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Compact consoles: The best of 2014

From Nexo’s versatile M28 loudspeaker to Yamaha’s multi-faceted QL series mixers, 2014 has been abundant in new products suitable for smaller music and theatre tours

With the recording industry in continued freefall, the impetus to derive more revenue from live work grows ever stronger. For many acts, making the numbers work is no longer just a matter of the ticket-price; it also extends to ‘instant’ CD releases and web-streaming of live gigs. In terms of consoles, this translates to an increasingly lengthy list of feature requirements – all to be accommodated within a preferably compact form-factor that does not take up too much space in either van or venue. No wonder, then, that ‘compact consoles’ have frequently topped the list of investment priorities in our annual PSNLive rental companies’ survey. (This two-part feature is continued from part one, which covers compact loudspeakers, available to read here.)

Avid, for one, believes it has a solution to meet these varying needs with its VENUE S3L-X system, which builds on the success of the S3L system and began shipping at the end of September. Designed to mix and record live shows, as well as mix and master recorded sessions, the S3L-X utilises new VENUE 4.5 software, enabling engineers to share the same I/O across multiple S3L-X systems (via AVB), record directly to Pro Tools or another DAW through a laptop Ethernet connection, and mix Pro Tools and other DAW sessions with Avid VENUE S3 as a standalone mixing surface and 4×6 audio interface.

First Aid Kit, Happy Mondays, Primal Scream, Bryan Adams and Massive Attack are among the acts to have made recent use of the VENUE S3L or S3L-X. In the case of Massive Attack, “they needed a compact desk that was lightweight as they wanted to take the production across the world and not rent locally,” says Al McKinna, principal product manager, live systems & consoles at Avid Technology. High input channel counts, Pro Tools interoperability and “deep snapshot functionality” were among the other requirements that informed the production team’s decision in favour of the Avid system, about which Massive Attack FOH engineer Robb Allan remarked: “It’s the smallest, most compact desk I’ve ever worked on, with enough power to control the entire show.” (Pictured below right is the S3L-X at Glastonbury 2014.)

Multi-application consoles certainly seem to be one of the flavours of the moment. For another example, see Midas’s M32, which was launched to no little fanfare at Winter NAMM. This digital console for live and studio work features 40 input channels, 32 Midas microphone preamplifiers, and 25 time-aligned and phase-coherent mix buses. Designed to be light in weight and easy to transport – parts of the sub-frame consist of durable and lightweight carbon fibre and aluminium – the M32 also benefits from AES50 networking that allows up to 96 inputs and 96 outputs.

Elsewhere, the varying in-house set-ups of smaller venues – and the consequent need to be able to offer a consistently high level of production across locations –helped to inform the design of Yamaha’s QL series. Built to suit small- and medium-sized applications including live sound, corporate speech events and fixed installations, the QL desks provide users with all-in-one mixing, processing and Dante-based networking.

Pop-rock band The Dunwells is one of the acts to have made use of a QL series desk (specifically a QL5) during 2014 (main picture). Mix engineer Sean Murphy (also operations manager at Subfrantic) highlighted the factors that made the console so suitable for a tour taking in a broad cross-section of venues and festivals. “Clubs tours are challenging at the best of times, especially when you’re faced with different house mixers, monitors and PA systems of varying quality,” he said. “Having the QL5 on the road with us has made everything so much easier. Along with carrying our own IEMs, microphones and stands, it has meant that we can be confident going into any venue, knowing we’re going to produce a show which is up to the same standard as those we’ve been playing in larger venues at major festivals. The other challenge, as with everything, is budget. Having something as small as a QL5 has kept our transport costs right down.”

A few months back, King Crimson swung into action for the first time in seven years with a seven-strong line-up featuring no fewer than three drummers – a development that suggests Robert Fripp hasn’t remained entirely faithful to his ‘small, mobile’ vision. But for many pro-audio manufacturers, compactness and versatility are now default requirements for any new major R&D undertaking – and their importance is only bound to increase as economic and market trends become evermore difficult to predict.