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Equipment Review: DiGiCo SD10

NAB 2011 was the first time I saw the Digico SD10. At that time, we had owned our SD8 for about a year and were quite pleased with it. At first, I was a little envious of the SD10; it’s much cooler color scheme of black and silver looks nicer than the rather garish black & gold of the SD8. But once I got past that and looked at the specs, I learned there was not a huge difference—at least for me—between the 10 and the 8. 

As a review, the SD8 can mix 60 channels, any or all of which can be mono or stereo. It also has 25 mix busses, any or all of which can be mono or stereo. For some reason, lot of people were confused by that. They couldn't wrap their head around channels or mix busses that could be mono or stereo without any corresponding decrease in count. In fact, I still have people asking me, “So, the SD8 can only do 12 stereo mixes, right?” No. It’s 25. Mono or Stereo. Doesn’t matter. Anyway…

DiGiCo had a hard time explaining it as well. Thus, the SD10 can mix 96 channels, twelve of which can be stereo sources. If you do the math, that’s 120 possible sources (sound familiar?). It also has 48 mix busses, and you can choose to use them as 48 mono mixes, or combine any or all of them into stereo mixes—only this time with a corresponding decrease in count. Put another way, if you want to do all stereo mix busses, you can do 24. Or you could do 30 mono mixes and 9 stereo mixes. Or 20 stereo mixes and 8 mono mixes. Or…well, you get the idea. 

At the end of the day, the 8 and the 10 have the same number of processing paths, they are simply packaged differently. For some people, that’s a big deal. For others, not so much. Like the rest of the DiGiCo line, the surface is dominated by the 15” touch screen display. Physically, the 10 is a little bigger than the 8, with a little more room above the faders, and in the raked upper portion (mainly to accommodate my favorite feature, the SmartKeys). 

The fader section has polycarbonate overlays to protect the surface from errant spills or flying beer bottles (more common on tours than in church…). The body is made from anodized aluminum rather than steel for lighter weight. Many of the physical modifications are more for the touring world than the installed world.

Other than the channel count and appearance differences, one of the biggest real differentiators between the 8 and the 10 are the addition of 10 SmartKeys—actually, there are 4 banks of those SmartKeys, so you could effectively have 40 of them. And you still get the 8 user-defined keys. So if you enjoy digging into the extensive macro language built into the SD series (as I do), you have plenty of ways to fire those macros.

Magic Trackpad not included...

What could you use those keys for? All kinds of things. First, you should know that you can assign different colors to their on and off states. So how about a SmartKey that is yellow when off, but red when you turn on both talkback channels? Or red when off but green when you fire the macro that re-patches some of the auxes to the MADI 2 bus (which I used for folding stuff back to the M-48s). 

Utilizing the power of the assignable actions in Reaper, I created an entire bank of SmartKeys for use with Virtual Soundcheck. I had previously recorded the rehearsal, and dropped markers (using a SmartKey) at the beginning of each song. I created more SmartKeys to jump to previous and next markers in Reaper, and for playback and stop, which made it very easy to go back and try the song again without having to touch the computer.

I also had 4 different vocalists leading songs for Good Friday. Because of the way I process my lead vocals as compared to BGVs, and to accommodate some of the foldback routing, I wrote macros that would make all the necessary adjustments to a person’s vocal channel—turn off Hall reverb, turn on Plate and Delay, remove from BGV foldback, add to lead vocal foldback, assign to lead vocal smash group—and assigned those to four SmartKeys. Then during rehearsal, when it was Angela’s song to lead, it simply hit her SmartKey (which changed color from Blue to Pink to remind me) and wrote the snapshot. At the end of the song, I turned her key off and her channel went back to normal. 

Yes, it took me about 15 minutes ahead of time writing all the macros and assigning them to the keys. But it saved me at least 30 minutes during rehearsal, and kept things moving along while I had 20+ people on stage. So to say I really liked the SmartKeys would be an understatement.

Other than that, there isn’t much to sway me away from the SD8. To be sure, the SD10 is a great console. And if you routinely run more than 60 channels, than the 10 is an obvious choice. For us, a normal weekend is around 40 inputs, and big events will run close to 60, but I’ve never been out of channels. 

The SD10 also includes a 16x16 matrix (as compared to the 16x12 of the SD8) and can be used with the new SD Rack for 96KHz processing. Since we used it with our DigiRack, it sounded pretty much the same as the SD8—which is to say great. The touchscreen is responsive and the console is very easy to get around on. 

Ultimately, the SD10 is essentially more of what we’ve come to love about the SD8. If I were buying the console today instead of 2 years ago, I honestly don’t know if I would push for the SD10 or stick with the SD8. I suppose if I could have squeezed the budget out, the 10 would be a better long-term choice. However, I don’t feel handicapped with the 8, either. Yes, I would love to have the SmartKeys, but aside from that the SD8 fits our needs very well. 

Thus my conclusion is a dichotomy; I was a little sad to see the SD10 get loaded back on the truck, but it was good to have the SD8 back. Perhaps that’s the best endorsement of the entire DiGiCo line. The SD10 I had also came with the Waves SoundGrid server; but we’ll tackle that in the next post.

Miss our coverage of NAB 2012? Check out the complete collection of videos here.