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Fairlight Dream Constellation XT Digital Post Production Console

For more than 30 years Fairlight has enjoyed an enviable reputation as an innovator of powerful non-linear editors that can be found within leading film and post facilities around the world. The company's forays into console design, however, have been more tentative.

For more than 30 years Fairlight has enjoyed an enviable reputation as an innovator of powerful non-linear editors that can be found within leading film and post facilities around the world. The company’s forays into console design, however, have been more tentative. Joint developments with such firms as Amek produced some interesting examples of the genus, but lacked a range of user functions and technical features to set the world alight. But that was then; the new Dream Constellation XT Series will go head to head with the competition and, in many aspects, beat them at their own game.

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Dream Constellation XT is best described as an integrated large-format digital mixer with a built-in multitrack recorder – everything you would need to build and mix tracks against picture in a variety of post/film applications. Constellation can accommodate up to 240 channels routed to a total of 72 mix bus assignments. The available buses are divided up, as required, between the main bus, eight sub busses and 12 auxiliary sends – all of which can be formatted under software as 7.1-channel formats – in addition to 16 mono multitrack busses. A six-band EQ section with filters and a two-stage dynamics processor can be assigned to 144 of the 240 signal channels. Channel inputs can be selected between live feeds, tracks, returns, busses and loudspeaker sets.

Bus System

The Constellation XT’s bussing system is truly comprehensive, allowing multiple surround formats to be set up simultaneously, as well as conventional stem-format recording assignments. Grouping and panning via the built-in mix matrix extend these capabilities as necessary. I/O ports include analog, AES and MADI digital formats, with free internal routing of inputs, outputs and busses between external and internal destinations. Monitoring includes programmable fold-down and up modes to provide switching to as many as nine sets each of control room loudspeakers that can be configured for any bus format.

Fairlight has recently introduced modular chassis with angle sections to provide custom configurable frame sizes from one to seven bays – each of which can be configured with fader panels, channel-assign panels, In Line Panels and meter bridges. The Constellation XT control surface connects to Fairlight’s QDC Engine, which houses a variable number of Channel Assign Panel (CAP), Editor Panel and a Channel Select panel. Available spaces – two on the three-bay and six on the five-bay – can be filled with additional fader panels to a maximum of 60, CAP panels or an optional TFT screen. In addition to conventional channel faders with solo and mute buttons, each fader panel houses 12 motorized touch-sensitive rotary faders and panning controls. LED indicators above each fader display bus assignment to main, subs and multitrack busses. (If the source is being used as a track feed, a useful LED indicates the track’s safe/ready arming status.) Separate LEDs indicate automation modes, including Touch, Latch, Safe, Read, Write and Trim. A meter bridge houses main and channel meters.

The Constellation XT system architecture enables an amazing degree of flexibility in terms of configuration options for a number of key functions, including fader assignments, panel layouts, bus configurations, dynamics, panning and auxiliaries. Configuration setups can be accessed either locally channel-by-channel, or globally via the central controller. Constellation also offers full automation of every system parameter, including processing, routing and third-party plug-ins. But it is also possible to select nonautomated functions via a useful Parameter Enable Matrix that dramatically simplifies complex control selections. Usefully, automation data is written into the same recorder project file, streamlining project management.

Layout of the Constellation control surface and edit controller is extremely intuitive with no control being far away from the operator’s central position. There is plenty of visual feedback of the current status of each channel, courtesy of clearly and cleverly labeled LEDs plus backlit control knobs and buttons. Faders can also be mapped in convenient groups. Each rotary control features a useful tricolor LED that indicates the current mode: Recording Mode, Automated Mode or Trim Mode.

The Constellation Channel Assign Panel is divided into five subsections for Input, Dynamics, EQ, Aux Sends and Surround Pan. While the Input section accesses parameters such as level, phase, insert, I/O patch, plug-ins and bus assignment, Dynamics controls a two-stage processor with gate and either an expander or limiter. The sweet-sounding six-band EQ features switchable filter types with dedicated level and frequency controls; upper and lower bands can be switched between shelving and low/high-pass, while the inner four bands are fully parametric, including shelving. Each band can be independently switched in/out of automation mode.

OLED Magic

A new optional In-Line Panel (ILP) for Constellation XT takes the device to another level of user convenience. Fitted with 72 OLEDs (Organic Light Emitting Diodes), the panel provides both dedicated and assignable controls of channel parameters, including EQ, dynamics, AUX, Sends, surround panner and plug-ins settings. This remarkable hardware is designed to offer – as the name neatly suggests – a more traditional channel strip approach that supports the 12 faders located in an adjacent panel but offers a wide choice of assignabliity. Above each fader the ILP channel strip features an In/Out switch, six on/off toggle switches and six touch-sensitive rotary encoders with companion high-resolution OLED displays.

The technology requires little electrical power yet produces high-resolution, self-luminous displays without backlighting. The result Ð as can be seen on the Constellation XT Ð is a thin, compact display that enables a greater number as well as larger displays than conventional technologies. The displays also have a wide viewing angle – up to 160 degrees – and 16 gray scales meaning mixers will always be able to read the display no matter how much they move around.

Each ILP boasts 72 OLEDs that display a wide range of channel parameters; additional LEDs show automation status – including record, play, trim – for all knobs and switches. In Mode One, every ILP channel strip can be set to display either channel EQ, dynamics, AUX sends, panning or plug-ins; a series of buttons enable the user to select which filters or plug-ins are to be assigned to these controls. Usefully, a second mode lets the user expand a selected filter across two adjacent modules, simply by double clicking a rotary encoder. A third mode – The ‘Fat Channel’ in Fairlight-speak – allocates the entire ILP to a single channel so that the user can simultaneously control all 12 Aux sends, 28 EQ parameters, 18 Dynamics parameters, seven pan controls and any selected plug-ins inserted. A Super-Fine mode provides a resolution of 2,500 steps for each parameter, with an associated display for the user. The result is a comprehensive, high-resolution world view with visual feedback of every system parameter. Phew!

The independent dynamics sections per channel comprise a dedicated compressor with threshold, level, compression ratio, attack time, release time, hold time and gain make-up control, plus a second section that can be configured as a limiter, expander or gate. Aux Send controls 12 auxiliary busses, with dedicated controls and pans for the first four sends and two switchable sets for the eight remaining buses. Aux sends can be set to feed any bus type from mono thru 7.1. Impressive!

As might be expected, the channel pan and divergence controls work with mono and multiformat channels. Also available: Spread, which affects the width of the signal feeding a pan control; and Rotate, which spins the entire sound field. Individual level and pan controls are provided for a dedicated LFE or subwoofer output.

Nonlinear Audio Editor

Having access to a full-function built-in 96-track DAW with sample-accurate editing is a powerful addition for any digital production console; pre-recorded files can be nudged to the now line and outputs accessed via replay channels and DSP. As a bonus, the same audio editing tools will also modify automation data that can be cut, copied and pasted between tracks and clips either with the audio or without the accompanying audio. And the companion Virtual Studio Runner provides archiving and delivery. The system automatically detects incoming files and makes them available for insertion into sessions.

The Editor Panel handles DAW functions, transport controls and autolocate plus talkback, monitor selection and master fader. A central LCD screen shows menu functions such as edit modes, bank switching, project navigation plus system setup. A dedicated pad accesses three banks of nine operator-programmable macros. Unlike most hardware-based DAWS, the Constellation editor also accommodates more than 160 VST-compliant software plug-ins, including reverbs, delays, flangers, chorus, EQ and dynamic filters. Parameters are mapped to control-surface faders and controls with – and here’s the brilliant bit – a graphic of the current plug-in displayed on the VDU screen.

I particularly liked the Binnacle edit controller, which centralizes all editing and transport functions around a jog wheel; users can select either one- or two-handed mode. Named after the housing of a ship’s compass, the Binnacle dramatically speeds up access and decision making functions, and becomes second nature after just a few minutes of operation. Two-handed editing is a major time saver, with dedicated keys for Transport & Range, Play/Jog, Jump, From/To, Copy, Cut, Erase, Trim/Slip and Fade. Single-key shortcuts also can be assigned to key operations.

Bottom Line

As will be appreciated, the Dream Constellation XT digital production console maintains the tradition of Fairlight’s Dream Series, with a well laid-out control surface and integral DAW that was designed specifically to support fast access to playback sources, with fully integrated mixing and processing. The control surface is very well laid out with everything close to hand Ð even distant control elements are no more that an arm’s reach away. Front-to-back depth is not excessive, enabling quick access even for the vertically challenged. The master TFT screens remain bright and clear, even under high ambient light levels, with good tactile feedback from the touch screen surface. Fairlight’s remarkably clear and bright OLED technology maps control parameters to tactile controls on the in-line panel, with full-color GUI displays. (One particularly elegant touch: an on-screen keyboard eliminates the need for a separate, tray-mounted QWERTY device.).

All in all, Fairlight Dream Constellation XT – not wishing to avoid a much-used cliché – is a Console for All Reasons – intuitive, blindingly fast, highly connectable and an excellent choice for recording, mixing and editing chores. Bring it on!

Contact Fairlight at 323-460-6857,

Constellation Dream Anthem

At the October New York AES Convention, Fairlight unveiled the Dream Anthem multiconfiguration digital console, which can be laid out in a split-recording or a classic in-line board, or an advanced audio post production console. Split Mode consists of 48 fully-featured inputs with 96 fully-featured monitor returns – each with an associated recording and playback track – for a total of 144 channels. In-Line Mode is configurable in two settings: Classic In-Line with 96 long faders and 96 short faders, where a fully-featured channel’s resources are shared between the input and the monitor path; and In-Line Plus, which offers 72 long faders and 72 short faders delivering full six-band EQ and dynamic section allocated to both input and return paths. Channels can be sent to any of the four main mix busses, each of which is user-configured up to 7.1-channel formats, a feature that allows stereo and surround formats to be mixed from within a single Mix project.

The third mode, Constellation, offers the industry-proven post technologies synonymous with the Dream Series. The console can quickly move back and forth between modes, enabling users to maximize the resourcefulness of their studio environment.