Comparing the Digico SD5, SD10 & SD8 Pt. 1

Let me start with a brief history of the naming conventions of Digico consoles. The original consoles were the D-series. Only the D5 survives today, so we’ll skip that. The SD7 was introduced in 2007, and was built on a brand-new FPGA architecture called Stealth Digital Processing. Unlike than DSP, which is fixed, FPGA’s can be reprogrammed in the field (hence the Field Programmable Gate Array name), which means new features can be added via a simple firmware update. In 2008, the SD8 was introduced. 2009 brought us the SD9 (see the concept now?). In 2011, we go the SD10 and SD11 (the 10 was a little late…). 

The SD5 was introduced in 2012, and you might ask why it’s not called the SD12. That’s because the SD5 is the SD version of the D5. All the SD consoles share the same software and basic interface, and are built around the Stealth FPGA. The differences are in I/O count, mixing channel capability and the surfaces. 

Today, we’ll focus on the larger consoles that would make great choices for FOH desks for mid- to large-sized churches, the SD8, SD10 and SD5. I’m skipping the SD7 because that’s a big, powerful desk with an equally large price tag. I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty details of all the features; you can find that at Digico’s website. I’ll try to focus on key differentiators that would help you decide which one to buy.

Channel and Bus Count

On the input side, the SD8 mix up to 60 channels; the SD10 can mix up to 96; the SD5 up to 124. For mix busses, the SD8 has 24, the SD10 48, the SD5 56. Each mixer also sports a matrix, 12x16 in the case of the SD8, 16x16 for the SD10, and 24x24 for the SD5. 

On any of the consoles, the mix busses can be configured as mono or stereo auxes, or mono or stereo groups. But this where things get a little complicated. The genius of the SD8 is that any of the channels or mix busses can be mono or stereo without affecting the count. So you could have 60 stereo channels and 24 stereo mix busses. The SD10 & SD5 also lets you assign channels as stereo channels (Flexi-channels in Digico parlance)but each stereo channel counts as 2 from the total number available. Neither desk has a limit on the number of channels that are stereo, but the way they are counted is different from the SD8. 

On the bus side, while any or all of the SD8s busses can be stereo without affecting count, a stereo bus counts as 2 on the SD10 and SD5. You can still mix and match mono and stereo groups and auxes, but the total number of will depend on the mix. To illustrate, let’s do an example.

On the SD8, you start with 24 mixes available. If you create a stereo LR mix, and 3 stereo auxes (that’s 4 total mixes), you now have 20 left. On an SD5, you start with 56. Creating our same stereo L&R mix plus 3 stereo auxes (that’s 8 “channels” of mixes) will leave you with 48 mixes left. Make sense? In practice, it’s not really complicated; simply enter the number of channels, groups and auxes you want to configure the session with and it will tell you if you have enough or not.

This is the SD8; the SD10 and SD5 are very similar. Note you can also re-order your auxes and groups now. That's a huge organizational feature.

This is the SD8; the SD10 and SD5 are very similar. Note you can also re-order your auxes and groups now. That's a huge organizational feature.

When trying to decide between consoles, the best thing to do is download the offline software and start doing session configurations. It will quickly become apparent which console you need based on how you want to configure it. If you do a lot of stereo mixes, they can handle about the same number; but if you need a large quantity of mono mixes, the SD10 or SD5 are better choices. 

Goodies

All Digico consoles feature full processing on all inputs and outputs. “Full processing” is defined as variable high and low pass filters, four-band fully parametric EQs with dynamic EQ, and two dynamic processors. The dynamic processors can be configured in various ways. Dynamics 1 can be either a single band comp, a multi-band comp or a de-esser. Dynamics 2 can be either a single band comp, a gate or a ducker. Dynamics 2 is also has a side-chain for external triggering of the effect.

While all the processing is available on all channels, there is a limit to some of it. With the SD8, you can create up to 10 multi-band comps (up from 8 last year—yeah for FPGA!) and 10 dynamic EQs. The SD10 gives you up to 16 of each, while the SD5 gives you 24 multi-band comps and dynamic EQs. On each desk, you can assign any of those extras anywhere, and they don’t have to be on the same channel. 

When it comes to effects, the SD8 now has 12 FX racks (up from 8 last year), the SD10 has 16 while the SD5 has 24. Also introduced recently as part of a software upgrade is the new DigiTube tube emulation. The SD8 will let you deploy up to 10 DigiTubes on any input, the SD10 has 16 and the SD5 has 24.

This is just a sampling of some of the effects available. I use these pretty much every weekend.

If you like using graphic EQs, you can have up to 24 32-band EQs inserted anywhere on the SD8 or SD10, or go crazy with 32 of them on the SD5.

We’ll cut it short here as I’m realizing there is so much to talk about when it comes to these consoles. Next time, we’ll investigate the surface differences.

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