Drawing upon the legacy of the much-respected System 5 Digital Audio Console, the new Euphonix Max Air Digital Broadcast Console is an application-specific variant that utilizes components from the central DSP Core, I/O racks and peripherals, but with a totally new control surface designed for live on-air broadcasting and live-to-tape production. No frills, no fuss; Max Air’s designers have not cluttered the surface with unnecessary controls and ephemera – such as console automation. It does one job, and it does it extremely well.
Product PointsApplications: Television broadcast
Key Features: 96-channel; 24-bit; 48 kHz sample rate; onboard sample rate converters; 5.1, 7.1 surround sound; four-band parametric EQ; high, low, band-pass filters; onboard digital patch bay; mix-minus, talkback functions; Ethernet
Price: starts at $150,000
Contact: Euphonix at 650-855-0400, Web Site.
While System 5 features a deeper control surface with expansion to over 300 channels, its higher price might be too rich for broadcast stations that do not need all of system’s processing power.
With its fixed 96-channel count and more cost-effective pricing, Max Air is designed for local call-letter stations and TV news applications.
The heart of Max Air is the DF64 DSP Core, a rackmounted unit that performs all audio processing, including channels, dynamics and equalization, plus generation of mix, record, auxiliary and monitor busses. Max Air uses a single, broadcast-friendly mixer model that offers 96 channels, 24 groups/clean feeds, 12 aux sends, 32 mix busses, N-1 mix-minus output per channel, and 28 external inputs. All analog/digital I/O is via MADI format (56 channels on coax at 48 kHz, 24-bit). A standard configuration includes four MADI input and three MADI output ports for 224 x 168 I/O connections; adding an optional SH612 Studio Hub router increases this to a total of eight MADI input and six MADI output ports (448 x 336). In certain applications, such as remote trucks, a further Studio Hub can be added with Grass Valley/Thompson software that allows console I/O to be used as the facility router’s Audio Level. (An arrangement that might save money and provide all areas with full access to the console’s I/O, including mix, group and aux busses that turn up as sources to the video system.)
Analog and digital inputs and outputs are converted to and from MADI via a range of 28-channel converters using XLR for analog and either 100 ohm XLR or 75 ohm BNC connectors for digital. All digital inputs feature built-in sample rate converters. Max Air runs at the conventional DTV sample rate of 48 kHz and 24-bit I/O is standard on all digital ports.
Microphone inputs are accommodated via ML530 Mic/Line Interfaces that contains 24 remote-controlled mic pre-amps; up to seven interfaces can be connected to Max Air and extended up to one mile with the Euphonix FiberLink option. An MC524 Monitor Controller provides analog monitor outputs: main (7.1), Alt 1 (5.1), and Alt 2 (stereo) control room monitoring, SLS (7.1), and cues 1-3 (each stereo) studio monitoring, two talkback preamps, and four listen microphone preamps.
Most Max Air components feature dual power entry connectors and redundant power supplies. All intelligent system components communicate with one another through a EuCon 100 mbps Ethernet switch and are independently addressable via TCP/IP topologies. As I discovered, much of Max Air’s software and hardware design focuses on system and power supply redundancy for critical broadcast situations. Distributed industrial processing architecture is said to increase stability and speeds system recovery. For example, in the rare event of a control surface failure and subsequent reboot, Max Air continues to pass audio. All channels can be accessed on all functioning faders with no interruption to audio. In the unlikely event that all surface modules fail, full operation is still practical from the central section. Even a failure of a control module, will not permanently impact a studio’s mixing capabilities as those channels controlled by the temporarily lost strips can be brought up on remaining strips by recalling a different layout.
The fully assignable mixing surface can control up to 96 channels, mono channels being grouped as stereo or any multichannel format up to 7.1 – in this way one fader commands between one to eight logical input, output or submaster channels. Customers assemble Max Air pretty much like an erector set. Each CM416 Module contains 16 physical faders or strips that can control up to 32 channels (Swap and Main layers per strip). Used in conjunction with the CM404 Center Section Module, the smallest configuration of Max Air can provide on-surface access to a total of 32 logical channels with eight master faders. Additional channel modules simply add more on-surface controls: either 16-channel strip CM416 or eight-channel strip CM416HL (left half blank) or eight -channel strip CM416HR (right half blank) modules. Unlike System 5, Max Air offers four assignable control knobs per module – again, less clutter means a more straightforward console layout, which can be a dramatic advantage when deadlines are tight and the pressure builds.
Channel sources are assigned to strips using a simple-to-understand Layouts function. Forty-eight different Layouts can be easily stored, recalled and remapped across the console surface. Layouts can also be used to place inputs most often used on the top fader layer, or inputs that should be grouped together (studio microphones, for example, or VTR outputs).
The Center Section features a 17-inch touch-sensitive LCD panel that display all system parameters – including I/O setups, channel assignments and file directories – in addition to high-resolution metering, EQ profiles, dynamics graphs, patch routing and other functions. A useful Channel View shows all channel parameters on a single display. Group View enables a channel’s group assignment to be viewed or, rather handy if you need to examine an errant signal path, the channels that are currently assigned to a target group. Similar screens are available for Aux and Mix busses. And a dedicated Mix Minus/Clean Feed screen allows individual N-1 output levels to be mapped to the assignable control knobs, complete with pre/post-fader selection.
Eight master faders situated beneath the LCD panel – directly in front of the operator – can be assigned to control audio subgroups, level control groups or any combination of channels. Their function is saved with console Layouts for easy recall.
Custom Knob Sets allow assignment of specific functions to the four remappable channel knobs. All screens are remarkably intuitive and easy to follow. Touch sensitive routing and channel selection is a snap, dramatically reducing the number of buttons that need to be provided on each channel strip. Now, by recalling the PatchNet Screen, for example, console routing is easily recalled, modified and resaved as necessary.
It is obvious after just a short time at the control surface that Max Air has been ergonomically designed for fast access and clear display of critical functions. Max Air’s small physical footprint and central screen displays means that all physical controls are within easy reach of the operator. In terms of automated functions, the touch screen interface enables SnapShot Recall of all console settings; 48 SnapShots for different surface configurations are available. Touch-sensitive faders jump to new positions a soon as each system SnapShot is recalled; LED meters positioned at the side of each fader can be set to show a variety of signal levels. Twin eight-character arrays display sources – serving as “electronic scribble strips” – while routing is clearly shown at the top of each channel strip. Usefully, the in-channel delay, metering, insert point, EQ, filters, dynamics and fader can be arranged in any order to provide a highly flexible signal topology. Full surround-sound panning for LCRS and 5.1-channel layouts is provided on all channels, with a comprehensive set of panning controls, plus companion monitor assignments.
Each channel features an A and B input with digital line gain, phase reverse and delay. If remote mic pre-amps are configured, the analog mic gain, phantom and high pass filter can be controlled from the corresponding channel strip. Max Air’s four bands of parametric EQ sound extremely musical, and offer a dramatic amount of control per band. Two filters feature high-pass, low-pass, band-pass and notch settings. The dynamics section feature flexible compressor/limiter or expander/gate operation, with frequency-conscious side chain and linked access across multiple channels for stereo input and multichannel group outputs, for example. And since each channel can be routed to any combination of the 32 available mix busses and 24 clean feed/group matrix busses using the on-screen PatchNet 224 x 224 digital router, setting up complex stems and masters assignment is a breeze. Also, the 12 auxiliary busses, selectable pre/post-fader, can be set for mono or stereo operation. Finally, any channel may be included on the dedicated Mix Minus bus. The mix-minus button phase inverts the signal on the strip, adds it to the buss, and routes the resultant mix minus to the channel’s N-1 output. A GPI and Events System enables external control to and from cart machines, for example, and video switchers for audio-follows-video assignment.
Solo buttons on each channel strip can be set to PFL or AFL mode. Separate stereo AFL and PFL busses are featured, along with fader backstop PFL. Both busses can be routed to any loudspeaker, while PFL can be routed for external monitoring. Using dedicated buttons on each channel, output from a built-in talkback mic can be routed to that channel’s mix-minus output. Talkback can also be programmed to feed into any combination of output busses. (The internal talkback can also be linked to station’s talkback systems and IFB.)
The Stage 1 or “standard” Max Air comprises a Control Surface, DSP Core & System, computer-redundant power and AC mains, plus Level 1 RAID (mirrored) 40 GB drives for data and program storage, and on-board diagnostics. The optional Stage 2 adds a self-healing redundant DSP card that is fully integrated with the onboard diagnostics.
All in all, the new Euphonix Max Air Digital Broadcast Console demonstrates that for live on-air applications less can be more. By placing a minimum of controls on the surface – but ensuring that these are well-labeled critical knobs and switches – a great deal of clutter is kept out of the operator’s way. But when the time comes to adjust a desired function, it is there, color coded and easy to find. A remarkable achievement and, not surprisingly, one that is finding early success with a growing number of broadcasters. And with the company’s long-term experience with reliability and redundancy, users can expect to remain fully operational.