First weekend with the Midas XL8

Well after a lot of planning and prep work we made the switch from our Soundcraft Series Five analog console to the Midas XL8 digital console.  This weekend marks the first complete weekend of services on the new board and everything worked great!  The sound we’re getting is a noticeable improvement and things aren’t even 100% dialed in yet.

The virtual sound check using the DN9696 recorder really helped make this a smooth transition.  Without it this weekend’s mix would have been really rough.  Rehearsal got cancelled this week due to the worship leader getting sick.  This left us with only a sound check on Saturday before service.  Talk about hitting the ground running!  Thanks to the virtual sound checks we did ahead of time things that usually take a long time (like drums) only took a few minutes.  How cool is that!

I did some quick number crunching and I estimate that our Soundcraft Series Five got us through nearly 5,000 events and services in its 15 years of use.  That’s pretty impressive!  Hopefully our Midas XL8 will give us the same kind of performance and reliability over the next 10+ years.

MikeMidas

The picture to the right shows head audio engineer Michael Grosso at the Midas XL8.  This was right after soundcheck and we had gone down our checklist and knew everything was working for service.  Smooth transition was our goal and that’s what we got!

We’ve still got some house cleaning to do but even still we freed up a ton of space in the booth in the process of changing things around.  Some custom length cables will help clean up the clutter and really make the booth a nice place to be.

Midas XL8 Install Time Lapse

Screen shot 2013-01-04 at 9.14.55 PMSo this post combines two new things!  First, my CineMoco motorized camera track came in.  I’ll post some more on that later but I did use it to record our Midas XL8 install!

We have services in the main sanctuary on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays with rehearsals on Thursday nights.  This busy schedule meant that we had to get as much as possible done ahead of time before actually making the switch.  We did all of our patching, labeling, and wiring then recorded some services into the recorder to test and get familiar with the console.

We moved rehearsals from Thursday to Saturday to give us the most amount of time to make our swap.  All in all things went very well.  Between yesterday and today we totally dismantled the sound booth and put it back together again with the new console.  Most of the heavy lifting was done yesterday with today being line checks and starting to dial in tones.  So far all is well!  Tomorrow will be our first real rehearsal with this weekend being our first services with the XL8, exciting stuff!

I used the CineMoco and my Canon 7D to create a time lapse of the install from yesterday.  I didn’t record today because it would have just been us sitting at the console most of the time, ha ha.  Enjoy!

The Midas XL8 Is Here

Well after a few weeks of assembly our Midas XL8 was shipped over from England and just arrived at our main campus in Fort Lauderdale last Friday!  We have just been spending a little time playing with the interface and getting a little more familiar with it.  It’s a really cool console with a ton of features and I think it’s going to serve us well for a long time!  This will be another thing that I’ll go into more detail with over time but I couldn’t resist sharing some pictures of the console.

It may be digital but it feels like an analog console, especially in the weight, ha ha.  Getting big heavy stuff into our booth is a little bit of a problem with our narrow door and tight turns.  There was no way that this 350 pound console was going to get carried in so we used one of our lifts as a crane to lift it up and over the wall, ha ha.  Fortunately the lift went smoothly and our console is now right at home inside of the booth where it should serve us well for the next 10 years or more!

Midas Pro2c Digital Console

In anticipation of our new Midas XL8 arriving the Midas reps were kind enough to drop of one of the XL8’s smaller brothers, the Pro2c.  We brought it in to test out some things and to refresh our memories with the software and layout.  Since all Midas digital consoles share the same software it makes going from one console to another pretty familiar.

Head on over to Midas’s site to get more information on the Pro2c.

Yamaha LS9 StageMix iPad App

The Yamaha LS9 is a great little console for the money.  For lots of venues this is a good entry level digital console that won’t break the bank.  If you’re familiar with the Yamaha M7CL and then go to an LS9 you will quickly notice some things that are missing though, mainly the touchscreen.  The StageMix iPad app for the LS9 goes a long way towards filling those gaps and making the console easier and quicker to use.

I’m not gonna go into too much detail on connecting the console to the iPad, Yamaha has good info on that.  I will say that it’s not very hard, you just need a wireless router then connect both the iPad and LS9 to the router.  Getting an N router or faster will help sync faster when you connect to the console.  We have multiple LS9’s and M7’s in different venues.  To help organize things we name the wireless network after each venue and then turn off the broadcast SSID feature just to help keep people off of the network.

Ok, enough of that stuff, ha ha.  Once you have the app talking to the console you’ll be able to remote control all kinds of stuff.  For the most part you can just dive right in and start playing around.  The app is very well designed, easy to use, and you can’t really hurt anything.

Since the LS9 only has a small screen and it’s not touchscreen I find myself using the iPad app for almost all EQ tweaking.  I find it a lot quicker and easier than using the controls on the console.  Then on the console’s screen I’ll typically tweak the dynamics settings.  Now between both screens I have just about everything I want to tweak for a given channel at my fingertips.

To make things even quicker to work with there’s a little setting that I turn on.  In the settings for the app are a couple of options for selecting channels.  I turn on the StageMix follows console mode.  Now when I have the EQ on the iPad and select a channel on the console that channel’s EQ pops up on the iPad.  Sounds simple but it’s a huge time saver and makes this console 10 times better to work with in my opinion.

Another thing that’s nice is loading and saving scenes through the app.  Typing on the LS9 is well, terrible, ha ha.  No touchscreen so that means using the arrow keys to select each letter one at a time, it’s really slow.  When you use the iPad app you get the iPad’s keyboard and wallah, way easier typing.  You might even take the time to actually add a comment, ha ha.  Not something you would bother doing through the LS9 controls unless you really had to.  Naming and color coding channels is also best done through the app.

I wanted to point out those features since that’s what I use the most.  During rehearsals I’ll walk the room and dial in the mix from outside the sound booth.  In the rooms that have stage wedges then the app is great for tweaking things from stage at the performer’s location.  We’ve done shows where there’s a FOH guy at the console and a monitor guy hanging out on stage with the app.  It works really well for that, you just have to be careful that you don’t foil each other.

I guess if the app had a flaw it’s that you can’t set it to a monitor mix only mode or something like that.  If you give someone else control from the app you just need to trust them and make sure that they don’t mess with your EQ or preamp gain.  The only other thing I can think of is that you can’t connect more than one iPad at a time.  If you could connect several iPad’s and assign each one to have just fader control of a monitor mix you would essentially have a complete personal monitoring system built into the console.  That’s not something they’re working towards though, at least not the last time I talked to Yamaha.  Oh well, can’t have everything!

Best part, the app is free!  There’s even a demo mode if you just want to play around and see the features without connecting to the console, check it out!

Hands On With The New Yamaha CL5

Got an on site demo of the new Yamaha CL5 today.  We have a couple of M7CL’s and LS9’s and we have liked those.  We were curious how the CL5 improved on the other consoles.

First impression is that the console is very similar to the M7CL consoles, just less faders on the surface.  Almost the same center section with the knobs and touchscreen.  You gain some extra knobs to the right of the screen and some buttons above the knobs on the left to make navigating a little easier.

The faders are all new and feel pretty nice.  We did notice that a couple of the fader caps seemed too low and felt like they were rubbing the surface but this is a early production desk.  Above the faders are digital channel labels and colored bars that you can customize to help organize things.  Lastly there’s a knob above each fader that can be gain, pan, or a customized setting.

We were playing with the CL5 which is the largest console in the new CL series.  This has 16 input faders to the left, 8 input or bus faders in the middle, 8 bus faders to the right of the center section, a stereo fader and a mono fader.

The layout is pretty nice with lots of options.  The input faders on the left can access all 72 inputs plus there’s a couple of custom layers.  The custom layers let you arrange inputs any way you want on one layer.

The center section can access all 72 input channels and all of the output busses.  So you could have the left faders on inputs 1-16 and the center section on inputs 65-72 (or whatever).  You don’t have to switch layers on the entire desk at once, each section is switched individually.  This lets you work how you want to work and keep what’s important in front you all the time.

The right section is for output busses and VCA’s, like the center section on an M7.  Lastly the stereo and mono master faders are at the very end.  Since the masters can be accessed though the other bus sections these can actually be changed to input faders if you want.  For example you could have the Pastor’s wireless mic and the backup podium mic always available on those faders.  Then you always have quick access to those channels.

Sonically we didn’t really get to put it through it’s paces but it seems that Yamaha has done their homework.  The head end consists of all new mic pres and the digital snake is handled by a Dante audio network.  We were told that the built in dynamics and EQ on the channels are the same as the M7.

You get tons of graphic EQ’s, factory plugins, and “premium” plugins that can be inserted all over.  Graphics can be stereo 31 band or dual mono 15 band.  The standard plugin rack has effects, eq’s, and dynamics plugins that can be inserted.  The “premium” rack has some Rupert Neve endorsed plugins that model classic EQ’s and compressors.  According to Yamaha they’re the only console plugins that Rupert Neve will be officially endorsing.  You can have up to 16 stereo 31 band graphics or 32 mono 15 band graphics, 8 standard plugins, and 8 premium plugins.  A couple of the premium plugins take 2 spaces in the virtual rack due to the processing power needed.

Overall that’s a lot of stuff built into the box that’s all standard.  The premium rack doesn’t cost extra to unlock or anything like that.  If that’s not enough you can get cards and extra hardware for Waves plugins, Dan Dugan automatic gain control, and Lake processing.  It’s a pretty versatile desk and I like the fact that Yamaha makes it easy for their products to work with other 3rd party products.

Price wise it’s very competitive.  I didn’t get any real quotes but the rep said that it’s not a huge jump up from the M7, about 20% more.  In that case it’s kind of a no brainer considering the number of features that you gain.  The only real drawback would be less physical faders on the surface.  This means working with layers instead of having everything on the surface.

Overall we liked the console, it’s got a lot going for it and it’s a nice step up from the M7.  Our Yamaha consoles have proven to be very easy to use and have rock solid reliability.  They seemed to have spent a lot of effort addressing the audio quality which could be one of the few arrows to shoot at the M7 or LS9.  If you’re in the market for a new console in this price range it’s definitely worth a look.

http://www.yamahaproaudio.com/global/en/products/mixers/cl/index.jsp

Midas XL8 Digital Live Audio Console

So in our ever continuing search for the “perfect” digital console to replace our aging FOH console we recently looked at the Midas XL8.  We heard from our vender that their pricing had reduced drastically from it’s initial launch.  It used to be a $350,000+ system so it wasn’t something we thought was even in our reach.  After hearing about their pricing changes we set up a on-site demo and we’re glad we did!  The console is pretty comprehensive so I’ll just go over the highlights that stood out to us.  You can really go into detail on Midas’ site.

Midas’ approach on this console is a very analog.  There’s a lot of faders, buttons, and knobs all over the surface.  For example, you get 24 input faders, 12 VCA faders, 16 group/aux faders, 16 matrix faders, and 3 master faders.  That’s 71 faders!  I could count the knobs and buttons too but that would be a lot of work, ha ha.  This allows you to work quickly and without relying on the screens as much as other consoles.  In fact the rep said that as a test on one demo the engineer built his mix without using the screens at all just to see if it could be done.  This is probably the only digital console out there where mixing without the screens would even be possible.

On each input channel strip you have on/off buttons and knobs for just about everything.  This adds to the analog feel.  Need to tweak something on the kick channel?  Well, reach for the kick channel and start hitting buttons or knobs.  Many features are accessed right in the channel strip vs selecting the channel and working in a centralized section (like a Yamaha console for example).

Each of the 5 sections of the console has a screen and an independent set of controls.  Again this keeps you from reaching over to select a channel just to move back to the middle of the desk to tweak.  You’re working right at the channel, again, like an analog desk.  Whatever you can’t do right at the channel strip you can do with the extended channel controls in each section.  Stuff like the complete EQ and dynamic controls aren’t on each fader’s channel strip, it would make the console too large.  Since each of the sections has this master set of controls you can work quickly and without moving around too much.

The input channels show up on the desk in the typical way.  You have 24 input faders and inputs show up 1-24 across the desk.  Instead of going through the 96 inputs one complete layer at a time (1-24 then 25-48, etc.) you scroll left or right through the inputs 8 at a time.  Think of having a 96 fader analog desk and moving left or right down the desk.  So you can have 1-24 up, scroll right once and you have 9-32 up, then 17-40, etc.  Need to bring up channel 84 real quick?  No problem, instead of scrolling type 84 into the keypad on the section you want to bring 84 up in and then that group of inputs with 84 in it pops up.

You can organize the inputs one step further.  Say you want the 16 inputs on the left of the master section to be on channels 1-16 but you need access to channels 41-48 at the same time.  You can set the 8 faders to the right of the master section to area B mode and scroll through inputs independently of area A on the left side.  Any one of the three input sections can be set to area B mode, or you can set two sections to area B mode if you want.  This gives you lots of options beyond the normal layer mentality.

Probably one of this console’s biggest departure from the norm is what they call “pop” groups.  On the XL8 you get 8 pop groups.  These are used to create groups of channels that you want to quickly access without scrolling the inputs.  These groups pop up (ha ha, I just realized that might be why they’re called “pop” groups)  just to the left of the VCA’s by default.

Say you assign your drum channels to pop group 1.  Now no matter where you are on the desk if you need the drum channels you just select that pop group and they show up.  Set up the band, vocals, and whatever else you want quick access to and now you’re not digging for channels, you have direct access to whatever you set up through the pop groups.  You can even assign a pop group to area B to organize things even more and have two pop groups up at once.  So the band stuff could be in area A on the 16 faders to the left of the master section and the pastor’s mic could be in a pop group on area B ready to go.

In addition to those 8 pop groups you have 12 VCA’s.  Selecting a VCA will pop up what’s assigned to the VCA like a pop group.  So with the pop groups and VCA’s you have 20 groups of things that you can have quick direct access to.  We found that with the pop groups and VCA’s set up you’re really not digging through layers very much at all.  This is a really cool way to manage the desk and a very fast way to work.

Ok, so it’s easy to use but what does it sound like?  Midas didn’t skimp or deviate from their analog roots.  Their mic pre’s come direct from one of their analog consoles (I forget exactly which one).  So when you’re at the desk you’re digitally controlling the gain on the analog mic pre.  Going from the head end to the EQ’s, comps, and gates and everything had a good sound and worked like you would expect them to.  The whole console works at 24 bit 96Khz to keep the audio quality as high as possible.

Our head engineer Michael Grosso spent a lot of time on the drums during the demo.  Since drums often require some deep EQ cuts and good, accurate, gating they’re a good test for a console.  We played around with some pre-recorded stuff to get our feet wet on the console.  Then we patched in our drum set on stage and had a drummer play around for a while to hear the real stuff hit all of the mic pre’s.  The results were very nice.  Full and punchy sound, good useable gates, nice EQ and comps, we were pleasantly surprised.  For the first time we felt like we had a console that was easy to use and sounded good at the same time.

Get past the channel strip and there’s room for up to 16 built in effects at once and a whole bunch of 31 band graphics EQ’s.  Accessing the EQ’s can be done from a section on the desk or from a really cool external motorized fader controller that’s part of the XL8 package.  To access external control of recorders or a Waves system there’s a built in 3-way KVM switch.  This keeps you at the desk controlling everything instead of having to walk away to tweak something.

Midas gives you a bunch of I/O options.  There’s two sizes of modular racks that you can populate with with XLR, TRS, AES digital, and DSUB cards.  This allows you to customize your I/O at FOH for instance when you’re interfacing with a variety of outboard gear and outputting to other systems.  For the stage end you could go with the cheaper fixed I/O rack that has 48 XLR in, 16 XLR out.  One way or another you can interface practically whatever you want.  There’s also a really cool splitter that has multiple mic pre’s for larger broadcast or multi desk systems.

We also found out about a cool 96 channel recording system their sister company Klark Teknik makes that allows you to record all 96 inputs and play back to all 96 inputs for virtual sound checking.  It’s the DN9696 and it interfaces with the console through its AES50 digital snake connections so it doesn’t eat up any of your I/O in your racks.  There’s 9 hours of internal storage space.  You can also hook up external hard drives and record to the internal and external drives at once for redundancy.  Since it connects to the AES50 ports the DN9696 shows up in the patching menu like the rest of the I/O so patching is really easy.  In fact if you’re just patching the ins and outs 1-1 it can literally be set up in minutes, pretty cool.

The rest of the outboard gear consists of the routers that connect all of the I/O and the DSP processors.  There are two routers for redundancy and 10 DSP units for redundancy.  Only 9 DSP units are needed for full functionality, the 10th is a hot spare.  You can actually run the desk on as few as 4 if I remember right, you just lose functionality as you lose DSP units.  There’s also multiple power supplies on everything and 5 power supplies on the console, one for each section of the desk.  The desk has a processor for each section so you can lose multiple sections of the desk and still keep going.  Basically the odds of going down completely due to faults in the hardware are pretty slim.

There’s an iPad app if you want to walk the room and tweak stuff or just have some extra faders.  You can preset for a show with their offline software.  The console software was designed from the ground up in Linux so it should be very stable.  We never encountered a problem during our two day demo and everything felt very fast and responsive when loading menus or selecting channels.  The speed is probably part software, part having multiple computers running the desk instead of just one processor.

We really liked this console.  Enough so that after spec’ing out a system based on our needs and getting the price we ordered one for our main sanctuary.  The pricing really has dropped a whole lot from the original price.  They also used to only sell the system one way and now you can custom order the system, that has helped reduce the pricing even further.  The XL8 setup that we ordered is much less expensive than the Studer Vista 9, the Digico SD7, even the SD5 which were all consoles we were looking at, very cool!

To be fair the Studer and Digico can hand more inputs at one time.  The Midas network can handle up to 432 inputs and 432 outputs but you only have 96 inputs on the console at a time.  The other consoles can go well past 200 channels on the desk at once but that’s not really a deal breaker for us, 96 is plenty.  I just point it out to mention that every digital console has pro’s and con’s and you have to learn what those are and see if that’s important to you.

The Midas is a little more stuff to carry around and set up than some consoles.  Not a big deal for an install but for touring it would be something to consider.  A Digico SD7 for example is a super fast setup.  With all the processing and local I/O built into the desk simply power up the desk and connect your stage rack and you’re done.  The Midas has the desk, external processing, external local I/O, external stage I/O, and external splitter racks if you’re using them, it’s a lot more stuff.  When we demo’d the SD7 two road cases were shipped to us, the Midas came in 4 road cases, ha ha.  Again, for our fixed install, no big deal.  Touring setup and it might be enough to sway you one way or the other.

Midas also has several other consoles.  The XL8 is the top of their range but they have six other digital consoles as well.  They all share I/O and they all have the same software.  So if you learn one desk the rest will feel very familiar.  The entry level desks are pretty reasonably priced so quality systems are not out of everyone’s reach.  The PRO 3, 6, and 9 desks are a cool platform.  They each have the same control surface hardware but the software determines the amount of inputs and outputs you have access to.  So you could get a PRO3 and upgrade over time to a PRO6 or PRO9 as needed.

Ha ha, this is getting long, time to wrap up.  The Midas XL8 was a pleasant surprise.  We love the analog feel of the control surface.  It quickly became familiar and easy to use.  We love the sound of the mic pre’s, EQ, and dynamics.  The system offers plenty of I/O options for us to do what we need to do right now and into the future.  And the price came in at a very reasonable number, especially for a high end digital console.  I think that when word gets out about the price you’ll see a lot more of these start to show up.

Studer Vista 9 Demo

We received our Studer Vista 9 demo this week.  This was our chance to get hands on with it in our facility at our own pace.  First off, that’s a BIG crate, ha ha.  The unit is assembled studio console style with the legs attached, not as portable as a dedicated live console, but it’s not meant to be portable.

The demo system we received consisted of a local I/O processor rack, a 64×32 remote input rack, and the Vista 9 console itself.  In a Studer system the console is really just a control surface, no audio processing takes place in it, that’s all happening in the process rack.  The console is your interface to control what’s going on.

Everything is built with reliability and redundancy in mind.  Everything has dual power supplies and stuff that handles audio processing has dual redundant processors.  This means that you would have to have multiple failures at the same time before audio would go down.  Good to know when it’s all software running everything.

One big difference between analog and digital is if you have a failure.  In the analog world you would have multiple power supplies in ahigh profile event so a power failure taking down audio would be rare.  Fail in the analog world in another way and you typically lose just one channel.  Since a software crash in digital would take down everything at once, it’s very important to have full, simultaneous, redundancy for high profile events.  Our campus ultimately feeds over 50,000 people in a weekend when you add up campuses, internet, and radio, we need reliability.

So we got everything set up.  It’s a little extra work since the processing isn’t built into the console but once you’ve connected it once it’s 5 minutes to set up again.  First you boot up the desk and then on the computer monitor you open of the software.  Once the desk boots up and the software loads you’re ready to control audio.  It’s a little slow but as long as you’re on a UPS and you don’t have to reboot during a show it’s not that big of a deal.

Once up and running you’re met with some nice huge meters, lots of knobs for direct access, and lots of touch panels.  The console we had to demo was 30 input faders, 10 master section faders, and 2 master faders.  You can have up to 6 layers for the input channels and 4 layers in the master section.  This gives you a good amount of faders for quick access.  Personally I would want more in the master section to be able to have groups and VCA’s on the same layer at the same time.  You can put any fader anywhere on the desk though so you could sacrifice some input faders for VCA’s or groups.

Once we got the console up and running we did run into some issues.  My guess is that this console does not like to be moved.  Our console went from Korea, to the UK, then to us in Fort Lauderdale.  The problems we experienced with this demo console are kinda typical of connectors or cards rattling loose.  I’m sure that these are all fixable but several things accumulated and kinda left us nervous about this particular console.  So for many reasons, we’re sending it back and the search continues!

Mackie DL1608 Digital Mixer

After posting about the Roland M-480 console and M-48 personal mixers I got to thinking about other personal mixing options.  Mackie recently announced a pretty cool little mixer that could easily be a personal mixing system.

The Mackie DL1608 is a small, 16 input, 8 output (stereo main and 6 aux’s), digital mixer.  The control surface is actually an iPad running their software.  If you want to check the FOH mix from other parts of the room you simply take the iPad out of the mixer and you can wirelessly tweak levels, dynamics, and EQ.

Now at a glance you might think, yeah, but iPads are expensive!  Granted they start at $500 and you’ll need one for each person that is running a mix.  But an Aviom mixer is about $450 street price and it’s only a mixer.  The iPad at $500 is reasonably priced and now you can use it for other stuff throughout the week.  For those on stage once your mix is dialed in close the Mackie app and use the Planning Center app or ProPresenter app to control or keep track of other things.

You can connect up to 10 iPads to the console using a standard wireless router.  So you could mix FOH with on iPad and assign 1 aux to each band member, give them each an iPad, and let them control everything themselves.  I could see this being perfect for a traveling band or a church that needs to set up and break down every week in a rented venue.  Get a split into the console, hand out some iPads, send the mixer outputs to wired or wireless in-ears, and you’re set up without a lot of work.

Lastly the Mackie DL1608 is pretty reasonably priced, $999 at Sweetwater, maybe less through your local Mackie dealer.  While I have not heard it myself, traditionally Mackie digital console work well and sound pretty good.  We have had both the digital 8 bus and digital x bus consoles in the past and both sounded good.  Granted the DXBus had build issues but those have surely been addresses in the DL1608.

At $999, and with the ability to return it if you had a problem or didn’t like it, there’s not a lot of risk here.