Perhaps the greatest tragedy of a church that upgrades from an analog to a digital board is not the loss of that sweet "analog sound" (whatever that means), but that the board is still used like an analog board. This is especially true of my favorite digital board for churches, the Yamaha M7CL. This is mainly because it's technically a "hybrid" board; that is it's rear panel is populated with analog inputs and outputs, but everything on the inside is digital. Higher end, "true" digital boards require the use of stage racks and FOH racks for I/O, and transmit those signals in the digital domain. Doing things that way pretty much requires you to re-think your system. An M7 however, can be dropped right in to the space left by the old analog board. And that's a shame, because it has a lot more to offer.
One of the few complaints I've had with our M7CL is that it only has 16 omni ouputs. And while that seems like a lot, they get used up pretty quickly when you have 6 monitors, 9 IEMs, a Great Room, and 3 recording sends to feed, not to mention the house and aux fed subs. Thankfully Yamaha included three MY-card slots to expand the I/O capability of the board. When I arrived at Upper Room, I was curious about the Aviom card in slot 3. It seemed no one actually used the Aviom system, as all services preferred the wireless IEMs (which were fed from a wild array of Y-cords that also fed the floor wedges). Yet there was that Aviom card. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to use it for more than a cover for slot 3. So we did.
After discussion options with my Lead Sound Engineer, we decided that the Aviom card would make a great digital snake. Combined with the Aviom 16/0, we end up being able to transport 16 channels of our choosing via a single Cat-5 cable. At the receiving end, we simply hooked up 8 of our IEM transmitters to the 16/0. Why only 8? Stereo, baby!
At my previous church, one of my favorite features of the Aviom system was the ability to pan instruments left and right. That makes for a much more intelligible mix at lower volumes. But with limited analog outputs, we've been running our PSM-700s and 600s in mono mode. With the "digital snake," we can now run most of our IEMs in stereo. It seems that someone at Yamaha considered this a possibility as well, and made it easy to do. Turns out you can link 2 mix busses together (1&2, 3&4, etc.) as a stereo pair. Then when you select a channel, the Mix 1 pot acts as Pan, while Mix 2 acts as level.
It gets better. When you do a fader flip (aka "sends on fader"), you can choose either of the 2 linked mix busses (say, 1 or 2) and you will get adjustments for level only. That way, you don't have to try to figure out if you're adjusting pan or level when you fader flip. It's always level. One could argue that it would be nice to pan on the faders, but I think that's complicated.
Another cool thing about the M7 (and most digital consoles for that matter) is that you can assign just about anything to the Matrix busses. You can even run them pre- or post-fade. That means you effectively have another 8 mix busses at your disposal. And now that we've freed up a bunch of omni outputs, we can get creative. We don't normally run wedges at Upper Room, but once in a while we need them. Since we still have all 6 monitor amps up and running, we patched them into the omni outs, and built 3 matrixes (matrices?) to feed 3 of them. We can also use a matrix output to feed the video booth, and with the remote control software, I can adjust the mix from the booth with my laptop (a MacBook Pro running Windows under VMWare's Fusion—aren't Intel Macs great?). We can also use another matrix to send to the Great Room.
The other upshot of this whole configuration is that we've cleaned out quite a few cords from FOH. Since the 16/0 resides in the same rack as the PSM-700s, we built a couple of custom DB-25 breakouts that are just long enough to reach. Once we add a power distro, there will be just a few connections (which we'll probably make on a single rack strip) to the outside world. Thus, if we need IEMs somewhere else in the building for an event, we can pull a few cords and take the whole rack with us.
The beauty of a digital board shines brightly when it comes to setting up for the three different types of services we run each weekend. The traditional service typically uses one or two monitors, and it's a simple matter of digital patching to set that up. The contemporary service uses up to 8 of the IEMs each week, occasionally a wedge or two, plus the butt kicker. So they don't run out of mix busses, we have them set up with mono IEMs, with the other mixes falling in behind. Upper Room normally doesn't need more than 6 IEMs and rarely a wedge, so we run stereo IEMs. The only thing necessary to accommodate all these setups is loading a different file.
Even with all this capability, it's still easy for our volunteer sound engineers to manage. Because we can do the configuration up front, they simply load the right setup file. These are just some of the reasons that I think Yamaha has really hit it out of the park with the M7, at least for the church market. If I would have had to attempt a set up like this at my previous church, with an analog board, it would have required a significant amount of patching every weekend. As it was, I had 5 patchbays in that system to accommodate inserts, direct outs and inputs. The ability to change the configuration of the system by loading a file is truly cool, not to mention a huge timesaver.
May this inspire to you to re-think how you're using your digital board. If you've not jumped into the digital lake yet, perhaps this will give you some reasons to do so. And don't get me started on having two dynamic processors on each channel. Try that on an analog desk! If anyone is interested in more details of our configuration, let me know, I'd be happy to provide them.