Crest X-VCA Console

In this day and age of new technology can there be a better front of house console? Have we seen all the market has to offer? Should we have analog, digital or some other form of hybrid? Well, Crest answers these and many more questions with their new high end X-VCA console.
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In this day and age of new technology can there be a better front of house console? Have we seen all the market has to offer? Should we have analog, digital or some other form of hybrid? Well, Crest answers these and many more questions with their new high end X-VCA console.
Product PointsApplications: Live sound, front of house, touring or club install

Key Features: 24 - 48 channels; four matrixes, left, right, center/mono; eight VCAs; eight groups; groups and LCR outs have internal dynamics

Price: Starts at $19,000

Contact: Crest Audio at 201-909-8700, Web Site.

Plus

+ Great mic preamps

+ Internal dynamics

+ True LCR capability

+ Sound quality

Minus

- Needs routing status lights

- Crowded rear jack panel

The Score: Overall, this is a great console that is versitile and performs sonically with all the big boys.
Features

Crest's X-VCA is chock full of impressive features starting with a variable configuration frame size of 24, 32, 40, or 48 mono and four stereo channels. Channel inputs offer both mic in on XLR, or line in on 1/4-inch TRS. Inserts per channel are dual point TRS, send and return. The studio quality mic preamp has a frequency response of ± 1 dB from 20 Hz to 20 kHz at +4 dBu from any input to any output. Noise is rated at output as less than -80 dBu with the output fader at 0 dB and 24 channels routed to source. Each input channels features switchable phantom power (48V), a 20 dB switchable pad and a switchable polarity reverse. All mono input channels feature a four band full parametric eq, while all stereo channels are sweepable in all four bands. Channel EQs feature gain control of ± 15 dB in all four bands with frequency ranges of 40 Hz to 20 kHz divided across the four bands. A high-pass filter is also available with a frequency range of 20 Hz to 400 Hz. There is also a direct output for all mono input channels.

The X-VCA has eight aux sends allowing for a variety of controls. The auxes can be assigned to be pre or post fader in pairs; i.e. 1and 2, 3 and 4, etc. They can also be converted to stereo pairs from a switch at the master section. This allows for example 1 and 2 to be one stereo send. The knob for one will control the level sent, while the knob for 2 will be a pan control for left to right within the stereo field. Aux send 5 - 6 and 7 - 8 are already set up with concentric knobs for ease of use if in stereo mode.

Each channel has its own level meter next to the fader. It is a simple five-segmented LED meter. One green LED at the bottom is for signal present while the next three represent -6 dB, 0 dB, and +8 dB. The last LED, which is red, is a peak overload indicator. Next to the fader are all of your routing assignments. Simple push buttons allow signal to be sent to any of the eight groups or stereo out, left, right or mono and lastly a left-center-right configuration. This LCR setup uses the mono out for the center send and allows the pan control to distinguish the appropriate levels to all three outputs within the soundfield.

Working your way through the X-VCA you will find the bankroll placed in the master section. Here we have the aux output control, eight group masters, matrix sends and master control, and eight VCAs. The real motherlode is the dynamics attached to all group outs. This consists of variable ratio compressor/limiter and a downward expander gate that can be use separately or together. There are also output EQs and RMS limiters on the primary stereo and mono outputs. Now all this can be controlled and monitored in the master section via the group dynamics section. The controls consist of threshold, ratio, and soft knee switch, a vox and perc switch for controlling the preset attack and release times, and a gain reduction meter. There is also a concentric threshold and ratio knob for gating control. You are able to link the comp and gate controls for stereo operation across two groups (odd and even) by a stereo link switch. Every mono input, group out, and stereo/mono out have insert capabilities as well as the internal dynamics.

The matrix section features four independently controlled matrixes assigned from the groups, left, right, and mono sends. There is also a post switch to the matrix, which allows the send to a matrix to be post fader - a nice feature if you need more outputs to be independently controlled from one another. Each channel and each output has its own mute control that can be controlled manually or programmed in as different mute scenes. The microprocessor controlled mute scenes can be programmed much like a lighting or theater console to provide up to 128 different scenes. This also corresponds to external MIDI ports to operate midi functions on other external gear such as effect units. There are eight manual (keyed) mute scenes and rest can be sequencenced via an up and down paging method with a "go" command key. VCA assigning is done in a similar fashion. By pressing the VCA edit switch you can assign any input or group channel to that VCA. Very easy and efficient.

The master section also features a pink noise generator that can be assigned and routed through the talkback control to main outputs. The talkback has and XLR in and level control with a momentary "soft" switch which can also be latched on. There are talk back in and headphone outs located on the top and front, under the armrest, for ease of use. You can also assign the left, right, center capability to the headphone and alternative outputs. The X-VCA has alternate output features in line with the main (LCR) and a monitor out. These can become quite useful in big venues for such things as assisted listening devices and closefield monitors or even press/video feeds for a corporate style show.

The entire X-VCA lines of consoles run off of an external power supply, the Crest 5A. Crest, thinking ahead, incorporated the ability to run redundant power supplies so that if one fails (God forbid) the other will take over without interruption. Knowing this should ease the stress of anyone who has ever had a power supply fail... it can be a show ender.

In Use

At first sight the X-VCA is really impressive, but once you have it sitting at front of house with a full band in front of you it just gleams. I was working with the 32-mono channel version with four stereo channels. It took a little bit of time to understand the routing and layout of the console to get a good feel for its ease of use. The channel strip starts at the top with the gain, pad, and phase reverse as any other console would. After that, the next section down contains the aux sends. Now if you're like me you've gotten used to some of the Japanese consoles that have the EQ section and then the aux. sends. With this said, I liked the layout because that the eq section of the channel is actually closer to the fader since you will reach for that more often (and need to get there quicker) than the aux sends. The meters are good and bright and placed next to the routing assignments for each channel. It would have been nice to have the routing assignment buttons light up so that you can easily glance at a channel and know what was routed where. One thing I have always liked with Crest consoles is the left, center, right capability. If you have the setup for that configuration it can really sweeten a good mix!

Now for the "meat" of the X-VCA. The mic preamps sound fantastic. Just as good as some of the higher priced British consoles. The output dynamics, which are across all the groups and main outs, are a wonderful feature. For the show that I used the X-VCA on, a corporate gig with a dance band for the entertainment, being able to assign the lectern and vocals across groups that have internal compression was easy and sounded fabulous. I was still more inclined to insert gates on drum channels due to the fact that the gates on the X-VCA groups are not frequency tunable. In the long run, big deal. One single rack space of four gates is easier to lug around than an entire rack of gates and comps. The guest engineer, who had never seen or even heard of the X-VCA, was very impressed. We came to the conclusion that this new generation of hybrid (yet lower priced) consoles is what we'll be seeing a lot more of.

Summary

Through out setup and show all, including myself, were thrilled with the superior sonic quality and versatility of the X-VCA. Previous to this, the last Crest console I had worked on was an old LM series. Crest has since jumped by leaps and bounds to get to the X-VCA. To quote another engineer working at RCI "This console rocks.... We need to own one!"

Review Setup
EAW KF 650 speakers; QSC amplifiers; dbx Drive Rack processor; Shure Beta 98, 58, SM 57, 56, Sennheiser MD 421, AKG 391 microphones.