DiGiCo vs. Avid: 1 Year Later

DiGiCo SD8

OK, so it’s not been quite a year. However, the question has come up a lot lately so I thought I’d post about it. Generally, people want to know if I’m still happy with the choice of the SD8 over the Profile. The quick answer is yes. I could wrap this up and start another post, but perhaps some explanation is in order.

In my original post, I highlighted several key factors that led me to chose the SD8 over the Profile. Those factors were:

  • A more modern, flexible DSP structure
  • MADI
  • Software

That all still holds true. And before I go further, let me attempt to explain the SD8s I/O capabilities (as it seems to be a constant source of confusion). The SD8 has 60 input channels, any one (or all) of which can be mono or stereo, without changing the channel count. So, if you want to plug 120 XLRs into the console and configure them as 60 stereo channels, you can. If you want to plug 60 XLRs in and configure them as 60 mono channels, you can. Or, you can do any variation on the above. Also, unlike my former Yamaha console, you can pair any adjacent inputs; they don’t have to be odd to even, or even to odd. As long as they are next to each other on the input card, they can be a stereo channel. To help this make sense, you have to mentally separate inputs and channels. In practice, what we’ve found is that 60 stereo channels equates to about 72 inputs on a normal analog or digital board. That is, by the time we combine 2 channels for keys, piano, guitar, etc., on a large show, we’re using 72-ish inputs.

When it comes to outputs, the same thinking applies. You have 25 mix busses (1 of which is always Main LR). You can configure those 24 remaining busses as mono auxes, stereo auxes, mono groups or stereo groups, without changing the bus count. So, if you want 24 stereo aux mixes, you can have them (though you won’t have any groups). If you want 12 stereo aux mixes and 12 stereo groups, you can do that. Or 12 stereo auxes, 6 stereo groups, 3 mono auxes and 3 mono groups. It doesn’t matter; as long as the total number of auxes and groups doesn’t exceed 24. I know I’m belaboring this point, but DiGiCo does a poor job of explaining this on their web site, and it’s the first question everyone comes back with whenever I send them there to look at the board.

Again, in use, we’ve found this to be tremendously flexible. I like not being a slave to a fixed output bus architecture. Sometimes, needs change and we need to reconfigure. It’s really easy to do, and we get what we need.

As for MADI, it rocks. Avid has added MADI capability now, which is good. I’m not going to spend more time on that. It just works.

The software of the SD8 is still my favorite. I didn’t realize at the time exactly how powerful the snapshot functions were, but learned that lesson well during Christmas. For example, it’s not at all hard to have a snapshot that brings one fader up in a half-second, and another one down in two. I did that 14 times for one song, and it was a huge help in smoothing out all those mic-to-mic transitions. And it’s easy to set up. I find myself using the Macro programming a lot as well. Whenever I need to do something more than once, or perform a whole bunch of operations on a set of channels, I write a macro. It takes just a minute and saves me tons of time.

Customizing the surface of the board couldn’t be easier, either. Each fader is just a control; it doesn’t care what it controls. So we can build fader banks that include input channels, groups, auxes and even matrix masters if we want. And we do! It’s surprising how much page flipping that saves you when you build a “Foldback” page. We have two auxes that we use to fold back to our M-48s for local inputs and speaking mics. We created a page with those auxes, plus all the input channels we feed them with. Hit solo, and we’re in sends on fader mode, and it’s super easy to adjust those fold backs.

I love the show-based file structure as well. We have different shows for different services each week, and we can completely customize the console to make those services run as smoothly as possible, with minimal page flipping. In fact, I can mix all but our largest productions on the top layer of pages; I only change pages to adjust record mixes and fold backs.

While not directly an SD8 feature, the other key factor for us is the great integration with the M48 monitoring system. By sending a MADI cable over to the S-MADI Bridge, we give each of our musicians a 40 channel mixer for fully customized mixes. They love it, it sounds great, and we’ve yet to come up with a band too big to handle.

From an ease-of-use standpoint, the SD8 is by far the fastest console I’ve mixed on. Everything I need is just a button or screen press away. I don’t find myself digging through menus or mousing around to adjust a parameter. It’s all right there on the touch screen. Because I can assign the three rows of encoders above the faders to the most commonly used functions (and they can be different for each fader bank and page), the controls I need are right at hand all the time.

Occasionally I’ll find myself with plug-in envy when I hear my Avid-driving friends talking about the newest plug-in they’ve fallen in love with. However, I’ve found the SD8 sounds great on it’s own, and having 8 multiband comps and 8 dynamic EQs that I can assign anywhere is all I really need. The desk sounds really good; I don’t find myself wanting to spend thousands on plug-ins to make it sound a little better. Now, when I get a better PA with more resolution, maybe. But I can always install the Waves SoundGrid option if I really need to.

I could go on for a lot longer, but I’ll wrap this up. It has been a great console for us, and we’ve experienced very little of the instability and crashiness people warned us about. Yes, there have been a few minor issues, but no more than we had with our PM5D, an none that negatively affected a service. Tech support has been great each time we’ve had an issue, though that’s only been 1 or 2 times.

All in all, it’s a choice I would tell myself to make again if I could send me a fax from the future.

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