The Paragon II Production Console from Audio Toys, Inc. (ATI) packs a lot of ultra-precision audio processing technology into a compact, easy-to-use package. Combining full Class A analog processing with digital controlled switching, the system represents a high water mark in the design of live-performance consoles. Although such state-of-the-art offerings aren’t inexpensive – prices are in the $100,000 range, dependent upon options – Paragon II is a console that will outlast its competitors, and offers a number of inclusive features that are extras on competitive products. I recently reviewed the Paragon II at Mariner’s Church in Irvine, Cal.
Paragon II is designed to handle front-of-house, live-to-air and theatrical mixing assignments. Offering LCR panning, eight stereo subgroups, eight stereo matrix outputs, two mono and two stereo mix outputs, eight mono aux and four stereo aux outputs, the console can handle complex mixing and zone assignments – and still packs enough horsepower to provide a number of on-stage monitor sends, if necessary. Usefully, three variable direct-outputs from each channel – in mono or stereo – can be used for post-fader effect sends or prefader record outputs.
The standard offering comprises 48 input strips arrayed in two banks of 24 either side of a central control section; larger offerings add additional channel strips in buckets of 00 channels. Channel strips are available in mono or stereo configurations, routing to eight stereo output groups and controllable via eight stereo VCA channels and eight mute groups. Stereo input channels can be installed in any position within a 48-channel frame, up to a maximum of 24 modules, each of which is combined – what else? – with a stereo assign and a stereo rear input module.
An eight-bus matrix accepts inputs from groups plus a pair of stereo and a pair of mono busses. And it’s all too easy to raise a quizzical eyebrow at the number “eight” here – “Will we need more?” you ask. Remember that these are stereo groups, VCA and matrix busses; with more and more stereo sources appearing as inputs during front-of-house, live-to-air and theatrical applications, a fader-per-channel and fader-per bus dramatically simplifies a mix.
Each channel strip features an upper “processor” and a lower “assignment” section. The Processor section includes a compressor-limiter and parametric noise gate, while the assignment section offers bus assignment to the eight groups with pan, plus routing to four stereo auxiliary and eight mono auxiliary outputs. Each channel features a 100mm long-throw Penny & Giles fader and flexible solo.
Signal routing and signal on/off assigns on Paragon II are handled via microprocessor-controlled switching; all assignments are held in non-volatile memory and can be stored/reloaded using ATI’s optional Distributed Intelligence Scene Control (DISC) software that allows access to 256 snapshot scenes. (Fader levels can also be added, if required, to DISC setups.)
In addition to group and VCA assignments, mono/stereo mix assignments, mono/stereo aux assignments and channel mute, the console’s distributed intelligence controls aux and matrix mutes, matrix inserts stereo/group assignments for group inject, group inserts and group mutes, mix mutes/inserts, and VCA grand master assignments. While DISC is not required to use Paragon II, it’s very handy as a standalone Windows-based program for organizing show cues and notes. Files can also be imported into spreadsheet applications for off-line manipulation.
And for live applications, when we normally don’t get a second chance, Paragon II fairly bristles with dynamics controls. All input channels feature both an RMS compressor/limiter and a parametric noise gate; external triggering is also available for gate and compressor. In addition to full attack/release/threshold controls, Paragon II also provides a remarkable amount of visual feedback about what the dynamics and gates are doing to the signal sources. Two LEDs indicate that the compressor is in-circuit but not compressing, and then the amount of compression. Soloing a channel activates a pair of larger, 20-segment LED meters in the center section that show channel strip level and master gate/compressor attenuation for more precise adjustment. (And an internal jumper can be set to turn the gate into a ducker, which means that the audio is attenuated when the selected key signal – normally an external trigger input – rises above threshold.)
The EQ section can only be described as comprehensive. In addition to high- and lowpass filters, mono channels feature a fully parametric four-band equalizer with peak/shelf selection on each band, while the stereo channels feature fixed Q and shelving for low and high bands. (Stereo channels also offer a useful cross-pan control that blends left and right to mono, plus hard assign switches for left/right-to-both and mono – useful if one channel goes down and you need to route to stereo busses.)
As with all live-production consoles, getting to the right control is of vital importance, as is accessing mutes and on/offs with ease. In terms of front-panel layout, Paragon II is a joy. All like-functioning controls are grouped as similarly as possible; color coordination of aux sends, for example, make finding the right knob much easier when you are in a hurry. To reduce panel real estate, tricolor LEDs are used to indicate Group, Mute, and VCA assignment. And mode changes can be made either locally, or from the master section. Everything is arm’s reach from the center position, and the controls you need to access during setup and put out of mind during the event are furthest from you. Important control of channel mutes, for example, is kept locally. Usefully, a Local On switch overrides any external mute source, enabling fast recovery from a blundered mute.
Equalization on Paragon II is truly comprehensive. For mono channels you have a four-band sweepable peak/shelve section, and for stereo channels the high plus low bands are shelving and high-mid plus low mid peak. A low-pass filter runs from 25 Hz to 1.4 kHz and the high-pass filter 20 Hz to 30 Hz; 24 cut/boost adjustments are available. For mono channels, the bandwidth on all four channels is adjustable from 0.2 to 2 octaves in peak mode, with up to 18 dB of cut/ boost. The LF band’s range is 30 Hz to 460 Hz, low-mid 150 Hz to 2.4 kHz; high-mid 550 Hz to 8 kHz; and HF 1 to 16 kHz – plenty of overlap where you need it and, with Class A circuits, silky smooth and elegant in performance.
Output routing from Paragon II is comprehensive, as well. A bank of eight multi-function switches at the top of each assignment module – plus the stereo returns – handles Audio Group, VCA and Mute Group assignment, depending on selected mode. Green mode assigns post-fader signals to any of the eight stereo groups; Orange accepts level and mute control into the module from any of the eight masters; Red accepts mute control into the module from any of the eight mute group masters. Modes are selected either locally or globally – couldn’t be easier! Pan controls the channel post-fader signal left and right to the assigned stereo groups, or can be bypassed to feed the group signals from the mix pan. Mix Assignment switches assign post-fader audio to the two mono and two stereo busses.
Usefully, Mix Pan can be set to left-center-right/LCR mode for center-channel output to Mono Mix 1 and 2 and left and right to Stereo 1 and 2. (Again, for stereo modules center is a mono sum of L+R.) And, for engineers used to mixing with LCR stems, Paragon II can set up a total of four separate subgroups using odd and even stereo group busses. The console’s four stereo aux sends can be user-set to pre/post-mute, pre-VCA/post mute, etc., while the eight mono aux sends are controlled in pairs via four level controls.
Channel on/off overrides any group, VCA, or SIP mute that’s active on the selected channel; when depressed, all external control – such as group or VCA mute – is removed. Any future global commands are also ignored when the channel is in safe mode; when safe is released, any active mute master will be applied to that channel again. Solo is also flexible; signals can be selected predynamics, pre/post-fader, selected side chain signal (gate or compressor) and compressor/gate attenuation level.
The eight, centrally located Group Matrix sends add pre or post-fader group signals to stereo matrix busses. Separate group inject ports enable the stereo matrix signals to be inserted (with pan) into a group or – more usefully – as an extra stereo input to either of the two main stereo mix busses. In turn, an array of Mix and Group Assignment switches assign these busses to the pair of stereo mix busses and to targeted group.
Paragon II’s level metering is clear and unambiguous. Each input offers a 10-segment LED barometer with peak display; 10-segment output meters feature a sum button which, when depressed, causes the summing-amp output level to be displayed – very handy for checking overloaded buss levels. A series of switches control the main group signal feeds and override any scene mute or SIP mute that’s currently active. Usefully, a Safe button removes all external control from the group section, causing the internal logic control to ignore any future global commands, such as scene recall. Each Mono and Stereo Mix module features a 20-segment LED bargraph meter with a -36 dB to +21 dB range.
But I’m out of space. Paragon II live-production console is flexible, powerful, brilliantly laid out and sounds stunning. My list of stand-out features includes full reset logic control with centralized bus assignment, intuitive dynamics, sweet-sounding EQ, comprehensive solos, fully integrated direct outputs on each channel, plus eight stereo matrixes with additional stereo inputs that can be routed directly to the multiway matrix and hence to the multiple mono and stereo outputs. I would be hard pressed to think of a situation where Paragon II couldn’t offer at least a couple of routing solutions, with others that you discover the deeper you delve into the product. Truly invigorating!
Contact: Audio Toys, Inc at 301-776-7879, www.ati.com.
My warmest thanks to Van Metschke, chief audio engineer at Mariner’s Church, Irvine, Cal.
Mipro MI-808 Wireless In-Ear Monitor System
by Will James
Last year I told you about a remarkable company called Mipro, makers of quality wireless microphones and receivers at inexpensive prices. Now I have in my hands a wireless in-ear monitor system from them, the MI-808.
The MI-808 is a two-channel, frequency agile, true diversity wireless in-ear monitor system comes in three parts: the transmitter (808T), the stereo receiver belt pack (808R) and the ear buds (E8P). Each section comes in an impact proof plastic carrying/transport case.
The 808T transmitter is a half-rackspace steel unit. It is well laid out and user friendly. The front panel features the actual control portion of the unit, with a push on/off button, flanked by a 1/4-inch TRS stereo headphone output and a volume control.
In the center on the receiver is the display containing the channel assignment and frequency, with the navigation keys to its right. The navigation keys allow for access to the varying parameters, which are channel/frequency, limiter control and stereo/mono modes. The rear panel provides location for the antenna connection, two unbalanced 1/4-inch TS outputs, and two (L and R) XLR connectors for balanced connection to the mixer. The case for the 808T also houses the antenna, the power cable, a couple of steel rack ears and the power supply.
The belt pack, the 808R is simple and to the point, having a channel display in the very center of the front panel, adjacent to the L/R balance thumb wheel control and the dual unbreakable antennae. The receiver features a metal magnesium alloy case. The top of the pack contains the volume control for the ear buds, the 1/8-inch TRS output connector, and two LEDs – one indicating RF signal presence of the appropriate frequency, and the other showing power to the belt pack is on. The back of the pack contains a very sturdy steel clip for belt or pants wearing. The battery door is located on the bottom front, and has a pair of spring loaded latches to secure the closure of the door. The door swings downward to reveal the battery compartment (two AA batteries), the channel assignment button for 16 different frequencies, the limit engagement switch and the mono/stereo selector.
The actual in-ear speakers, or ear buds, are shaped to the industry standard, allowing insertion into your personal ear molds, thus allowing for exacting comfort for extended periods. The kit also offers numerous soft rubber, washable in-ear inserts, if custom molded ear inserts are a little out of the budget.
I already had a nice pair of custom fitted in ear molds, courtesy of Michael Santucci and the nice folks at Sensaphonics. I was able to remove my own ear buds and insert the MI-808 ear buds into my custom molds quite easily, as the Mipro buds are of a standard size and offered no excess protrusion from my ear.
The first use of the Mipro buds came at a concert with Doc Severinsen and the Phoenix Symphony at the Dodge Theatre in downtown Phoenix. I routinely mix mains and monitors from the same console on these gigs (my own Soundcraft Series Five), and although no one on stage was using in ear monitors, having a cue monitor speaker at the mix console is a little impractical, and potentially too loud for adjacent audience members, so ear-worn monitors were just the ticket for volume control and ease of use. I used an open stereo aux on my console to build my own in ear mix, mostly to experience the bandwidth of the Mipro ear buds, and I was pleasantly surprised by the wide spectrum of sound.
The highs were very crisp, the mids very
brilliant. We all know that the lows are sometimes a little lacking in ear-worn monitors, but these had what I would consider a reasonable/useable amount of low frequency response. The RF path was totally glitch-free, with no fading, fritzing or drop-out. The noise level, even at full volumes, was pretty much nonexistent.
I must offer this little side bar regarding the safe use of ear worn monitors. These are not meant to be abused, and prolonged exposure to extreme sound pressure levels will result in deafness and loss of frequency response by the user. In-ear monitors should be used with care and moderation in sound levels and period of time actually used. There are limiters available in most ear-worn monitors, and you should consider their use. That being said, I used these Mipro ear-worn monitors at what I would consider moderate levels, without using the built-in limiter circuit, and experienced clear, succinct sound.
I tested the Mipro in-ear monitor system on 12 occasions, most of those times the input to the transmitter was receiving signal from the cue output of the monitor console. Each time, the Mipro system performed flawlessly, with no adjacent channel reception of signal, showing me that the filtering circuitry is excellent.
I found the Mipro MI-808 in-ear monitor system to be of excellent quality. The RF path was clean, quiet and interference-free. The ability of the belt pack to filter out unwanted RF frequencies was superb. The construction of the Mipro system is top-shelf stuff and will offer many miles of trouble free use. If you are in the market for an excellent ear worn monitor system that is easy on the checkbook, I urge you to check out this system.
Will James is owner and chief engineer of Atlantis Audio and Lighting.