Profound Effects: Digital Console Processing And FX Capabilities
An overview of current console platforms in terms of onboard processing and effects...

February 11, 2014, by PSW Staff


While it’s still common to see tours carrying racks of outboard processing and effects gear (of analog and digital varieties) for mix enhancement and to optimize certain system facets, the ability of modern digital consoles to provide these same capabilities is changing the game. Overall, the quantity of outboard gear needed to accomplish the same (and more) functionality has lessened, in some cases dramatically.

Even smaller-scale mixers of recent vintage provide considerable capacity, ranging from multi-band EQ to sophisticated “signature” effects, and this will certainly only increase. Let’s review where things stand in this regard with current console platforms, with the caveat that this overview isn’t intended to be exhaustive, but rather an instructive overview of what’s happening (and available) now and where it likely going in the near future.

Yamaha Commercial Audio. All specs other than channel capacity are consistent throughout the CL Series lineup (models CL1, CL3 and CL5), including a significant line-up of processing and effects. At the foundation of the design is VCM (Virtual Circuitry Modeling) technology, developed by Toshi Kunimoto (“Dr. K”) and his team at Yamaha’s “K’s Lab,” which has been noted by the esteemed Rupert Neve (among others) for accurately modeling a rich, expressive “analog sound.”

With the CL Series, this is applied to “virtual racks” that allow users to combine signal processors in one easy to access location, in the manner of traditional analog outboard racks. Specifically, the Premium Rack accommodates up to 8 instances of the 6 expressive EQ and dynamics effects provided, including the highly regarded studio effects provided by the Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5033 equalizer and Portico 5043 compressor/limiter.

CL consoles also include an Effect Rack that allows simultaneous use of up to 8 effects from a selection of 46 ambience effects and 8 insertion effects. Although a separate EQ rack is provided for the output buses, any of the 8 effects in the Effect Rack can be replaced by graphic EQ units as needed.

In addition, CL consoles offer a GEQ rack that allows graphic EQ to be inserted into the output buses as required for room equalization and other functions. Up to 16 31-band GEQ units can be mounted in the rack for simultaneous use, and those GEQ units can be individually switched to Flex15GEQ mode, providing two EQ channels that allow up to 15 bands to be used at a time. It adds up to 32 GEQ channels of EQ capacity.

Soundcraft. The four Vi Series models (Vi1, Vi2, Vi4 and Vi6) are all equipped with 40-bit floating point DSP that facilitates processing/effects capabilities. Effects come courtesy of Lexicon, while graphic EQs are from BSS Audio, both sister Harman companies with noted pedigrees.

At the heart of Vi consoles is Vistonics, a touchscreen interface that locate the rotary encoders directly onto the display. Adjusting a parameter (i.e., EQ) from the same location at which it’s data is being displayed streamlines workflow, helping to enhance the creative process. The Vi1, for example, offers a “widescreen” Vistonics implementation, with 2 rows of 16 rotary encoders providing simultaneous access to 16 input channels.

Touching the screen provides access channel functions including routing, input gain, digital gain trim, delay, high-and low-pass filters, 4-band parametric EQ, compressor, limiter, gate, de-esser and pan, with immediate access to a visual status display and straightforward controls.

And just announced at the 2014 NAMM show is the new Soundcraft Realtime Rack, a library of Universal Audio UAD plug-ins compatible with all Vi consoles. The Realtime Rack is a 1RU enclosure capable of processing up to 16 channels of a MADI stream, while additional units can be added for 32, 48 or 64 channels. The UAD plug-ins are integrated with low latency and have full snapshot store and recall within the console’s cue/snapshot system.

Allen & Heath. With iLive, GLD and now the more compact Qu Series, Allen & Heath has been on a roll in consistently turning out quality mix solutions for a wide range of live applications and pricepoints. On the new Qu-24 that debuted at the 2014 NAMM show, all key processing tools are presented in a clean layout on the SuperStrip, with 1 function per physical control.

The SuperStrip is complemented by an onscreen Touch Channel for access to full processing parameters without clutter or complex menu structures. Processing for mono and stereo inputs includes trim, polarity, high-pass filter, gate, insert, 4-band PEQ, compressor and delay. The main L/R and mono mixes have controls for insert, 1/3-octave GEQ, compressor and delay. The stereo mixes provide insert, 4-band PEQ, compressor, delay and balance control.

Qu Series dynamics and FX algorithms are derived from the iLive Series. The Qu-24 includes 4 stereo iLive FX engines with crafted emulations of classic reverbs, gated reverbs, delays, modulators, flangers, and more. The FX library has the ability to grow with future firmware releases. FX are returned to the mix on dedicated return channels, thus not tying up mono and stereo input channels. And, each stereo FX return has a dedicated 4-band PEQ.

DiGiCo. The SD Series incorporates the company’s Stealth Digital Processing and floating point Super FPGA technology, and offer a deep suite of processing/effects capability. The SD9, for example, provides 48 Flexi Channels (configurable as either mono or stereo) at 48 kHz/96 kHz, the equivalent of 96 channels of full DSP processing.

Standard channel processing, whether inputs or outputs, includes channel delay, single and multi-channel presets, dual insert points, high- and low-pass filters, 4-band parametric EQ with band curve selection, and DiGiCo’s DYN 1 (compressor, de-esser or assignable multi-channel compressor) and DYN 2 (gate, compressor or ducker).

Further, dynamic EQ processors can all be assigned to any of the input or output channels, providing dynamic processing on each of the 4 standard parametric bands. There are also 8 assignable multi-band compressors and 8 DiGiTubes (tube emulators). The master section incorporates 16 gang-able 32-band graphic EQs, 8 stereo effects (selectable from a choice of 33), and 8 control groups (VCAs).

Also available is the optional DiGiCo SoundGrid module, providing instant access to 16 integrated Waves stereo Multi Racks, with up to 8 plug-ins in each rack for a potential of 138 individual effects. SoundGrid-compatible Waves TDM plug-ins can be used as well. All Waves compatible plug-ins are pre-loaded, and because it’s integral within the console, provides the advantage of touchscreen control.

Midas. PRO Series consoles employ technologies developed from the much-lauded XL8, with models PRO1, PRO2 and PRO2C outfitted with integral DSP processing. (All models have 40-bit floating-point processing throughout.) On the PRO2C, there’s dynamic processing on all outputs and 56 primary input channels. It also offers 8 aux returns, all of which include 4-band parametric EQ and insert points. These 8 aux returns can be used as returns for the consoles internal FX processors (or as additional mic channels).

Input channels have routing to 27 phase-coherent mix buses, including 16 user-configurable buses (which can be mixes, subgroups or mix minus groups), and 8 matrix buses. The matrix buses source from inputs, as well as groups, and so can be used as 8 additional auxes (monitor mix and FX sends) for a total of 24 mixes (plus L/R & mono) for monitor mixing duties. All buses can be linked as stereo pairs (except the mono bus).

The PRO2C provides up to 12 multi-channel FX engines, as well DN370 31-band graphic EQs (up to 28 of them) from sister brand Klark Teknik. The PRO3, PRO6 and PRO9, by the way, have a remote processing engine that is modular and scalable, so it’s possible to add additional DSP processing (and I/O hardware).

Avid. The recently introduced S3L is modular, comprised of an HDX-powered processing engine running AAX plug-ins, scalable remote I/O, and a compact control surface. The S3L sports Avid’s latest version of VENUE software, offering all of the same features of previous versions plus some new ones, including EQ and dynamics on outputs.

Each channel can be enhanced individually with 4-band parametric EQ, with comp/limiter processing added to the outputs page for every output. It also now includes high-pass filter settings in all EQ presets and when copying/pasting EQ settings. Console configuration is quick with “drag and drop” channel strips. By the way, the upgraded software also significantly enhances the capabilities of models such as the SC48 and Mix Rack systems.

All Avid live systems come with a collection of effects and processing plug-ins, including Channel Strip EQ (dynamics, filter, and gain effects), Dynamics III (comp/limiter, expander/gate, and de-esser), EQ III (high-resolution, double-precision 48-bit EQ), and even things like the BF-2A, an emulation of the LA-2A vintage tube compressor. This can be expanded even further with the addition of more AAX plug-ins. Avid also has an upgrade coming so that the S3L is EUCON-enabled for Pro Tools and other DAW control.

Roland Systems Group. The M-480 is the flagship of the V-Mixer Series, which includes five models offering many of the same capabilities along with a lot of interconnectivity. For example, the M-480 is configurable to 90 inputs and 90 outputs depending on the digital snake configuration.

The M-480 includes 4-band parametric EQ and delay (up to 400 msec) on all inputs and outputs, the latter significant because it makes for fast, simple compensation of delay problems via the console’s internal process. All mixing channels include compressors and gates.

Also onboard are 6 stereo (dual-mono) multi-effects processors that are available as aux or insert effects. Each multi-effects processor has 18 algorithms of various types, such as reverb, delay, chorus, pitch shift and advanced channel strip. Six types of emulated vintage Roland effects like the RE-201, SDE-3000, and SRV-2000 are included.

In addition, the M-480 provides 12 31-band graphic EQs or 8-band fully parametric EQs. The 6 multi-effects and 12 GEQs/PEQs can be used simultaneously for a total of 24 GEQs if needed.

PreSonus. The StudioLive Series has proven quite popular, offering a tremendous amount of capability in a compact footprint that’s attractively priced. The newest model, StudioLive 32.4.2AI, offers the company’s “Active Integration,” a networked, tightly integrated hardware/software ecosystem. It includes 50 onboard effects covering a wide range of reverbs and delays.

There are also 4 programmable, 32-bit stereo DSP effects engines, 2 loaded with reverbs and 2 with delay effects. Each stereo processor has its own dedicated internal FX bus, and all 4 can be used at once without compromising other resources. Dynamic effects (compressor, gate and limiter) as well as extensive EQ, are native on each input channel, each output, and on all aux sends.

Particularly handy is the ability to create 2 complete sets of EQ and dynamics-processor settings for every input channel and bus, and then make quick A/B comparisons at the touch of a button. This eliminates the need to tie up a second channel for musicians who change instruments from one song to another and need different channel strip settings whenever they change.

Additional Options. We didn’t want to overlook the new SSL Live console, although it’s of a different scope than the other models presented here. A quick overview shows processing paths that include a 4-band parametric that can be switched between a precise constant-Q mode and “SSL Legacy EQ,” high- and low-pass filters with selectable slopes, SSL dynamics presented as separate compressor, analog-style tube emulator, expander/gate, as well as a delay line and an all-pass filter.

At the other end of the spectrum are the popular Mackie DL Series iPad mixers (DL1608 and DL808). In “modern” mode, inputs have 4-band EQ that include low shelving, low-mid peaking, high-mid peaking and high shelving, as well as compression and gating. Meanwhile, “vintage” mode provides musical characteristics of a host of popular processors, including vintage EQ with interacting bands and frequency-dependent Q structure, vintage compressor with non-linear attack/release, and vintage gate with fast attack for transient sources. Each output has its own processing as well, including 31-band GEQ with the ability to draw in the curve or adjust manually, along with compression/limiting.

In addition, global reverb and delay can be applied to any channel. Nine reverbs are available, each with pre delay, damping, decay and roll-off controls. There’s also a choice of mono, tape echo, stereo, ping-pong or multi-tap delay, each with tap tempo, feedback and damping control.

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Profound Effects: Digital Console Processing And FX Capabilities