Digital consoles have evolved into a mature technology, and they are not only accepted throughout the industry, but truly dominate major segments of the touring and installation markets.

The reasons are many. The reliability issues (and pains) suffered by older, first-generation digital consoles are now a distant memory. New designs offer obvious improvements, such as greater numbers of channels controlled by increasingly smaller mix surfaces, and a variety of onboard and plug-in signal processing opens new creative possibilities. At the same time, software upgrades can expand the feature set of existing products without fear of obsolescence or bankrupting the owner. And the ability to load and store the moves, snapshots, and presets from entire productions is a welcome advantage to users.

But perhaps the most enticing allure of modern digital consoles stems from the reduction in size of the control surface itself. Combined with a reduced need for outboard processing, these two factors result in a smaller physical footprint for the audio mixer and more available seats for the promoter. Adding another six to eight seats available at each performance can equate to a substantial cash influx.

Recently, there have been numerous advancements in the state of the art in digital consoles for live applications. Looking into developments from various manufacturers (listed alphabetically), over the past year, here’s what we found.

Available in standard formats or customized to user requirements, Allen & Heath’s iLive modular mix system combines a central MixRack and an iLive surface controller that connect over a single Cat5 cable up to 394' (120m). The iLive Series now has six surface and five MixRack variants that can be mixed in any combination, and show files are transferable between systems via a USB key.

The latest additions are the iDR-16 3U MixRack and iLive-R72 rackmount Control Surface, which offers a compact, digital live mixing system with the same power and sonic performance of the larger touring iLive systems to a significantly lower price point. The fixed I/O iDR-16 MixRack has 16 mic/line inputs and eight XLR outputs in a 3U frame, with an extra eight I/Os available locally at the iLive-R72 surface. All MixRacks, including the new iDR-16, feature the same 64x32 RackExtra DSP mix engine, providing processing for 64 channels, 32 mixes, and eight stereo FX processors.

A “Port B” option slot expands audio networking possibilities, for digital mic splitting and multitrack recording (with ACE, EtherSound, MADI, ADAT, and Aviom interfaces available), and a built-in network switch and MIDI ports at each end allow remote control using laptops, touch tablets, and MIDI devices.

Next Page: Cadac’s S-Digital

Cadac’s S-Digital live theatre console reflects the surface architecture of Cadac’s J-Type analog board, offering a familiar mix environment, but with the benefit of digital control. The board combines proprietary High Speed Digital (HSD)™ communication with a core bussing system based around FPGAs and dedicated SHARC DSP devices within the DSP rack. This handles all I/O channels with fiber-optic or coax interfacing to the Stage Rack/preamps. Additional control surface frames can be brought in during rehearsals (for single- or multi-operator use) and then removed/relocated to reduce the mix footprint during performances.

Next Page: CIA Digital Console Systems System 48

CIA Digital Console Systems now offers its System 48—a 48-input/output, software-driven virtual console powered by RML Labs’ SAC application—split into two rolling racks for fast transport and setup. Standard features include 48 inputs and outputs, 5-band parametric EQ, compressor, and gating on every channel, 16 DCAs, six stereo aux sends, eight master outs (and 16 virtual outputs), and 7.1 mixing capability. In addition to the 48-channel model, 32/64/72-channel versions are also available.

Next Page: DiGiCo SD8-24

DiGiCo’s new SD8-24 offers the identical power of its entry-level SD8 console, but in a footprint less than 39.37" (1m) wide. It features the same fixed architecture and Super FPGA of the SD8, and DiGiCo’s unique Stealth Digital Processing. Features include the 48/8 Stage Rack and a 328' (100m) digital MADI snake; up to 60 mono or stereo channels with full processing; 24 mono or stereo busses; onboard local I/O with eight mic/line inputs; eight line outputs and eight AES I/Os; eight stereo floating point FX processors; snapshot cue control with crossfade; 25 touch-sensitive faders; touchscreen control; networking and remote control; MADI connection; 24x32 bands of graphic EQ; eight channels by four bands of dynamic EQ, mono or stereo; and eight channels of multiband compressor, mono or stereo.

Also new is the EX-007 controller, which is designed to substantially increase the number of available faders and the number of channels controllable from an SD7 console and from a distance of up to 328' (100m) over Cat5. Two EX-007s, each adding 24 faders and two additional touchscreens, as well as metering and other standard functions, can transform the SD7 into a 100-fader mixing console. Besides simply adding more faders, the EX-007 can be used as a remote surface for controlling entire mixes within an auditorium while the SD7 is placed elsewhere, thus freeing up even more seats.

Launched at Musikmesse/ProLight+Sound, the SD9 is an integrated system—complete with mix surface, D-Rack digital stage interface, and Cat5e digital multicore—and can simultaneously record 56 channels directly to multitrack software or DAW. The compact work surface has a TFT LCD touchscreen, 24 motorized faders, high-res bar graph meters, quick-access encoders and buttons, and user-defined backlit color LCD scribble strips. The D-Rack connects via Cat5e and has 32 mic inputs, eight line outs, and eight modular outs selectable as analog or AES, for a capacity of 32 inputs and 16 outputs. A second D-Rack expands the system for 64 inputs and 32 outputs.

On the horizon, DiGiCo plans to integrate plug-in specialists Waves’ new SoundGrid technology into single FPGA Stealth Digital Processing products. SoundGrid would allow access to existing plug-ins into the DiGiCo platform with low latency performance. More details should be announced later this year.

Next Page: Digidesign VENUE SC48

Designed for mid-to-small spaces, VENUE SC48 from Digidesign is a one-piece system combining I/O, digital signal processing, tactile control, and plug-in support. Features include a Pro Tools LE FireWire interface and software included for audio recording/playback, 48 analog XLR mic/line inputs, 16 analog line outputs (expandable to 32), 16 aux sends, eight groups, plus eight mono matrixes (linkable as up to four stereo matrixes), and 26 touch-sensitive, motorized faders (16 input, eight output masters, one mains, and one flex channel). A single expansion slot is provided for maximizing output count or adding Aviom A-Net connectivity.

Next Page: Harrison Trion Live MkII

Now in its second generation, Harrison’s Trion Live MkII features a traditional surface rather than a central, shared-knobs approach. Hardware enhancements include transformer-balanced mic preamps with a High-Z input setting for line-level and wireless mic inputs, and a combo I/O unit intended for smaller configurations with 24 A/D converters, 16 ADCs, and 16 AES I/Os, with MADI (optical or copper) interfacing to/from the console’s MADI router, which now has 12 4×1 summing points. Harrison also offers plug-ins for live users, including 2- and 6-band de-noisers, de-esser, and a sub-harmonic generator, while adding FFT displays to its harmonic notch filters and buzz/hum killer.

Next Page: Innovason Eclipse

Innovason’s Eclipse digital control surface, with the Eclipse DSP engine, lets users mix up to 104 inputs simultaneously into 48 mix busses with the capacity to manage up to 320 inputs on the console, using up to five remote audio racks. The MARS (Multitrack Audio Recording System) option allows 64 tracks of audio to be recorded directly to a hard disk plugged into the back of the console.

The compact (46"x30") surface has 48 faders and 48 configurable rotary knobs spread over four layers. An ID LED on each channel strip provides at-a-glance indication of the bus or function assignment to any channel. The Muxipaire interface connects via coax or fiber-optic cable to the 64 I/O Stage Box up to 500m away, and a Cat5 port ties into a 64-channel bi-directional EtherSound network. MADI and Aviom connect modules are optional.

Next Page: Lawo mc256

Lawo’s smaller-surface mc256 uses the same Lawo HD core as the other mc2 models, with up to 512 DSP channels, 144 summing busses, and 8,192-crosspoint routing capacity. Key to the mc256 is its new control surface, which provides direct access to essential operating elements. Rarely used functions are handled via the touchscreen interface, for fast operation and a short learning curve. In addition, the new design reduces fader width to 30mm for efficient, ergonomic production. Every 16-fader bay has full-function, high-res TFT metering. With frame size choices from 32 to 80 faders and special flight-case versions, the console is adaptable to a wide range of applications.

Also new is V4.8 software for the mc2 consoles. A new channel display features additional color and textural information for the VCA and Link displays. Now any number of channels can be interconnected, with an almost unlimited number of link groups. Each link group can be linked with different modules, such as fader, mute, or EQ, with a color and name assigned to each group. Each channel can even meter one of the first eight linked channels, comparable to a VCA master, and a couple function can temporarily link multiple channels for quick adjustments of all grouped channel parameters. Changing the level of aux-send 1 or input gain for a large number of channels can, therefore, be completed with only three moves.

Next Page: Midas

Midas recently launched offline editor software for both its XL8 and PRO6 digital consoles. The application runs on any Intel-based Apple Macintosh computer running OSX 10.5 or higher and is currently in beta release for free download from www.midasconsoles.com. The software lets users prepare shows in advance or migrate an XL8 show to a PRO6 (or vice-versa) from anywhere, without access to the console. It enables full control of all parameters, including creation of show files, management of preset libraries, system setup, patching, and more, essentially running the same as the console software. The offline editor also has a training function, so novice users can learn XL8 and PRO6 functions prior to operating the consoles.

Next Page: PreSonus StudioLive 24.4.2

Unveiled earlier this year, PreSonus’ StudioLive 24.4.2 digital console is a 24-input live mixer with onboard 32-bit effects, four busses, 10 aux outputs, and 32 outputs (and 26 returns) via FireWire for direct-to-computer recording. The heart of StudioLive is the Fat Channel, with EQ and dynamics on every input channel, as well as on every aux, subgroup, and main output. Besides additional inputs, the 24.4.2 expands on the 16.4.2 version with a host of new features, and multiple StudioLive consoles (16- or 24-channel) can be cascaded for additional inputs. Included are Capture recording and Studio One Artist digital audio workstation software for Mac and Windows.

PreSonus has also released StudioLive 24.4.2/16.4.2 driver and Universal Control software for Mac OS X Snow Leopard and Windows 7 operating systems, available as a free download.

Next Page: Roland RSS M-380

The V-Mixing System by Roland Systems Group has been expanded with the RSS M-380, a 48-channel digital console with all the features of the M-400 V-Mixer but in a compact rackmount footprint. The M-380 V-Mixer offers setup recalls, 100mm motorized and touch-sensitive faders, an 800x480 color screen, dedicated EQ/pan/gain knobs, onboard effects, 16 aux/mon sends, eight matrices, eight DCAs, eight mute groups, built-in stereo recording/playback, and support for LCR configurations. Based around REAC (Roland Ethernet Audio Communication), the M-380 interfaces with a variety of RSS digital snake/stagebox systems over standard Cat5e cable. A Cakewalk multichannel recording option is also offered.

A recent free software update for the M-400 and M-380 adds control of the RSS modular digital snake system’s S-4000M Merge Unit directly from the V-Mixer, allowing up to four digital snake heads to be merged into a REAC stream for flexible V-Mixing system configurations. Other functions in the new software include access to three user fader layers, expanded control of aux send/direct out muting, and knob control of gate/compressor parameters.

Next Page: Soundcraft Si1

Soundcraft’s Si series expands with the small-footprint (3.94'/1.2m) Si1, which comes standard with 48 inputs (32 mic inputs mapped on 16 faders, four stereo line channels, and four FX returns from its four onboard stereo Lexicon FX processors), eight balanced insert sends/returns, 24 group/aux busses, eight matrix busses, and main bus outs. Any group/aux/matrix bus can be assigned to any of the Si1’s 16 XLR bus outs, and each bus has a 30-band BSS Audio graphic EQ. Three option card slots provide further expansion, such as recording all the channel direct outs or increasing the number of mix channels.

The offline editor program—Virtual Si—lets users setup/manage complete shows offline, for later download to a Si1 console through a USB memory key.

Next Page: StageTec Crescendo

StageTec’s Crescendo is designed to fall between the company’s top-end Aurus console and the fixed-bus layout Auratus, which is designed for smaller venues. Crescendo provides a freely configurable layout (add DSP boards for more channels) with a maximum of 128 busses. The controller surface can be ordered from 43 to 94" (1.09 to 2.4m) wide—depending on application requirements—with up to 48 individual channel strips handling 300 full audio channels. Visual feedback comes via TFT screens and OLED displays.

Crescendo’s audio-processing and optical-interface components are accommodated in a NEXUS Star central router, which serves as an audio-routing matrix and provides a maximum matrix size of 65,536 I/Os with a capacity of 4,096 inputs simultaneously routed to all available outputs. Two consoles on the same Star router can share the audio matrix at the same time, such as one mixer in the auditorium and another handling monitors or recording.

Next Page: Studer Vista 5 SR

A new software release expands the functionality of Studer’s Vista 5 SR console. Version 4.7 adds features dedicated to live theatre, such as enhanced cue list management, including single button creation of cues, simplified cue renumbering/inserting, the firing of MIDI/MMC events, and a large display of current/upcoming cue events. Channel VCA mute/unmute assigns can now be entered on a cue-by-cue basis, while building a show and library entries based on a play’s character names can be created, for example, assigning EQ or effects to each.

A key feature in v 4.7 is Virtual Vista, a PC software suite that enables both offline setup of shows (for example, channel labels, routing, VCA assignments, and main cues to script), but also direct online control of the console so sound engineers can position themselves at critical locations within a theatre and make system adjustments to delay, EQ, and more.

Next Page: Yamaha M7CL-48ES

The latest addition to Yamaha’s M7CL console line is the M7CL-48ES, which adds EtherSound stage box connectivity for state-of-the-art system layout and signal routing capability. The M7CL-48ES’s built-in EtherSound interface provides the benefits of a digital network infrastructure while allowing the card slots to be used for other purposes, such as personal monitoring systems and recording outputs. Like the M7CL-48, the M7CL-48ES can mix up to 48 mono channels plus four stereo inputs to 16 mix busses, eight matrix outs, stereo, and mono outputs. The M7CL-48ES supports up to three SB168–ES remote stage boxes as its main I/O interface, and a new Stage Box Quick Set-up feature offers fast, plug-and-play connection via Cat5 cable.

Also new is Version 3.01 software for the entire line of M7CL consoles, including the M7CL-48ES. Among the major enhancements in v3.01 software is a link option for the Channel Select and Sends On Fader between the M7CL and the editor. This lets users remotely adjust PA and monitor systems from the stage or the house. The software can be downloaded free at www.m7clv3.com.

George Petersen, the executive editor of Mix magazine, a Live Design sister publication, lives in a 125-year-old Victorian house on an island in San Francisco Bay.