Fairlight and DTS, recently announced that they are collaborating on a new product — the Fairlight 3DAW, a 3D audio production platform with native MDA mixing and format support. Jean-Claude Kathriner, the CEO of Fairlight, agreed to answer some questions about the company’s history and current plans.
Broadcast Engineering: Can you briefly trace the company’s evolution since the development of the personal computer democratized the sample industry?
Jean-Claude Kathriner: “During the 80’s Fairlight pioneered digital sampling and music sequencing, timecode synchronization and digital signal processing technologies, leading the world into digital music synthesis.
“In the 90’s, the company redirected this IP into audio post-production tools. At first, these were extensions of sample-based technology, with sequencing recast in a timecode-driven environment. Hard-disk recording was emerging as the next step in digital sound technology, because of its far greater capacity and lower-cost per unit of storage. This was a paradigm shift-sampling: taking a small piece of real sound and working it into a playable instrument or sound effect, was replaced by full-length recording with random access to the material. The latter led quickly to hard disk editing, which was a revolution in post production. The resulting workflow acceleration galvanized the audio industry, resulting in dozens of products being released in a few years. A while later, when the dust had settled, a small number remained, of which Fairlight's MFX editors were amongst the most successful. This was in no small part due to Fairlight's investment in tactile controller IP, which remains a core development focus.
“The next move was into complete digital systems, as mixing and plug-ins were added using powerful new DSP chips. This led to the Digital Audio Workstation, of which Fairlight's FAME, Prodigy and Constellation were successful examples, and kept the company at the forefront of the digital audio industry.
“Fairlight's next move was to replace the DSP engine with a single-chip solution using the fast-rising FPGA technology. The result was a massively powerful system with almost zero latency, and a strong future path following the FPGA development curve. Soon afterwards Fairllight developed the Picture Key, a self-labeling "video button" that allows infinite variation of button function within a small footprint. The Xynergi editing system, and the EVO mixing console, were successful examples of this technology rollout.
“At the same time, the company concentrated its software effort on the video workflows that are crucial to on-time delivery in post production. Developing an on-board video playback system of excellent quality, with respectable editing capability, integrated picture and sound as never before, appealing strongly to the advertising and broadcast markets. Simplifying import/export of all popular video formats down to drag-and-drop, with no restrictions on mixing formats, put the icing on the cake for hundreds of Fairlight system sales.
“Today, Fairlight offers a wide range of user interfaces from mouse based and compact desktop environments to large format mixing consoles. Fairlight’s tactile and customizable control surfaces are acknowledged by industry leaders as being the fastest and most ergonomic available.”
BE: Apres le deluge-post Sound Designer II, say-Fairlight moved aggressively into the audio post production work station marketplace. The 3DAW seems like a logical extension of that strategy. How comfortable is Fairlight with the success that the Dream platform enjoyed
J-C K: “The DREAM platform has been a wonderful vehicle for Fairlight, combining market and technical successes that have sustained the company in reaching its present position.
“The customer base that adopted DREAM has remained with the company almost 100%, updating their facilities in parallel with our development, and feeding massive high-end professional input to our design process.
“Having a modular original design for DREAM has allowed us to replace individual components with more powerful newer ones. For example, the central control panels from the original DREAM consoles can be updated with new Picture Key panels of greater capability, using half the space.
“The DREAM platform allowed us to develop a new processing paradigm, namely the Crystal Core archintecture, currently manifested through the CC-1 card. The hardware console was easily able to accommodate the new engine, and well capable of controlling the four-fold increase in processing power.
“The DREAM platform allowed us to develop a unique, and now patented, surface technology, culminating in Picture Keys and iCan.
Most importantly, it allowed us to develop from being an isolated island to becoming an integrated element in a production eco system, embracing file formats, media formats, connectivity, and collaboration.”
BE: What is MDA (Multi-dimensional audio), and what state of development has this technology reached?
J-C K: “We believe that MDA has the potential to become the .WAV format of the 21st century. It’s uncompressed, and thus as good as it gets, but it also carries the meta data to have an identity and a purpose. An element of MDA audio knows what it is supposed to do, under all circumstances, and importantly is designed to faithfully carry the artistic intentions of its creator into the future, supporting 3D arrays that have yet to be invented.”
BE: The audio community has been disappointed with open architecture platforms in the past, with some parameters not migrating successfully between formats. Will MDA be different, and if so, why?
J-C K: “Past attempts to completely encapsulate the creation-phase data (EDL, plugins, routing, mixer settings etc) might not have fully lived up to the ideal expectations. However, the complexity of this task should not be underestimated, nor should the fact that it is rapidly evolving.
“The MDA initiative focuses instead on the delivery phase. The data set is much simpler, and far easier to define. Yet despite the simplicity of the actual bitstream, MDA offers a method of generating contents that is speaker-format agnostic, and thus future proof.”
More information on Fairlight can be found on their website. For more information about DTS, please visit www.dts.com,