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Digital live consoles continue to evolve

Jo Ruddock 29 August 2014
Digital live consoles continue to evolve

This year marks a high watermark for digital mixing at both ends of the scale. The MI industry now has some breathtaking baubles. Mackie’s 8-channel DL806 has just recorded a 25% price cut, pushing digital control out to the iPad generation as never before, while the StageScape M20d from Line6 secures absolute confidence in a live mix even if front-of-house duties have been entrusted to Sonic the Hedgehog. At the high end, even stronger lines are being drawn in the sand.

Now at Cadac, brand development manager Richard Ferriday acknowledges the pocket revolution but sets his own boundaries, especially with the professional user in mind. “It almost seems there’s been a race to get to the smallest control surface,” he says. “We’ve already reached the point where the mixer can be an iPad with an audio interface connected to it. There are also iPhone apps, so we’re not that far from seeing an iPhone dock as a multichannel audio device. The only issue is that, when the user interface gets down to a certain size it becomes inoperable. The physical size of the UI has a limit – and the iPad is probably it. I’ve looked at some of the iPhone GUIs and they’re just too small, in my opinion.”

At Yamaha Commercial Audio, PA application engineering manager Andy Cooper describes the evolution of the company’s latest statement on diminutive digital, and finds the daisy-chain principle perfectly suited to modern demands. “Since 1987 there’s been an average of one new digital mixer every year from Yamaha,” he points out. “2014 has seen the release of QL1 and QL5, dubbed as the ‘quintessential’ compact consoles. They offer a premium quality, all-in-one solution for small to medium scale live sound, corporate speech events and installations, and allow sound professionals, who perhaps need to compromise on space and/or budget, to make no compromise in terms of sound quality, networking features and processing capability. That’s why they share so much DNA with the CL series, which in turn have inherited much from the PMxD bloodline.

“In smaller venues the mixer will rarely be placed in an ideal location. However, using the built-in Dante network connection, remote I/O units can be discretely placed in the necessary locations and the StageMix iPad app can be used to mix the event while mingling with the audience. Engineers for live music performances will appreciate the eight racks – 16 channels – of 31-band GEQ, eight stereo effects units and eight additional Premium racks that include the highly regarded Rupert Neve Designs Portico EQ and compressor. Theatre engineers will make good use of the 27 output busses with input-to-matrix routing, and the advanced Scene management settings.

“For systems that need two or more consoles, the ‘port-to-port’ and gain compensation features allow the QL’s own inputs to be used as a stagebox for the other consoles, with no sacrifice over control. Placing a large touchscreen with a dedicated ‘touch and turn’ knob on the surface speeds up workflow and means hands and eyes do not need to move far – and the channel name displays provide high visibility at wide angles and in the open air. These highlights show that QL consoles are designed to be a pleasure to work with, all day long, regardless of the size and scale of the event.”

CHEAP PLUGS

The “cheaper and better” curve continues at Allen & Heath, where product manager Léon Phillips explains the rationale behind the Qu-32, launched at InfoComm. “It provides 32 faders, harking back to analogue interfaces, corresponding to 32 XLR mic-pre inputs,” he says. “Users still like a fader for everything, as opposed to layers and banks. Throughout the Qu series, every input is visible. Most operators will find it very easy, while of course our other ranges remain as configurable as you like: iLive or GLD is the choice for more experienced users. Q32 scarcely needs help files and user guides, and hardly ever comes up on forums. People just plug it in and use it.”

Responsibility at Soundcraft for the Vi and more compact Si ranges is divided between Andy Brown and Sean Karpowicz, respectively, whose ranges are expanding to fill every sensible gap in the market. The Vi3000 was heralded as an ‘academy-level’ workhorse, meaning the mid-range rock and pop circuit – a niche once dominated by Soundcraft and now very much back on its agenda. “We haven’t had anything in that market position for a while,” admits Brown. The Vi3000 is how that kind of console should be made today and, yes – I would still describe it as compact. There’s no extra DSP rack, for example.”

There is a limit to this price-band plugging, though. “You don’t want to create a confusing product range with so many in it that nobody knows what the differences are,” Brown adds. “Overall you want it to settle into rational crossover points covering the various budgets that customers have. You don’t need to do that to a micro level.”

“We’re starting to get a lot more installation applications,” adds Karpowicz, “which will emphasise more centralised control, system-tech management and remote cueing. On the touring side, the demand is for segregated, localised control and things like gain tracking. So the consoles increasingly have to address diametrically opposed needs…”

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