From entry-level mixers to high-end studio workstations, digital technology has revolutionised the studio console sector. S&S takes a look at some of the best mixers on the market.
One of the most talked-about product releases at last October's 123rd AES exhibition in New York was AMS Neve's Genesys high-end studio console.
In its base configuration, the hand-built expandable analogue recording console with digital workstation control boasts 16 channels of mic/line preamps, 16-channel DAW monitoring, 16-channel analogue summing at mixdown, DAW control for Pro Tools, Logic, Nuendo and more, eight auxiliary buses, eight group buses, two main outputs, four effects returns, comprehensive metering, 5.1 monitoring, two cue mixes, talkback services and an internal power supply.
As studio owners' requirements change, Genesys can be expanded to over 60 channels in a straight or articulated frame, with options including motorised fader automation, recall, mastering-grade A/D and D/A converters, digitally controlled EQ and dynamics, remote mic amp control and more.
"As the name implies, Genesys represents a new dawn for the Neve brand," explains Frank Massam, AMS Neve VP of business development.
"This console is designed to provide exactly what the market wants - an affordable Neve analogue desk with legendary sound, digital control, and the ability to expand and interface with a range of modern equipment."
Robin Porter, AMS Neve head of Analogue Design, claims the console's design bucks the recent trend in the console sector towards live performance applications.
"Genesys is designed to capture performances. It's for people who want to record real, live musical performances into their digital audio workstations with rich, full Neve analogue sound," he claims.
"It also serves as an excellent studio control surface with comprehensive monitoring and signal routing capabilities."
"This eliminates the typical hodge-podge of awkwardly interfaced devices, putting a proper console back at the heart of the studio."
Digidesign has emerged as one of the industry's major players, largely by virtue of a little software programme called Pro Tools.
The company has leveraged this success by developing a range of high-end studio consoles under the ICON banner, which fully integrate with Pro Tools.
The latest addition to the ICON range is the large-format D-Control ES. Previewed for the first time at the 123rd AES Convention, the console takes its place in the range alongside the original ICON D-Control and medium-format ICON D-Command.
Digidesign claims the D-Control ES work surface combines the feel of a large-format console with a comprehensive array of touch-sensitive controls and visual mixing feedback.
With a dedicated centre section allowing critical mixing tasks to be performed without leaving the 'sweet spot', per-channel control over all processing functions and routing, global automation capabilities, and full studio and control room monitoring and communications facilities, D-Control offers users precise control of complex projects.
Key features of the console include 16 physical faders/channel strips in its base configuration; up to 80 physical faders/channel strips via optional 16-channel fader modules; high-quality, touch-sensitive motorised faders; six touch-sensitive, multi-purpose rotary encoders per channel strip, each with multi-colour LED ring; a six-character alphanumeric, multi-colour LCD display, and tri-colour automation indication LED.
Digidesign claims the included Pro Tools software interface transforms ICON into the ultimate customised digital mixer, enabling users to mix in standard multi-channel formats up to 7.1.
In the process, they can add tracks, reconfigure and route inputs to any destination, and copy and move inserts, all at any stage during the mixing process. Meanwhile, an Automatic Delay Compensation function ensures all channels are accurately time-aligned down to the sample.
A flexible signal routing architecture also allows users to create and save custom I/O and mixer setups to use as session templates, substantially accelerating workflow.
Pro Tools HD 7 software's loop recording function also allows users to capture several versions of a take, or record entire takes, put each on a separate playlist, then recall any of them instantly.
System 5 is Euphonix's high performance digital audio mixing system specifically designed for audio post-production and music applications, and is arguably the closest rival to Digidesign's ICON in the high-end studio console sector today.
The System 5 range includes the S5 Fusion, which is designed to allow users to mix DAW and DSP tracks; and the System 5-MC, which integrates with DAWs including Pro Tools, Nuendo, Logic Pro, Digital Performer and Pyramix, using the high-speed EuCon control protocol over Ethernet.
The control surface can be fitted with eight to 48 System 5 channel strips and includes the MC Pro media application controller for master console functions and network control of multiple DAWs.
The System 5-MC can work with any application that supports EuCon, HUI or Mackie Control protocol, and can switch between multiple Mac and PC workstations at the push of a button.
Key features common to System 5 consoles include a modular surface and I/O design; modularity up to 300 channels; four-band EQ, dynamics and two filters on each channel; up to 48 mix buses, 48 group buses, 24 aux sends, 72 external inputs; high-resolution LED meters next to each fader; 240 SnapShot recalls of all console settings; 48 layouts for different surface configurations; surround panning and monitoring as standard; spill function for easy access to multi-format sources; TFT high-resolution displays at the top of each channel for metering (up to 5.1), EQ, dynamics and pan graphs and routing; dynamic automation of most parameters to timecode; and comprehensive machine control facilities integrating with Soundmaster, Colin Broad, Tamura and JSK.
In addition to music production applications, the System 5 is well-suited to film dubbing and HDTV surrounds audio post applications.
Launched in October 2006, Duality, Solid State Logic's (SSL) analogue console with integrated workstation control, has proven the company's fastest selling large-format desk, with 40 installations worldwide to date.
The combination of a high-quality SuperAnalogue signal path and processing with integrated DAW control, analogue 5.1-surround panning on every channel, constant visual feedback via TFT displays and the convenience of multi-operator Total Recall has proven a key selling point.
The console is designed to integrate with a range of workstations and features a unique split channel path that enables channel processing to be placed in the input or monitor path of the workstation.
In addition to the SuperAnalogue mic amp, each channel features a Variable Harmonic Drive input stage designed to add analogue character to 'soul-less' workstation outputs. A second to third harmonic drive control provides a range of tones, from the warmth of 50's tubes to the 'edge' of 70's transistors.
Duality offers VCA style or moving fader automation and complete control over DAW parameters from the console channel rotaries. There are multiple stereo busses or multiple 5.1 stems to make the best use of a full set of 5.1 pan/positioning controls on each channel.
SSL debuted a 96-channel Duality console at last October's 123rd Audio Engineering Society Convention in New York City.
The revised console also featured a redundant power supply option for broadcast applications, which provides complete redundancy for all power rails by providing two complete sets of the standard Duality power supply modules, each with its own mains connection.
The DC outputs are connected via high-current diodes so that failure of one unit will not load the outputs of the other power supply. Like the standard power supply system, all units are mounted in the rear of the console, greatly simplifying installation.
The DM2000 VCM is Yamaha's high-end 96-channel studio console that comes pre-installed with Yamaha's Add-On Effects software, an array of state-of-the-art processing technologies that provide users with enhanced production features.
Yamaha describes the DM2000 as a 'total production tool' that also offers 96 kHz effects, advanced surround production facilities, extensive integrated DAW and machine control, computer and memory-card based data management, and a flexible bus system with digital patching and inserts.
The DM2000 can be linked and cascaded interactively with other Yamaha consoles - including the DM1000, 02R96 and 01V96 - in a multi-room studio environment, while mix data is interchangeable using the supplied Studio Manager Application software.
Yamaha's Add-On Effects software includes Channel Strip (AE-011), Master Strip (AE-012), and Vintage Stomp (AE-015) packages that utilise Virtual Circuitry Modelling (VCM), a unique technology which reproduces the physical modelling of analogue circuitry in order to recreate the sounds of sought-after vintage effects gear.
In addition, the DM2000 VCM ships with the Surround Post (AE-014) package, a surround processing suite which incorporates Yamaha's Interactive Spatial Sound Processing (iSSP) technology.
The Surround Post (AE-014) package includes such surround-specific production tools as Room ER, Auto Doppler and Field Rotation Effects.
The included Reverb (AE-013) package incorporates REV-X technology, the advanced algorithm behind Yamaha's newest generation of reverb and ambience programs.
Designed for reverberation depth and realism with smooth decay, REV-X technology takes full advantage of the DM2000's 24-bit, 96-kHz audio resolution to recreate the warmth associated with natural acoustic environments.
Released in 2005, the Mackie X-Bus still stands as one of the company's best digital mixing consoles.
Available in x.200 and x.400 model configurations, both desks feature an upgradeable 192kHz-capable mix engine; dual 15-inch touchscreens; 100mm Penny + Giles optical touch faders; onboard control of a variety of DAWs, including Pro Tools, Logic, and Nuendo; VST plug-in support; and streaming digital audio between the Digital X Bus and a Mac or PC via FireWire.
A highlight of the compact console is the inclusion of dual touchscreens. With advanced 5-wire technology and a proprietary tracking algorithm, Mackie claims the touchscreens boast an operating life of more than 35 million finger pokes (!), while for adjustment, the console includes 24 rotary knobs corresponding to the graphics on the screens directly above.
The Digital X Bus's 'modular' hardware architecture provides access to internal components simply by removing the rear panel of the chassis. The console is also future-proofed in that it allows users to add more RAM, swap or add I/O cards, or customise the desk to their specifications.
When equipped with the optional FireWire card, the Digital X Bus can stream digital audio between any OS X Core Audio (Mac) or ASIO/WDM (Windows XP) compatible DAW software.
At the time of its release, the X-Bus was the first console to run select VST plug-ins internally and boasted the largest-capacity, highest-performance PCI-based accelerator card ever created for the pro audio market - two features that hold it in good stead against newer rivals.
Tascam's DM-4800 digital mixing console is a flexible, 64-channel mix platform with a range of key features designed for professional studio applications.
A 'fat channel' strip located in the centre of the board provides instant access to four-band parametric EQ, dynamics and aux controls available for the first 48 channels.
Twenty-four studio-grade mic preamps provide enough inputs for live applications, and more can be added using expansion cards with external preamps.
The standard complement of analogue and digital I/O is a key feature, as is the desk's completely configurable 24-buss routing system which allows users to re-patch the board simply by flicking a switch.
Tascam claims the DM-4800 fits seamlessly into a modern recording environment based around a computer DAW. With a single button press, the remote layer provides a 24-fader control surface for control of premiere workstations such as Pro Tools, Logic, SONAR, DP, Cubase and Nuendo.
The optional IF-FW/DM MkII interface card provides 32 channels to and from a computer at up to 96kHz over a single FireWire cable. An optional surround monitoring card provides downmixing, bass management and level control for mixing in up to 6.1-surround.
Allen & Heath
Allen & Heath's latest console is the ZED-24 mixer for live performance, recording, and production.
The console provides 23 independent sources to the mix, 10 independent outputs, four aux sends (two pre- and two post-fade), a USB send and return (for PC or Mac recording, playback and effects), a unique dual stereo input capability, and advanced monitoring facilities.
In addition to 16 mono channels there are four stereo channels, each with a main stereo input on jack sockets.
The entry-level ZED-14 boasts six mono channels (with three-band, swept-mid EQ) and four stereo channels (with two-band EQ) and provides 13 independent sources to the mix, 10 independent outs, two pre-fade/two post-fade aux sends, and a USB send and return for PC/Mac recording/playback/effects.
Both consoles ship with Cakewalk's SONAR LE Windows Vista/XP recording software.
The company has made a serious name for itself in recent years focusing primarily on live sound applications as demonstrated by the abilities of its flagship iLive.