Every day it becomes harder to make inroads into the seemingly one-dimensional high-end analog console market. In the L.A. area many studio owners are rushing to buy the same board to satisfy the needs of a clientele who insist on having the latest "happening" desk. To stop such a trend would take a console so superior in design and pedigree that it would demand attention. The Rupert Neve-designed Amek 9098i could be that board.
Product PointsApplications: Commercial recording; post; broadcast
Key Features:Individual EQ bands assignable to channel or monitor; four stereo (A, B, C, D) plus L/R; two bus
Price:48-input: $555,000 median price.
Contact: Amek at 818-973-1618; or visit www.amek.com
+ Full-featured monitor/channel paths
+ Sound quality
- No dedicated groups
The Score: Top to bottom, a very well-designed console that can go toe-to-toe with the competition.
Based on the 9098 console developed in 1994 as a single-input design with a separate/split monitor section (that's old school!), the 9098i has numerous hardware and software upgrades. The available configurations begin with a 40-input console that can be increased in banks of eight modules up to 116 inputs.
The input modules of the 9098i start on top with multitrack routing capable of 48 tracks through 24 assign switches. These can be sourced from either the channel or monitor path or from any one pair of auxiliary sends using switching located in the master section. There are four stereo busses (labeled A, B, C and D) in addition to the main L/R bus, which may be sourced by the channel or monitor paths or aux 1 and 2 (cue A).
Traditional LCRS busing, if selected, is achieved using the multibusses as follows: 1 = L, 2 = R, 3 = C, 4 = S. Further LCRS stems can also be formed in a similar manner using higher groups of numbered busses (5, 6, 7, 8/9, 10, 11, 12 and so on).
Next is the input stage of the channel path with its mic/line input select and levels, bus/direct level control, phase, 48 V and direct switches. The input channel path uses Rupert Neve's Transformer-Like Amplifier (TLA) design on both the line and microphone inputs. This design provides the benefits of a transformer without its disadvantages. The inputs are referred to by Mr. Neve as a Îvirtual Class A' design - the circuit operates as a Class A amp (limiting distortion) over the most critical portions of the signal's dynamic range.
Sixteen auxiliary sends, set up in pairs and normally sourced from the channel path, are available on each module. Half of these are stereo and all have pre/post and monitor switching (sourcing from the monitor path) in pairs, with individual mutes that can be automated. On aux send pairs 9/10 through 15/16, the send level and pan controls can be switched to feed aux send pairs 1/2 through 7/8. When used in tandem with the monitor source switch, this enables the monitor path independent access to auxes 1 through 8, even though the channel path on the same module may already have these same sends engaged on the original (first 8) auxiliaries.
When the stereo surround or 5.1 pan mode is selected in the master status section, aux 1 and 2 control the stereo surround signal and apply it to the chosen stereo surround bus, which can be either aux bus 1/2 or stereo bus A, B, C or D.
Aux pair 1/2 (cue A) and 3/4 (cue B) can also take a signal directly from the channel or monitor pan pot by using a SFP (send follows pan) switch. As an added bonus, the monitor fader can be swapped with aux level control 1/2 making automation and dynamics functions available to this aux.
High/low pass filters and EQ come next, with four bands available for the latter. Filters may be assigned to the dynamics side chain. The high-frequency range is normally a shelving filter with the turnover frequency continuously variable from 2 kHz to 21 kHz with a possible cut/boost of 18 dB. A dedicated switch adjusts the curve from shelving to bell.
The low frequency band operates in the same manner from 30 to 300 Hz. In addition, the high and low bands have switches referred to as sheen (for the high) and glow (for the low). Both these settings alter the curve of the EQ towards a more gentle slope.
The high mid band is continuously variable between 500 Hz and 5 kHz with an X5 button that changes these frequencies to 2.5 kHz and 25 kHz. The Q is continuous from 0.6 to 4 and a notch mode is also available. The low mids have the same features between 20 Hz and 200 Hz, 100 Hz and 1 kHz with the X5 switch depressed.
An automated EQ on/off button is also provided. Unique to this console is the option to move the HMF and the LMF bands and/or the HF and LF bands of the equalizer into the monitor path. With frequencies that overlap generously between the four EQ bands this split option could work well when two signals in the same module both need EQ attention.
Right above the monitor section are the insert on/off (with pre/post option) switches. There are insert points available on the 9098i for both the channel and monitor paths and, as on all the most critical outputs, the insert feeds are transformer driven.
The monitor section begins with separate tape and bus switches that toggle the monitor input source between the tape and bus returns. This function can also be controlled globally within the master section. There is a detented pot provided for tape/bus gain and separate input and fader reverse switches that swap these functions independently between the channel and monitor signal paths. The monitor fader is a touch-sensitive 65mm P&G motorized fader, allowing automation with or without a VCA. Dynamics are also available for the monitor section, which includes a five-segment gain reduction meter.
The channel input also has a dynamic section with a five-segment gain reduction meter. The pan normally goes between L&R, but pans across LCR when the LCRS switch is activated. There is also a separate surround pan pot that controls the balance of the signal between the LCR and the surrounds.
A record-ready switch is also available to control a tape machine via a relay contact. The channel fader is a touch sensitive P&G 104mm motorized fader, allowing automation with or without a VCA. An automated mute is also, of course, in place for the channel signal. Both channel and monitor signals have solo switches with many modes of operation that can be set up in the master section of the 9098i. A four-segment PFL meter displays the channel's pre-fader level on each module.
The 9098i comes equipped with four 9098L stereo modules located to the left of the center screen. Additional stereo modules can be fitted to any position. Each stereo module incorporates both a stereo input channel and a stereo effects (FX) return path. A-B and M-S signal processing are both available on the stereo channel, in addition to more or less the same features available on mono channels. These include: dynamics, aux sends, inserts, limited EQ, high-pass filter and a touch-sensitive P&G stereo 104mm fader. The stereo input path can alternately act as a stereo subgroup master. All 16 aux sends can also be accessed by the FX return signal, though only eight different sends can operate at any given time.
Studio D's Amek 9098I ConsoleStudio D is already known for having one of the hottest large live rooms in the San Francisco Bay Area. Such artists as Soundgarden, Van Morrison, Aretha Franklin and Huey Lewis and The News have played at Studio D. The facility has completed a major upgrade aimed at placing it firmly in the top rank of full-service studios for music, film and broadcast.
Renovations included installation of a JBL 5.1 surround system, an editing suite with the latest 24-bit Pro Tools system, redesign of the control room acoustics, reinforcement of the isolation booths, new carpeting, new paint and the jewel in the crown: the already legendary Amek 9098i console designed by Mr. Rupert Neve.
"Our big room has always been our calling card," says Dan Godfrey, Studio D cofounder and vice president. "But the music business has changed so much in the last five, six years. To attract the top name acts who can afford a big room, you also have to offer the best gear. The 9098i and the other improvements give us the complete package."
"The sound of the 9098i is far and above anything else on the market," adds Joel Jaffe, Studio D's other cofounder and its chief engineer. "You listen to this console, it's like standing outside on a clear day with nothing but sky above you.
The board opens new opportunities in mixing and live broadcast for a studio known primarily as a first-class tracking facility.
"Before, we would do the tracking but sometimes lose the project midway through the overdubs because we didn't have enough tracks to handle the mix," notes Jaffe. "Now we're fully mix capable with 120 inputs on the console. And because our tracking room is so well-suited for live recording, I'm interested in the possibility of doing live broadcasts from the studio."
The Amek 9098i installed at Studio D is only the second in the U.S., and the first on the West Coast.
For more information on Studio D, call them at 415-332-6289.
At the center/master section of the 9098i are the usual collection of functions among 12 panels arranged in a straightforward and logical manner. In the central area of the master section is the 9098iH master panel with 56 internally illuminated latching witches controlling a variety of console master statuses.
These include record status and standard multitrack recording setup (where mic/line ignals feed the channel path which is routed to the 48-track routing matrix). The monitor path is fed from tape with its output fed to the stereo/LCRS bus. Mix status; the tape input is fed to the channel path as well as the monitor path and both feed the stereo bus. Broadcast, film and direct (routes directly to tape to avoid the summing amplifiers) modes function in a similar manner, configuring the console switching globally to operate in many different situations.
Additionally, custom settings can be factory-programmed to suit specific user needs. Also on this panel is the pan mode selector, which includes LCRS, LCRS + stereo surround, L-R (stereo), and 5.1. Solo mode selector (very extensive), channel meter selection and the monitor source matrix are also found here.
Other center section panels include: 9098iM stereo fader block (which contains the four stereo group master faders for stereo busses A, B,C and D); 9098iP LCRS fader block (master faders that control the main LCRS mix); and 9098iS/9098iR (optional panels that have two joysticks and the accompanying routing hardware). Each panner has one input (patch bay accessible) and 5 outputs sent via the routing panel.
A 13 x 13 matrix of LEDs above each panner shows the apparent location of the signal being panned. The two panners can also be linked, allowing two separate signals to be panned simultaneously by one joystick. Auxiliary master, meter control, machine control, communications and other functions are also found on various panels in the center section that occupy 12 module positions of the console frame.
Several important residents of the center section have been neglected up until now only because their critical function within the console requires special attention. These are the Central Assignment Panel (CAP), the built-in high-definition 12" TFT screen (located in the meter bridge above the center section) and the control module with QWERTY keyboard and trackball. The console also ships with a 20" external monitor.
Within these units the more important functions of the board can either be accessed or observed. The CAP gives easy central access to certain channel functions, most of which do not have hardware controls on the module faceplates. A small internally illuminated selection button on the channel faders assigns the entire module to the CAP for several functions the most important being the assignment and control of all dynamics. Channels can also be assigned to the CAP via a numeric keypad to avoid reaching over to each module individually to select it for CAP use. Solo of a particular channel can also be accessed from the CAP. Full multisegment input and gain reduction metering is available on both the CAP and TFT displays.
Every path on the 9098i input (with the exception of the stereo effects return on the 99098iL module) is fitted with a dynamics processor. There are 10 different programmable devices currently available, which include: three different types of gates; two different compressors; two combined compressor expanders; dedicated expander and limiter; and an autopanner. The dynamics processors use high-quality low-distortion VCAs in the direct signal path and the sidechain signal is converted to digital data where various algorithms are applied in a custom DSP element.
The assignment of a device to a path - and the adjustment of parameters of the device - is carried out through the dynamics control section of the CAP. This consists of a 240 X 64 pixel LCD screen, two dedicated and four soft keys and five soft rotary controls. Various onscreen menus control the dynamics device's parameters using rotary controls below the screen. The soft controls have various functions - e.g. threshold, ratio, release, etc. and are clearly indicated in the display. At the same time, a virtual front panel representation appears on the TFT screen where the knobs and switches can be adjusted with the trackball if preferred. Dynamics may be switched in and out by automated switches on the channels.
Timecode-based Supertrue automation is operated through the use of the same TFT screen in the meter bridge with the keyboard and trackball, in addition to some dedicated hardware control keys on the 9098iJ panel. Many of the onscreen functions can also be accessed using a system of QWERTY keyboard shortcuts.
In normal mixing situations, most functions can be achieved using the 18 dedicated control keys with minimal use of TFT screen, keyboard and trackball, but more complicated automated functions and parameters can also be accessed as needed.
When online, the automation saves up to the last six passes in RAM that are available for replay or saving permanently to hard disk. On the seventh pass the first mix is written over by the last played/updated mix pass. This cyclical approach allows for only six levels of undo, so valuable passes must be saved to the hard drive. Snapshots - which store the statuses of all automated elements of the input channels - can also be used to create automated mixes.
In addition to normal timecode based automation, a MIDI output can be made available from an expansion card. This allows direct control of the parameters of outboard signal processors within the 9098i's automation system and is referred to as the VFX (visual effects). The VFX permits adjustment of processors (currently Lexicon, TC Electronics and Eventide) without wading through layers of parameters on a tiny LCD display.
This system, which uses elaborate graphic representations of the gear on-screen, also lets the user store these settings as part of the mix to be recalled instantly when the mix is reloaded.
Every nonautomated switch and all rotary controls on input modules (and some on the master section controls) are connected to the console's recall system. The console can be recalled globally or on individual channels.
The filing system of the 9098i, which corresponds to that of a normal Windows-based directory structure, is divided into three levels: Mix (files contain mix data); Title (files contain all the mixes that have been created within the title); and Project (files are directories and contain title files).
Operations such as the copying of the data and mixes between projects, and other housekeeping, duties are easily carried out on various pages of a filing menu through the use of the same TFT, keyboard and Trackball combination. I found it particularly handy to have a project manager page where the project, title and mix information came up at once, providing a clear overview and access to your current data.
The 9098i is a very user-friendly, simple and direct console to use in an era where board design can be quite overwhelming. After a couple of hours with John Cunningham, Amek field service engineer, I felt quite comfortable with the basic operation of the console. I found the automation features extensive and well-integrated with the basic design of the board rather than an apparent afterthought.
Speaking of the basic design of the 9098i, much was done right. The fact that there is a moving fader, dynamics and an insert point available for both the channel and monitor path says a lot. That there were 16 aux sends and the possibility to share the EQ within one module says even more. I found when doing a test rough mix that I truly had two usable mix inputs on one input module, as opposed to the usual struggle with a monitor path that is hopelessly ill-equipped.
The dynamics section with its virtual front panel (cool 3-D representations on the TFT screen), had the feel of a computer plug-in, without the compromises of a digital signal. I especially had fun with the autopan feature on a Rhodes track I had.
Regarding the sound of the Amek 9098i, my primary impression was the lack of it. The lack of noise was almost scary. The lack of coloration of the mic/line inputs was quite impressive. The lack of phasing as I tried the most radical EQ was incredible.
If I must cast a slight shadow on all the great things about this console, I would sat two things. On a console of this price (roughly $550,000 for a 48-input, depending on metering and other options) there are no group faders available. Sure, there are 10 fader groups available where any fader on the console can be a master fader, and the stereo master faders (A, B, C, D) and/or the surround master fader could well be available for group fader assignments. Still, some users will complain.
Secondly, in my opinion, this is not a Îclassic' Neve sounding console. Where I would classify the classic sound of a Neve as Îfat,' the Amek 9098i could be described as more Îopen' and Îaccurate' within its extended (-3 dB at 200 kHz) bandwidth.
If you own a high-end recording/mixing/broadcast facility and are considering making a major analog console purchase, the Amek 9098i should not be overlooked. Its features and sonic quality are something you and your clientele could be quite happy with well into the next millennium.