Pictured are (l-r): Engineering consultant to Midas, Alex Cooper; VP customer support for Midas/Klark Teknik, Jonathan Chitty; and M/KT brand development manager Richard Ferriday, as they show off the new PRO2C (left) and PRO2 consoles in an introductory event.
The new Midas PRO2 and PRO2C (‘C’ for Compact) are much more of a leap than the ‘2’ implies. It’s not simply a smaller version of the PRO3, because that wouldn’t be very interesting at all. It’s a jump forward in the art of navigation and live production control, and it’s a jump forward in value.
Last thing’s first. The basic specs are: 64 input channels, 32 outputs, 27 busses, six stereo FX engines, and 28 KT Graphic EQs. You get the surface (either normal or Compact), a DL251 I/O unit, two 100m Cat5 cables, and a flight case for $22,700 (Compact surface) or $29,300 (normal surface). For Midas and, indeed, a digital console of this spec, these are amazing prices—made possible by the investment in overseas manufacturing made by The Music Group (owners of Midas since the beginning of 2010). Midas is keen to point out that the quality of manufacturing will not be compromised—existing Midas employees are moving, long-term, to China in order to oversee the operation on behalf of the company.
When Midas launched the XL8, it was (and is) a shining example of high technology meeting not only the literal, functional needs of professional live sound, but also the creative needs. Instead of recreating the large-format analog console, it surpassed it. Instead of simply inventing ways to make one button do three things, Midas R&D invented new things for buttons to be. In other words, Midas leaned back in its big chair at the round-table digital console discussion, listened to the squabbling for a while, then leaned forward, waited for silence, and told everybody how to do it.
Inevitably the XL8 spawned smaller digital consoles because not even Midas can survive on just the big stuff, so the PRO Series was born. The PRO9, PRO6, and PRO3 consoles are also exemplary products, with the same sample-synchronous AES50 audio network; system-wide, phase coherent delay management; and redundancies in DSP modules, control computers, and PSUs. And in the marriage of software and hardware, Midas has helped operators with navigation, grouping and selection possibilities that have drawn them into the myriad possibilities of digital, but without the use of force. The PRO2 moves this on, bringing with it a new round of R&D, plus the new company structure and the substantial resources of The Music Group, helmed by Mr Uli Behringer.
So... to the detail.
The main difference between the PRO2 and the PRO2c is a small matter of eight faders and a pad on the raked section where you can rest an iPad, or similar. Whether someone opts for the wider surface may or may not depend on available footprint, the complexity of a production, or a basic preferences in mix styles. However it might also depend, in certain circumstances, on what is considered big enough for credibility. It’s fine in a control room or backstage where no one can see you, but out-front with the great unwashed peering into the FOH position, or when ill-informed tour management look to see what their money buys, it might be wise to emphasize the rock ‘n roll a little bit.
Feedback from a recent Dealer presentation of the Midas PRO2 consoles came up with the slightly surprising conclusion that the split between big and small surfaces might even follow geographic lines, with more smaller ones in Europe and more larger ones in Asian territories. There’s probably a study-grant in there somewhere, but Richard Ferriday, Midas’ Brand Development Manager, has a more conventional take: “I suspect that markets in which digital consoles are much more established will be able to look at the compact one and see all the benefits of a very small control surface. You can put it into small spaces, it will go in the back of a car, the luggage bay of a bus—all the advantages of having something small. I think the bigger one will go into fixed install, where space isn’t that much of an issue and portability doesn’t need to be worried about, and also into markets that have still got this hankering for having large numbers of faders, because they’re still thinking of the physical size required of an analog mixer.”
And this leads to a deeper point about the size of a control surface. The point that Midas makes is that digital changes everything—at least when it comes to Midas digital, anyway. The VCAs and POPulation group-centric navigation of the consoles so far, together with those enormous and colorful buttons and the new navigation features of the PRO2, mean that an engineer no longer has to rely on wide expanses of faders and fader selections.
“If you give people lots of faders, it’s going to slow down their access,” says Ferriday, “because they have to identify the fader that they want. And they probably don’t want the fader anyway. They want to do something to that channel, and it might be turn it up or down, but it might be something with the EQ or mic amp, compressor or gate - and that isn’t always on the surface.
All they actually want the fader for is a visual target... With the PRO2, we’re taking the target off the fader and we’re putting it on those big square colored text buttons, and we’re also reducing the number of potential targets by close to a factor of 10. So it just needs people to stop thinking in terms of faders, and think in terms of a target to go to very quickly.”
Many have been turned to the Midas philosophy on digital console control. It’s not about scrolling through layers or twisting your brain around a virtual map of a routing structure; it’s about fast navigation to the correct control, plus control set-ups and preferences that make sense to a mix engineer. With this in place, faders start to disappear...
The Midas introduction to new concepts in the PRO2 starts with the evolution of an engineer’s target for operation—I/O, sub-groups, VCAs and VCA-centric navigation, and then the POP groups, which for those who aren’t yet in the know, are mix sets that aren’t necessarily linked by VCAs or master faders, but nonetheless are useful group navigation targets. The key to the next bit is that the navigation becomes centered on outputs—select a buss output and the components of that output come to you. It makes sense.
There are several layers of navigation sophistication available in the PRO2 and the user decides how far they want to buy into it simply by pushing the right button. The modes determine how the console reacts to output selection and the top level is one of the newest software features—the MCA (Mix Control Associations). We need to work up to that though.
There are tickboxes in the control preferences that enable ‘Normal FOH’, ‘Normal Monitor’, and ‘Collapsed Flip’ operation modes—these enable combinations of four navigation mode buttons on the surface. The ‘advanced channel navigation’ buttons are FLIP and FX, while the ‘advanced mix bay navigation’ modes are GEQ and MCA.
These last two are mutually exclusive. With just FX selected, if you select an output bus that is routed to an internal effect, the effect appears, ready for editing, on the screen. If FLIP is selected, the main faders will become the contributions to that bus. With GEQ selected, if a bus that is routed to one the internal graphic EQs is selected, then the VCA faders become that graphic EQ. All three of these buttons can be enabled simultaneously for some pretty whizzy navigation. In addition the Collapsed Flip preference causes all irrelevant channels to disappear from the surface. Ferriday explains by example: “So if Aux 1 is my snare reverb, and I’ve got fader flip, navigation by effects, and collapsed flip switched on, when I solo Aux 1 the console gives me the effect on the screen, all of the channels contributing to that effect—in this case the top and bottom snare mics—would come up on the faders, and all the channels not being sent to the snare reverb will just go away.”
The reason that the GEQ and MCA modes are exclusive is that they both grab hold of the VCA faders, but for different reasons. With MCA enabled, the VCAs become MCAs, which control the contributions of only their members that are assigned to that output. Thus, you could think of MCAs as creating 24 additional layers of VCAs. Here comes the example...
Ferriday: “If I’ve got a VCA labelled ‘Strings’, and the VCA has the two violins, viola, and the cello in it, then that VCA controls the contributions of those instruments to the stereo master output. If I put the VCAs into MCA mode, that VCA fader will now control the contributions of its members but only to the bus I have just selected. So if I’m sending a mix to the keyboard player, and the keyboard player says he wants the string section but just needs the violins and cello, I can route the violins and the cello to the keyboard player’s mix, then I select the keyboard player’s mix, and the strings MCA will control the level of the violins and the cello to the keyboard player’s mix, but not the viola because the viola isn’t being routed to that mix.
“So although the viola is a member of the original VCA, the fact that it isn’t being sent to that mix means that it won’t be controlled by that fader in that mix. In other words, if I select the VCA group, all of the members of the VCA group will come up on the control surface, including the Viola. In MCA mode, if I select the MCA going to the keyboard player’s mix, in that mode, the MCA will only control the two violins and the cello—it won’t bring the viola up to occupy a channel because that isn’t being sent to that mix.
“So the groupings within the MCAs are the same members as the VCAs, but if an input channel isn’t assigned to that mix, then it won’t appear when you select that mix up onto the surface. So again, it’s all about making very efficient use of what is actually a very small control surface, and not slowing down the workflow, but actually speeding it up.”
Please don’t be embarrassed if you have to ask a demonstrator to repeat the MCA bit. In essence, MCA’s brings with them a new level of flexibility, especially for the monitor engineer (but I’m sure the MCA power-users will emerge from all over), which is the essence of the Midas approach to digital mix control. Give operators what they need, when they need it.
In previewing the PRO2 system, I make no apologies for concentrating mostly on the control surface and its navigation modes. The basic pres, convertors, and network infrastructure are the same as the other MIDAS digital offerings. The new software does bring other upgrades, such as new effects (including a new dynamic EQ), a much more comprehensive preferences section that operators can take with them as a separate save, and an upgraded automation system that helps prevent show stoppers with a clever contextual assistance system. There is also the not insignificant matter of an iPad app to control the console, which will be available from launch. All of this is expected to be rolled out to other Midas consoles, but there’s no date set for that—implementation is still being thought through.
Anyway, the devil in the detail is best left to the full review—as and when the console becomes available (not too long after its PLASA launch, we are led to believe). Until then, we have the promise of the PRO2—another side-step away from the ties that analog components created too long ago, towards a more complementary partnership between technology and the creative audio professional.
Thanks to sister publication Audio Media for sharing this content