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“Choose a console that creates an ease of mind where you don’t have to think about the functions.” Dave Swallow

Expert Witness I

Audio engineer Dave Swallow talks us through his experience of mixing on large concept consoles.

t wasn’t that long ago, when walking out your front door, the chance of taking a tumble over a large-format sound console was pretty high. T e world was well stocked with these animals of audio. As with most of these ancient format consoles there is something intrinsically organic about having your entire sonic palette in front of you that leads your mixes into an instinctive, creative place. T e problem with such large consoles is that they had a habit of sending production mangers to the asylum; they take up a lot of space in the truck and on the dance fl oor. If you needed 96 channels in the past, you’d need two consoles and an area the size of Hemel Hempstead. Now, you can get a console with all the bells and whistles in a tiny footprint compared to their rotund, retro cousins. T is means savings and profi ts. Large-format consoles have become

more akin to a large ‘concept’ console. Deposited fi rmly in the binary, the large ‘concept’ is about DSP, small footprints, large channel counts, and fl exibility. T is reduction in surface size means a reduction in surface control, to an extent; multi-functioning pots with multi-functioning levels of control. Overall control of the soundscape though has increased with the introduction of gates, comps, and even delays on each channel, but the processes take longer to perform. My fi rst engagement in this digital world was while I mixed Amy Winehouse when I employed the Avid Profi le. As far as ‘mid-range’ consoles go, this isn’t too bad. T e

30 June 2014

surface off ers better use of space than its larger brother. Your favourite studio plug-ins can be loaded into your show – although I see this as something that can be trouble, for some this is a major advantage over other consoles. In all my years I’ve never had one crash on me, until recently. Poor maintenance can lead to the occasional fader malfunction or an AWOL cable renders fl ipping layers impossible. Potential issues aside, the surface navigation and menus off ers advantages over others of a similar price. Here are a few other options from some of the top manufacturers: All last year my little Italian band,

T e Bloody Beetroots, had the new Yamaha CL5 out as the monitor console. With the classic Yamaha sound and enough inputs and outputs to put the telephone exchange out of business, this works out probably the best value for money and a great replacement for their previous range. Allen & Heath has made very

interesting advancements in lower budget console ranges with its iLive system. To me, the tactile systems don’t feel as solid as other touring kit but the company’s iPad app is the best app created for remote console manipulation. I look on these as a sort of eccentric uncle. You know, the one with the reindeer jumper on 10 weeks before Christmas and a twinkly tie; they might look a bit strange but their heart is in the right place. For an engineer looking to buy and tour their own console this is well worth a consideration. T e youngest company on this list, DiGiCo, has created a range of

consoles of every size and budget. Used by a lot of massive productions across the world, its consoles have become a staple at FOH positions. Youth doesn’t always guarantee innovation but introducing dynamic EQ to each channel strip addressed some sonically aesthetic issues facing high-level productions and this pushed the idea of subtle EQ into the lower level productions as well. Like Italians round a cheeseboard, the Midas stands were packed with geeks leaping behind other geeks to glimpse the fantastic XL8 when it was fi rst presented in 2006. In true Midas style the company took its time and created something everyone was talking about, but with price ranges in the region of the GDP of a small African nation it wasn’t long before the PRO Series came of age (again), and we were presented with the PRO6, followed by the PRO 3, 9, 2, 2C, and 1. T e PRO series are very good boards with a loving, warm sound, pretty easy to navigate on the surface but once into the menu system you’ll feel like Frodo Baggins.

Although new to the live scene, SSL has been developing high-level digital consoles the longest. T e potential, I think, is huge but with prices beyond Midas or DiGiCo it might be some

time before they take over FOH positions. T eir next step, maybe into a lighter console, will be revolutionary. For the moment Soundcraft’s Vi6,

I think, is the winner. With enough inputs and outputs to keep a mic hungry platoon happy, sound quality that’s pretty crystal, stable backend software, and good surface control (though it does take me a while to remember how to use it). It’s rare for many to shy from

subterfuge in order to shore up an opinion and the ongoing debate as to which is best will continue in the audio forums for a long time to come. T e way I see it is that all these consoles are packed full of innovation, some poorly implemented admittedly, but only through mistakes can any education be achieved. A console is a tool to defi ne your craft, not hinder it. When you choose your console, no matter if it’s big or small, think about the ease of it… actually don’t think. A console is a personal connection with music and creativity comes from a place that’s just over the hill from conscious thought. Choose a console that creates an ease of mind where you don’t have to think about the functions, you’ll get better results than something that might sound better yet more complex.

Expert witness

Dave Swallow is currently on a world tour with the Italian eccentric electro band The Bloody Beetroots. He’s mixed acts such as Amy Winehouse, La Roux, James, DJ Fresh, Billy Ocean, Seasick Steve, and many more.

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