Soundcraft's long-anticipated, large-format digital live desk has been introduced to the public, first in sneak previews that drew steady traffic during the NSCA Convention in Las Vegas in March, then at its formal unveiling during the Pro Light and Sound expo in Frankfurt, Germany. Though the Vi6 is the first large-format digital console from Soundcraft, the desk was born mature as a third-generation product due to the joint development with sister Harman console company, Studer. The Vi6 is the first in what is anticipated to be a full line of Soundcraft digital consoles, the range to be augmented over the next two years.
The Vi6 project benefited from some $7 million of Harman funds that were poured into the Soundcraft Potter's Bar, U.K. manufacturing facility to upgrade the factory, add surface-mount capabilities, improve quality control, and accommodate a large portion of Studer's production. Soundcraft president, Andy Trott, says, in a corporate statement, that this process was necessary for the Soundcraft digital initiative to succeed. "We had to overcome historical quality-control perceptions and assure people about the pedigree of our digital engineering team and our production facilities."
As the new infrastructure was established, the Soundcraft digital project was begun. Senior product manager, Andy Brown, states, "Originally, we had hoped to modify existing Studer products, but very quickly, we switched to a different approach. We've taken the best elements from the Studer product range, combined these with the latest thinking in software and user interfaces, and presented them within an easy-to-use, roadworthy package which can be successfully, repeatedly and reliably manufactured at an affordable price."
The Vi6 is comprised of three core elements: the control surface, the local DSP and I/O rack and the stage box. The control surface of the Vi6 is simple and uncluttered, with 64 input channels mapped to two virtual layers. A total of 32 freely assignable output busses are available for use as groups and auxes, with up to 16 assignable as matrix outputs. Dedicated stereo and mono mix busses bring the output bus count to 35. With optional I/O, up to 24 insert/returns can be assigned to any input channel or output bus. All channels have direct outs available as well, depending on I/O resources in use.
The 32 Vi6 channel strips are each comprised of a single motorized fader, a small complement of function and control switches, multifunction metering and a single multifunction knob. The Vi6 borrows not only a mature DSP host engine from the Studer console line, but also incorporates Studer's Vistonics control paradigm. A bright TFT touchscreen panel providing an overview of each channels status and settings tops each bank of eight channel strips. The bottom of each display has two rows each of eight knobs and switches that are surrounded by virtual displays of the controls current functions. This section is the heart of the Vistonics approach--a channel and function is chosen for the section, and these displays instantly switch to show control specific information.
Functions can be easily selected via the touchscreen, with any console function at most a single touch away from the user. Intuitive displays have been developed for functions such as EQ, dynamics and pan, all color-coded and extensively labeled--a hybrid of knob specific display and multi-function control usage. The Vi6 master section offers control of virtual VCA groups and auxes, and metering of all 64 input channels simultaneously on the TFT display.
Color is used for status and function indication throughout the control surface, including the patent-pending Soundcraft "FaderGlow" system which employs a diffused multicolor LED to track the current function of the motorized faders. The use of color and Vistonics simplify the control topology, maintaining an easy correlation between controls and what they are currently controlling, while the control surface is physically smaller than many large-format consoles. "In the live market," says Brown, "we have a different kind of user, someone who needs to walk up to the console and start using it for real. We wanted in particular to produce a very clean, uncluttered surface. One of the things we've learned is that simplicity is better than being too clever--you win more friends that way."
The local processing rack for the Vi6 system incorporates I/O and the DSP processing engine. In addition to input and output channel processing, Soundcraft envisions a plug-in environment for the system, incorporating technology from additional Harman sister companies, Lexicon, BSS and dbx. The stage box is fully complemented with 64 mic pres (including phantom power, remote gain control and high-pass filters) and 32 line outputs. Communication uses MADI over Cat-5 or fiber, with a second link for redundancy or to feed a second control surface if a common processing engine is sharing FOH and monitor tasks.
The Vi6 is Harman HiQnet-compatible for system control of HiQnet-compliant components from wireless mics to processors to amps to loudspeakers. MIDI is also accommodated at the control surface, along with full console snapshot automation. The Vi6 can compete on cost as well as features, pricing out at around $80,000 for the well-equipped core system--the 64x32-channel stage box, the local "SCore Live" processing box with a range of I/O, and the control surface.
That the Vi6 project moved from conception to reality in around two years time is testimony to the value of the joint venture and shared resources between Studer and Soundcraft, with Trott promising, "With all the technological building blocks in place, it will be exponential growth from now on."