Roland M-5000 First Impressions Pt. 2

Last time we started talking about the new Roland M-5000 audio console. I spent several hours mixing on it a while back and came away with some very good impressions. We like to joke about marketing firms using the words “game-changer” all the time, but this one kind of is. So let’s dig into what I like about it.

Big, Bright Touchscreen

The centerpiece of the console is a bright, responsive 12” touch screen. The interface is very fast, and very intuitive. It’s a very attractive interface with enough color differentiation to make it easy to know where you are all the time. Controls get mapped to two rows of encoders and buttons below the screen, and there is also a touch and turn function. 

Features for Days

Roland clearly listened to actual audio engineers when designing this console because so much of it is laid out the way we’d want it. Each input can have up to three input sources; a main, alternate and track return. The alternate makes a great backup and track return makes it easy to combine live sources with tracked ones. 

The EQ and Dynamics sections can be re-ordered on a per-channel basis. Every input and output has dual dynamics sections—selectable between compressor, limiter, ducker, gate and expander—a four band parametric plus signal delay. Insertion points for external effects can be selected before and after the dynamics and eq blocks.

You can build mix-minus feeds, which are great for recording. There are 24 DCA’s and 8 mute groups available and 8 stereo multi-effects. Each of the effects engines can be mono to stereo or broken into dual mono as needed. There are a ton of built-in effects, most of which you’ll never use. However, I found some plates, halls and delays that were quite good. And if you want it, a Waves Soundgrid card will give you access to the whole Waves universe.

There are two selectable solo systems (useful for soloing both mains and monitors or mains and record), three talkback destinations, and 32 graphic EQs. They even threw in a two 31 band RTA’s for good measure. I didn’t notice this at the time, but there is also a built-in ASIO 16x16 USB audio interface on the console for easy recording of your services.


The Rest of the Family

Of course since it’s Roland, you have access to the M-48 personal mixers—which remain my ultimate favorite in this category. Coming this summer, you’ll be able to configure and control them right from the console. The R-1000 recorders play right along well with the M-5000 as well, and transport control will be available in the next software update. Of course there is iPad control, both wired and wireless, just like the M-200i. And using the soon to be released RCS (Remote Control Software), you’ll be able to lay out and control almost all elements of the console from an attached computer. The window layouts will be fully customizable. 

The Brains of the Organization

The M-5000 is, like all good modern consoles, built around a big ole FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array). FPGAs are superior to DSP in may ways because they can be re-configured with a software upgrade. We saw this all the time with our DiGiCo SD8. One software update added an additional eight multi band compressors and dynamic EQs while another added four more effects engines. They are not using nearly the full capacity of the FPGA chip yet, so I expect many more features to come in the coming years as user feedback really ramps up.

But Wait! There’s More!

Of course there are a ton more features on this desk and it would take days to go through them all. I recommend you go spend some time on their excellent M-5000 website to learn all this thing can do. As we wrap this up, I want to give some impressions on how it sounds. When trying a new desk, I like to go for the EQ and compressors first. This gives me an idea of how much I can rely on internal processing and how much I’ll need to do outside the box. We had some pretty dynamic tracks to work with so I started digging into the comps pretty hard right way. 

Just like with my DiGiCo, I could get plenty of dynamics control without hearing ugly side effects. The EQ was just as musical. Small changes were subtle and large ones made a big difference, just as one would hope. Both the dynamics and EQ were easy to use and get dialed the way I wanted them. 

The effects were good, though I didn’t spend a ton of time on them. Once I found a hall and plate I liked, I moved on. But I could live with them for sure. The scene system is also quite robust. In the software version I used, I saw all the possibilities but will withhold final judgement until I see the next rev of software. Like my DiGiCo, virtually every parameter can be recalled, and I’m simply waiting for individual fade times to give it my final blessing. I’m told it’s coming this summer, however. 

I Like It

In the first article, I told you I liked this desk. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I actually do like it. A lot. It’s a solid mixer that sounds great, is easy to use, is highly configurable and has a ton of features. But at what cost? This is where “game-changer” comes into play. 

Because the system is so modular it’s hard to say how much it costs—it’s simply very configurable. But to give you some ideas, Roland has put together a few packages. First, you can get an M-5000 surface plus two S-4000 stage racks (32x8 or 8x32, you pick) for under $30,000. So that’s the console, with 64 inputs and 16 outputs for under $30K! Or for just under $40K, you can get the desk, two stage racks plus (9) M-48 mixers, the S-4000D distro and (2) R-1000 player/recorders! The landscape just moved again. 

I’m sure we’ll be doing more with the M-5000 as it develops, but it is shipping now, and it’s only going to get better. If you’re in the market for a mid-sized console, you need to look at this.


Custom In-Ears Goes Star Trek

As a long-time user of custom-molded in-ears, I've had silicone squeezed into my ears on more than one occasion. And while it's not terribly uncomfortable, and it is a serviceable way to get a good impression, it's not terribly high-tech. The folks at Ultimate Ears—the ones who are already 3-D printing the shells—have come up with a way to scan the inside of your ears with light and come up with a digital representation that is accurate to within 200 microns. You have to see this!

Today's post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

The Difference Between What and Why

Photo courtesy of Michael Coghlan

Photo courtesy of Michael Coghlan

Last weekend I had a cool opportunity to attend a very unique concert. It was unlike anything I had seen and I was grateful for the chance to go. As much as it was a cool musical experience, it was a less than stellar sound experience. 

 As I sat there listening to the choir and orchestra members position themselves on stage—and I could hear them clearly because all the mic’s were hot—it occurred to me that there is a vast gulf between knowing what a given piece of gear or setting does and why you change it. 

Leaving all the mic’s on is just one example. There were numerous EQ challenges and many times when the drums more than overpowered the main instrument. In fact, it sounded a lot like the sound guy dialed up each mic to a good level, and left the faders at unity. So while he technically had good gain structure, he had a less than ideal mix. 

The Great Divide

I understand this challenge. On the one hand, I have seen many sound techs who know music, but had no real understanding on how the equipment works. So while they may be able to force some sort of mix together, they typically lack the technical skill set to make it great. 

On the other hand, I’ve seen as many (probably more) sound guys who really have no understanding of music but can quote specs, theory and technical gobbely-gook all day long. But they lack the knowledge of why any of that is important. 

Science and Art

It’s true that we need to have a firm grasp on the technology we’re using to accomplish the goal of a great mix. But I think even more than that, we must understand the art. The craft. And that is the hardest to teach. I’ve said for a long time that I can teach someone with a modicum of technological understanding how to use the technology. But they have to have an understanding of how music works in the first place if they expect to be a great engineer. 

I believe one of the reasons mixing comes so easily to me is that I grew up listening to music. I bought my first pair of headphones at age 9 and spend the entire summer in front of the hi-fi listening to records. Throughout Jr. & Sr. High, I spent at least 3-4 hours a day listening to music. 

Knowing what it is supposed to sound like is the first step to getting it there. But there’s even more. Knowing when to mute mic’s and when to open them up is another skill that takes time to learn. There are two ways to learn this—spending hundreds of hours behind the console making hundreds of mistakes (and hopefully learning from them) or being mentored by someone who already did that. You can imagine which way I think is better.

Choose Wisely

In the climactic scene of Indian Jones, the villain drinks from the wrong chalice and turns to black ash. The wise old sage says, “He chose poorly.” When choosing people to mix, I have found it’s generally preferable to chose understanding of music over pure technical chops. 

This is not to say that highly technical people can’t mix, it’s just that they usually take a lot longer to get there. And while it may take a musically literate person a little while to get up to speed with the technology, they will usually be better engineers in the end. 

The best scenario of course, is a mixture of both. Those folks are rare, however. When it comes to putting up a great mix, knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing is probably more important than knowing what you’re doing. At least that’s my experience…