Digital Consoles for Live Sound
Mar 22, 2010 12:00 PM, By George Petersen
Today, digital console technologies are not only accepted by the live sound and contracting community, but truly dominate major segments of the touring market. As the technology matured, several trends emerged. Greater numbers of channels are being controlled by increasingly smaller controllers, plug-ins have been accepted into FOH and monitor "racks," and software upgrades can expand the feature set of existing products without fear of obsolescence or bankrupting the sound company.
Recently, there's been a lot of movement toward advancing the state of the art in digital consoles for live applications. Looking into developments from various manufacturers (listed alphabetically) over the past year, here's what we found.
Available in standard formats or customized to user requirements, Allen & Heath's iLive modular mix system combines a central MixRack and an iLive surface controller, which connect over a single Cat-5 cable up to 120 meters in length. The iLive Series now has six surface and five MixRack variants, and they can be mixed and matched in any combination. Show files are transferable between systems via a USB key.
The latest additions are the iDR-16 MixRack and the rackmountable iLive-R72 Control Surface. Together, they offer a compact, digital live mixing system with the same power and sonic performance of the larger touring iLive systems but at a significantly lower price point. The fixed I/O iDR-16 MixRack has 16 mic/line inputs and eight XLR outputs in a 3RU frame. An extra eight I/Os are available locally at the iLive-R72 surface. All MixRacks, including the new iDR-16, feature the same 64x32 RackExtra DSP mix engine, which provides processing for 64 channels, 32 mixes, and eight stereo effects processors. An expansion slot offers audio networking possibilities, digital mic splitting, and multitrack recording (with ACE, EtherSound, MADI, ADAT, and Aviom interfaces available). A built-in network switch and MIDI ports at each end allow remote control using laptops, touch tablets, and MIDI devices.
Cadac's S-Digital live theater console reflects the surface architecture of Cadac's J-Type analog board, offering a familiar mix environment but with the benefit of digital control. The board combines proprietary high-speed digital communication with a core busing system based around field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and dedicated SHARC DSP devices within the DSP rack. This handles all I/O channels with fiber-optic or coax interfacing to the stage rack/preamps. Additional control surface frames can be brought in during rehearsals (for single-operator or multioperator use) and then removed or relocated to reduce the mix footprint during performances.
Computer Integrated Audio (CIA) now offers its System 48—a 48-input/output, software-driven virtual console powered by RML Labs' SAC application—split into two rolling racks for fast transport and setup. Standard features include 48 inputs and outputs, 5-band parametric EQ, compressor and gating on every channel, 16 DCAs, six stereo aux sends, eight master outs (and 16 virtual outputs), and 7.1 mixing capability. In addition to the 48-channel model, 32-, 64-, and 72-channel versions are also available.
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