processing. The online configuration speeds the process and eliminates data-entry errors.
Six years into the D5 format, DiGiCo launches the SD7, which is based on the latest-generation Super FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) processor technology with its floating-point smoothness and linearity. The SD7 boasts an eight-fold increase in processing power compared to the company's D5 Live, making it capable of stellar performance when called on to handle extremely large festivals and complex multimedia events. For reliability, the SD7 sports a completely redundant processing engine housed within a more compact frame compared to the standard-bearing D5. The company continues to offer the D1 and D5 family of mixers and update them as required.
With years of digital experience in the Pro Tools recording realm, Digidesign was in an excellent position to parlay its knowledge into a solid live-console design. The result has been remarkable, with broad market acceptance based to some extent on Digidesign's ability to cover FOH, monitor, and record positions with a singular product. With Venue, the live mix is run in the same format as the Pro Tools recording environment. The Venue series continues to impress with its stage-mounted, remote-controlled mic pres and separate FOH-positioned mix engine connected by a digital snake. Recent software updates have given the Venue increased versatility while maintaining TDM plug-in compatibility. On a smaller scale, the new D-Show Profile brings full Venue power to tighter environments while adding a useful new General Purpose Interface (GPI) with contact-closure switches.
Though it's considered solely a loudspeaker manufacturer, EAW is an integral part of the Loud Technologies empire. As such, it has benefitted from the console expertise of sister company Mackie. However, EAW's offering in the digital-mixing realm, the UMX.96, is not an upmarket Mackie mixer. It is a serious approach to the FOH needs of large-format live events with available inputs in excess of 100 and outputs nearing four dozen. Thanks to Loud, EAW has also been able to incorporate SmaartLive, the industry-accepted audio-measurement and -calibration software, into the console. In addition, a full three-input, 12-output loudspeaker management processing system capable of handling a left, right mono mix into a stereo four-way loudspeaker system is integrated into the UMX.96. Further raiding of the Loud corporate parts bins resulted in a new loud-speaker processing card featuring Gunness Focusing technology to derive the highest potential from the transducers.
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