Since 2005, Aviom has conquered the personal monitoring market. From churches, to regional theatres to Broadway and major television broadcasts, the A-16II Personal Mixer and the Pro16 A-Net network have become standards for personal audio monitoring. The A-16II nailed the needs of the market and made it so easy to configure and so easy to use that it was a no-brainer, even at a fairly steep purchase price.
Eight years later, Aviom has released a well thought-out upgrade to this venerable piece of gear. There are those upgrades that you can live without (say, the latest iteration of Avid’s MBox), and there are those upgrades that pack a big enough increase in functionality and usability that you actually really want to use it – and soon. The new A360 Personal Mixer falls in the latter category. I want one, or ten.
Is it really a 360 from the previous A-16II? Thankfully, no. There are plenty of great things on the current A-16II unit that I’d hate to see changed. Maybe it should have been called the A180, because Aviom clearly built on what worked so well and made improvements just where you might want them to. They’ve done their homework, no doubt.
The A360 works with your existing Pro16 A-Net network and plugs right into any existing setup. As you’ll see, using the A360 on your existing network will limit some of the new features (like channel count). The unit is built around a new 36-channel mix engine. That raised my eyebrow too, and here’s how that works. Currently, all the system input devices to the Aviom Pro-16 product line are 16-channel units (their console cards and input modules). While they limited the hardware to 16-channels, the Cat-5 cable has always been capable of carrying 64-channels (at 24-bit, 48kHz). Aviom, knowing what their product was for (i.e., a working musician), made the choice to only present 16-channels to a musician. And at times, most of us know, 16-channels isn’t enough. Other times, it’s more than enough (cue image of befuddled guitar player pressing buttons and turning knobs).
The current A-16II lets you have 16 mono, or eight stereo channels or a combination within that range. The A360 has the potential to give you 16 mono or 16 stereo channels or any combination. (big *: when using the Pro-16e network and at least two input devices, described next.) That’s pretty great as having to eat two of 16 channels for a stereo pair has always been a bummer. Aviom made a good choice to not let you give a musician 32 distinct mono-channels. Instead they let you send stereo material without eating up two channel buttons. The idea is you, being the engineer, give the musician a better mix for them to use, without giving them more distinct things to control.
Staying on the input side, the A360 also has a flexible 17th channel, dubbed the Dual Profile Channel. This 17th channel lives in the lower right hand side, placed there to be easy to locate quickly. The channel can either be a 17th mono or stereo channel – say you route the click track to it – or it can be a mirror of any other channel. You might want to mirror any channel that is the one you adjust the most (say the vocal channel). This just makes it easier to find (you can put away the neon spike tape!). Once you’ve decided how you want to use it, you then have two profiles with which to edit the channel attributes. Using the Profile A and B buttons, you can set one profile that has the 17th channel turned up and panned to the left and another profile that has it turned down into the mix and panned center.
To launch into this expanded world of stereo pairs, you clearly need more input channels on the input end of the network. You get to 32 inputs (ie 16 stereo channels) by cascading two of their current input devices together (two AN-16/i or a card and an AN-16/i). That’s pretty straight forward and the fact that it works at all shows forward thinking of Aviom. This sets up a Pro-16e version of the A-Net, which is entirely compatible with the usual Pro-16 units, it’s just those units will only see the first 16 channels. Aviom will soon be releasing a 32-channel input module to accommodate the Pro-16e network.
If you really want to get crazy, and use every bit of Cat-5 bandwidth available, you can connect up to four input devices to crank your Aviom channels on the Pro-16e network up to 64. You then create mixer profiles that assign each A360 different channels from the giant pool of channels on the network. Basically, you can set up the patch structure for different mixers. Potentially awesome? I think so.
To assign any given channel from the pool (say channel 41) to any given button on an A360 (say, button 7), you would download the Applet (PC-only, sad to say) that lets you create different mixer profiles. You then save these profiles and upload them to the A360 mixers with your handy USB thumb drive. This allows you to create different mixer set-ups for different users. For example, your lead singer might want each vocal broken out to different buttons so she can mix it, while your drummer wants the vocals in a stereo group. Assuming you’ve got enough mixes from your monitor desk to feed an expanded pool on the Pro-16e network (a big assumption in many cases), you can give them the channels they want and let them build their mix. Be careful, as I imagine it could get pretty insane and difficult to track. I wouldn’t do this on a one off, but on a show that’s staying put for a while, it could make life pretty sweet. And a good old fashioned spreadsheet will be your friend.
What would life be without ambience? On the A360, there are two options. Previously on the A-16II, it required the engineer to send an ambient mic signal to the Avioms, and it required using one of the 16 channels for ambience. On the new A360 there are two changes: Ambience arrives on a discrete “One-Touch Ambience” control on the unit (ie it’s not part of your channel count) and you can either use the on-board ambient microphone or you can route an ambient mic as you used to, but without stealing a channel. And if you’re sending it from the console on the Pro-16e network, you can send a stereo pair. The button control lets you set a level and then you can press it to be on or off. The onboard mic would prove useful in a rehearsal setting for communication, but wouldn’t be the best option in a live show.
What else used to be a bummer on the A-16II? Reverb. Totally. Some musicians wanted it, others didn’t, some wanted reverb on them, others wanted reverb on the brass. It was a no-win situation. But dude, on the A360, there is an on-board DSP that allows the musician to mix-in reverb to their hearts content on a per-channel basis. It’s a very basic, set reverb, but I bet it’s enough to please most users who just don’t want to hear things totally dry. The control lets you adjust the input mix level to the reverb, but you can’t adjust any of the other parameters. Again, that’s probably for the better.
The last major per-channel development belongs to the Stereo Placement control. I think I’d need to hear it to successfully describe it, but Aviom says “the innovative Stereo Placement pan-spread control allows the width of a stereo channel’s image to be controlled independent of its left-right placement in the stereo field, significantly improving the user experience with in-ear monitors and headphones.” What they said. My take is that this must help create a very live, real-world sound in the closed-world of in-ears and headphones, since things in real life aren’t just left and right.
On the output side, Aviom has added a treble control for the output EQ and an Enhance control. Enhance just gooses up the low end thump and the high end shimmer so you can really rock out with your headphones. You also gain a new Mono-Mix output, which I’m very pleased to see. You still get the Stereo Master out via a TRS jack (or a new 1/8” jack) on the back that can go to headphones. But they’ve added an XLR output that is a summed mono-mix, perfect for feeding a small speaker, shaker or subwoofer.
You can store up to 20 mix snapshots. 16 of these are saved how they are on the A-16II, via the channel buttons. The other four snapshots are assigned to the new dedicated Instant Mix Recall Buttons. These new recall buttons are a real plus, as using the channel buttons often causes a great deal of confusion it seems. The current mix settings are retained even when the system is shut down. They’ve also added a USB jack on the back that can be used for saving and loading mixer profiles (to, say, synch a bunch of units easily or transfer settings to a replacement unit) and for firmware updates. This is also how you’d load a mixer profile created on the App.
Lastly, that darned network jack on the A-16II always meant taking apart an EtherCon cable! Those days are over, as the A360 has an EtherCon jack for its network connection. As before, this carries power and A-Net and an LED confirms signal presence (as well as input clipping). Interestingly enough, there is no A-Net ‘thru’ jack on the A360. Gone are the days of daisy chaining units, so if you don’t currently have the A-16D Pro hub, you’re going to need one.
No doubt about it, the A360 Personal Mixer and the Pro-16e network packs a punch. It’s a significant and well thought-out upgrade to the now standard A-16II. For users that aren’t particularly comfortable with multi-use buttons and knobs, it should feel familiar enough to the A-16II that they can go to what they know and navigate as they have before. For users who want to add reverb, ambience and stereo placement, they can go there with the A360 and perhaps they’ll even play better. And for a system designer or engineer, the A360 with or without the Pro-16e network should increase your options and facilitate getting the musicians what they need to do the best possible work.