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Audio consoles

Both the Wheatstone D-9 (top) and Solid State Logic C100 5.1 feature metering and panning as part of their surround package.

Manufacturers of broadcast consoles are helping engineers who need to simultaneously deliver 5.1 and stereo audio by incorporating fold-down capability, single fader control of multiple audio channels and increased monitoring into new boards.

Solid State Logic's (SSL) C100 digital broadcast console incorporates monitoring-insert features that help the engineer keep track of how audio will be received in home environments that are equipped with multichannel, stereo and mono playback systems. In an ideal world — the one that music engineers often get to live in — time is allocated to the creation of separate stereo and 5.1 mixes, but this is obviously impossible in live work. The down-mixing monitoring capabilities of the C100, which allow for instant switching between the two, offer a working compromise.

Wheatstone's D-5.1 and D-9 boards also offer automatic 5.1 to stereo down-mixing, as does the Euphonix System 5 console. Many of the new features on Calrec's Alpha, Sigma and Zeta 100 consoles that were shown at NAB have been custom-designed for NBC, which will use two Alpha and two Zeta boards in their broadcasts of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. All Calrec consoles incorporate both stereo and mono down-mixing capabilities.

Keeping track of six channels of audio can be difficult in real-time applications, and having the ability to control the volume of all channels from a single fader can be critically important. Since its launch in 2003, the SSL C100 console has incorporated this feature. The C100 also lets the engineer break out and rebalance the channels that contribute to the LCRSSSu mix with a single button push. All Wheatstone boards have a similar capability, and the engineer can define all sources as either mono, stereo or 5.1 in origin.

AMS Neve digital consoles have had the ability to control multiple input and output channels from a single fader for several years. But Neve believes that many broadcast applications will remain two-channel for the years to come. It says forcing 5.1 technology onto these customers would be unreasonable.

Calrec's market includes few users who are broadcasting in 5.1 at this time. However, the company recognizes that some of its base will require this functionality in the near future, particularly those broadcasting sporting events. Essentially 5.1-capable by design, Calrec will be introducing 5.1 fold-down channels later in 2004, and this functionality will be available to all existing users as an upgrade.

Multichannel metering is also becoming increasingly important as 5.1 broadcasts gain in popularity, and all of the manufacturers we spoke to are including this capability in their consoles. Neve is moving to a more simplistic method of signal routing, and its boards now offer graphical representations to make it easier to keep track of multiple audio channels.

Both the Wheatstone D-5.1 and D-9 have dedicated 5.1 buses, 5.1 metering and 5.1 panning, and both boards feature 5.1 panning displays. SSL's C100 also features 5.1 metering and panning as part of its surround package. Calrec's bar graph metering provides surround metering to its customers, who can also purchase third-party jellyfish displays from outside vendors, such as DK-Audio and RTW.

Networking multiple control surfaces together is becoming a more prominent aspect of broadcast work. Longer runs — once looked upon with great suspicion — are proving reliable, allowing live boards to communicate with multiple on-premise audio post rooms.

Euphonix recently announced the release of two different models of its System 5 broadcast console. The System 5-B now includes the same bus structure and features as the Max Air, supporting 96 channels, 24 mix buses, 24 groups/clean feeds and 16 IFB/aux sends from a single DSP Core. The new 2004 System 5-B also includes an N-1 mix-minus feed with individual talkback from each strip, making it much more operationally compatible with the Max Air. The System 5-BP is targeted at stations that require both on-air and audio post capabilities in the same console, so the system includes full dynamic mixing automation and support for more than 300 audio channels.

Wheatstone's D-5.1 and D-9 surfaces also can be networked together, with multiple boards sharing both input and output resources. Console manufacturers have come to understand the need for flexibility in routing and busing architecture. The D-5.1 and D-9 boards can, for example, operate independently and interoperate for larger productions, with output buses of one control surface appearing as input sources to the other control surface.

AMS Neve consoles use a computer — the Encore PC — to manage and store console configuration and automation data. Console settings can be transferred across a network to and from other consoles or to a PC for offline management, and surface configurations and automation settings can be created or adjusted offline.

Neve extends its networking capabilities by the use of its modular I/O system (MIOS), which introduces bidirectional communication to Neve systems. Remote control mic amps in multiple studios can be routed between consoles on demand. Cable runs of up to two kilometers are now routine, allowing physically removed studios to be networked on demand. MIOS circuits are based on Neve's classic mic pre, and signals may be passed at resolutions up to 24-bit and 96kHz.

SSL also sees the inevitable move into wider plant routing schemes. The development of router protocol integration into both the C100 and C200 is evidence of the company's belief that broadcast applications will require this kind of interoperability.

Calrec's new Hydra audio network lets users gang mic pre-amp and I/O resources throughout their range of digital consoles. Hydra is built on Gigabit Ethernet technology to provide a high bandwidth. Connections can be made with fiber (MTRJ) or copper (RJ45). The connection between the digital I/O rack and the Gigabit Interface Unit allows up to 128 bidirectional channels.

Gary Eskow is a composer and journalist who lives in New Jersey. He has held a number of editorial positions in the field of audio journalism and is currently a contributing editor at Mix magazine.