I was just over four years ago that we sent the PM-5D packing. I had been researching options for quite a while and initially decided on an Avid Profile and Avioms. But I decided to buck convention and go with a DiGiCo SD8 and Roland M-48 system. As I often do, I took a lot of flack for it. A lot of people told me I should go with Avid because DiGiCo’s were terribly unstable and crashed all the time. I really liked the DiGiCo interface however, and loved the flexibility of the system. So we went for it. Four years later, do I have any regrets?
Nope. I’d do it Again
The dire predictions of constant crashes and major issues never materialized. In fact, I have personally mixed several hundred services on the desk and managed to crash it twice. Both times, audio continued to pass, and I finished the service on the remote. After both crashes, I had extensive conversations with DiGiCo. And, later updates have made the console even more stable. In fact, I don’t think it’s crashed once in the last 2-3 years.
The M-48s have been outstanding as well. Once in a while, one will get a bit weird, and we have to reboot it, but overall, the musicians love the sound and I love the flexibility. It’s pretty rare that any of the musicians would ask for something in their mix that we couldn’t accommodate. I love that kind of power. And because of the extensive library system, it’s easy to access and use every week.
There’s a lot to like with the DiGiCo platform. First, it sounds great. And because it’s built on an incredibly powerful FPGA, they can add new features like De-Essers, Side-Chained Compressors and more Dynamic EQ and Multi-Band Comps with a simple software update. Those updates have always been free, by the way. I love that any channel can be made into a stereo channel by pressing a button; and we don’t lose channel count when we do that. The fact that we can create any combination of stereo and mono groups and auxes that we need—up to the 25 bus limit—has been incredibly helpful. I’ve done services with 10 stereo auxes, 10 stereo groups, 2 mono auxes and 3 mono groups and the desk isn’t even breathing hard.
Then there are all the new features. A recent software update brought us the Copy Audio Matrix. This amazing feature makes it simple to route audio between MADI busses for recording, monitoring or just signal routing. I need to do a full post on that sometime. The Multi-Channel feature is also pretty cool. It allows one to fold a bunch of channels into a single fader that can be unfolded with a simple button press. As channel counts grow, it’s a great way to keep channels close at hand, while maximizing faders on the surface.
With the M-48s, the ability to give each musician any combination of the 40 channels in 16 stereo groups has to be my favorite feature. It makes it easy for them to operate; they only have 16 levels to deal with. But through software, we can fine tune that mix to give them just what they need. And of course, they have a 3-band EQ, plus reverb available. The engineer’s monitor is a feature I helped develop, and it’s a great way to help a musician that’s struggling with their mix. We can listen in on the mix, tweak it and give it back to them without leaving FOH.
If I were doing it again today, would I do anything different? Probably not. In the last four years, DiGiCo has continued to innovate, upgrade and develop new features and consoles. Avid came out with the S3. There have been a lot of new players in the personal mixer space, but for what we wanted to do, I don’t think there is anything that would work as well as the M-48s. The Pivitec system would probably be the closest to what we needed, especially since they now have a MADI to AVB bridge. That would take some more investigation. Speaking of which, I really need to demo that system…
Of course, Yamaha has made a big splash with the CL-series. And they are great consoles to be sure. They are arguably easier to teach volunteers how to use, but I think I would feel limited by the fixed architecture. The Dante integration is great, however. Then again, the times, they are a changing. So maybe a CL would be fine today. But if I had my choice, it would be DiGiCo all the way.