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August 2014
Issue: February 1, 2003

Digital Mixing Consoles

By: By Marc Loftus


With ample bussing, Soundtracs's D4 can be used for TV work, as well as for high-end music and film.
It might sound crazy, but console manufacturers swear that 2002 was a good year for them. The makers of low-cost digital mixers say the struggling economy helped open some doors for their affordable tools, while higher-end console manufacturers say their post products offer application-specific features and performance that some studios just can't live without.

And all are optimistic for 2003. Sony and Yamaha are both taking advantage of their efficient manufacturing capabilities in Japan to turn out affordable and flexible units. Euphonix and Soundtracs are both planning new releases for later this year, possibly targeting short-form post. And Studer says the latest advancements to its Vista 7 have made it the most successful roll out in the company's history.

Here's the latest news in the world of digital consoles, with products that target everything from boutique studios all the way up to large dubbing stages.

YAMAHA

Yamaha (www.yamaha.com) has made a name for itself in the world of small-format digital mixers, dating back to the ProMix 01 almost a decade ago. The company introduced its high-end DM2000 a few years back at a New York AES show and recently announced plans for the DM1000, a little brother to the 2000, which is expected to begin shipping in March.

"The DM1000 was designed specifically for post," says Yamaha product manager Mark Lopez. "We wanted to design a very powerful mixer in a small space for workstation users."

The DM1000 is a 96 kHz board that includes surround monitoring capabilities. The console works with Yamaha's Studio Manager software, a Mac- or PC-based tool that allows users to set up the mixer's snapshots offline. Settings can then be stored on a hard drive or on a memory card. Additional features of the DM1000 are 48 inputs/outputs, eight buses, four effects processors on board, eight aux sends, 100mm touch-sensitive faders and 16 on-board mic pres. Lopez says the unit will be priced around $5,000, with a $900 meter bridge option.


SSL's MT was recently upgraded to Plus status. The console is designed for both post and music work.
At the NAMM show in January, Yamaha introduced an upgraded 96 kHz version of its 01V console. The 01V 96 is now an eight-bus, eight-aux mixer. Designed for various applications, including sound for picture, sound reinforcement and as a general utility mixer, the 01V 96 now offers more input channel capability, with a maximum of 32. The 01V 96 does not have touch-sensitive faders, automation or surround monitoring capabilities, but can handle surround mixes. On-board processing includes four-band parametric EQ, gate and compressor. The unit will also ship in March, for $2,500. Yamaha upgraded its $11,000 02R to 96k status last year.

SOLID STATE LOGIC

While the film side of their business has been a little quiet, Niall Feldman, director of product marketing for Solid State Logic (www.solid-state-logic.com), says the company has seen growth in the multimedia business (DVDs, games, etc.), particularly in Japan. SSL's Avant and MT consoles are both designed for post work and have both been enhanced to "Plus" status over the past year, giving them operation improvements and an increase in speed. As 24-bit, 48 kHz surround-capable consoles, the Avant features a post production design, while the MT takes an inline approach, similar to SSL's successful 4000 analog console.

"It's sort of a digital inception of it," says Feldman of the MT. "It's ideal for studios doing music for post, like studios doing music for concerts."

Many facilities cross over between the music and post worlds, and the MT's flexibility allows its users to accommodate both types of work. "It's hard to tell the difference between a music studio and a post studio any longer," says Feldman.

Feldman adds the SSL systems' 24-bit/48 kHz surround specs make them ideal for DVD video work, most of which is being done in surround at 48 kHz. Higher resolutions are still in question.

"The people who are looking for 96 kHz is where we are selling analog consoles," notes Feldman. "The number is not as simple as 96k, because Pro Tools is 192 kHz capable. So to say this is definitely the new digital audio format is not so clear. But where people are working for broadcast or DVD video, all of that material is being done at 48k, so it's not an issue."

To improve the Avant and MT consoles, SSL increased the amount of console processing, providing more channel processing capabilities while maintaining a small footprint. And recognizing the success that Digidesign has had with its ProControl surface, SSL has added workstation control to its own systems.

While Feldman says the integration with DAWs, such as Pro Tools, Fairlight systems and RADAR, isn't meant to replace the respective editors' interface, it does help mixers make smaller changes without having to move away from the console.


Harrison's ST2 is designed for feature film and other post applications requiring a large-scale digital console.

HARRISON BY GLW

Mark Dooley, marketing manager for Harrison by GLW (www.glw.com), says that while there is a perceived slowdown in the market, his company has had pretty consistent business over the past year and has a robust forecast for 2003. Harrison offers a number of post-oriented consoles, including the SeriesTwelve, ST2 and the MPC motion picture console. The SeriesTwelve and MPC both began as analog boards that can now be upgraded to fully-digital mixers through the company's digital back end.

The SeriesTwelve, says Dooley, might be considered the Swiss Army Knife of mixing consoles. It can be used for film and traditional post, as well as for music recording and live on-air broadcasting. The SeriesTwelve offers an array of panel interfaces and can be outfitted in any number of configurations.

The ST2 is designed for feature film and other post applications requiring a large-scale digital console. It's offered with a wide variety of control surface options and features Harrison's PCI-based IKIS Automation, along with touch-sensitive control knobs and a two-toned color scheme.


Yamaha's DM1000 is an affordable, 96 kHz surround-capable board designed specifically for post work.
The MPC console, notes Dooley, is really designed for feature film use. There is a limit on panel options, and both input panels and faders configurations are standard. Film mixers will appreciate the MPC's familiar pec/direct panel for interfacing with dubbers.

Harrison has been focusing its efforts on bringing its latest automation platform online. The new IKIS automation platform runs on the PC/Intel platform, stepping away from the Mac platform it's used for years. IKIS provides 10 EQ shapes, 30 dB gain/cut, expanded dynamics controls and increased control resolution.

What differentiates the PC platform from the Mac automation is its scalability. "There is no real limit as to the size that the console can scale out to," says Dooley. "It's dramatically more visual in terms of its interface."

Boards already using the Mac version with the company's digital back-end can switch over to the PC version without any problems, helping to future-proof the system.


Fairlight's (www.fairlightesp.com) DREAM is a standalone digital audio system that combines a 192-channel mixer with a fully-integrated 48-track disk recorder/editor. The system can operate at a variety of sample rates, up to 96 kHz. The console is available in various chassis sizes each of which can be configured with a choice of fader numbers, central assignment panels and meter bridges.
The MPC3-D is an evolution of the company's MPC and brings forward its traditional controls and familiar panel layout. Controls have been enhanced and now include dedicated eight-band EQ controls per strip, dedicated dynamics controls per strip and expanded panning controls. The console can accommodate any combination of input sections and custom master section layouts. By design, the MPC3-D is a large-scale, multi-operator console and can be configured as a one-, two- or three-operator desk. Software plug-ins allow the user to choose features and functions according to their need.

Sony Pictures was one of the first to switch to the digital back end. The facility has 10 Harrison consoles, five of which are digital.


Sony's R100 benefits from developments for its high-end OXF-R3 console, as well as from efficiencies made possible through its manufacturing plant.
SONY
Sony has seen a lot of success with itsDMX-R100 digital mixer (www.dmx-r100.com). The company had sold 1,800 of them as of AES '02, and product manager Karl Kussmaul says it's possible that the number has reached 2,000 by now. Kussmaul attributes the R100's success to the efficiency in production that Sony offers through its manufacturing plants in Japan, combined with the feature set developments that come from its high-end OXF-R3 console.

Sony recently announced an upgrade to the R100 at the winter NAMM show in Anaheim. The console now features V. 2.21 software giving it MADI support that Kussmaul says is usually reserved only for higher-end, expensive consoles.

"We elected to go with MADI because it is truly a professional multichannel audio standard." A new system interface - the SIU 100 - will be available in April and expands on the number of I/O and its interconnecting capabilities.

Kussmaul notes that while many facilities would like to see savings by investing in smaller format boards, it was only recently that these lower-cost offerings could provide the necessary feature sets for handling professional demands.

"People would try to integrate lower-cost technology when they could. But the products weren't really up to the job. Now that is turning around quite a bit."

EUPHONIX

Andrew Wild, VP of marketing communications for Euphonix (www.euphonix.com), says the company had a good second half in 2002. There are almost 125 of Euphonix's System 5 consoles in the market today, and the company is continuing to develop the 24-bit, 96 kHz board, having released the V. 2.6 upgrade back in September at AES. The latest upgrade includes improvements to the System 5's EQs, notch filters, mix automation, control surface and display graphics.

"In the post world, there is an acceptance of the digital console as the way to go," says Wild. "It took about four of five months for [the economy] to really get on its feet. But the end of the year was good for us. We sold a lot of consoles."

Euphonix is very optimistic for this coming year. System 5 user Technicolor recently upgraded its room to handle television work such as Steven Spielberg's Taken series (See Post's Web site for the complete story) and Wild thinks that might be a trend. "Other [studios] are going to want to match them to be competitive. They are going to need hundreds of inputs and absolute control over their digital systems, and that's a strong points of the System 5."

Expect product news from Euphonix later this year, as part of a "short-form post plan" that ties into its work with DAW software manufacturer Steinberg (now owned by Pinnacle). Back at AES the two companies announced a strategic relationship to develop integrated professional audio products.

"The CS console was great for [short-form work]," says Wild. "It was lower cost and compact, but very powerful. The System 5 is out of that cost range."

The new release is expected to share resources between the DAW and mixing console. "You might be using some on-board effects on the DAW and you might be using some stuff on the console," he explains. "It won't necessarily be a keyboard and mouse replacement. It will actually be as much or as little I/O and processing as you want."


TASCAM recently introduced V.2.03 for its DM-24, giving it 20 new features and functions.
TASCAM
At the recent NAMM show in Anaheim, TASCAM demonstrated the V.2.03 operating system update for its DM-24 digital mixer. The update is available as a free download from the company's Web site (www.tascam. com) and adds 20 new features and functions to the console. Updates include HUI emulation, new footswitch control capabilities, improved internal signal routing and direct surround panning capabilities.

The HUI emulation mode allows the DM-24 to be used as a control surface for music/audio software like Pro Tools, Digital Performer and Nuendo. Faders, pans and mutes, as well as aux sends, track arming and transport controls can all be controlled in these DAW applications via the DM-24.


Euphonix has nearly 125 System 5s in the field today and will have a new product later this year.
V.2.03 also includes new 5.1 surround mixing features. A low-pass filter on the LFE channel allows users the ability to send select frequencies below the LPF point to a stem recorder. The new Center Channel Percentage parameter regulates how much of the channel's signal is sent to the center channel of the stem recorder. V.2.03 also includes a new utility page offering 13 functions that the external footswitch can perform.

The TASCAM DM-24 is priced at $2,999 and features 24-bit digital converters, up to 96 kHz sampling rates and 32-bit internal processing.

STUDER

Studer (www.studer.ch) addressed the post/film market in 2002 with the introduction of its Vistonics control surface technology at NAB. Vistonics was first used on Studer's Vista 7 broadcast production and post production console.

Vista 7 can have from 20 to 70 physical channels in groups of 10, plus a central control bay, and each bay of 10 channels is built around the Vistonics graphic control surface. Vistonics integrates rotary controls within a full-color flat-screen display, giving immediate access to all available controls. The interest in this concept at NAB, IBC and AES resulted in one of the fastest placement of orders in Studer's 50-year product history.


Studer recognizes the importance of automation and machine control in post applications. The Vista 7's AutoTouch Plus system offers dedicated buttons for multi-machine control, track arming, and more, with the option of fully-integrated control of all machines via Soundmaster's touch-screen technology.

Studer is also continuing the production of its D950 M2, with nearly 200 units in the field worldwide. The system is Studer's largest digital console and offers custom options and sizes that are not available with the Vistonics control surface.

DIGIDESIGN

Scott Wood, senior product manager/ post production at Digidesign (www. digidesign.com) says that pairing a Pro Tools workstation with the company's ProControl surface is a very attractive solution for pros looking to open or upgrade a post room. Users can get a turnkey recording and mixing solution, says Wood, for well under $100,000. That's less than some higher-end consoles alone.

While ProControl is an interface to Digidesign's Pro Tools DAW, Wood says it's not much different than AMS Neve, Harrison and Euphonix consoles, all of which are control surfaces that interface with a digital engine in a machine room.

"The major difference is the [Digidesign system] that sits in the rack can not only handle the automation and mixing, but the audio and effects processing," explains Wood.


Wood also touts the future-proof design of ProControl. "The cool thing about the ProControl is that, originally, it was released when Pro Tools|24 was available. That was updated to Pro Tools Mix, and now to HD, so those people that made the investment back in the 16-bit, 48 kHz days can use their same console control surface at 128 tracks and 192 kHz."

ProControl supports 48 faders. A base unit starts at $13K, and each eight-channel expansion is $6,500.

"Generally, a lot of people go with a 24- or 32-fader system, so the console control surface costs around $30 to 35K," notes Wood.

When asked about how Digidesign's affordable tools are impacting the way studios bill their clients, Wood says, "It's allowing a natural market progression. Video people understand the NLE process and they want it with audio, too. They expect the same market developments to happen in audio that they've seen happen in video."

SOUNDTRACS

James Gordon, sales director for Soundtracs (www.soundtracs.com) in the UK, describes 2002 as a "transitional" and "peaky" year. Gordon says, normally, the company sees slow but steady sales throughout the year, but in 2002, it saw a number of sales right out of the gate, particularly in New York and Boston, before things slowed a bit.

Soundtracs offers a broad line of 24-bit, high-end post-oriented consoles, starting with its DS3. The console is available in 24- or 32-fader configurations and is ideal, says Gordon, for commercial TV and smaller film projects.

The company's DPC-II is in the middle of the Soundtracs line and has seen a lot of success, especially in New York, with facilities doing TV work. And at the higher end is the D4 with more bussing than the other two. Gordon says the D4 can be used for TV work, as well as for high-end music and film work.

The differences between the Soundtracs releases are mainly the number of busses and the physical layout of their design.

Soundtracs offers its own networking solution in Net-Tracs, which consists of a central server that allows each Soundtracs console within a facility to backup to the server or swap projects from one room to another. It also offers an on-board effects package that can be added to any of its consoles. The package includes approximately 40 different effects, six of which can run simultaneous.

MACKIE

Mackie (www.mackie.com) offers a number of control surfaces designed to accompany DAWs. At the recent NAMM show in Anaheim, the company announced that its Mackie Control will now interface with Digidesign's Pro Tools.

Mackie Control is a nine-fader MIDI controller that provides mixing, editing and automation control for any supported digital audio workstation. The system already supports Cakewalk Sonar, Magix Samplitude, MOTU Digital Performer and Steinberg's Cubase and Nuendo products, as well as Mackie's own Soundscape 32.

The company added HUI Mode to Mackie Control, which gives the unit Pro Tools support. The Pro Tools-compatible mixing surface will begin shipping in late Q1 of 2003. Mackie will also provide a Pro Tools-specific Lexan overlay. Existing Mackie Control users can upgrade to the latest Pro Tools support via a HUI firmware upgrade.


AMS Neve's will show upgrades to its Logic MMC at this year's NAB show.
AMS NEVE
AMS Neve (www.ams-neve.com) expects this year to be an exciting one for film/post facilities as the company reveals new options for its DFC film mixing console. Over the last year or so, AMS Neve has invested a considerable amount of resources in developing new processing technology. This has led to the new XSP DSP tower plus MIOS96 and AES96 interface options. At NAB, AMS Neve we will be profiling these latest developments as well as launching a number of new features.

AMS Neve's MMC has been around for about a year now and it is also proving popular with post and film facilities. At NAB, the company will show further improvements to the digital mixer.

"AMS Neve does cater to the high-end of the market. And some might consider the equipment expensive," says marketing communication manager Helen Isherwood, "but professional facilities will recognize the worthiness of the investment. A higher investment at the outset will soon pay for itself. Just consider [that] many years from now, the console will still be working as reliably as ever. The first DFCs are now eight years old, but they are still in full working order, churning out film after film."

Isherwood adds that studios should consider whether the equipment in their suite is familiar to freelancers and how it influences the image of the room?

"The answer to these questions will lead anyone serious about their facility to make a commitment now that will pay off in the long-term," she says. "[When] facilities choose AMS Neve equipment, they get a fabulous looking piece of [gear] that does the job and allows for creative diversity."