With digital technology finding its way into every corner of the audio world, it’s no surprise that large format digital live sound consoles are popping up on the market. Innova-Son, a company out of France and new to the U.S. market, has introduced a line of digital mixers called the Sensory Live Series. I recently got a one-on-one tour of the Innova-Son console and I found it well designed and versatile.
Although the control surface is always configured the same, the 20-bit/48 kHz I/Os come in three packages. The first system is called Essential Live ($79,000) and is targeted for small to medium applications. Unlike the other packages, the Essential is designed to be used with a traditional multipin snake from the stage. The Audio Rack at FOH comes with 40 mic/line inputs, eight line inputs and 24 dry outputs, all analog. Communication from the Audio Rack to the control surface is via multipin connector.
Upgrades include the Stage Box, which has eight card slots labeled A through H. Each slot holds eight XLR mic/line inputs but can be fitted with output cards or digital cards if desired. All cards are hot-swappable. One card is included at the base price of $19,000 alongwith the touring reel, which holds 492 feet of coaxial cable. The beauty of this setup is that all 64 channels of audio are carried from the Stage Box to the console via two coaxial cables, no more snake! Another standard plus is the active digital splitter, which can break out to two more Sensory Live consoles.
For those wanting some heavy signal processing power there is the Hyper-Driver option, which allows you to add DSP to your mix bus outputs. This puts EQ, dynamics and delay out to any mix distribution. The basic upgrade is 24 channels but additional DSP can be added in eight-channel increments via the XO-8D cards ($5,400). Innova-Son claims total latency from input to output of less than 1.5 ms with full DSP engaged. The software includes all utilities and snapshot automation.
The second package is the Grand Live ($119,000), which is targeted toward larger applications. The Stage Box with 56 inputs, splitter and touring reel is standard. The Audio Rack at FOH has one card with eight mic preamps and eight line inputs via a multi-pin connector. Also included with this package are the 24 channels of DSP (Hyper-Driver) and Smart Time Automation.
The Digital Live package ($129,000) is much the same as the Grand Live, with the addition of eight digital AES-format I/Os. The inputs can handle sample rate conversion and can be synched from an external clock. The extra digital I/O option can also be purchased and added to the other packages via the DI-8S and DO-8A I/O cards ($2,200 each).
The control surface
The control surface is 69″ wide, 7.8″ high, 27.5″ deep, weighs 165 lb. and has 48 digital channels with the capability of full processing on each channel. The DSP includes dynamics, four-band fully parametric EQ plus low-cut filterand LCR panning. There are 20 Gr/Aux busses, all switchable pre or post, which are assignable via an output switching matrix. These busses are easily assigned by holding the channel select button, then assigning it to a bus master or a physical output. An input from the external I/Os is just as easily assigned to a channel. All setups can be saved and switched instantly.
As an aside, even though you may have more than 48 I/Os, the desk only addresses 48 inputs at one time. Different setups can be saved, however, that address different inputs. The console does not use an A/B input configuration, as do some others.
The center section of the desk is command central for the channels and is easily assigned by hitting any channel’s select button. Each function/parameter has its own assigned button; there is no flipping through pages.
Each individual channel has its own gain control for the mic pre as well as designations for phantom power, low-cut filter and polarity shift. Although gain control is on the console surface, the actual gain is added at the card so long runs are made after gain is applied.
The faders are motorized, but there is no dynamic automation, only recall. A slick innovation is Innova-Son’s proprietary electronic detent. Once a fader is written to a snapshot, that fader’s position is marked by an electronic detent. The feel is not as deep as a mechanical detent – it is apparent to the user without being intrusive on a fader move.
In addition to mix bus levels, faders can also represent aux send levels. When you press an aux select button, the faders jump to the related level of each aux send. If you select a mix bus fader or input channel fader, the channel faders then jump to represent the levels associated with that mix bus.
There are 64 meters with various viewing options. Metering and visual feedback for routing, file management, DSP, automation, recall and channel status is provided on a center-mounted 17″ flat-panel LCD screen. The on-screen layout of the parameter pages for the DSP is logically done and responds instantly on-screen when an adjustment is made at the center section. The screens are intuitive and easy to navigate.
Setup and automation
Setup is simple. Just assign your channel inputs and outputs and save the procedure as a setup. Routing for the inputs and outputs are assignable via the Patch-In or Patch-out matrix window. To route channels to the busses, simply hold the channel’s select button and then select the desired bus.
Because the setup software can be run off-line on any PC, you can configure your setup remotely on a laptop. Then, upon arriving at the show, you slip in a floppy, load your setup and you’re ready to roll. The snapshot automation offers up to 256 pages per show. With the Smart Time Automation, pages can be chained and also crossfaded. To accommodate show changes night-to-night, the stretch time fader allows the user to speed up or slow down the crossfade in real time. You can also take a fader out of the automation by using the relax function. Any channel can be run manually for a time and then easily inserted back into the automation.
After I was taken through the functions of the console I had the operator do the ultimate test of a digital board – a complete shutdown and reboot of the system while program was playing. After killing the power, the control surface and screen went dead but the audio was not affected. When power was reapplied, the system booted quickly and came back exactly to the same screen where we’d left off.
No clicks, pops or otherwise potentially dangerous occurrences took place and all control was restored. The Innova-Son is an impressive package. It is intuitive and user-friendly throughout. The many system options make it ultimately upgradable and flexible enough to fit into a variety of live sound scenarios and budgets.
From the Field: Innova-Son Grand Live
by Tom Young
I recently spent a couple of hours with the new Innova-Son digital live-sound mixing console with Jeff Alexander from Sennheiser. Removing the console from its case required just the two of us to lift and position it. Setup was fast and concise, requiring only power connection to the control surface, stage splitter box and Audio Rack for front of house. Terminations required one multipin connector at the rear of the console, monitor mounting and interconnection of two BNC connectors to each stage box.
After spending about 30 minutes reviewing the console’s features, Alexander and I terminated the console to a pair of speaker stacks and plugged in a microphone and some program from a CD. The top center command section for all the channel assigning and parameter control is relatively straightforward and intuitive – it does not take long to begin operating this control surface and exploring its potential.
Under the bottom right of the control surface is a computer keyboard that enables labeling the inputs and outputs that are illuminated above the channel’s fader and mute switch (no more console tape). Command keys bring up redundant commands found in the control center.
The mic preamps are fully operational for line-level and mic-level signal with an operating range of -27 dB to +63 dB – no pad is required. The flexible four-band parametric covers a full 20 Hz to 20 kHz bandwidth +/- 15 dB with a range of one-eighth to eight octaves.
The low-cut filter (typically called high-pass), is selectable for each channel at five fixed frequencies 40, 80, 160, 240 and 400 Hz at 12 dB per octave. I would prefer a fully sweepable low-cut filter as, in my experience, going from 80 to 160 is sometimes too drastic and does not give enough flexibility when tuning a microphone’s proximity for the sound system.
Sonically, the console appeared very clean and quiet. The mic preamps are not, perhaps, the best I had ever heard in a live sound-mixing console, but I will reserve my opinion on this until after I use the Innova-Son with a band in a live performance.
The comps and gates are totally manual in configuration and it would be nice if the software had some stock auto features in its settings to simplify setup for engineers. The eight-band parametric and delay feature on the outputs is a nice touch as most engineers can tune the required speaker systems easily with this control.
All and all, the Innova-Son digital console is a powerful and versatile mixing platform. The use of two BNC cables to transmit digital audio is a welcomed addition to any sound setup and the first I have seen. The monitor is in a good location and very easy to view and much clearer than a lot of control screens that require looking down on the console to view.
Unfortunately, the console is not set up to send or receive SMPTE only MIDI. A lot of corporate, production shows and large-scale concerts require interface with video, and sync to this format. There is a place for this type of console format and I am looking forward to using it in a real show to evaluate this technology even further.