Live Digital Audio Consoles
We currently have an aging Soundcraft Series Five audio console. It’s been a warhorse, providing over 14 years of high quality analog audio. But it’s getting cranky in it’s old age so we’re looking into a new option. We also do enough different events in our sanctuary where we will really benefit from the recall that comes with a digital console.
This has been a long process. For about 8 months now we’ve been researching and looking at different consoles. We’ve tried to stay open minded and give everything a look. Since our current console is still working (mostly) we’re taking our time to make sure we make the right decision. This will be something we have to live with for the next 10 years.
So far we have looked at digital consoles from Avid, Yamaha, Soundcraft, Studer, Midas, and Digico, probably more, ha ha. All have pros and cons and slightly different methods of laying out the console and how features work. They also vary greatly in price so that’s something else we’re looking at in addition to the features.
At this point it looks like it’s down to two options. The Studer Vista 9 and the Digico SD7. Both are flagship consoles for their brands and both are around the same price point. They can handle a large number of channels, more than we’ll need. Both have an option for Waves plugins. There’s tons of auxes, groups, DCA’s, matrix channels, both could handle whatever we want to do for the foreseeable future.
The real difference, like with most of these consoles, is how they’re laid out and how you access channels, features, and layers. Both are pretty flexible, pretty much any channel can be placed anywhere on any layer. You really need this flexibility in a large console to make it fit your mixing style and feel like you know where everything is.
The Studer is a little more traditional in it’s layout. Channels are in 10 fader blocks and there’s 10 faders in the master section for DCA’s and groups. In each channel bucket there’s a screen with lots of knobs on the screens for tweaking EQ’s, aux’s, dynamics, all the channel features. The knobs right on the screens makes it easy to know what you’re adjusting.
Switching between layers is done in a traditional way, pressing a button takes you through each layer. There’s a unique feature that shifts you towards the next layer 10 channels at a time. That is kinda cool but pretty limited as to when you can use it. But since you can customize what is on each layer you’ll build what you want that way instead of shifting things.
The thing I like least about the Studer is that the master section is only 10 faders. I’m used to our Soundcraft which has 8 groups and 10 VCA’s right in front of you at the master section. Having 18 faders means you don’t have to move around the console very much for level changes. With the Studer you have tons of groups and DCA’s but you access them through layers and only 10 faders in front of you at a time. You can use the knobs above the faders for controlling things but I hate mixing on knobs. That’s only ok to for aux masters or something you don’t access much.
It’s not practical to me to switch layers in order to use groups and DCA’s at the same time, i’ll just end up using one or the other. The only way to have both in front of you at once is to eat up some of the channel faders next to the master section and put the groups or DCA’s there. That would work but it’s not ideal. You could have that bank of 10 faders be half groups and half DCA’s and that would work but with our setup that’s not enough faders to do what we usually do.
The Digico SD7 gives you a lot of faders in a relatively small footprint. You get 12 faders on each side of hte master section for accessing channels. In the master section you get two rows of 12 faders for groups and DCA’s plus 4 more for masters and matrix outputs. That’s the default setup, anything can be put anywhere you want.
The SD7 layout seems the most flexible to me. When you change layers you do it in each of left, center, right, sections separately. So you can access whatever channels you want in the left bank while leaving you’re money faders ready in the right bank. You also get 18 layers (three banks of six) in the left and right banks and 12 layers (three banks of 4) in the master section. On the one hand that seems like a lot but on the other it lets you build the layers however you want.
On the demo console I set up one layer bank with each of the channels in order like a normal console would be laid out. Then on the next layer bank I grouped the mix down into sections. For example drums, guitars, keys, vocals, wireless, and playback channels. Now I’m not worrying about what channel is where. If I need to raise the snare I go to the drum group and tweak the snare. Because you have 18 layer to play with you have options like that.
Having 28 faders in front of me in the master section is great. I can mix with both groups and DCA’s in front of me at the same time with 12 faders for each. The remaining 4 faders for the masters and matrix outputs can be changed to “money” channels like the Pastor’s mic so you always have it without changing layers. That makes more sense for me than needing a matrix output fader. For getting into the menus and accessing the Waves plugins you do everything from the screen in front of you instead of a secondary computer like the Studer. Not a huge deal but it’s nice, keeps you in front of the console rather than away from the desk to make changes.
The rest of the differences are just preferences really. Software things to learn more than right or wrong. While we have demo’d both separately will will be getting both again, hopefully at the same time, and setting them up in our sanctuary and putting them through their paces with a live band. So far we have only tested them with pre-recorded stuff and local monitors, not real bands through the house system. Check back and see what we get!