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SSE Audio Group’s Dan Bennett discusses why the live sector has taken to compact digital consoles so quickly and asks what’s next for the sector.

Dan Bennett

SD11, which is little more than hand luggage on an international flight. In 2011 Midas brought out its

PRO2 and PRO2C, which sold like hot cakes. The Midas digital sound in two small-format mixing consoles, with the DL251 offering 48 in 16 out, scalable up to 56 in 24 out with its bigger PRO series brother’s stage racks. At SSE we saw the dawn of

WITHTHE digital age firmly here it’s hard to remember that not that long ago digital desks like Yamaha’s PM5D and Innovason’s Sy40 were heralded as the future – saving production managers and PA suppliers tonnes (literally!) of weight and truck space by switching from large-scale analogue desks and outboard racks to one-box solutions. But it didn’t stop there; the world’s obsession with miniaturisation has well and truly hit live audio... Over the past seven years there has been an arms race among desk manufacturers to offer higher I/O counts and flexibility in ever- condensing packages. Starting with the humble workhorses of the LS9 series, Yamaha released the 16- and 32-frame desks into the family in 2007 and it quickly became a long- awaited, compact, and very cost- effective solution giving 32 channels and weighing just 20kg! This gave engineers an inexpensive

solution with on-board effects, dynamics, and EQ that they could carry, put in the bay of a bus, or take home in their car. By utilising the in-house multicores and taking a small passive split they no longer were restricted to the house desk option, which could differ day to day on tour and was often in a state of disrepair.

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The Yamaha LS9 range still remains popular with its expansion slots increasing channel count on both boards up to a maximum of 64 on the 32-frame console. DiGiCo and Soundcraft were

probably the next to adapt to the demand for smaller footprint solutions when they released the SD9 and Vi1 respectively in 2010. This was a eureka moment as it brought the digital multicore to the compact digital desk. Both units are scalable with each manufacturer offering a compact stage rack, with the possibility of stepping up to the larger frame stage rack within the product range. This now opened up the possibility for engineers to use larger desks on their own headline tours where truck space and weight were less of an issue and budget more available. They could then take their show file and use the smaller frame desk from the same manufacturer for shows where space was limited. There was, of course, the initial hard sell to the production manager, but this working method was quickly adopted because they could now carry/fly their kit across the world for festivals and promo shows alike. This was great for engineers and bands as they now had consistency everywhere. DiGiCo has taken this one step further by releasing the tiny

compact digital desks come very quickly on our outdoor shows. We proudly provide kit for the majority of UK festivals and when I started at the company nine years ago only the top headliners were granted permission to bring their own desk to a festival situation. Now, however, there is more opportunities for bands to get their own compact audio solution into the show when all they need is 13A plugs and 32 XLR. It’s now commonplace for bands to wheel on a small mixer sitting on top of a rack of IEMs, do their show, and then wheel it off again. Not all elements of compact digital desks are a positive though as to meet a price point manufacturers will often ship the desk with a Cat5 multi as standard. This cable is safe to use to 96m, after considering joins within the rack and the twist in the cable over this length (96m multi often being 100m of cable due to internal twists). In some festival situations this is not long enough to get from monitors to FOH! Yes, you can easily extend with a repeater or switch, but where do you put this at a festival? The pit is a muddy, busy place with limited power. Do you want your gig resting on a box in the pit? Always take fan ins and expect to take your stage rack to FOH and use guest analogue as a back up. Some audio companies won’t supply guest Cat5 for audio control, as there is no way of proving its integrity in

Expert Witness

Dan Bennett is project manager at SSE Audio Group, which provides professional audio services to the live events industry, including PA hire, pro-audio equipment sales and sound, lighting and video installations for all kinds of venues. The group provides sound solutions for a wide variety of professional audio requirements, including sound design for shows, tours, and permanent installations; audio equipment servicing and repair; and equipment and case fabrication.

the multi trench, you might get data bottlenecks in crimped cable that will rear their ugly heads when you least expect it. Most manufacturers do offer the optical upgrade, but this adds a hefty price increase that then detracts form the cost-effective element of the small board. So where next? Avid has recently

released the impressive S3L, which is the first AVB-compatible mixing console. The same compact S3 surface can be used on the road or at home as a DAW controller, the stage racks can live on stage or in a rack and have up to three consoles hanging off them gain sharing. The compact DiGiCo boards can be used with the awesome power of the SD Rack and run at 96kHz with their FPGA chips which are the same as in DiGiCo flagship consoles. With the Overdrive software this gives the user the same dynamics and audio quality as the SD7. Carrying your own desk is now

more convenient and cost-effective than ever. The desks have a lot of the functionality of their bigger relations and can be used everywhere giving artists consistency worldwide. Tours also don’t have to pay for an audio tech as the engineer can easily set up his own console due to its tiny size. This has been the state of play for the past two years with audio companies sending out countless compact audio control packages for summer touring as dry hires, and engineers are having to work harder and teach themselves. Engineers seem to be happy enough to do this as they do get the board of their choice everywhere and management companies are no doubt elated after having to deal with the other side of the digital era with music downloads equating to lower CD sales.

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