Audio Overview: Broadcast Mixing Consoles Expand Capabilities

This is an interesting moment for audio consoles designed for remote broadcast applications. Digital technology has flattened the landscape to a large degree, creating more opportunity for more brands to target this narrow but critical market sector. At the same time, operational constraints have compelled a lot of similarities in GUI design, making it difficult to differentiate products in certain ways. In any event, digital technologies have fostered a larger market overall and the number of features and capabilities continues to expand.

Calrec’s large presence in the domestic remote broadcast audio market underscores a growing line up of consoles. Apollo’s control surface utilizes Bluefin2, the second generation of Bluefin High Density Signal Processing. Bluefin2 provides Apollo with 1,020 channel processing paths, 128 program busses, 96 IFB/track outputs and 48 auxiliaries. In addition, Apollo has a second dynamics section in each channel, more than 70 minutes of assignable delay and three independent APFL systems for multiple operator use. The Apollo control surface manages all these channels over 12 layers and up to 320 physical faders. In addition, the Calrec A/B path selection system is retained for those users who wish to use the desk in a similar manner as Calrec’s Alpha platform products. Layers and the A/B path system can be disabled if not required. Featuring OLED displays and touch screens to provide hi-resolution feedback of function and status, the Apollo control surface also has light emitting knobs that change color depending on function for immediate recognition. The surface can be configured into different operational settings to suit the operator.

Apollo’s smaller sibling, the Artemis, is based on the Apollo platform and uses the same Bluefin2 and Hydra2 core technologies. Using a combination of OLED displays, touch screens, and light-emitting knobs the soft Artemis control surface provides instant visual feedback and the flexibility to reconfigure the desk on the fly. Bluefin2 gives Artemis up to 680 channel processing paths, 128 program busses, 64 IFB/Track outputs and 32 auxiliaries.

The forefather to the Bluefin2 range is Calrec’s Bluefin platform. Using Bluefin HDSP the Alpha console can deal with large numbers of surround sources, providing 480 channel processing paths on just one DSP card, with full EQ and dynamics to all channels. This allows for up to 78 full 5.1 channels. Alpha architecture has always focused on reliability and speed of operation required for live production with highly effective redundancy throughout the DSP and control systems, combined with hot-swap cards and panels.

Based on the Alpha operating platform, Sigma with Bluefin offers 320 channel processing paths and can be configured for up to 52 x full 5.1 surround channels and 20 auxiliaries. In addition, the system provides a significant amount of delay to cope with the increasing synchronization problems, for example, resulting from mixed format HD/SD production. Bluefin signal processing provides 496 mono elements of up to 2.73 seconds of audio delay, which can be inserted at various places in the signal paths.

The Omega also uses Bluefin technology, and features 240 channel processing paths packaged as 72 stereo and 96 mono channels, allowing up to 39 x 5.1 surround channels, as well as Calrec’s TFT metering capabilities and all channels and groups can have a direct output or a mix-minus feed.

The DiGiCo SD10B follows in the footsteps of the SD7 utilizing Stealth Digital Processing with Super FPGA processing, floating-point precision, and superior analog conversion. The console has 96 channels, 48 busses, two discrete backstop PFL solo busses, and Smart Key Macro triggers. A 15-inch touchscreen,  37 touch-sensitive faders, and an on-the-fly customizable worksurface allow the user to quickly access console parameters. The DiGiCo Optocore optical network can support up to five consoles and 14 DiGiCo SD-racks totaling 448 inputs and outputs.

The modular SD-Rack can be configured with everything from analog to AES, Aviom, HD-SDI, Dante, and more. Sources can then be injected directly into another console’s monitor matrix allowing monitoring of any source on the network without using additional DSP channels. 5.1 surround inputs can be stacked onto a single fader, linked, then folded and unfolded on the surface with the touch of a button. MADI outputs can be utilized as splits or multitrack sends and can be sample rate converted for asynchronous applications. Assignable macros facilitate functions such as fader start and stop commands, as well as snapshot scene recall. An external video monitor can be used as an overview screen of all console meters and fader positions. MSRP for the SD10B starts just under $100,000.

The Lawo mc² Series mixing consoles (mc²90, mc²66, and mc²56) provide time code and snapshot automation of any parameter in the system, combined with a high degree of flexibility inside the channel structure, bussing, and router to accommodate any production requirement from monaural to 7.1 surround sound. These consoles offer integration with systems including Pro Tools, Pyramix, Sequoia, Sadie, and others.

Notable highlights of the operating system include loudness metering for every channel, DSP 5.1 upmix module AMBIT, as well as a new 3G SDI embedder / de-embedder card for Lawo’s DALLIS frame that supports 16 channels per SDI stream. Additionally, RAVENNA, a solution for real-time distribution of audio and other media content in IP-based network environments, is now supported. The mc² Series mixing consoles also provide direct-out mute by fader, a buss reverse page, HTML error diagnostics, and time code edit for the time code automation and libraries of the audio settings.

To streamline workflow, the system offers a full offline GUI to prepare snapshots and productions that can be used to bring the console online for two or more operators. With the optional plug-in server, multiple Dolby E decoders are available, with all parameters and metering displayed on the console’s GUI. Additionally, the mc² series consoles are able to quickly modify their settings for conversion to a broadcast console for news, sports, and entertainment.

Stagetec offers three live on-air broadcast consoles that share similar modular surface design, DSP and IO routing architecture but are geared toward specific applications and sizes. The consoles were designed specifically for live broadcast and therefore offer hot-swap capabilities of all hardware elements, full redundancy up to double optical lines, lightweight, low power consumption, and thus low heat dissipation. The systems can work independently of the system computer and therefore can boot from cold to its last known state in less than 20 seconds.

The AURUS is the flagship multi-format production console that is available with 16-to-96 faders and 300 DSP channels with 128 busses. Working in 5.1 & 7.1 surround, stereo and mono can be done simultaneously with on board downmix/upmix capabilities or separate multiple bus configurations.  It also offers both dynamic and snapshot automation, making it possible to do a quick mix on location.

The CRESCENDO mixing console is a response to the increased demand for slimmed down control surface and price but with the DSP power available in the larger AURUS when needed. All controls are within easy reach while the operator remains seated. Snapshot automation is extensive with ability to set glide times between snapshots for enhance audio follow video control.

The ON AIR 24 is Stagetec’s latest digital mixing system aimed at the radio and smaller TV broadcast markets. It is a modular, flexible and scalable system with control surfaces laid out to the broadcaster’s specification for combo, studio or edit operation. The work surface consists of self-contained fader modules (four in each and up to 24 faders maximum per system) and a monitor module. These modules can be flush mounted into existing studio furniture. The GUI software runs on any PC linked via Ethernet to the controller unit mounted in the system frame. Once setup and running, the GUI simulates all the control elements so operators have full access to every control that is found on the physical control surface including all metering, faders and encoders.

Following on from the Vista 5, 6, 7 and 8 desks, the Studer Vista 9 supplements Studer’s patented Vistonics interface with wide screen-based TFT metering, FaderGlow and numerous other innovations. The new metering offers precision feedback on signal status. The channel meters are able to show mono through to 7.1 channel signals in the upper section of the screen, while the lower portion can show bus assignment or for surround channels an image of the surround composite, providing a comprehensive display of the surround signal. Alternatively, the HISTORY mode records events such as overloads in the audio path of each channel, and highlights them in red on the channel waveform. The operator can then review which channel had such an event up to 30 seconds after the event has occurred. All stereo inputs and stereo masters have a correlation meter bar above the bar-graph display. The Control Bay meter section can be configured to show any choice of output busses and input channels and displays up to 40 meters at the time. Each touch-sensitive TFT screen shows 10 channel strips, with rotary encoders and switches mounted directly onto the screen, providing the operator with “Where you look is where you control” ergonomics.

The Solid State Logic C100 HDS is a fully scalable digital broadcast console that offers a range of software options include Dialogue Automix, which offers automated mixing and provides support for Ross, Sony and Mosart production automation systems; 5.1 Upmix, which generates multichannel surround output from stereo sources; and DAW Control for seamless DAW capture and mix operations. The C100’s compact convection-cooled frame also makes it an optimal solution for OB vehicle installation.

The C10 HD console is available in three frame sizes (16+8, 24+8 and 32+8), and requires no additional processing racks and is convection cooled, making it well suited to OB vehicle installation. Fiber-optic connections simplify installation as a range of I/O options connect directly to the console frame. The C10 HD features up to 128 full input channels, each with dedicated 4-band EQ, compressor/limiter, insert and direct output. The embedded Blackrock processor core provides all DSP functions, file storage and an optional fully redundant mirrored system. The C10’s Eyeconix feature provides jpeg thumbnail displays on every channel for easy visual recognition of a channel’s audio source.

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