(click thumbnail)With its Venue digital console, Digidesign has added a highly capable digital mixing platform for the live sound market. After nearly three years of development Digidesign, well known for its studio standard Pro Tools, has created a mixing console that represents an innovative design for mixing live sound.
This designed-and-manufactured-in-U.S. console utilizes a systems-oriented approach with studio DSP plug-ins.
Venue is the only live sound console to feature an optional direct link to industry standard Pro Tools LE and HD systems. When using the console, I found there was no tradeoff between flexibility, ease of use, and sound quality — when compared to analog consoles. Venue delivers all of the convenience and flexibility of a digital mixing system, while providing some of the best possible audio performance and fidelity I’ve used in any console. It is ideal for touring sound, houses of worship, theaters and sound contractors.
The Venue consists of the D-Show Standard Redundant System, priced at $65,495, which includes the main mixing console, D-Show side car, expandable digital mix engine, an embedded computer running custom Windows XP D-Show control software, an optional multichannel digital snake ($995), and a remote-controlled stage rack with 48 inputs and 8 outputs.
The redundant system configures all of the components with backup power supplies. By adding an additional stage rack, $14,995 list, you can expand the capabilities to a full 96 mic inputs, making this product very competitively priced.
The standard configuration includes 48 mic preamp input channels and can run 64 input channels. (including 16 effects returns). The console is equipped with 24 built-in graphic EQs and enough spare DSP power to run dozens of plug-ins. Venue utilizes the same family of Motorola DSP processors as Pro Tools, with 24-bit resolution on I/O. Internal 48-bit processing, said to be the highest offered by any manufacturer, provides maximum resolution for the onboard EQ/Dynamics sections and offers great headroom specs on the mix busses.
VENUE uses high quality, remote-controlled mic preamps based on the input stage of Digidesign’s acclaimed PRE-peripheral for Pro Tools|HD. Each balanced input is hand-trimmed during manufacture to maximize common mode noise rejection. The analog signal is captured using the latest, low-latency A/D converters and passes via a digital snake to D-Show’s DSP mix engine.
A well-designed work surface provides ease of use and is conducive to analog mixing style operation. Each input channel strip includes delay, variable-frequency high-pass filter, compressor/limiter, expander/gate, and built-in four-band parametric EQ switchable to emulate analog or digital characteristics. The manual says the special “analog” mode accurately emulates the sonic characteristic of a “renowned” live sound console. I
wonder which console that could be.
The Venue has 100mm motorized faders that can be labeled with a six-character name display and up to 32 characters in the patch bay display. It features eight DCA (Digitally Control Amplifier) faders for convenient grouping of any inputs. A channel strip copy/paste function allows operators to copy an entire channel input or output and paste it to any desired location. There are 10-segment bi-color meters on every input channel and effects return channels, and six-segment meters on input dynamics, providing good visual feedback.
Another unique Venue feature is the innovative Personal Q (PQ) system — consisting of wired remote controllers. They communicate directly with the D-Show mix engine, allowing performers to adjust the relative level and stereo placement of elements in their monitor mix.
In situations where the gig doesn’t support the luxury of having a separate monitor mixer, the front of house engineer simply sets up the starting monitor mix and is then free to focus on other tasks while the performers fine-tune their individual mixes.
The single-stage rack in a standard 19-inch format handles ins/outs for stage microphone and line input and output signals and accommodates up to 48 remote-controlled preamps and up to 48 outputs. On-stage location of the remote is ideal to ensure that mic signals are converted to digital close to the source, preserving maximum fidelity.
An optional Digital Stage Input (DSI) retails for $1,995, and Digital Stage Output cards are available for direct digital connection from Digidesign Venue to digital speaker processors, playback/record devices, and other ancillary equipment.
I used the Venue for four days mixing Tony Bennett and his quartet at the Caesar’s Palace showroom in Atlantic City. Our first day started by the removal an existing Amek Recall console out of the sound booth which audio engineers Paul Swenson and Dave Wink told me had never been removed. After lifting that 600-pound console up and out of a booth, we really appreciated putting in the Venue main and sidecar consoles at only 194 pounds! Digidesign’s Jeff Priepot spent a day with me and the house audio staff, orienting us on the features of the console.
After placing the console, we ran the digital snake that consisted of two standard coaxial cables with BNC connectors and transports up to 48 signals, bidirectional over distances up to 500 feet. The system we used was dual-redundant so there was a backup for everything.
This is the only digital console that in the event of a system failure or host CPU restart not only continues to pass audio (as long as power is still on), but the control surface maintains control over the faders and mutes, which makes it exceptionally reliable.
I immediately appreciated Digidesign’s control surface design when laying out my show on this console. Usually when mixing on a digital console, you must orient your input layout in layers or banks since you have less faders than actual inputs on large shows. The Venue console offers a layered topology for the channel banks, with a maximum of four layers deep.
A unique feature of the Venue is that the D-Show console’s mix engine directly supports the use of software DSP TDM plug-ins. Unlike some digital consoles that require additional racks of traditional outboard processing, this console allows you to purchase whatever effect or EQ you want as a plug-in such as Drawmer, Sony, Crane Song, TC Electronic and Eventide. Plug-ins eliminate the potential for hum, buzz and increased noise floor. Plug-ins can be inserted on individual or all channels desired, to free up outputs. One of the plug-ins offered is an analyzer called Troodon, which permits full RTA, transfer function, time alignment and impulse response display. Any signal can be routed directly to the analyzer without the need of a computer and patch cables.
When I listened to the console, I was impressed with the sound of the mic pre-amps and the flexibility and sound of the EQ section. Having mixed in this room many times on other consoles, the transparency and realism in the sound of the mix was obvious. I mixed six sends of monitors from FOH and used the graphics onboard and was able to use a wireless notebook to make changes using Digidesign D-Show software.
With a FireWire option in the console and Pro Tools LE, I recorded 18 tracks each night directly to my Toshiba laptop. Now that is what I call the ability to make a board tape! The tracks were put on Layer B so I could listen the next day or even in my hotel room using an Mbox.
The Venue’s power to listen back, edit, make some quick recordings for the band to review, easily archive the shows quickly and inexpensively, puts this console in a separate league. If your show uses Pro Tools for playback to supplement the band, which is becoming commonplace, it is as easy as using the FireWire or HDx link.
Most engineers have seen the advantages that digital consoles bring to the live sound marketplace. Digidesign’s Venue has taken it one step further. With the future of sound reinforcement becoming so integrated with recording; (i.e. Live Nation CDs after the show, and tracks being used more and more to supplement live bands) the Venue is well-designed for the future.
Digital consoles are becoming commonplace in live sound, and it is apparent that the division between traditional mixing functions, speaker processing, system analysis, recording, and show control are becoming more integrated. If power, future expandability, and value are something you look for in a live sound console you should definitely check out the Digidesign Venue. Highly recommended.