Remote Audio Consoles

By Dan Daley, Audio Editor, Sports Video Group

Part 1 — The Future Is in IT

For years, the audio console was the center of the universe in music recording. Individual rooms within large facilities would become tropes of the brand or model installed in them, differentiating the “Neve room” from the “9K room” regardless of the more prosaic “Studio A” or “Studio B” nomenclature most facilities defaulted to. For better or for worse, that has changed substantially, with distressed budgets moving music production from battleship consoles into the “box,” as the software-based virtual mix environment has come to be known.

What has changed in music, however, has not changed in broadcast: the mix desk remains the center of focus aboard remote trucks, its physicality truncated slightly by the inevitable transition to virtual layers but still offering the tactile real estate that A1s continue to demand.

Nonetheless, the audio console continues to evolve in broadcast, including in its relationship to everything around it. One major trend of the past year has been its becoming a node on larger networks, beyond the proprietary ecosystems that manufacturers have created to both streamline workflow and keep customers within it.

What has compelled this has been the arrival of new audio-networking propositions, such as Audinate’s Dante and the Ravenna platforms, as well as the AES67 standard that offers the promise of wider interoperability between products from different manufacturers.

“AES67 lets everything occupy common ground. It’s given [audio-over-]IP a huge boost,” says Calrec Marketing Manager Kevin Emmott. “Committing to a single format for networking is risky for customers, so we support them all, and AES67 gives us cross-format interoperability.”

He adds that, as a result, Calrec’s own networking system, Hydra2, is complementary to protocols like Dante and Ravenna, allowing communication with other manufacturers’ platforms but continuing to permit Hydra to offer such specifics as remote phantom power and signal-management control between the console and stage/field boxes.

Hydra2, a proprietary network, was launched in 2009, before development of the current crop of networking systems. The way Hydra2 interfaces with Dante, for instance, according to Emmott, is by creating a gateway to the Hydra2 network.

“Dante comes in via a Dante card in the Calrec modular I/O box and is converted to Hydra2,” he explains. “That way, it sits on the Hydra2 network and enjoys all the same benefits: low latency, determinism, capacity, port protection, alias files, virtual patch bays, access rights, and so on.”

The Sprinter Model Emerges
In an era that has seen the rise of the regional sports network and the proliferation of college sports networks, trucks are becoming both more numerous and smaller. Outfitted to carry a couple of cameras and scaled-down video and graphics equipment, so-called Sprinters — named for the midsize passenger/cargo van built by Mercedes-Benz — allow small networks to deploy powerful technology and big networks to put a basic production complement onsite and direct it from the plant, a strategy ESPN has been refining with its “at-home” approach.

This new generation of OB van requires powerful audio-mixing capability but in a compact form factor. That’s creating opportunities for console manufacturers to establish a presence in this growing broadcast niche, and both Yamaha and Soundcraft have been seen there.

But the more established players are also eyeing it. DiGiCo’s brand-new S21, introduced at the Prolight+Sound expo in Germany in March, meets the criteria: it uses a touchscreen user interface to layer up to 10 channel strips on each of its two screens, providing 24 mic line inputs and 21 touch-sensitive moving faders, for $7,000.

“The only way to address this new part of the market was with a new product,” says Chris Fichera, VP, audio, Group One, the North American distributor of DiGiCo (which now collaborates with Calrec and Allen & Heath through a joint venture announced last year).

According to Emmott, Calrec has been looking at how its recently introduced Summa desk can fit into this trend. Pac-12 Networks has acquired several of them for remote production of secondary sports, such as women’s water polo.

“As an industry, we’ll be seeing more of that,” he points out. “It won’t affect how they cover the big events, but smaller, more affordable consoles combined with networked remote-production techniques will let us see more and more minority sports on television.”

No SHARCS in These Waters?
Looking further into the audio console’s future, Studer Senior Sales Manager Mike Franklin expects the switch to a PC-type CPU-based architecture and away from the SHARC-based DSP model, as seen in the latest iterations of Studer’s Vista V and Vista X versions, to bring the console closer to convergence with IT management models. He says the shift, which allows multiple work surfaces to interact with multiple processing frame cores, is part and parcel of the parallel migration to networked signal transport.

“It’s another step in that convergence,” he says. “The thing is, even we can’t imagine all of the future uses for this model; they’re just beginning to reveal themselves. But it’s part of the process of migrating to an IT paradigm. It’s the process everyone is in the middle of right now.”

Part 2 — Product Wrap-Up

Remote audio-mixing consoles for broadcast are still a relatively rarefied cohort at the high end of the market, but there’s more diversity within the group, thanks to demand for more consoles of varying sizes and functionality. Here’s an overview of the leading contenders.

Flagship console Apollo uses Bluefin2, the second generation of Bluefin high-density signal processing, which provides 1,020 channel-processing paths, 128 program buses, 96 IFB/track outputs, and 48 auxiliaries. In addition, Apollo has a second dynamics section in each channel, more than 70 minutes of assignable delay and three independent AFL/PFL systems for multiple operator use. The control surface manages all these channels over 12 layers and up to 320 physical faders. With single- and dual-fader options, Apollo has a higher fader density within its footprint than any other console. In addition, featuring full-color displays and touchscreens to provide high-resolution feedback of function and status, the control surface also has light-emitting knobs that change color depending on function for immediate recognition. The surface can be configured into different operational settings to suit the operator.

The smaller Artemis is based on the Apollo platform and uses the same Bluefin2 and Hydra2 core technologies. Combining full-color displays, touchscreens, and light-emitting knobs, the soft Artemis control surface provides instant visual feedback and the flexibility to reconfigure the desk on the fly. Artemis is available in three sizes: Bluefin2 gives 680 channel-processing paths to Artemis Shine, 340 to Artemis Beam, and 240 to Artemis Light, with up to 128 program buses, 64 IFB/track outputs, and 32 auxiliaries. Artemis Light packs all this into a 4RU enclosure. An integrated router means that all I/O functions can be performed by Hydra2, using high-capacity crosspoint routers and a variety of I/O units.

Summa and Summa 128 consoles are designed for broadcasting that may not require as many resources as Apollo and Artemis. Control is via a 17-in. multitouch screen inspired by familiar tablet technology, with a straightforward interface using established finger gestures for navigation. Summa’s considered control simplifies complex workflow tasks, such as creating mix-minus feeds. Bluefin2 technology gives Summa a pool of either 180 or 128 channel-processing paths, eight groups, four mains, 16 auxes, and 32 tracks. Its Hydra2 router core provides Summa with the same integral router technology as the Apollo and Artemis consoles.

Hydra2 audio-routing system features plug-and-play architecture, which means that connecting consoles together is as simple as connecting their routers. A single connection between routers provides 512 audio signals in both directions and enormous network expansion. Because the router does not require an entire console system to function, complex networks can be created with minimal cost. Hydra2 allows connection of audio sources and system components over copper or fiber, with signals routed to any consoles or I/O boxes on the same network.

The new S21 console features 40 flexi input channels; 16 flexi aux/subgroup buses; L-R master bus; 10×8 full-processing matrix; two solo, four assignable dynamic equalizers; four assignable DiGiTubes; four assignable multiband compressors; eight digital FX; 16 assignable graphic equalizers; optional waves integration; 96-kHz sample rate, optional (with DMI) optics.

The SD10B follows in the footsteps of the SD7B, offering Stealth Digital Processing with Super FPGA processing, floating-point precision, and superior analog conversion. The console has 96 channels, 48 buses, two discrete backstop PFL solo buses, and Smart Key macro triggers. A 15-in. touchscreen, 37 touch-sensitive faders, and an on-the-fly customizable work surface allow the user to quickly access console parameters. The DiGiCo Optocore optical network can support up to five consoles and 14 DiGiCo SD-Racks totaling 504 inputs and outputs; an optional second network doubles this. The new audio router allows any input source to be routed to any output source, including to and from MADI. The modular SD-Rack can be configured with everything from analog to AES, Aviom, HD-SDI, Dante, and more. Two new additions include the SD-Mini Rack (four slots) and SD-Nano Rack (two slots). Sources can be injected directly into another console’s monitor matrix, allowing monitoring of any source on the network without additional DSP channels. Also, 5.1-surround inputs can be stacked onto a single fader, linked, then folded and unfolded on the surface with the touch of a button. Assignable macros facilitate such functions as fader start and stop commands, as well as snapshot scene recall. New is the Waves plug-ins expansion to 32 racks on all consoles with Dugan Auto-Mixer, WLM loudness meter, and WNS dialog noise suppressor. The newer SD9B and SD11B offer flexibility in smaller packages. With 48 and 32 mono and/or stereo channels, respectively, the SD9B and SD11B use the same large touchscreen and processing engine as the SD10B and can now be integrated into the same Optocore network. Optocore FX series can be used for additional analog AES intercom and MADI connections. The ultra-compact 12-fader SD11B is rack-mountable; the SD9B doubles up at 24 faders in a desktop package.

The mc2 Series mixing consoles — the mc²66, mc²56, and new mc236 — are offered in multiple configurations and channel counts with frames optimized for everything from mobiles and flypacks to large production consoles. Highlights include the ability to quickly modify and configure systems and DSP resources, including assignment of any channels as mono, stereo, or up to 7.1 surround, with built-in loudness metering, up/downmix capabilities, highly programmable audio-follow-video functionality, and an auto-mix feature that automatically adjusts levels of multiple microphones while keeping a constant ambient level. All consoles are IP-ready, with full support for both Ravenna and the AES67 standard, and emphasis is placed on the ability to create highly reliable and redundant infrastructures to support demanding 24/7/365 environments. To further streamline workflow, the system offers external GUI operation and the ability to prepare, store, and recall snapshots and productions that can be used to rapidly bring the consoles online in a variety of configurations supporting two or more operators. The console cores and Nova central routers offer multiple configuration options, enabling mc² Series surfaces to be linked within a large broadcasting complex. EMBER+ protocols are supported for automation and studio/remote management applications. Additional audio-management features — embedding, de-embedding, channel shuffling, delay, audio-channel mapping — are supported via Lawo’s V_pro8 and the new V_link4.

Recently added to the Studer product line are the Vista X digital console and Studer Infinity Processing Engine. Vista X retains the patented Vistonics and FaderGlow user interface, providing control of 800 or more audio DSP channels and more than 5,000 inputs and outputs. At the heart of the system is the Infinity DSP core, which uses CPU-based processors to provide huge numbers of DSP channels for large-scale, high-resolution audio processing and mixing. This offers significant advantages, as CPU processing provides a scalable system, faster development of new signal-processing designs, huge channel counts, full system redundancy without a single point of failure, and the possibility of running third-party algorithms. The Infinity DSP engine offers 12 A-Link high-capacity fiber digital audio interfaces. The D23m, a newly designed high-density I/O system, is used to break out these A-Link connections to standard analog, digital, and video interfaces. The A-Link interface also provides direct connection to the Riedel MediorNet distributed router, allowing many Infinity systems to be connected together with router capacities of 10,000×10,000 or more. A key element in the design of the Infinity Series is to prevent the possibility of a single fault’s causing loss of audio. The new Vista X console features four processors, offering complete redundancy of the control surface with instant switchover between main and standby system without audio break.

Three consoles offered for on-air broadcast feature similar modular surface designs, DSP, and I/O routing architecture. Designed specifically for live work, they all feature hot-swap capability, up to four independently controlled mic splits, full redundancy up to double optical lines, light weight, and extremely low power consumption.

The Aurus flagship multiformat production console is available in 16-96 faders and 300 DSP channels with 128 buses. In both 5.1 and 7.1 surround, stereo and mono can be done simultaneously with on-board down/upmix capabilities and separate multiple bus configurations. The console offers fully motorized fader dynamic automation and editable snapshot and scene automation.

The Crescendo mixing console is a response to the increased demand for a slimmed-down control surface and price but with the DSP power of the larger Aurus when needed. All controls are within easy reach of the seated operator. Snapshot automation is extensive, with the ability to set glide times between snapshots for enhanced audio-follow-video control. AFV muting and level changes via external control are readily available through the Nexus Logic system.

The On Air Flex 24 is Stagetec’s latest digital mixing system aimed at the radio– and smaller-TV–broadcast markets. It is a modular, flexible, and scalable system with control surfaces laid out to broadcaster specification for combo, studio, or edit operation. The work surface consists of self-contained fader modules (four in each and up to 24 faders maximum per system) and a monitor module. The GUI software runs on any PC linked via Ethernet to the controller unit mounted in the system frame. Once set up and running, the GUI simulates all the control elements, allowing operators full access to every control found on the physical control surface, including all metering, faders and encoders.

Solid State Logic
The C100 HD Plus is a fully scalable digital broadcast console that offers an ergonomic user interface and delivers fully redundant dual-operator–capable operation in a compact, convection-cooled frame suitable for OB-vehicle installation. Its production-assistant–type features are designed to streamline broadcast-audio production: Dialogue Automix, 5.1 upmix, DAW control, and C-Play (an embedded dual-player playout system). C100 and its range of I/Os provide system-wide integration with comprehensive connectivity options; compatibility with Grass Valley, Ross, Sony, and Mosart production-automation systems; compatibility with Riedel RockNet and Optocore installed audio networks; and interfacing to Dante IP audio networks via the SSL MADI-Bridge.

The C10 HD Plus is a compact, midscale broadcast console with a user-friendly interface delivering the power of SSL’s C100 console in a smaller footprint. The C10 SSL’s Blackrock processor is built into the convection-cooled control surface, suiting it to OB vehicle installation. C10 shares the same range of I/O options and software features as the larger C100 including production-assistant–type features designed to streamline broadcast audio production: Dialogue Automix, 5.1 upmix, DAW control, and C-Play (an embedded dual-player playout system). C10 and its range of I/Os provide system-wide integration with comprehensive connectivity options; compatibility with Grass Valley, Ross, Sony, and Mosart production-automation systems; compatibility with Riedel RockNet and Optocore installed audio networks; and interfacing to Dante IP audio networks via the SSL MADI-Bridge.

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