Tech Focus: Audio Mixers, Part 2 — Diversity in Consoles for At-Home Production

A look at the leading products on the market

Remote audio-mixing consoles for broadcast are still a relatively rarefied category at the high end of the market, but their diversity is increasing, thanks to demand for more consoles of various sizes and functionality. Here’s an overview of the leading contenders.

Click here for Tech Focus: Audio Mixers, Part 1 — Evolution of the At-Home–Production Console.

The Brio console is entirely self-contained with analog and digital I/O and GPIO built into the surface. In addition, a range of Hydra2 modules can share audio and management over Calrec’s Hydra2 network, including interfacing with multiple video- and audio-over-IP networks, such as SMPTE 2022, Dante, AES67, RAVENNA, and SoundGrid. Calrec recently boosted the Brio channel count, with new expansion packs that increase the Brio12 DSP count from 48 to 64 input channels and the Brio36 from 64 to 96. Brio also enables connectivity to other equipment in the Calrec Bluefin2 range: the Apollo, Artemis, and Summa consoles. Calrec’s flagship Apollo can handle 1,020 channel-processing paths, 128 program buses, 96 IFB/track outputs, and 48 auxiliaries. The Apollo control surface manages all these channels on up to 320 physical faders, and, with single- and dual-fader options, Apollo has a higher fader density within its footprint than any other console.

Calrec Brio console enables connectivity to other equipment in the company’s Bluefin2 line.

Based on the Apollo platform, Artemis uses the same Bluefin2 and Hydra2 core technologies. Four sizes are available: Bluefin2 gives Artemis Shine 680 channel-processing paths, Artemis Ray 456, Artemis Beam 340, and Artemis Light 240, with up to 128 program buses, 64 IFB/track outputs, and 32 auxiliaries. Artemis Light packs all this into a 4RU enclosure. Artemis’s integrated router means that all I/O functions can be performed by Hydra2, using high-capacity cross-point routers and a variety of I/O units.

Bluefin2 gives the Summa and Summa 128 consoles either 180 or 128 channel-processing paths, eight groups, four mains, 16 auxes, and 32 tracks. Summa’s considered control simplifies even complex workflow tasks, such as creating mix-minus feeds.

Designed with live sports broadcasting in mind, the RP1 remote-production unit’s engine is a 2RU core that contains integrated, FPGA-based DSP, enabling a console surface at another facility to control all mixing functionality. The RP1 core manages all the processing for IFB routing and remote monitor mixes, and it does so locally with no latency.

DiGiCo has expanded its S Range of compact digital consoles with the S31, a larger version of the popular S21, featuring an expanded work surface with 10 additional faders for more control and a third, 10-in. multi-touch screen; 24 mic inputs and 12 line outputs on the rear of the console provide straightforward audio connection. And there are slots for any multichannel-interface cards.

DiGiCo’s new compact 2RU Orange Box is an audio-format converter with multiple options, allowing use of DiGiCo Multichannel Interface (DMI) cards to create audio paths over a variety of interfaces. The console features two PSUs for redundancy and two slots to accommodate any of the 10 current interfaces available (Dante, Hydra2, BNC, Cat 5, Optocore, Aviom, AES, ADC, DAC, and Waves/SoundGrid), the Orange Box allows conversion of almost any audio format to another.

Lawo consoles are IP-ready and support current and evolving industry standards for audio-, video-, and data-format interoperability. The mc² Series mixing consoles include the mc²96 Grand Production, optimized for IP production environments; the mc²56 and new mc²56mkIII, which is also available with optional surfaces that provide extra free controls (mc²56xc) or dual faders (mc²56xt); and the all-in-one mc236. All are offered in multiple configurations with physical console surfaces, channel capacity, and frames optimized for everything from mobiles and flypacks to large production complexes. Lawo also offers a full range of solutions for remote-production and automated-mix applications, including standalone cores: the mc2 Micro Core universal networked audio engine, the Compact Engine AES67 audio node with on-board DSP, and the Power Core 1RU IP-based mix engine with modular I/O options. All can perform all audio-mixing and -routing functions under remote control of vision mixers or third-party automation systems.

Multiple stagebox I/O offerings support IP interfacing of analog and digital sources for remote-production applications. In addition to the DALLIS modular frames, Lawo also offers the A_line AoIP interfaces for managing analog, AES3, MADI, and RAVENNA/AES67 audio connections. They offer functionality for remote mic pre control and operation of audio-mix functions from a remote location using a browser-based interface that can be customized for specific workflows. All of Lawo’s consoles, cores, stageboxes, control software, and Nova Series routers feature multiple configuration options with protocols supported for automation- and studio/remote-management applications, including the VSM Virtual Studio Manager broadcast-control and -monitoring system and SOUL (Seamless Orchestration and Unification Layer), Lawo’s newest offering for control of networked-production infrastructures.

StageTec’s system concept integrates its NEXUS audio I/O and routing system with a range of scalable mixing consoles. NEXUS supports unlimited distributed GPIOs and RS-232, -422, and -485 and MIDI ports within the system. I/O cards are available for all common formats, including Dante, AES67, RAVENNA, MADI, Dolby E, and HD-SDI embedding/de-embedding.

The AURUS platinum flagship multiformat production console is available with eight to 96 faders and per-setup–scalable core resources featuring 218-822 channels at 128-32 mix buses (capacities at 48 kHz; 96 kHz is also supported with lowered channel count). Working in 5.1 and 7.1 surround, stereo, and mono can be done simultaneously through multiple separate bus configurations. Different downmix/upmix capabilities are available in the consoles as well as in the NEXUS network. Fully motorized faders, dynamic automation, and perfectly editable snapshot and scene automation are also included.

The CRESCENDO Platinum mixing console offers a slimmed-down control surface and price but with the DSP power available in the larger AURUS when needed. All controls are within easy reach of the seated operator. Snapshot and scene automation are extensive. Audio-follow-video control muting and levels changes via external control are available through the NEXUS LOGIC system.

AVATUS is a fully IP-based large mixing console, available in early 2019, with 21-in. high-contrast, low-reflection multi-touch displays. Each display and each encoder/fader section has a separate Ethernet IP address, making it possible to break down the console into sections and distribute them as needed, enabling remote production. Control-surface sizes range between 12 and 96 channel strips.

Vista Infinity broadcast-mixing consoles, including the Vista V and X models, retain the Vistonics and FaderGlow user interface from previous versions in the Vista line, 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, because CPU processing provides a scalable system, faster development of new signal-processing designs, larger channel counts, full system redundancy without a single point of failure, and the possibility of running third-party algorithms. The new Infinity DSP engine provides 12 A-Link high-capacity fiber digital-audio interfaces, with more than 5,000 I/O. A newly designed high-density I/O system, known as D23m, 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 multiple Infinity systems to be connected together with router capacities of 10,000 I/O.

Solid State Logic’s System T is a fully networked broadcast-audio–production environment. Designed to handle large-scale productions in an IP-based, network-native control and audio infrastructure, it has a highly configurable architecture and a range of hardware and software control interfaces can be placed anywhere on a network, with up to three consoles or control interfaces accessing a single or fully mirrored redundant pair of Tempest processor engines. A single T80 Tempest Audio Engine can handle more than 3,000 inputs, 3,000 outputs, and 800 fully processed audio paths. Control options range from large multi-operator surfaces (the S500) to rack-mounted touchscreen systems (Tempest Control Rack), individual remote fader-tiles, and PC-based control software.

The latest addition to the System T Control line is the S300 compact control surface. It comes in 16+1-fader and 32+1-fader versions and runs the same software as larger System T S500 consoles. Showfiles are compatible across the range. It can connect to either a T25 (256 paths at 48 kHz) or a T80 (800 paths at 48kHz) Tempest Processor Engine.

The SSL C10 HD Plus is a compact, midscale broadcast console with a user-friendly interface. The C10’s Blackrock processor is built into the control surface and features a wide range of production-assistant features, including Dialogue Automix, DAW control, and playout. There is system-wide integration with Grass Valley, Ross, Sony, and Mosart production-automation systems and interfacing to Dante IP audio networks via the SSL MADI-Bridge.

Wheatstone is positioning its IP console series — Dimension Three (Touch), Series Two, Series Four, D8-EX, and large-format IP-64 — for the burgeoning at-home remote-production market. Any of these IP-based consoles can be placed at the home base with the WheatNet-IP audio network used as audio transport and control between the venue and main studio through a long-haul link. This makes it possible to trigger from the main studio any IFBs and mics at the sports venue and to send raw media down the line for final mixing. The IP console receives the raw audio across the long-haul link and through the WheatNet-IP network of virtual audio services for final mixing and production. With such audio services as mix-minus, audio processing, and automation control virtualized into software modules, rather than as fixed hardware on the console, all functions are seamlessly and easily accessible anywhere on the network. For instance, audio ingest can be done locally at the event, and control levels can be controlled remotely from the studio IP console. Audio mixing and processing can be done locally or remotely in real time, and the WheatNet-IP audio network itself can serve as an IFB backbone routable by simply triggering crosspoints in the network.

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