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Audio consoles: six of the best solutions

As businesses and audiences expect top-quality audio as a given, the manufacturers of audio consoles are providing integrators with mixing desks geared to fixed installations, reports Jim Evans.

Multi-tasking with Allen & Heath dLive

Allen & Heath’s dLive bridges the gap between the install and live sound worlds. On one side you have the networkability, flexibility, matrix distribution, control options and user permissions to suit the most complex venue; on the other you have the sound quality, ease of use and processing tools designed to satisfy the most demanding engineer.

What is unusual about dLive is the concept of a self-contained mix engine, the MixRack. For many installations where a control surface is not required, the MixRack can be controlled by a laptop or tablet running dLive Director, by third-party systems via standard TCP control, or by the new IP6 and IP8 remote controllers, both fully networkable and PoE compliant.

The array of control options makes dLive suitable for a multitude of applications. On top of this, all dLive systems can be configured with different levels of access and permissions tailored to the intended user. For example the sound engineer can tweak all live mixing functions, but cannot access critical settings such as firmware updates or the network address, while the day-to-day operator only has control of a few functions.

The price-to-performance ratio is claimed to be unmatched. dLive can manage over 800 system inputs and 800 outputs, with seamless sample rate and format conversion and no impact on its processing and mix capabilities. It acts like a large scale distribution matrix, with five audio networking slots each providing a 128 x 128 96kHz interface and options to cover most industry standard transport protocols.

Super-flexible SD9 powered by Stealth

The DiGiCo SD9 is a super-flexible, complete integrated system powered by Stealth Digital Processing and floating-point Super FPGA technology. This lightweight, small-footprint console was designed with multiple applications in mind, therefore is equally suited to life on the road or as part of a fixed installation, be it a theatre, conference centre, house of worship or school. The SD9 is said to provide outstanding performance at a very competitive price point.

The SD9 features 24 touch-sensitive motorised faders, and benefits from quick-access function buttons for faster response times. At the heart of the console’s worksurface is a 15in high-resolution TFT LCD touchscreen with backlit display.

In addition, the SD9 features dedicated multi-function control knobs and electronic labelling.

Major benefits include upgradeability with firmware and software for Stealth Digital Processing, hardware with Optocore and multiple racks and I/O options, allowing an install to expand to meet future requirements that may not even be known yet.

Stealth Digital Processing allows constant upgradeability on not only feature sets but also physical channels, busses, effects, EQ and processing. This is a feature unique to DiGiCo consoles.

Smaller Vista offers full-size features

The Vista 1 BE from Studer offers many features not available on similar consoles in the same price range – multiple touchscreen surface, full-size, full-featured meter bridge option.

It shares the same features and software as the larger Vista series consoles so engineers can easily transition between the different models.

For the install sector, it is an all-in-one package that can easily be a drop-in replacement for an analogue console, but with the power and flexible advantages of digital. The console can operate standalone or be integrated into a larger Vista network.

Cost competitive compact Cadac console

The CDC six from Cadac offers the installation market a console of relatively compact form factor and cost competitiveness, with best-in-class audio performance combined with a highly intuitive user interface. Cadac says this enables it to fulfil the most performance demanding applications, while at the same time offering operators a minimal learning curve and the greatest possible ease of operation.

Cadac CDC six features 64 input channels and 48 assignable busses, and has been designed to provide a truly intuitive ‘high-agility’ user interface, with class-leading audio performance, at a very accessible price. Quality audio is assured due to Cadac’s well-known mic preamplifier design, combined with a time-aligned, phase-coherent mix bus architecture, resulting in an industry-leading total through-system latency of 0.4ms.

The CDC six will audibly breathe new life into an existing PA, as it is claimed to have the best audio performance of any digital audio console.

Audio transport is achieved via Cadac’s propriety 96kHz/24-bit MegaCOMMS protocol, using inexpensive and robust RG6 coax cables. With the addition of a MegaCOMMS Router, the network can be expanded to 3,072 channels. The CDC MC Optical Bridge further extends the maximum distance between network devices to 2km.

CDC six comes with an integrated 64 x 64 Waves interface as standard for multitrack recording directly to a laptop, and connection to a WAVES MultiRack SoundGrid server for access to thousands of plug-ins.

Cadac’s innovative approach to its human interface means it is far less menu dependent than traditional digital consoles, making operation much easier to learn.

The CDC six can also be integrated into existing audio network protocols via a choice of optional CDC network bridges.

Big board performance from a small footprint

Since it first started designing and manufacturing in the early 1970s, Midas has built an impressive catalogue of consoles, catering for all sectors. The Venice F24 24-channel mixer delivers “big-board performance from a small footprint” and offers the warmth and user-friendliness of analogue, along with the flexibility of FireWire.

Midas says the desk is much more than a compact live audio console. The DIGI-LOG VF24 is the platform for “a completely integrated audio mixing, recording and signal processing” – thanks to its FireWire digital audio interface which is capable of supporting up to 24 x 24 channels of high-quality 24-bit audio.

The hybrid VF24 bridges the gap between analogue and digital audio consoles, and offers the user the ease of use, warmth, feel and zero latency of analogue, combined with the power, choice and flexibility of outboard digital processing. While originally intended for live sound applications, the audio performance and the addition of the FireWire digital audio interface means that the VF24 is equally at home in fixed install applications.

Midas believes that a modest footprint doesn’t have to mean compromised performance and a poor feature set. The VF24 embodies this philosophy, boasting rugged construction and top-of-the-range components – and the noted Midas sound.

Feature-rich StudioLive hybrid

The PreSonus StudioLive AR16 USB 18-channel hybrid mixer makes it simple to mix and record live events and studio productions. Most of the signal path is analogue; the recording features and effects are digital. Versatile, feature-rich and affordable, they’re easy to use – suited to churches, clubs, meeting rooms, and more, says the company.

In addition to mic- and line-level inputs, you get two instrument inputs. You can mix with PreSonus’ noted Class A preamps and three-band EQ, or create multitrack recordings and fly in backing tracks with a 24-bit, 96kHz USB 2.0 audio interface. Recording and playback can be achieved without a computer, using the integrated stereo SD recorder.