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Sony DMX-R100 Digital Mixer

NAMM 2000 was looking uneventful until I stumbled into the Sony booth for an early press conference where its DMX-R100 digital audio mixer was unveiled and the buzz began.

As one walks through the many conventions throughout the year that feature pro audio products, one rarely stumbles across a piece of gear that creates an instant show buzz. A good example was at AES, in New York in 1999 when the unveiling of 24-track hard disk systems from both TASCAM and Mackie literally stole the show.

NAMM 2000 was looking uneventful until I stumbled into the Sony booth for an early press conference where its DMX-R100 digital audio mixer was unveiled and the buzz began.

Based on Oxford

The DMX-R100 is based on technology developed for Sony’s flagship Oxford console. The company’s U.K. design team scaled down the Oxford and sent it to Sony’s digital audio engineering team in Japan, who developed the final product. The result is a compact 48-channel mixer that provides up to 24-bit/96 kHz processing power at a reasonable price ($20,000).

The basic layout of the console provides 24 physical channels that include motorized, touch-sensitive full-length faders that operate at 10-bit resolution, solo/cut/write buttons, gain trim knob and a multifunctional panpot. All these controls can be assigned to Channels 1 through 24 or 25 through 48 via a provided page function.

The center section sports a parameter setting panel with direct access to many functions via dedicated knobs and switches that can be assigned to any individual channel. These include trim, delay, phase, eight busses, dynamics, four-band EQ and eight auxiliary sends. Above this is a 21 cm by 16 cm color SVGA LCD touchscreen. The screen features graphics pages that give overview and control of the many menu pages (more than 20 pages) laid out in a clear and logical manner. In addition, the screen provides visual representation of the functions performed on the control panel below.

The final section provides a stereo fader (the same motorized fader), control room and studio monitor control, machine control buttons, jog wheel, 10-key pad and automation functions. Metering (20 segment LED) follows current page selection on either Channels 1 through 24 or 25 through 48 on the input side and the program, auxes or multibusses can be alternately selected for viewing on the machine control side of the board.

The console provides 24 analog inputs as standard, with both XLR and 1/4″ TRS available. The first 12 inputs have phantom power if needed and a second set of connectors designated as B inputs can alternately be selected. Analog inserts are also provided on the first 12 inputs. Eight aux returns (four analog, four digital) help provide 56 channels available at mixdown.

In addition to the standard 24 analog inputs, four other slots are provided that can be configured with several different optional I/O cards. These include: eight analog ins, eight analog outs, eight AES I/Os, eight ADAT lightpipe I/Os and eight TDIF I/Os. This can ultimately result in the board being configured for 32 digital tracks for mixdown. The eight aux sends can also be split to be four digital and four analog to provide the best of both outboard worlds.

The DMX-R100 is 5.1 surround-ready, utilizing six of the multitrack busses and six outputs provided for the control room monitor section. This eliminates the need for the dreaded external monitor switcher. Surround panning is accomplished through a page on the touchscreen that lets your finger trace the desired panning pattern on the screen surface.

An external monitor can be connected and mouse and keyboard ports are provided as standard (a keyboard touchscreen page is included) as an alternative for inputting information.

Dynamic automation

The DMX-R100 includes 99 scenes of snapshot automation, which can memorize and recall all settings and values of all mixer functions. Of course, dynamic automation is also included with the normal array of write and trim functions that can be synchronized to either SMPTE timecode or MIDI timecode. The touch-sensitive motorized faders felt very smooth and the automation was quite simple to use.

Synchronization is truly a professional affair with separate word clock, video, LTC, MIDI and Sony nine-pin inputs. The same outputs are also provided, with two Sony nine-pin jacks available for external machine control. The internal SMPTE generator can function in an emulation mode which ties the machine control buttons/locate functions to the timecode output, which then can feed your hard disk recorder – creating a simple sync interface.

Of all the features incorporated into this console, the internal audio routing matrix is the most impressive. It provides crosspoint switching for virtually every input and output (including the four I/O slots) eliminating the need of a patch bay in many studio situations. The input portion of the matrix allows any input signal to be routed to any channel or multiple channels. It even allows individual inputs of digital or analog origin to be combined in any manner. This is a great advantage considering previous consoles of this type often required tying up an entire bank of eight inputs to access the one specific input needed.

The output section works in the same manner allowing the multibusses, aux sends and program busses to be assigned to any output including those on the four I/O slots. Assignment of the matrix is achieved on two touch-screen pages (one each for input and output) and can also be done in logical groups to enable one to do faster setups. All matrix setups can also be stored in mix snapshots for the quick configuration changes that are needed in daily studio life.

The next feature in the extremely cool department allows all eight aux sends, input trims and the eight multitrack busses to be selected to faders or panning knobs. This gives the user a much more accurate and handy tool for access to these functions. In particular, when using the faders you have a clear and precise picture of all current settings and great control when making dynamic automation moves.

Sonically the design of the DMX-R100 incorporates 24-bit DACs and ADCs at most I/Os, with 40-bit floating point internal processing that yields a minimum 32-bit resolution. To be clear, this is not the same processing and conversion used in the Sony Oxford console; it is a totally new system designed specifically for this console.

The EQ and dynamics were hard to evaluate in this noisy forum but seemed to be well-thought-out and both provide clear graphic representations on the LCD screen. Additionally, EQ and dynamics are available on all program, aux sends and multitrack bus outputs as well as the 48 input channels.

One of the many features this console incorporates within the liberal list of menu pages is the timecode/digital sync page. Here the usual timecode reader options can be made (30 frames, 30 nondrop, etc.) for automation purposes with the option of also using MIDI timecode as a source. Within the same page you can select from several clock sources, including the reference word input, or from any of the following digital inputs; two-track input, aux returns 5 through 8, or individual pairs of channels on any of the four slots.

The video input can also be selected as the reference signal and lock of both video and word clock are clearly displayed. The I/O status window is a page that lets you display and perform settings of the option boards in the four slots. This page provides an information section that gives detailed data of a particular digital signal that could prove invaluable in troubleshooting situations.

24-bit/96 kHz

As I stated earlier, this is a 24-bit unit with sampling frequencies up to 96 kHz. When the 88.2 or 96 kHz option is selected the frequency response is bumped up to 40 kHz. The bad news is the board is virtually cut in half, leaving the user with 24 channels, four auxes and four busses. This is still not a bad option for the ultrahigh-end user who does not need a ton of inputs.

The DMX-R100 is a quality board that could finally provide a bridge between the many small-format digital consoles and the astronomically priced large format designs. It could function well in a post situation, great for digital broadcast, lovely for a smaller room in a major recording facility and a project/home studio’s dream come true. Certainly not cheap, but well worth the price if you’ve been waiting for a more serious tool.

Contact Sony at 201-358-4109.