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Profound Effects: Digital Console Processing And FX Capabilities

An overview of current console platforms in terms of onboard processing and effects...

By PSW Staff February 11, 2014

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.

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