Watch most any political talk show on cable TV. Mixing audio for more than one volatile guest – say as many as four to eight in some circumstances – is daunting to say the least.
Product PointsApplications: Broadcast, installation
Key Features: Acts as three processors by Grouping; Music and Speech settings; remote port; ability to chain processors; video-follow-audio capability; feedback immunity
Contact: Dan Dugan Sound Design at 415-821-9776, Web Site.
Mics left open lead to feedback situations and emphasize the hollow ringing of room tone when someone is speaking. Worse, phase cancellation from adjacent mics cause comb filtering, causing voices to sound tinny and lack character.
A set of outboard noise gates goes a long way in taming such a situation, but is not always the answer. Gates need to be properly tuned for each participant’s response, which could result in gate chatter on soft voices. And of course, when everybody starts shouting, there is no real control of overall gain.
Enter the Dan Dugan Sound Design Model D-2 Automatic Mixing Controller ($11,200), which offers intelligent control of multiple microphones with minimal (or no) intervention from an audio technician.
Television roundtable talk applications are by no means the extent of the D-2’s usefulness. Radio talk, sports broadcast, unattended PA for hotel conference halls, theatrical use of multiple-miked actors, and dialog recording on TV or movie sets can all benefit from the presence of a D-2.
Less obvious but other ses could be controlling multiple microphones for Webcasts and Internet teleconferencing. Too often, more emphasis is placed on video image than audio quality, and an expensive Webcast session may have little more than a boundary mic in the center of the table to pick up everyone. Web productions are fraught with bad audio.
A D-2 allows a mic for everyone, with much finer and faster control than can be offered by an A/V technician.
The Dan Dugan Sound Design D-2 replaced the earlier Model D and D-1. This is a two-unit system consisting of a control head and the processor itself, connected by a 10-foot, five-pin XLR cable.
On the back panel of the control processor are eight sets of XLR inputs and outputs, all analog. The D-2 uses internal DSP to do its magic, but does not take on AES-EBU digital audio. Also on the rear panel are MST (Music System Threshold) input jacks A through C, ADAT optical ports for linking additional D-2 processors, a serial port for remote control via PC, a logic port and an Ethernet port.
The control head offers an almost bewildering selection of buttons, indicator lights and gain meters. It quickly gets fairly familiar, and offers fast and simple control over the mics being controlled.
Typical noise gates require the setting of threshold sensitivity and downward expansion delay (fast or slow gating action). In some cases and with some voices, these can be touchy adjustments
However, the D-2 is not gate-based. It follows the action on all microphones in use, constantly varying the level on one or all. In Speech Mode (more on this in a moment), the ambient sound of one mic open always remains, rather than causing the impression of being jettisoned into the soundless vacuum of outer space, as a gate will do.
All you need to do is dial in how much weighting you wish to give particular channels (or just set them all to 0) and the unit does the rest.
As on conventional mixers, channels may be muted, overridden and even bypassed. They may also be assigned to one of three Groups for global control over depth and gain limiting, essentially making the D-2 act like three automatic mix controllers. Groups can span linked units.
It is helpful to locate the processor unit close to the audio console you wish to feed into; you will be connecting the D-2 through your console’s insert loops, so you may as well keep the cables short.
As the D-2 is not a gate system, it also is not an automated mixer per se. It does not combine all eight inputs plus music and mix it down to a dedicated master output. What it does is intelligently control audio levels going through it and pass them back into the mixer of your choice.
What gives the D-2 a wide advantage over typical noise gates is its ability to ride gain on the entire production. It looks at the total number of mics in action, boosts those mics that show activity and throttles back on all inputs so the total gain is kept in check. If you get several participants who talk at once, the overall gain is ducked slightly and remains consistent instead of banging into the red.
Speech mode got its due a few paragraphs ago. In Music Mode, the D-2 offers soft gating that rides along the top of the overall ambient level, detected and regulated by a reference mic that listens to everything, plugged in to one of the Music System Threshold input jacks on the rear panel. A band in performance could duck background vocal mikes when not in use, automatically shifting the threshold when the band plays loud or soft, referenced to the remote sensing microphone.
If you wish to bypass the process and run mics hot into the console, each channel on the D-2 has a bypass relay that straight-wires the input to the output. The remote interface on the rear panel will not do bypassing, but can instead mute desired channels. The serial port, however, will allow automated bypassing with the use of a computer.
Speaking of the logic port, it will allow you to interface the D-2 with a video switcher for video-follow-audio production of roundtable talk shows. This allows rapid automated switching of cameras when a participant speaks, avoiding the dreaded on-screen images of heads that don’t talk when the technical director is slow on the uptake.
If you wish to control more than one D-2, several units can be ganged via ADAT optical cables. The units need to be connected in a ring; the final unit’s optical out plug must be connected back to the optical in of the first processor.
Is the external switching power supply much of a problem for some? Okay, so it is another line-lump to reel in and deal with. But it also means Dugan did not have to design a power supply for the D-2, putting most of the R&D muscle into the product itself.
If there can be only one complaint to mention, it is the strobing of the indicators on the control head. In a totally dark control room or remote truck, the lights leave tails in the air when the eyes move rapidly.
After your console and recorder, the Dan Dugan D-2 may be one of the more expensive outboard devices ($11,200) in your setup or control room. But what it does it does very well.
TV production houses that do roundtable talk will want one of these for each studio. Theaters and opera houses that mic their talent with wireless units absolutely need one of these. And companies that produce video and audio Webcasts should rent one of these for a week and hear what well-produced multimic audio for the Net is supposed to sound like.