Euphonix System 5 Digital Console at Cool Beans Digital Audio

Purchasing a console for your studio is a big decision, right? Well, recently Cool Beans Digital Audio, located in NYC, cast its vote not once, not twice, but three times for the Euphonix System 5.
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Purchasing a console for your studio is a big decision, right? Well, recently Cool Beans Digital Audio, located in NYC, cast its vote not once, not twice, but three times for the Euphonix System 5.
Euphonix System 5-B Broadcast ConsoleThe Euphonix System 5-B, being introduced at NAB2001, is designed for broadcast preproduction and on-air duty. Features on this new model include GPI/O, a new graphical user interface that allows 32 switch closures to be created from objects on the control surface. The new interface also allows 32 external inputs to implement console functions.

The System 5-B incorporates multiformat channels (stereo, LCR, LCRS, 5.1, 7.1 and others) that enable the engineer to control up to eight channels at a time from a single channel strip. The console's Integrated PatchNet I/O Router can accommodate 672 by 672 sources and destinations at a sampling rate of 48 kHz (336 by 336 at 96 kHz).

Of importance to broadcasters, the 5-B incorporates a "Fail Safe and Diagnostics System," providing redundant modules and cards that will automatically take over in the event of a DSP or control failure. Techs will appreciate that failed cards can be hot swapped without having to reboot the system.

On-screen diagnostics constantly report status of all system components, and provide confidence checks as well as troubleshooting. Other features for the broadcast market include Red-Light and Floor-feed Cut switch closures.

-Stephen Murphy
I had the opportunity to visit Cool Beans Digital Audio in NYC to evaluate the System 5. Cool Beans is owned by Chris Drozdowski and Mark Francke, two veteran post production engineers who created a facility quite unlike the typical post production house. Starting with a clean slate, they carved three control rooms replete with vocal booths out of their eleventh floor space on East 42nd Street.

When it came time to decide which console they wanted, Chris Drozdowski explained, "We looked at everything in the market, and found that the Euphonix System 5 would let us work in a way quite unlike the other consoles out there (see our full System 5 review in PAR, 6/00, p. 62 - Eds.). When the console was still in the design stages, the Motorola SHARC chip, which is used for the DSP, was still really expensive. Euphonix was betting that it would come down - had it not, the company would have been looking at almost a million dollar console!"

Francke and Drozdowski decided to take the plunge, and at this time, Cool Beans is the first New York City facility to install a System 5 - or three!

One of the primary design features in this new facility is portability - all three rooms have exactly the same equipment (including outboard gear), ensuring complete portability of projects from room to room. All the gear in each room is also positioned in the same way. According to Drozdowski, this makes it much easier for the facilities' assistants to become familiar with the equipment. Another advantage to having identical System 5 consoles is that complete jobs can be transferred via MADI.

MADI may I?

The concept of MADI routing is growing in popularity, as evidenced by its incorporation in many new high-end products. For those from the analog side of town, MADI routing can be conceptualized as a multiformat switchboard for audio, be that audio analog or digital (in virtually any of its variants).

The practical application of this technology is the seamless integration of analog or digital multitracks, outboard gear, instruments, or anything else that you would find in a recording studio environment.

Anything can be patched to anything else once in the MADI domain. This does not happen magically, however. Euphonix offers a family of converters that port signals to and from MADI. Selecting the proper interfaces to suit the complement of preexisting and planned equipment is an important part of the System 5 process. Happily, the interfaces are reasonably priced and easily integrated into the system in both the initial setup and to accommodate changes.

All three of the suites at Cool Beans are linked to the same machine room and have access to the same sound effects library (which runs on its own Macintosh network).

"Sounds can be auditioned by the producer at the iMac sitting behind the console. When they find one they like, we can transfer it, bring it upright on the console for them and edit it as needed." Continues Francke, "It just appears as another source in PatchNet."

The System 5 provides full routing capabilities via MADI using its PatchNet software. This software takes the place of an analog jackfield and provides recallable settings. Since MADI allows all gear - both analog and digital - to be accessed transparently, PatchNet makes it simple to connect outboard gear to the console, as well as to define the inputs and output that will be used on a project-by-project basis. This information is displayed and accessed upon a separate external monitor and keyboard.

Console vs. environment

In many ways, the System 5 could be looked at as more of an environment rather than just as a console. For those used to the paradigm of the analog console - be it large format or eight-bus in nature - the System 5 is a radical departure. For starters, there is no audio running through the console control surface, and there are no fixed "rules" when it comes to such issues as channel assignment.

Every input channel is exactly the same in terms of features and capabilities. Different as well from analog consoles (Euphonix's previous consoles and the Tactile Technology console of some years ago excepted) the "console" itself is a control surface. The audio is actually handled by outboard rackmounted processing digital audio core(s).

Francke notes, "We bought the amount of DSP that we needed for our present requirements. When and if we need more, it's a simple matter to add more cards to our second core."

Any channel strip on the console can correspond to any input source; in fact multiple channel strips can be used to control a single input. Likewise, any output from the console can be routed to an unlimited number of destinations. This functionality could be important for applications that require sending audio in different formats to different locations, such as online streaming of audio at different bit rates or mixing in mono, stereo, and surround simultaneously. These functions would be pretty much impossible on most all-analog consoles, and only marginally viable even on other mid- to high-end digital consoles.

The control surface itself is one of the things that set the System 5 apart from its competition. The console unit itself is available in a variety of sizes including 6-,

9-, and 12-foot frames as standard configurations; larger custom frames are also available. The size of the control surface has no bearing on the number of inputs available because the audio is handled by the console's external digital processing core. This affords facilities short on space the opportunity to still have enormous numbers of available inputs.

The surface itself is laid out in a manner that is an interesting hybrid of conventional analog console design mixed with more modern digital console functionality. "I came over from another digital console made by a very respected player in the industry. There were so many parameters that could be adjusted - too many, to be honest - it sometimes interfered with the workflow. The System 5 is really easy to navigate," Drozdowski said.

The System 5's good ergonomics manifests itself in features such as traditional looking channel strips that have knobs - but knobs that are state dependent and capable of performing several functions pursuant to the mode that the channel is in (such as EQ, dynamics or panning). Though seemingly a small detail, a new knob was designed (and patented) for the System 5 that includes an LED array in the cap of the knob, to show status. A nice thing about this arrangement is that it can display the null point of any automation settings, thus giving the engineer visual confirmation of a control's setting in a way a stationary knob could never do.

There are provisions for defining the sweet spot in the form of an assignable center strip "super channel" that provides 40 knobs and eight displays to provide one touch access to most all channel functions. A high precision trackball is also available for surround panning utilization.

A flat panel TFT display resides in the portion of the control surface that would normally house a conventional meter array. It provides a customizable high-resolution level meter, in addition to channel name, number, status of EQ, dynamics or panning (depending on channel strip mode), as well as channel routing information. A similar display on the master section provides similar functionality for mix related functions.

The System 5 provides fully automated control of virtually every function; both snapshot and dynamic modes are available. Snapshot recall is for such functions as setting the configuration of the console, allocation of busses and groups. It is available for quickly accessing such things as EQ and dynamics settings.

The System 5 features a four-band, fully parametric EQ on each channel, as well as two switchable filters. Dynamic control is also standard on every channel with a compressor, limiter, expander/gate (with a side chain input and filter).

The Euphonix can operate at sample rates of up to 96 kHz and bit depths of 24 bits. When operating at this resolution however, the maximum available channels are reduced. Internal processing is at 40 bits. One thing the System 5 does not have is microphone preamps. Euphonix offers a 24-channel microphone preamp that can be interfaced with the analog to MADI converter. "In our work we don't really have a need for mic pre's on every channel, or even for a 24-channel pre, so we decided to go with some high quality outboard preamps, and bring them right into the analog to MADI converter at line level" Drozdowski said.

As you would expect on a console of this class, the System 5 is fitted with motorized touch-sensitive faders.

Summary

With a combination of top-notch equipment, engineer-owners and a well designed environment conducive to rapid, high-quality work, Cool Beans Digital Audio is poised to become a very major player in the New York post production market.

Drozdowski and Francke both agree that the System 5 was the correct choice for their facility, offering the best sonic quality, control surface and routing flexibility for the kind of work they do. In the words of Chris Drozdowski "Other facilities can't work the way we do here."