Have you been looking for a digital console to fit your needs? Have you been looking for a digital desk with a hermetically-sealed touchscreen and the same high quality pre-amps as used in the DiGiCo D5 series? How about one that has all the bells and whistles without breaking the bank? Or one that connects to a 48-in by 8-out stage rack using two (that’s two) 75ohm coaxial cables with BNC connectors?
If that’s what you’ve been looking for, then look no further. The new DiGiCo SD8 is all of that and more. It is a digital desk bursting with features and innovative logic while staying at a price point that is very attractive. Plus, if you order in the next 30 minutes, you will receive a free case of Onyx-Cleaner. Okay, that’s not exactly true, but the SD8 did take home a coveted Live Design Sound Product of the Year Award earlier this year.
The DiGiCo SD8 is a digital mixing desk that consists of a work surface with an onboard audio engine and a range of onboard inputs and outputs. It can be connected to multiple input/output rack units by MADI links or optical fiber. The console work surface consists of three sections that can control 60 mono or stereo input channels, 12 VCAs, up to 24 mono or stereo busses, 12 matrix inputs and outputs, 12 onboard graphic EQs, and six onboard stereo effects. The left section has 12 assignable faders and 12 sets of assignable encoders and switches. The center section has a touchscreen, 12 assigned encoders, 12 assignable faders, 12 sets of assignable encoders and switches, a full set of channel processing controls, and a master fader. The right section has 12 assignable faders, 12 sets of assignable encoders, and switches and controls for monitoring, headphones, talkback, macros, and snapshots. Multiple consoles can be used to provide front-of-house and monitoring departments with shared stage racks and gain tracking and remote control of a console from a laptop computer.
The makers of the SD8 seem to have their eyes on a wide variety of areas within the business, well aware that the needs of the industry are forever growing and shifting. “We design our consoles to be flexible and evolve,” says James Gordon, managing director of DiGiCo. “As an example with the SD8, we added hardware that is currently not being used. We built it in to add extra future proofing to the console and the customer’s investment.”
The console also has a long list of impressive features. “The SD8, although new, has a very developed feature set that comes from years of developing consoles for both studio and live sound,” explains Gordon. “Consider the snapshots; they have a very simple front end, but dig deeper, and they have the ability to handle very complex theatre productions. The console was designed in the beginning to deliver everything in either mono or stereo, with full processing on all channels and busses. There are 60 channels, but they can all be stereo, if required. That’s equivalent to 120 channels in DSP terms. On the bussing, we went for 24 busses plus a master buss, but again, they can all be stereo with full processing on them. If you do the DSP console comparison, that would be equal to 50 busses, and that’s without us including the 12x12 output matrix. You see the point: With the SD8, we are rewriting what users can expect from consoles at this price or, in fact, double this price.”
And the price point is pretty impressive. The SD8 lists for $49,995, which includes the surface, with eight mic/line inputs, eight line outputs, and eight AES/EBU (four XLR in and four XLR out), plus the SD8 rack, which includes 48 mic/line inputs, eight line outputs (expandable to 24), dual PSU, and dual MADI ports. “It was tough to get it to the price without an audio compromise,” Gordon says. “When you have used one, that’s what will impress you the most. The new FPGA engine sounds better than SHARC-based consoles, including our own.”
DiGiCo has beefed up the horsepower on the SD8 by using the FPGA, which will allow for more advanced features over time. It took DiGiCo over five years working closely with the chip designers to create this groundbreaking audio engine on a single FPGA chip. As Gordon puts it, “It’s like the arrival of line array but in the console world.”
How It Came To Be And What’s Next
The SD8 was a far more complex console to create than past consoles because of the new technology DiGiCo was working with—what the company calls “Stealth Digital Processing.” The SD8 was about a two-year project run in parallel with the design of the flagship SD7. “The hardest part specific to the SD8 was designing it for actual manufacture,” says Gordon. “We knew we had to hit a price point, and that meant looking at all aspects of the design to make it simpler and more cost-effective to manufacture in volume.”
The whole point of the SD8 was to fulfill a long-held goal, but the design team was held up waiting for the technology that allowed them to deliver something with no audio compromise. “We wanted remote racks for their improved audio performance,” says Gordon. “Once we had the hardware to make it work, with a smaller single FPGA, we knew we could make the perfect entry-level console for DiGiCo.” When it came to writing the software, Gordon credits his team’s experience. “We are lucky in that our R&D team has over 15 years of digital expertise and, more importantly, industry know-how,” he says. “That’s often the hardest thing to teach. We tend to start with a basic version of code and build it up, feature by feature.”
As for future developments, Gordon says, “There is a new version planned for September that will see more effects options and also some other expansions on the software. I can’t give all the secrets away, but I think there are a few more DiGiCo tricks up our sleeve.”
What End Users Have to Say
Richard Hannan, production manager for Charles Ellery at Capital Sound Hire Limited, used the SD8 for the British Music Embassy event at Latitude 30 during SXSW 2009 in Austin, Texas, and also for corporate events in Lima, Peru, and Langkawi, Malaysia. He says he finds the console flexible and easy to operate. “It’s quick to move around, with excellent onboard features and effects, and a small footprint—an ideal console which punches above its weight,” he says. His favorite feature is the auto-confirm-all, and he adds that it is extremely straightforward to reset the line system and “get cracking with everything else.”
Hannan has a short wish list of what he would like to see in the future with the console. “When using one at each end of the multi-core, it would be nice not to gain share, as it is on the SD7,” he says. “I appreciate there is a trim control as well, but it’s not quite the same thing. And it would be nice to have a second screen, so you can leave the auxiliary or master page up while moving around the input and throughput stages on the second screen.”
Jason Choquette, sound designer for the New Bedford Festival Theatre and A1 on the national tour of Phantom of the Opera, is currently using the SD8 on a production of The Producers. “It’s quick to move around on and sounds great,” he says. “It is a versatile console and can be adapted for any requirements for any kind of show.” His favorite feature is the global copy and paste. “It’s one of the best I have found on any digital desk,” he adds and agrees with one of Hannan’s requests: “I would love to have an external monitor and pick what goes on it.”
For more information on the SD8 and other DiGiCo consoles, visit www.digico.biz.
Shannon Slaton is a sound designer and operator living in New York City. He wrote most of his article on DiGiCo’s SD8 console at the beach in Montauk, sitting in a car while his daughter slept in the backseat. He just finished designing productions of Always Patsy Cline and Little Shop of Horrors.