Anyone who has mixed a “talking head” gig knows there are challenges to the job.Sometimes they are simple events that only last an hour with one mic on a podium, while others last for days — long days, sometimes eight to ten hours long, sitting behind the console listening to people talking…incessantly.

After the second day of a three-day conference on “Visual Acknowledgement of Colored Oil and Latex as it Coagulates,” you move into a peyote, trancelike state in which you see the world clearly.You develop a keen sense of your inhalations.You begin to control the beating of your own heart.You…ah, crap. You forgot to turn on the mic again.Now everyone on stage is tapping a mic to see if any work.The moderator is saying, “testing, testing” as if it is some mantra that works like The Clapper to un-mute the mic.The sponsor of the event is now rushing to your aid.

These gigs usually involve mics everywhere: at least two wireless roaming for a Q&A, one on the podium, lavs on panel members, and many on the table for other panelists.It is a nightmare.You have to pay attention to the discussion because you can't leave all eight mics up at once…unless you have a Dugan Model E-1 Automatic Mixing Controller.The first time I saw a Dugan, I drooled over the possibilities, but it was out of my price range.Now, the E-1 brings the power of the Dugan down to an affordable level.

The E-1 is incredibly easy to use.You pull it out of the box, plug it in, turn it on, and it basically works.If you worry about job security, have no fear.The unit connects to your computer and its software allows you to control the more advanced features.This will also convince your boss that you are doing something to make this little box help you mix the mics.

What It Does

The E-1 manages multiple live mics in an unpredictable setting without the need to continually ride the faders. You could use gates on all channels, but that causes a choppy and distracting effect.Instead of gates, the E-1 is an eight-channel signal processor that patches into the input insert points of an audio mixing console, detects the input signal level of the mics, and adjusts using fast and transparent cross-fades. It keeps the overall output level of the eight mics equal to the level of one open mic, and it will catch all of the unscripted dialogue and eliminate late pick-ups. It lowers the level of the unused mics, in turn decreasing the possibility of feedback without the need for gating.

Dan Dugan, inventor of the E-1, explains how it works. “The Model E-1 uses the Dugan Speech System to automatically manage up to 64 live mics,” he says. “If no one is speaking, the inputs are riding at a medium gain, adding up to the gain of one mic. If one person is speaking, you'll notice that the speaker's gain automatically turns up full, while the other inputs are turned down. If another person speaks, then the gain automatically shifts to that input, while the other inputs are turned down.When two people speak simultaneously, the gain is automatically shared between them, while the rest of the mics are turned down.”

During setup, an LED on the unit indicates when the audio level is within range for correct processing. “It should stay illuminated when the room is quiet,” says Dugan. “If it goes out, the input gain on the mixing board should be increased until the level is sufficient. It has a five-LED ladder — the same as on the original Model D — that indicates the gain that the automatic mixing function is applying to the channel. The bypass button disables auto-mixing and passes the channel through unchanged. The mute button mutes the channel. When the controller is patched pre-fader — true for most mixing boards — mics should be muted here, not on the mixer.”

The eight analog inputs and outputs are on TRS connectors. Digital I/O is via ADAT Lightpipes. Multiple units can be linked in a ring using the ADAT optical Link connectors. The Analog/Dig switch selects the input, and both outputs are always active. The Norm/Slave switch sets the mode for linking. One unit must be the master. A +4/-10 switch adjusts the side-chain sensitivity for professional or consumer levels, and a 10/100Base-T jack accesses an internal web server for remote control and firmware updates.

How It Came to Be

Dugan says that the E-1 was developed “over six years of experimentation after frustrating experiences designing sound systems for Hair — Chicago, Las Vegas, Toronto — and the Sacramento Music Circus.” He patented the Dugan Speech System in 1975. “I produced 60 copies of my Model A mixer,” he says. “Number one, hand built, was installed in the conference room of Bell Labs by Harvey Fletcher. In '96, I produced the Model D-1. It was an economy model of the D, having only the Speech System. I developed the Model E — E for economy — in order to expand my market downward, a Dugan for the rest of us. Like the D-1, the E had only the Speech System and almost no physical control panel. Instead, it had a web server that provided a Java-driven remote control panel. On the E, the ADAT link connectors — for linking multiple units — could be switched to serve as digital I/O. This proved to be a popular feature, but people didn't want to give up the ability to link units when using digital I/O.”

Responding to user requests, the successor Model E-1 provides two sets of ADAT digital optical audio connectors for linking and digital I/O.

What's Next

Dugan has big plans for the system. “Many future embodiments of Dugan mixing are envisioned,” he says. “A plug-in for digital consoles, a small mixer for reality shows, a new large-control-panel version for high-end users…

What End Users Have to Say

Ken Newman, senior audio engineer for Audio Applications, has used a Dugan on many large events he's done for a decade, including sales meetings for HP, Boeing, McDonald's, Hyperion, and America's Lodging Investment Summit. “I prefer not to do a show without one,” he says. “It is the single most important piece of front-of-house gear for high profile corporate events there is, especially when mixing for recording and or a webcast, as well as for the sound system.”

Newman mixes live sound and recordings/webcasts for corporate events. “I like to say ‘Dan is mixing’ when a panel discussion is happening because Dan knows to only have one mic at full level at any given moment,” Newman says. “All I have to do is tune the sound system for one mic to be open, and I set the Dugan for NOM — number of open microphones — to be one. I simply put all the mics of the people in the panel discussion at the level I had one mic at, and Dan does the rest. Even if two people talk at once, he knows to bring each one down slightly, so I'm never approaching ringing or feedback.”

When asked what he would like to see in the future, Newman says, “More channels in a single box, and I would also like to see either an internal power supply or a better power supply connector.”

Pat Lucatorto has been a freelance television sound mixer for CBS TV City since 1979.He holds six Emmy Awards and numerous nominations, and currently mixes Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader as well as numerous livesport events in 5.1.“The Dugan has been very useful to me on many occasions where multiple talent had to be miked, and all were allowed to speak whenever they wanted,” he says.

Lucatorto specifically recalls an example on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. “We had the Fab Five from Queer Eye For The Straight Guy on the show,” he says.“They all needed the ability to speak whenever they wanted, and in a situation like this, the Dugan is indispensable.It allowed me to have all mics open at the desk without worrying about excessive room noise or feedback from the FOH system in a venue where the audience is very close to the stage.I was always able to use Dan's nominal settings to get started and usually required very little tweaking, if any.I was also able to create a Dugan Mix for my FOH mixer, so he only had to worry about one fader on his desk instead of five and had the advantage of the same Dugan processing that I put on air.”

Lucatorto also recounts a poker tournament that started with 10 players and two interchangeable dealers.“There is just no better way to deal with this kind of environment than a Dugan,” he says.“During the course of the tournament, the players constantly ad lib comments to each other, and leaving 10 lavs open to catch all of this…let's just say the composite mix would have been worthless.”

As for his wish list for improvements, Lucatorto says, “I always make it a point to visit with Dan Dugan at NAB to see what this geniuswill come up with next.He thinks of and implements improvements on an ongoing basis.Maybe you can tell I'm a fan!”