Stations need technically agile audio consoles for untrained operators

Due to budget restraints and personnel with limited experience, small to medium-sized broadcasters and smaller broadcast studios are finding it hard to correctly mingle stereo and 5.1 audio content for their main HD channels.

Most of the day, stations must match their locally produced stereo content with 5.1 material from a network feed. Someone has to mix and manage those levels, and stations are using a wide range of staff, from professional audio engineers to freelancers and even essentially untrained staff, to do it. Without proper training, however — even when the chief engineer preset the specs — this can result in a flurry of viewer calls.

Manufacturers of digital audio broadcast mixing consoles, like Solid State Logic (SSL), now recognize the need for more affordable, technically agile solutions for processing 5.1 surround sound that include a feature set commensurate to the task of accommodating multiple users with various skill levels. The console also has to withstand a daily beating and still perform reliably.

Dan Duffel, marketing director at SSL, said that the company has heard from stations about the need for an automated, yet less expensive choice for post-production and live-to-air audio mixing. In response, the C10 HD digital broadcast audio console has been designed to help users who are not expert audio engineers to produce a good audio experience for viewers. The console — now in use at stations like WREG-DT, the CBS affiliate in Memphis; KLVX, a PBS station in Las Vegas; Manhattan Center Productions in New York; and the Hope Channel, a religious broadcaster — can be operated automatically, and as operators become more familiar with it they can control the buttons, knobs and sliders manually as well.

“Small stations continue to face challenges with surround audio mixing that are not as acute those in larger market stations," said Duffel, "yet they still have to provide viewers with same high-quality, multichannel audio experience. The console and other audio tools have to be easy to use and provide good results because local production is critical to their survival.”

The C10 HD can be programmed by a senior engineer and operated automatically if necessary, or set to four levels of control access, each offering the user a wider range of console functions. For example, a chief engineer is able to set up the console with all of the necessary parameter adjustments at the admin level and create specific presets for each staff member who may have to watch over the program. To protect against operator error, the depth of functionality available to an individual user is determined and effectively restricted according to the user’s log-in details. In this way, an overnight staff member, with limited audio engineering skills, can comfortably use the console without the possibility of unraveling the entire production.

SSL has also incorporated some unique new features that further enhance the C10’s role in producing high-quality HD audio. The 5.1 upmix feature can automatically create a 5.1 audio track from any stereo material, delivering the quality and level of compatibility needed to integrate local programming with a network surround feed. Another option that helps users of all skill levels is a dialog automix feature, designed for multiperson panel discussions. The feature automatically adjusts up to 16 individual mic inputs, overall volume and ambient noise levels. There’s also a new Eyeconix feature that presents thumbnail pictures of sources to be displayed for fast visual recognition and navigation.

“We have to design products that cut both ways,” Duffel said. “The chief engineer has to get better sounding results, and the freelancer can't be intimidated by the console.”