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Real World Gear: Digital Consoles, Gaining In Popularity & Shrinking In Size

Digital consoles continue to gain popularity because of the significant advantages they bring to the table such as reduced footprints and improved workflows.

Smaller digital consoles continue to gain in popularity, due in part to the economy, but also because of how they change live sound production as well as the way we mix live shows.

Concert sound, theatrical tours and a wide range of installations have been adopting digital mixing for a while, but smaller venues and vendors are beginning to reap the rewards now that there are affordable options in mid-sized digital desks.

Footprint Friendly
The Studer Vista 5 SR, with 84 mono and 20 stereo channels, has a 5-foot by 2.5-foot control surface.

The Yamaha LS9-32, which can be expanded to 64 inputs, is just 3-feet wide by 20-inches deep.

Digital consoles reduce the size of the mix position by employing smaller control surfaces and eliminating racks of outboard equipment.

Further, smaller control surfaces and digital snakes make it easy to move a console from the booth to the back of the hall and even down to a small mix position in the middle of the venue.

Budget Friendly
Digital desks replace more than just analog mix capability; they also eliminate a multitude of associated outboard equipment by including onboard gates, compressors, graphics and effects.

Less expensive all-in-one consoles economize by employing existing copper-snake infrastructure of the analog desks they replace. Choosing the right digital console can reduce sub-rentals for facilities or increase them for vendors.

Production Friendly
Productions that used to carry a monitor system or a “universal control package” of consoles find they can simply bring the file from a previous show. Advancing a show is reduced to providing the preferred model of digital desk.

Multi-band co-bills and festivals can share consoles. At this year’s Jacksonville Jazz Festival, Chris Botti closed the show by playing with the Jacksonville Symphony, made possible by rehearsing in the symphony hall on one set of consoles in the afternoon and then loading the files onto identical festival desks across town.

Workflow Friendly
Where to start? Cut and paste; auxiliary sends on faders; preset libraries for effects, EQ and dynamics; song-by snapshots; virtual sound check; loading a previous show’s settings from a day or a month ago. These are just a few of the benefits.

Offline editors allow engineers to adjust their console without actually having it in their hands. Remote control of digital consoles with tablets or iPads allows adjustments from better locations in the audience.

Digital Friendly
The benefits of distributed, networked digital audio systems in new facilities include flexibility and expandability. MADI (multichannel audio digital interface) has become the new common denominator that allows consoles, recording platforms and digital audio equipment of different makes to easily be connected to each other.

In this month’s Real World Gear we look at mid-sized digital consoles, those with 24 to 48 inputs, which are big enough to handle all but the very largest shows, and conclude with a few higher channel count models.

Mark Frink is editorial director of Live Sound International.

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