Audient Aztec Live Console

The Audient Aztec is a fully modular front-of-house (FOH) live performance mixing console that includes several dedicated features to make it configurable as a monitor desk as well.
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Founded in 1997, UK audio manufacturer Audient PLC has made quick inroads to the live, studio and post production markets with its short list of well-received products.
Product PointsApplications: Fixed installation and touring live sound

Features: Fully-modular LCR-capable 32 - 48 channel FOH console; additional features for monitor use; four-band EQ with parametric mids and sweep HF and LF with switched bell/shelf curves; 12 auxiliaries (8 mono/2 stereo); 8 LED input meter on each channel; 8 subgroup outputs; 12 VCA subgroups; 12 x 8 matrix; mute and VCA assignment scene automation

Price: starts at $39,700

Contact: The ATI Group at 301-776-7879, Web Site.
Audient's product catalog includes the ASP500-series surround sound and bass management controllers, the ASP8024 studio console and the new Aztec live console, reviewed here.

The Audient Aztec is a fully modular front-of-house (FOH) live performance mixing console that includes several dedicated features to make it configurable as a monitor desk as well.

Company principals David Dearden and Gareth Davies (the two 'D's of U.K. manufacturer DDA) and Martyn Flood have brought to the Aztec their considerable experience as the original designers of several popular live mixing boards, including the DDA Q and QII, and the Midas XL2000 and Legend series consoles.

Features

The Aztec is designed for both touring and fixed-installation applications and can be fitted with 32, 40, or 48 mic/line input channels ($39,700, $44,800, and $49,900 respectively). All models include two stereo line level inputs for returns and a stereo "ambience" microphone input to facilitate in-ear monitor mixing. The model made available for review was the 48-input Aztec; unless otherwise indicated, physical specifications refer to this model.

One of the board's most noticeable features is its unique "exoskeleton," a tubular aluminum frame structure that encages and supports the board. The exoskeleton also provides physical protection and easy means for handling and transportation of the desk.

Audient offers optional touring gear for the Aztec including a heavy-duty flight case, redundant power supply units and LittleLite illumination. An optional VU meter bridge is also available.

General features of the Aztec include peak-reading LED output meters switchable between groups, matrix and auxiliary outputs; 12 auxiliary outputs configured as eight mono and two stereo sends; eight subgroup outputs and a 12 x 8 matrix. Each auxiliary, subgroup and matrix output on the console has balanced insert points. All audio connections on the console are +4 dBu balanced, with the exception of a duplicate set of main outs and ext. monitor outs (phono jacks at -10 dBV).

The board can be configured for stereo or left/center/right (LCR) panning with separate L, C, and R busses and individual trims on each of the output faders. Panning mode is individually adjustable per input channel via a LR to C blend pot; Audient has incorporated a 3 dB drop at the full center position of the L/R busses.

Control and automation features include 12 dedicated faders for level, mute and solo control of the Aztec's 12 assignable VCA groups. MIDI message output for control of outboard equipment and 999-scene mute and VCA assignment automation is also standard. Up to nine additional scenes can be inserted per main scene (e.g. Scene 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and so on up to 999.9).

The input channels feature in/out switchable four-band equalization. The high-mid and low-mid filters are fully parametric, and the "treble" and "bass" filters are frequency-sweepable and provide a switch to select bell or shelf modes. All input channels also have a sweepable 12 dB per octave high-pass filter just after the input amplifier stage.

Audio devices inserted on the channel's balanced 1/4-inch insert points can be switched in and out of the audio path via the "Ins In" button. Each input channel has an eight-segment input meter located to the right of the channel fader. Also on each input fader pack is a VCA "Set" button, 12 VCA group LED indicators, an automation "Safe" button and illuminated solo and mute buttons.

According to the manufacturer's specifications, preamps are high-performance transconductance microphone amplifiers with variable gain from unity to 60 dB; line level inputs have a gain range of -10 dB to +25 dB. Mic inputs can take a maximum level of >+21 dBu (>2 k ohms, min gain) and line inputs can take a maximum level of >+35 dBu (>10 kohms, min gain). Crosstalk and mute attenuation of the main buss assigns and fader mutes is >90 dB (@ 1 kohm).

Audient provides as standard the ability to link the audio busses (on XLR or DB-25 connectors), VCA control (15-pin D-sub) and automation systems (9-pin D-sub) of the Aztec console to additional Aztec consoles and extenders.

The Aztec console boasts many other features not covered due to space limitations. The operating manual, data sheets and brochures can be downloaded from the Audient web site.

In Use

Evaluation of the Audient Aztec 48-channel console was done in a live performance hall and at an Audient demonstration room.

I first saw and heard the Aztec console at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., a popular 1,200-capacity nightclub that has been host to a wide variety of musical artists ranging from Bob Dylan to Red Hot Chili Peppers to Vince Gill.

9:30 Club Head Engineer Shawn "Gus" Vitale used the Aztec over the course of several weeks during which the list of performers included James Brown, Guided By Voices, Pork Tornado and Paul Weller. Vitale contributed his experience and thoughts to this review.

The board was easy to set up and strike, thanks to its low weight (231 lb.) and exoskeleton frame design - two people could easily and comfortably move console. Vitale emphasized the importance of a board's handling ease in a club like the 9:30, where other touring FOH consoles are swapped for the house mixer on a regular basis.

The flexibility and well-thought out organization of the Aztec's rear panel also contributes its ease of setup. Most audio inputs and outputs are provided on both DB-25 connectors (wired to TASCAM DA-98 analog standard) and individual balanced connectors (most are on XLR, with TRS 1/4-inch jacks for insert inputs and outputs, channel line ins and channel direct outs).

The audio fidelity of the mic preamps, and the mixer in general, was excellent - the board also has very good noise and crosstalk performance specs. One thing to note is that the first units did not have a pad for the mic pre but subsequent builds do have a pad and older models can be retrofitted.

We found the VCA control and scene automation to be both easy to use and well-implemented. The VCA subgroup channel LED indicators provide an quick visual reference. The inclusion of balanced sets of insert inputs and outputs on just about everything (channels, mains, subgroups, auxiliary sends...) was a real bonus.

Another handy feature is that the Aztec allows panning between even and odd subgroup pairs by engaging the "SG Pan" button and selecting the appropriate subgroups assigns(e.g. 1/2, 3/4, etc.).

Considering there are 12 auxiliary sends, it is understandable that each does not have its own pre/post switch. Audient does provide some flexibility here, especially compared to boards that provide only permanently pre and post sends. On the Aztec, aux sends 1 through 8 can be placed pre or post fader in groups (1, 2/3, 4/5, 6/7/8). Auxes 9/10 and 11/12 are configured as stereo sends, each with a pan and level pot, and each pre or post selectable.

One of my favorite features is the Aztec's built-in provisions for live multitrack recording and playback. Post-preamp balanced direct outputs are available for every input channel on both 1/4-inch and on 25-pin D-sub connectors.

For listening back to a multitrack recording, each channel also has a direct input (in addition to the standard line and mic level inputs). The balanced direct inputs are on 25-pin D-Sub connectors in groups of eight channels. The direct input is routed to the channel strip by pressing the "D In" button just under the Mic/Line switch.

Kudos to Audient for including an independent level attenuator knob for each direct output; this can save lots of hassle - or even the recording - when going into a multitrack recorder. The ability to easily play back the source multitrack recording through the same channels allows for some interesting possibilities like playing back the sound check or show for the performer right after recording, or playing back the signals for preliminary set up/sound check in the next venue etc.

Vitale said Phish drummer Jon Fishman and his solo band Pork Tornado put the Aztec's recording features to good use when they made a multitrack digital recording of their 9:30 Club appearance.

We did have a few quibbles with the ergonomics and detailing of certain areas of the board, especially in the channel EQ section. Most notable was the small size of the frequency adjustment knobs and insufficient labeling of the EQ section in general.

For instance, the low-mid frequency knob is labeled .1 kHz and 2 kHz at its extremes with nothing but dots in between; boost/cut knobs have no dB indication whatsoever. To some extent, one can make the "use your ears" argument, but that does not hold up when trying to make quick live changes or when writing down mix settings or recalling written settings.

Summary

Overall, we found the Audient Aztec console to be an excellent sonic performer with lots of nice features. Physically, the board is very light and easy to handle thanks to its unique aluminum exosketon frame, and the well-organized rear panel uses high-quality Neutrik connectors.

The matrix and routing provisions are extensive without becoming confusing, and the additional implementation of dedicated level-adjustable direct outs and "remix" ins makes easy work of multitrack live recording and playback.