Audio Consoles Continue To Get Smaller, Faster, Less Costly

The biggest news in audio consoles this year has been the acquisition of Euphonix by Avid, which closed the deal on April 21. Otherwise, the field demonstrates that Moore’s Law is alive and well: remote audio-mixing systems are getting smaller, lighter, faster, more intuitive, more powerful, and less expensive. Here’s a look at some of those systems.

Avid
The System 5 and Max Air digital audio-mixing systems have undergone a series of evolutionary changes in recent years, including updated control surfaces, addition of the new DSP SuperCore with 100% redundancy, and the option of modular converters to allow a wider variety of I/O options. The System 5-B offers eight knobs per channel and TFT displays for metering, routing, and parameter display. Its surface provides channel strips and a center section for master facilities with five module types to choose from. Every channel features high-resolution multiformat metering on the TFT screen for display of sources, channels, auxes, and groups as well as gain reduction. There is also high-resolution stereo LED metering next to each fader. The submaster module offers eight extra programmable meter displays, and the master module has multiformat metering of the main buses and monitors. Meter displays may be customized and saved as presets.

The Max Air features a more compact control surface, with four knobs per channel and a central touchscreen interface. The touchscreen simplifies many of the master functions, such as patching. Each channel strip has four knobs that can be selected to control input, EQ, filters, dynamics, and aux sends as output-bus assignments. Custom knob-set configurations allow the operator to put the most often used controls on the surface at the push of a button. Any source may be brought to the central SuperChannel for access to all controls. Two surface module types are available, with dual power supplies. Connections to the system are via Cat 5 Ethernet so placement is not restricted by complex cabling. No audio flows through the control surface since the audio electronics are housed remotely.

Calrec
Calrec’s large presence in the domestic remote-broadcast-audio market underscores a growing lineup of consoles. The foundational Alpha with Bluefin high-density signal processing (HDSP) can deal with large numbers of surround sources and more than doubles the processing capacity of the largest Alpha console. Thanks to its 480 channel-processing paths, offering enough processing for 480 mono paths that can be configured into 162 stereo channels (324 mono paths) and 156 mono channels, the Alpha offers 78 x full 5.1 channel functionality. Alpha architecture has always focused on reliability and speed of operation required for live production, and the Alpha OB provides highly effective redundancy throughout the DSP and control systems, combined with hot-swap cards and panels.

The Apollo platform doubles that processing power and channel count. Its control surface uses Bluefin2, the next generation of Bluefin HDSP, which provides high performance at multiple sample rates. At 48 kHz, Bluefin2 provides Apollo with 1,020 channel-processing paths, 128 program busses, 96 IFB/track outputs, and 48 auxiliaries. At 96 kHz, it provides 510 channel-processing paths, 64 program busses, 48 IFB/track outputs and 24 auxiliaries. In addition, Apollo has a second dynamics section in each channel, more than 70 minutes of assignable delay, and three independent APFL systems for multiple-operator use. All this processing, plus power supplies and all I/O routing, is contained in a space-efficient 8RU rack. The Apollo control surface manages all these channels over 12 layers and on up to 320 physical faders. In addition, the Calrec A/B path-selection system is retained to allow use of the desk in a similar manner to Alpha-platform products. Layers and the A/B path system can be disabled if not required. Featuring OLED displays and touchscreens to provide high-resolution feedback of function and status, the Apollo control surface also has light-emitting knobs that change color depending on function for immediate recognition. The surface can be configured into different operational settings to suit the operator.

Calrec’s newest entry is the Artemis console, based on the Apollo platform, which was launched at NAB in April 2009, and using the same core technologies, such as Bluefin2 and Hydra2. These technologies equip the console with a routing and processing capacity that belies its midsize footprint. Using a combination of OLED displays, touchscreens, and light-emitting knobs, the soft Artemis control surface provides instant visual feedback and the flexibility to reconfigure the desk on the fly. At 48 kHz, using Bluefin2 gives Artemis up to 680 channel-processing paths, 128 program busses, 64 IFB/track outputs, and 32 auxiliaries.

Based on the Alpha platform, the Sigma with Bluefin offers 320 channel-processing paths and can be configured for up to 52 x full 5.1 surround channels and 20 auxiliaries. In addition, the system provides a significant amount of delay to cope with increasing synchronization problems resulting from, for example, mixed-format HD/SD production. Bluefin signal processing provides 496 mono elements of up to 2.73 seconds of audio delay, which can be inserted at various places in the signal paths.

The Omega console also uses the award-winning Bluefin HDSP technology and features 160 channel-processing paths packaged as 48 stereo plus 64 mono channels and allowing up to 24 x full 5.1 surround channels, as well as Calrec’s TFT metering capabilities. The desk’s 160 channel-processing paths are packaged as 48 stereo and 64 mono channels, allowing up to 24 x full 5.1 surround channels, and all channels and groups can have a direct output or a mix-minus feed.

Fairlight
The Xynergi organizes and delivers a suite of all the media-processing tools needed for high-end audio for video production in all widely used surround formats. The Xynergi controller features self-labeling key switches that can display full-color images, icons, or text to provide intelligent control over the entire recording, editing, and mixing process. The controller can support any type of language- or icon-driven menu structure, with an on-demand QWERTY keyboard for routine naming tasks and immediate access to MS Office tools. The controller also features eight touch-sensitive rotary controllers and multiple soft keys arranged around a color-control zone. These can be used to support Xynergi’s mix-automation system as well as control over signal-processing facilities that include multiband EQs, three-stage dynamics, multidimensional panning, and auxiliary sends.

The larger-console-class EVO delivers up to 230 channels into 72 mix bus elements. This pool of 72 bus elements is divided up as required between a main bus, up to eight sub-busses, and 16 mono multi-track busses and 12 auxiliary sends, all of which can be up to 7.1 in format. Eight-band EQ with filtering and three-stage dynamics processing is also available on all 230 channels simultaneously. EVO’s bussing system allows simultaneous generation of multiple surround formats plus bus-to-bus mixing for multistem work. Physical I/Os are available in analog, AES, and MADI formats, and a sophisticated internal patching system allows totally free routing of inputs, outputs, and busses to external or internal destinations.

All systems are capable of playing back HD video in both 720p and 1080i formats seamlessly with the audio channels. In addition, any VST native plug-in can be used in the audio chain for additional processing. Surround formats larger than 7.1 can be accommodated.

Harris
Harris offers its PR&E NetWave digital audio consoles in three versions — NetWave-8, NetWave-16, and NetWave-24 — for on-air and production use in radio broadcasting. The compact desktop design for the eight-, 16- and 24-channel versions, along with their operational flexibility, provide many options for installation in small- to middle-market facilities, as well as multiple studios in large- to major-market studio complexes. Each channel on the console is accompanied by one analog, digital, and logic I/O connector. NetWave’s all-digital console incorporates four program busses and one offline bus, each with digital and analog outputs. Its phone and codec system supports up to six simultaneous mix-minus feeds (two standard) and automatic selection of feeds for live on-air talk segments. A heads-up meter assembly offers two stereo bar-graph meters: one is dedicated to Program 1, and the second is switchable to monitor other busses, digital clocks, and timers. A dual-meter display provides instant visual verification of bus levels (quad-display options are available for NetWave-16 and NetWave-24 consoles).

NetWave can be used as a standalone console but is designed to be networked and features an expandable architecture for multi-studio connectivity using Harris PR&E VistaMax audio networking. VistaMax enables the sharing of audio resources (local sources, mixed outputs) across an entire facility with minimal wiring. Installation is simple: all audio input, output, and logic connections are terminated using standard AMP MOD-IV connectors with only one source per connector. An installation toolkit includes a MOD-TV crimp tool, pin-removal tool, and hex driver. Pricing for NetWave-8 starts at $7,900, for NetWave-16 at $10,500, and for NetWave-24 at $14,200.

Lawo
The mc² Series mixing consoles (mc²90, mc²66, and mc²56) offer audio quality, processing, and DSP capabilities suited to audio post applications. The consoles provide timecode and snapshot automation of any parameter in the system, and a high degree of flexibility inside the channel structure, bussing, and router accommodates any production requirement from monaural to 7.1 surround sound. The consoles offer integration with Pro Tools, Pyramix, Sequoia, Sadie, and other systems. Latest additions to the operating system include direct-out mute by fader, a buss-reverse page, HTML-error diagnostics, and timecode edit for the TC automation and audio-settings libraries. To streamline workflow, the system features a full offline GUI to prepare snapshots and productions that can be used to bring the console online for two or more operators. With the optional plug-in server, multiple Dolby E decoders are available, and all parameters and metering are displayed on the console’s GUI. Additionally, settings on the mc² series consoles can be modified in seconds for conversion to a broadcast console for news, sports, and entertainment. Pricing for mc²90 starts at $400,000, for mc²66 at $220,000, for mc²56 at $150,000.

Solid State Logic
Available in frame sizes ranging from 16+8, 24+8, and 32+8, the SSL C10 HD compact, self-contained, cost-efficient console requires no additional processing racks and offers passive cooling and redundant PSUs for automatic power failover. Fiber-optic connections simplify installation, with I/Os connecting directly to the console frame through four or eight MADI I/O ports. The C10 HD features 96 full input channels, each with dedicated four-band EQ, compressor/limiter, insert, and direct output. The embedded Blackrock processor core provides all DSP functions, file storage, and an optional fully redundant mirrored system. Software options include Dialogue Automix to ensure reliable, multi-mic talk-show audio-level management; Broadcast Production Automation to provide support for Ross and Sony production-automation systems; 5.1 Upmix for generating multichannel surround output from stereo sources; and DAW Control for seamless DAW capture and mix operations. The C10’s Eyeconix feature provides JPEG thumbnail displays on every channel for easy visual recognition of a channel’s audio source.

Stagetec
Three consoles for on-air broadcast feature similar modular surface design, DSP, and I/O routing architecture but are geared to specific applications and sizes. Designed specifically for live broadcast, they offer hot-swap capabilities of all hardware elements, full redundancy up to double optical lines, light weight, low power consumption, and thus low heat dissipation. The systems can work independently of the system computer and therefore can boot from cold to the last known state in less than 20 seconds.

The Aurus flagship multiformat production console is available in 16-96 faders and 300 DSP channels with 128 busses. It can work in stereo, mono, and 5.1 and 7.1 surround simultaneously with on-board downmix/upmix capabilities or separate multiple bus configurations. The console offers both dynamic and snapshot automation, making it possible to do a quick mix on location.

In functionality and features, the Crescendo mixing console is a response to increased demand for slimmed-down control surface and price, but it is capable of the DSP power available in the bigger Aurus. All controls are within easy reach of a seated operator. Snapshot automation is extensive, with the ability to set glide times between snapshots for enhanced audio-follow-video control.

The Auratus has the same physical surface (maximum 24 faders) as the Crescendo but features a fixed DSP architecture: 54 channels with 24 busses and monitoring. This is because the DSP card sits in a 3RU Nexus base device, which makes the backend compact and offers ultralow power consumption of less than 100 W. As with Crescendo, snapshot automation is included.