The man of the moment

As a respected figure of the sound industry, John Stadius, technical director of Soundtracs/DiGiCo, was recently honoured with the prestigious Gottelier Award.
Interviews, Broadcast Business
John Stadius shares his views with Kelly Lewis of S&S on the industry, its developments and its future.
John Stadius shares his views with Kelly Lewis of S&S on the industry, its developments and its future.

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As a respected figure of the sound industry, John Stadius, technical director of Soundtracs/DiGiCo, was recently honoured with the prestigious Gottelier Award.

Stadius received the accolade during the PLASA Awards for Innovation, which were held on September 8. The award, named in honour of the late designer, developer and commentator Tony Gottelier recognises innovative developers who have made a significant contribution to the advancement of equipment and tools used today, that enable entertainment technology practitioners to continually push the boundaries of event production, presentation and installation.

Voted for by the industry, the award was presented by Gottelier's wife Susie.

Stadius is a distinguished audio designer; in 1978, he joined Soundtracs Plc-, designing disco consoles, mixers, power amplifiers and speakers. As technical director between 1980-1994, he continued to design a wide range of analogue mixing consoles for live, broadcast and recording uses - from the company's first digitally-controlled analogue console in 1982, to its first fully digital console, the Virtua, in 1996.

He was also instrumental in designing Soundtracs' first large-format digital console, the DPC-II.

In 2002, the company was bought by DiGiCo and Stadius created the D5 - the company's first truly live digital console - then the DS00 for post and broadcast, the D5T for theatre installations and the D1 for the live arena.

The latest development from Stadius and his team is the creation of ‘Stealth Digital Processing' - a departure from the DSP approach in favour of a single large-scale FPGA. The first product to use this technology was DiGiCo's SD7 console, followed by the company's latest product, launched at PLASA08, the SD8.

As a veteran of the industry you have witnessed many major technological changes, with the transformation from analogue consoles to digital being one of the key components in recent years. How have these changes allowed you as an audio designer to achieve a better sound quality?

Being called a veteran is a bit upsetting,  I'm still only 52...it must be my grey hair! It's been over 30 years since I started in the audio industry and as you say there have been many changes. Thirty years ago you could not achieve quality audio without using discrete components (real transistors), but since then the quality of analogue components has vastly improved.

There comes a point when you reach a limit in what you can achieve with the technology around you. It was a huge decision for the company, around 14 years ago, to switch entirely from analogue to digital and it was the best decision that we ever made.
 

Digital gives you the freedom to design products that would be impossible to manufacture in the analogue world. Just imagine an analogue mixer with 256 channels of multiband dynamic EQ and multiband compressors - it would be so huge it would be impossible to operate.

DiGiCo's SD8, which is a follow-on product from the SD7, was recently launched at PLASA.

What are some of the key components that make it stand out from other digital consoles on the market?

The SD8 is based on SD7 technology. It is what we call stealth digital processing. All our previous digital designs were based around Analog Devices Sharc DSP chips. To achieve what we wanted to do in the SD7 would have required us to use a large number of these parts (upwards of 80) across a number of circuit boards.

So, a few years ago we started looking at alternative ways of processing audio. We wanted to make the product simple to manufacture. My team at that time, found an emerging technology called large-scale FPGA's. These are huge lumps of silicon consisting of millions of uncommitted logic cells. By connecting these cells in a particular way we were able to create a very powerful audio processing engine that could replace the large number of DSP chips in previous designs.

With the initial SD7 design we managed to achieve 256 full-processing paths at 96kHz, all in one chip. With the SD8 we scaled down the design (using a smaller FPGA) but were still able to achieve 60 stereo channels and 25 stereo busses. This is far more than any comparable product in the market.

How has the SD8 been received since its launch at PLASA08?

To be honest I knew the SD8 was going to generate a lot of interest but the response was far better than anyone at DiGiCo expected. The next few years is going to be very exciting.

How do you see the design of audio equipment evolving further in the future?

I see (especially live products) becoming more integrated. Already our desks incorporate racks of outboard gear such as dynamics, graphics, dynamic EQ's etc.

Further integration will probably include speaker management and inbuilt multitrack recorders. Although processing power is getting better and cheaper we still need a large human interface. Engineers are not ready to mix on a laptop.

You were chosen above five other leading industry figures to be presented with the Gottelier Award, what does this mean to you to receive this honour?

I found it a great honour to be respected in this way. Not only for myself, but for my whole R&D team - without them I would be still tinkering in my garden shed.

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