Remember the heyday of analog consoles? Of course you do. How can you forget that your front-of-house (FOH) rig required a dozen stagehands and a forklift at load-in?
As the owner of a sound/lighting/stage/roof company, I can vouch that firms such as mine have historically been encumbered by the sheer weight and size of all our equipment, both in setup and transport. Meanwhile, manufacturers have become very good at the whole modern-day “shrinking process” for live pro audio gear, producing marvels like small powered line arrays, powered stage monitors, in-ear monitoring (IEM) systems and — as we investigate here — feature-packed digital consoles. One such manufacturer is England’s Allen & Heath, a firm long known for its fine analog consoles. And, with the iLive digital mixing console series, the company has fully entered the pro-grade digital live console arena.
Allen & Heath (A&H) manufactures several combinations of digital mixing systems, best considered in two parts: the tactile mixer/control surface and the “brain” or computer/CPU, which A&H refers to as the MixRack; the two are joined together by the umbilical/snake, which, in this case, is a Cat-5 Ethernet cable.
The iLive Series can be most accurately described as comprehensive in size and scope. Offerings include the iLive R72 (12 faders/6 layers/72 total strips), the iLive T80 (20 faders/4 layers/80 total strips) and — reviewed here — the iLive T112 (28 faders/4 layers/112 total strips). MixRacks come in several sizes as well: the iDR 16 (16 in/8 out, three rack spaces) the iDR 32 (32 in/16 out, six rack spaces) the iDR 48 (48 in/24 out, eight rack spaces and IDR64 64 in/32 out). You can mix and match any control surface with any MixRack or combination of MixRacks. A&H was kind enough to supply us with the T112 control surface and the iDR48 MixRack for this review.
The T112 control surface is approximately 42 inches wide, 25 inches deep and 11 inches tall, weighing in at a modest 60 lbs. Its surface is scratch-resistant, black, textured steel. Located at the top right of the T112’s work surface, the touch screen GUI allows users to reach into the heart of the T112’s operating system; here, you can access all of the main OS functions, essentially management windows, that control the routing of signal, storing of scenes and metering functionality.
The main portion of the control surface is taken up by the faders and channel strips, arranged in clusters of four, with the first bank containing three clusters of four, and second and third banks containing two clusters of four, for a total of 28 faders. Above the faders are the MIX, MUTE, PAFL and SELECT buttons and Rotary control. MIX shows the various outputs to which each channel has been assigned, such as AUXs, Masters, groups, etc. When used in combination with the Assign switch, MIX routes the signal of that channel input strip to the actual various masters. MUTE is self-explanatory, as is PFL/AFL. The SELECT button does a few things at once: when depressed, it allows for parameter adjustment on the master control strip, such as full parametric EQ, comp/gate/delay/limiter/de-esser for any strip, input or output. The rotary allows for L/R pan and, when so assigned, can be your subwoofer send. The Alt view button can also be assigned to put the mic gains on the rotary encoders for quick level changes during soundcheck.
Just above the fader and buttons, is the color-adjustable channel label, where you can enter the name of the channel, or use the convenient onboard list of names and color-coding. At the very top of each strip is an LED stack showing input level, post trim.
The MixRack can be located at the console in a monitor application, or located on stage, conjoined to the FOH position by means of the Ethernet snake. It features a field of XLR connections on a black box that is rackmounted and contains the actual CPU of the iLive mix system. The point of connection is referred to as the Audio Control Ethernet link, or ACE link. Additional consoles and mix racks may be added to the system via an additional Ethernet connection provided on both the control surface rear panel and the front panel of the MixRack.
I did not delve into the iLive’s remote-control capabilities, such as its controllability via the iPod, iPad or a laptop; I did not use these features in this review process. If these are features that would interest you, I recommend that you also consider them in your purchase decision process. For more information on those specific features, please visit A&H’s iLive webpage.
Probably the most important part of setting up a digital mixing system such as the iLive is creating audio pathways; assigning fader actions to inputs, groups, DCAs, masters and layers; and labeling names and colors of all the strips. This is all done through the Set Up mode via touch screen, with button differentiation of the MixRack versus the Control Surface. For our first time out with iLive, we decided to set the system in a somewhat conventional (as well as generic) layout, with the first 20 faders being inputs 1 through 20 on Layer 1 and 21 through 40 on Layer 2, with the various layers accessed on each bank of faders separately, with options up to four layers. We reserved the last bank’s eight faders for several layer options. On Layer 1, we had five sub-groups, L/ R and Subwoofer. On Layer 2, we had four sends for onboard effects and four effects returns. Layer 3 was reserved for eight monitor mix masters, and Layer 4 was set up for four stereo IEM mix masters.
Before describing a blow-by-blow mix setup, it is important to note that the iLive is a very user-friendly digital console, allowing near-novices to walk up to the console and, with very basic knowledge, get to their mix duties immediately. The iLive comes with a basic template setup, pre-loaded in the memory. If you are a seasoned digital console engineer, it will satisfy your needs as well, allowing you to go very deep into parameters and operations of your mix and create your own setup.
The first gig we did utilized the iLive T112 as FOH console for perennial counter-culture favorites, the Kottonmouth Kings. My son is their FOH engineer, so we took the iLive to a 2,000-seat venue, where setup was quick.
The initial setup for a new engineer is very simple. From the main screen’s push button selector, we went to the Name/Color menu; there, depressing the Select button of the channel strip allows you to assign the channel number, the name of the input (which can be selected from a pre-loaded menu of terms, or you can define your own) and the color code of the input (grouping of like channels with the same color, from a menu choice of six color choices). At a certain point in setup, it is desirable to go to the main screen menu titled Scenes and touch the Store All choice, so as to back up your settings to the main drive.
Within the channel strip LCD display there are many points of control that are displayed about a particular channel’s status, relative to its corresponding output masters. First, it will tell you if it’s an Input or type of Output, DCA or Return. Further, it will show your currently selected mix operation, such as accessing an Aux, Group, FX Send or Matrix. Channel’s Aux sends are normally Post Fader, Global per aux changing to Pre is done by depressing the desired aux master’s Mix key, it will illuminate blue — then press the master Pre Post switch Select on the desired Aux you want to be pre. It will now show as pre in the faders LCD window. It is also possible to change selected inputs to either pre or post send.
Assigning a channel to a master or series of masters is simple, too; depress the desired master’s Mix key, then press/hold Assign while pressing the Mix key of the desired individual channel you wish to link to the selected master.
There are many more possible operations on the iLive — I would need far more space than this review allows — that further reveal the sheer user-friendliness of the functions with this system. Here are some of the functions that I particularly enjoyed.
Accessing the iLive’s parameters is spectacularly simple. By depressing the Select key on any channel strip (Input or Output), you get a full complement of control, displayed in the entire upper half of the console, adjacent to the menu screen. The input sensitivity controls offer not only trim, but also fully adjustable high-pass filter (from 20-400 Hz), a -20 dB pad, polarity reverse and insert in/out switching. The 4-band fully parametric EQ is fantastic, with excellent frequency control, bandwidth control (Q) and actual boost/cut rotaries, and an adjacent rotary LED band to show the relative amounts of each parameter. The upper control channel area also hosts a very nice gate section, with threshold, release and side chain with internal frequency bandwidth. Additionally, this section has an excellent compressor circuit, with hard and soft knee, threshold, ratio, gain, attack/release times and a side chain with internal frequency band control. Next to the compressor is the limiter/de-esser circuit, offering similar parameter controls.
When accessing an output, you may Select into upper strip control as well, applying all of the available features to the composite signal of the selected master. When in this mode, you may access one of my personal favorite features of the iLive: its GEQ graphic equalizer. Each individual output has a 4-band parametric EQ and a 1/3 octave graphic EQ. Pressing the GEQ key places all of the channel strip faders into graphic EQ mode and, at the same time, displays the frequency point of control in the LCD window. Since there are 28 faders, they display the spectrum from 63 Hz to 16 kHz. Each fader then becomes the real-time level control for that particular frequency. Parametric EQ control is accessed through the upper control region’s parametric EQ. This particular EQ Master application is a nice feature when the iLive is being used as a monitor console. On that note, the iLive really excels as a monitor desk for either conventional wedge mixes, IEM mixes or any conceivable combination thereof. With a total of 24 master outputs, you can have any combination of wedges, ears, effects and full upper control section assignment to any input or output.
During the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve 2010, we had several national acts through our in-house casino gig. In particular, we employed the iLive as a monitor-only desk for two well known and respected country acts: Mark Chesnutt and Colin Raye.
In the case of Mark Chesnutt, the monitor engineer was an old-school guy and not overly thrilled with the prospect of using a digital console. But as the evening progressed, he became clearly happier with it. By the end of the evening, he had logged some quality time on the iLive and said he felt pretty comfortable. He commented several times about the high quality of the console’s audio, while band members specifically said they did not recall their ears and wedges sounding that good. Further, the engineer finally commented about how comfortable the console was for a first-time digital gig.
The next night with Colin Raye, one of my own staff members — a seasoned digital guy — mixed monitors. He commented that the band remarked several times about the “very clear audio quality” of the iLive. The console setup was achieved through the same processes described earlier. One nice feature he noted was the iLive’s ability to use either the single rotary knob or the fader on the individual fader strips to send signal to the Monitor masters when in Mix mode.
I find that the Allen & Heath iLive system is capable of holding its own in an increasingly populated field of far more expensive (and complicated) consoles. It offers superb sound quality, a highly intuitive and easily accessible menu system, and the capability to be used anywhere ranging from the simplest to the most complex levels of audio competency.
One of my favorite features of the iLive — beyond its GEQ fader flip — is the onboard, on-screen tutorial. There is a little question mark on the touch screen menu: At any point in your workflow processes, you may tap it to consult for further direction on a variety of helpful iLive topics.
Allen & Heath has set a new standard that, regardless of console needs — be it any musical style, or anywhere between large tours or a fixed installation — should supply the user with a total quality experience. So, if someone needs a very high-quality digital mixing system that won’t require a huge payment, I would highly recommend the Allen & Heath iLive T-112.
Will James, owner and chief engineer of Atlantis Audio and Lighting, is a longstanding PAR contributor.