This year is the tipping point for digital consoles in regional and festival sound reinforcement.
Discussions of sound quality aside, the benefits of digital consoles – consistency, repeatability, recall and automation – force users to adopt the new way and the advantage it brings to live events where the same console is not dragged from one gig to the next.
Vendors contemplating the purchase of a console must ask themselves who will be using their new mixing board, who the new investment is aiming to please and finally, which digital console do you want to repeatedly teach others to use.
Today’s digital consoles use of color, touchscreens and the ability to custom-configure the control surface have turned mix positions into the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, and extend far beyond the benefits that “cut-and-paste” brought to word processing 20 years ago.
Mix engineers can organize personal libraries of settings, from presets for EQ, dynamics and effects, to whole drum kits or even an entire scene for when the band pulls out a song that’s not on the set list.
The modern digital console provides everything between the mics and the amps in one neat package, neatly dividing the sound system in two, replacing a long list of interconnected analog gear with a single product.
Remote mic-preamps on stage eliminate the long run of copper and transformer split that affects a microphone’s sound. Replacing outboard processing and effects vastly simplifies system specification for production managers.
Additionally, no outboard gear means not bending over or turning around, keeping the engineer’s golden ears pointed at the loudspeakers. Built-in delay of near-field monitors and headphones is another dividend that was a pipe dream just a few years ago.
The “universal” touring package is being reduced to a pair of headphones, a laptop, and maybe a mic kit, and in these days of tour accounting and cutbacks, this efficiency means more money can stay in the tour’s coffers.
Sharing a console with the support act has become a reality, and multi-band festivals have been simplified. A smaller FOH footprint means a bit more revenue in smaller venues, and mix position set up and tear down is reduced to mere minutes.
Digital audio quality and reliability continue to improve along with our understanding of these products. In the future all kinds of venues – casinos, sheds, theaters and arenas – are likely to have digital house consoles and a system engineer who can have your show loaded into their rig before you walk in the door.
And isn’t that nice when you’re late for load-in? Let’s take a look at the newest digital consoles.