Many of the local and regional SR providers and engineers I run across express a desire to own and/or operate digital consoles. But few among them (myself included) can afford a Yamaha PM5D, DiGiCo D5 or comparable desk and many are reluctant to saddle up a recording-oriented board like a Yamaha DM2000.
Product PointsApplications: Live sound, installations
Key Features: 24-channel; 24-bit/96 kHz; four-band EQ; onboard DSP; LCD screen
Contact: Mackie/Loud Technologies at 800-258-6883, Web Site.
I work with some of my regular clients more than 30 times a year and during many a hurried setting up, I’ve wished my wonderful analog console had a recall button! Numerous too, are the occasions when a surprise transient has irked me because I had no dynamics processor available for that channel – all of my outboard compressor channels were already taken. Enter the Mackie TT24, a digital console that was designed for live sound use and is targeted at those who don’t have a lot of decimal places in their bank account balance.
The TT24 is a true digital desk, processing at 24-bit/96 kHz. It has full recall and automation of levels, EQ, effects, routing and more. It also has lots of analog and digital I/O. More importantly, it has been engineered to be powerful yet quickly accessible – essential features for live sound use.
The TT24 has 24 mic/line channels with 100mm faders, eight line inputs, inputs for tape/CD and talkback. As with many digital consoles, mic/line inputs can be increased with the purchase of expansion modules. All 24 mic/line channels have a four-band EQ section (with high and low selectable as peaking or shelving), compressor/limiter, a gate, 12 aux sends and extensive routing. The eight line inputs have the four-band EQ too.
Other channel control surface controls include input trim, individual phantom power, a bank of rotary encoders called V-Pots (they work in tandem with the fader bank and cover trim, pan, high-pass filter, metering and even aux sends) and the usual suspects like mute, solo and select (displaying that channel’s parameters on the board’s five-inch LCD touchscreen). The board passes signal via three main outs (L/R/C on XLR), 12 aux outputs (1/4-inch balanced) and eight group/matrix outputs (XLR). On the digital front, the TT has 24 channels of lightpipe I/O, AES and S/PDIF. The board is equipped with MIDI I/O and a USB port for external control.
I have heard that “TT” stands for two-touch, meaning that it only takes two touches to get to any parameter on the TT24. On the job, I always tell novice techs that if anything starts ringing and I’m not within reach, grab the red faders on my Midas console. Imagine if I had to tell them to press a menu button and then an aux button and then rotate a pot and repeat that for all of the monitor mixes… ha! There are several ways to mitigate this type of problem on the TT24 – the one that comes to mind first is Aux Mode. By pressing this blue button (the only one on the board), it converts the desk into a monitor board. That doesn’t mean you can’t still be doing front-of-house at the same time – it just means that you suddenly have a more graphic representation of your monitor settings. While in Aux Mode, the group faders become the aux masters. There you have your two touches to broadly catch a monitor ring, no menus and no scrolling. Aux mode also turns the 24 channel faders into aux sends for whatever aux send is selected. When not in Aux Mode, you can still select a monitor mix and the rotary encoders become the sends for that mix — thus keeping your FOH mix on the faders. Cool!
The TT24 has a powerful master section (above and beyond selecting the fader bank as masters) that features a modest LED ladder, the previously mentioned LCD display and a section called Flex Groups. The Flex Groups are eight groups individually configurable as mono, stereo or VCA-style groups with dedicated group faders. You can designate these as traditional analog-style mono groups, stereo groups on a single fader, or VCA groups. The Flex Group faders are in addition to the 24 channel faders to avoid bank switching during normal operation.
The LCD touchscreen area has twelve rotary encoders that allow more focused parameter adjustment of a selected channel or group. When in EQ mode, the pots represent frequency, level and Q for a four-band EQ. In dynamics mode, the screen displays the selected compressor and gate with the pots allowing adjustment of popular parameters. The TT24 also has what Mackie calls “Matrix Plus,” a digital patching matrix that is remarkably powerful and can facilitate alternate mixes for things like front fills or cry rooms.
I was fortunate enough to evaluate a TT24 purchased by my friends and colleagues, David Eisner and Art Isaacs. The board was one of the first available in the US (thanks to Greg Lukens at Washington Professional Systems in Wheaton, MD).
The first (and perhaps most important) thing I can say about the TT24 is that it is very intuitive. I’ve done about a half dozen shows with this thing now (from solo acoustic to a full band filling every input) and I’ve yet to look at a manual! That doesn’t mean I’m not still learning something every time I work on it, but it does mean the “hump” you need to crest to get comfortable is not very high.
On the first day, after the initial excitement wore off, there were a few things that created some difficulty. First, the XLR inputs are positioned above the line inputs, inserts and aux send outputs (which were sadly on 1/4-inch plugs rather than XLR). The problem with this is that it makes it hard to patch anything below the XLRs if your case has a doghouse. And, having a doghouse, you probably would want to leave your channel inputs always wired. It was tough to reach (or see) anything underneath the XLR ins once they were wired. For this reason, I’d suggest a console case with a deep doghouse.
There were other issues too. Certain faders kept sticking in both Aux Mode and in the Main Mix fader bank – something that has apparently been remedied with the most recent software update. Also, the high-pass filters don’t seem to have any indication as to what frequency they are set at – a problem for both Art and me the first time we used the board. It does show up onscreen when using the remote control software (which is excellent) but my guesses as to the frequency settings of the V-Pots were way off.
While these issues are not insignificant, they pale in comparison to the power and ability of this board. By the end of my evaluation period, the only piece of outboard gear I was using (besides speaker processing) was a graphic EQ for the mains. Guess what? Even that is now available with version 1.2! What a blessing it is to have competent dynamics control on every channel. What a blessing it is to have full recall and powerful onboard EQ. What a blessing it is to lord over eight monitor mixes using only faders for adjustments and great visual representation. It was easy to set up linked channels (for stereo effects) or VCA style groups but I did find myself wanting to use Mute Groups without eating up a VCA. That too is apparently also coming with version 1.2!
One of the other great things about the TT24 is that it has many control redundancies. When the faders were sticking in Aux Mode, I could leave Aux Mode and select the desired aux mix in the V-Pot bank and bring up the aux level on the rotary control. There were many instances like this where I encountered multiple ways to accomplish a task – possibly confusing for some, but very beneficial in the long run.
The Mackie TT24 is a remarkable technical breakthrough for live sound. I suspect it will have an impact that reaches far and wide. With powerful control capability, good-sounding mic preamps, high-resolution processing and a superbly intuitive design, it is destined to be a hit with theaters, schools, worship houses and sound reinforcement providers. With a list price of $7,199, the board shatters the price barrier for a desk with these features.
Turbosound, Community speakers; XTA and Community speaker processors; AKG, Audio-Technica, Rode and Shure microphones; QSC and Crown power amps.