CTW NAMM Coverage: DiGiCo UB MADI USB-MADI Interface

This was one of those little gems I almost missed. I hadn't heard of anything new at the DiGiCo booth, so I swung by to say, expecting to move on quickly. Then I got talking to the guys and asked if there was anything new. They dropped this little silver box in my hand and said, "This." 

The UB MADI is a simple, single purpose product at it's finest. It is just a bi-directional USB to MADI interface. Plug your MADI in and out lines into the unit, connect it to a USB port on your computer and you are ready to record and play back up to 48 tracks of uncompressed audio. That's pretty much it.

What is clever about it is that it's very small, bus powered and requires no configuration. Just plug it in, and it works. My initial question was, "Why use this instead of an RME MADIFace?" The answer was actually obvious after I thought about it. With a MADIFace, you need a PCI slot, either in a desktop or an Express34 slot. Few manufacturers are making Express34 slots anymore, and if you're on the road, you don't want to lug a desktop around. 

USB, however, is everywhere. The only real downside to the UB MADI is that you loose 8 channels of record/playback capability. With a MADIFace, you get all 56 available in DiGiCo's MADI implementation. For most of us, most of the time, 48 channels is sufficient. They aslo worked hard to get latency down to an absolute minimum so you could presumably use this with Waves Soundgrid (at least, I'd like to try that...). 

They packed a dual-core, 500 MHz cpu with an FPGA derived from the SD7 into that litte box, so there is quite a lot of extra processing power available. It's software updatable, so there could be additional functionality coming down the road.

It will be priced at about $1300, though I did not catch a ship date.

CTW NAMM Coverage: Behringer X32

I know, I know, it's Behringer. Normally I don't pay them much mind, but since their acquisition of Midas and Klark Teknik, they have been busy bees. We saw the Behringer X32 on day two of the show having heard about it from some friends on day one. Given the price point—$2,500 list—and the I/O count—32 channels, 16 busses—I felt I had to at least give it a look.

Honestly, I was surprised. On the surface, it looks pretty good. It has 25 motorized faders on the surface, each with individually backlit (with customizable colors per fader) LCDs.

There is a dedicated channel strip on the top left (where we've come used to seeing one) that features control for dynamic, EQ and sends. To save space, some of these controls are multi-function, but I found it fast to get around.

They included a 7" LCD screen, that while not a touch screen, is very high resolution and easy to read. The software interface is clean and easy to follow and I never felt lost on it (unlike the A&H GLD). The setup options are very deep, and you can select from a handful of combinations of pre/post auxes plus groups depending on your needs. It's not quite up to DiGiCo flexibility, but then I can only buy two input cards for the price of this mixer.

To make it faster to get to functions you might need to adjust regularly, they put a bank of four customizable encoders on the surface. You can assign a wide variety of parameters on the board to these encoders, and they have 12 banks worth of assigns. I need to play with it more to see exactly how this works, but at least initially, it looks pretty handy.

A few other things I was surprised to find on a mixer in this price range; two talk back busses, controls for headphones and a monitor wedge, scenes, and AES50 connectivity for attaching stage boxes with Cat5. Given that the Midas Pro series racks operate on AES50, it seems that you could use one of those for a stage box if you wanted to. Maybe... If not, they offer a 16x8 stage rack that is $699. The console has the ability to take in 48 channels via AES50, though you can only mix 32 of them at once. 

Other nice features include 6 mute groups and 8 DCAs; 8 virtual effects (all true stereo); a 6 channel matrix with full processing; and adjustable line delay on every input and output. Of course, you can connect it to Behringer's personal mixing system as well. 

We did some math and realized that for under about $4,500 list, you could get a 32x16 mixer with 8 personal mixers. Let that sink in for a minute. That is an incredible price point.

Now, yes, it's Behringer. And no, we didn't hear it so I can't comment on how it sounds. Yes, in the past, Behringer products have had a reputation for working for two years or so before quitting unexpectedly, and I don't know if the association with Midas will change that. And yes, it's Behringer; so I know you Avid, DiGiCo, Soundcraft, Midas, Yamaha et. al. jockeys aren't interested. 

But we have to keep in mind that there are a lot of churches out there that really can't afford even an LS9 (which is not well-loved anyway—and the X32 is far more feature rich). I'm not recommending you run out and buy an X32, even if you are a smaller church for whom this seems like a great option. However, I am saying this should be part of the discussion. Remember, you could buy 3 of these for the price of 1 LS9. And the feature set is far superior. Keep two in a closet for when the first one breaks. 

Will it sound like a Pro6? Probaby not. But it would have to sound absolutely terrible to be ruled out, considering the price point. If nothing else, it will be interesting to see where this goes. It's not yet shipping, but I have heard spring/summer. 

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CTW NAMM Coverage: Line6 M20d Digital Mixer

In my mind, the most innovative product that I saw at NAMM this year is the Line6 M20d mixer. While not a replacement for my SD8, it's the first time I've seen any company take a new, blank slate approach to mixing in the digital age. The product is so unique and different that I won't even attempt to cover all the features here. I will hit the highlights and recommend you spend some time on their website.

I like the M20d if for no other reason that it's totally unique. Rather than the normal channel strip interface we're used to (which was developed 50 years ago in the early analog area), they took a far more visual approach. To adjust the parameters of an input, rather than looking down to a scribble strip to identify the channel, you touch the icon representing what you want to adjust. That's when it gets interesting.

A lot of churches have some very dedicated and hard-working volunteer sound guys (and gals) who are behind the board because they work at Verizon, and therefore know "tech." The reality is, they have no idea what a high pass filter is, what Q means or how to adjust the attack time on a compressor. When the drummer says they want their kick to sound more punchy, they look for a knob labeled "punchy" and come up empty.

This is the market for which the M20d is deisgned. The folks at Line6 realized that in the digital age, a novice sound guy doesn't need to know how to adjust EQ, comps, gates and effects; they just need to know what sound they want. So they developed an interface to reflect that. You want your bass more punch? Select the bass, hit Tweak and move the cursor to Punchy. Don't like that? Move it around some and stop when it sounds good.

When you first plug a cable into the M20d, it autosenses that you've plugged something in and draws a mic icon on the stage. You move it around, and assign the icon representing what it is. That not only gives visual reference for the input, but also sets up the DSP appropriately for that input. A vocal input has a different DSP chain than the kick drum does, for example. Rather than start with a wide open field for everything, they narrow the range so control is better. Smart.

Adjusting monitors can be really confusing for novice engineers. Again, Line6 took a visual approach. Select the monitor you want to adjust and animated triangles appear around it. Now, turn the gain encoder for what you wish to be louder or softer and it draws an animated line from the source to the monitor. You get immediate visual feedback of what you are doing. I like this a lot.

The surface is pretty spartan, as you can see, with just a handful of buttons on the left, 12 encoders for the various functions of the 12 input channels, and a big master volume knob. You also get a mute selected button and a mute all just in case.

There is so much going on behind the scenes that it would be impossible to talk about it all in this overview post. However, I'll mention one more. If you actually do know what you're doing, they will give you access to all the processing for each channel. Select your channel, press Tweak then touch the graduation cap (I love this) to get to the full set of parameters, all of which are easily adjustable with the touch screen.

This is a very unique product and we're going to spend some time with it later in the year once it's officially available. Yes, it's only 12x4, so it's targeted to club bands and small churches. However, the guys at Line6 said this is just the beginning. They started small, and there is no reason they can't make it bigger.

Price point is $2495 list and will be available in March.

CTW NAMM Coverage: Pivitec Personal Monitors

In case you hadn't noticed, personal monitors are exploding. Well, that's not true; the market for personal mixers is exploding. Aviom started it all back in the late '90s (and hasn't done anything since...), and we've seen many new players take the field in recent years. Roland has their M-48s; MyMix is doing well, we looked at the new Elite Core system at WFX, heck, even Behringer has a personal mixing system. And now we have Pivitec

The analog input module.

The team at Pivitec are the same guys who designed the original Aviom system. Apparently, they are not content to sit around doing nothing for 10 years, so they have taken a new approach to personal mixing. The system is based on the open AVB standard, so it should be fairly easy to convert from other protocols. Like every other system on the market, it's based on an input module (a 16 channel analog in to start with), a distribution switch (in this case an 8-port POE managed switch), and a module for each musician.

Where they diverge is in the control surface. Instead of the standard box with a bunch of knobs (or a single knob), they are using an iPad app to control each mixer. The iPad has a few distinct advantages. First, it's big and self-illuminated. That makes it easy to use on dark stages. Second, it's just software. So changes are easy to make. 

The mixer module.

Each individual mixer has plenty of DSP inside to handle things like master EQ and individual channel EQ. They could even add compression and reverb if they want to. The system will initially ship with the ability to mix up to 32 channels, and the expect to be doing 64 channels by summer. They told us that mixing 128 channels is easy and they can probably go up to 400 or so. 

And this is where it gets interesting. While it might be possible to mix 400 channels, they also realize it may not be a good idea. They plan on listening carefully to their customers and rolling out features that make sense for the end user. We talked with them about coming up with a monitor engineer function, for example, and they thought that sounded like a great idea. As I said, the benefit of doing this in software is that it's easy to make changes to the interface.

The switch.

It was a bit hard to tell from the tracks they had playing, but overall, the audio quality was good. The software is still in development so I'll withhold judgement for now. They expect to ship in low quantity by March, with volume ramping up after that.

Pricing is not too bad; the input module will list for $999, the individual mixers are $795 and the switch will be in the $500 range. Of course, this doesn't include the iPads, so you'll have to consider that. Still, the ability to mix up to 64 channels for $1300 per mixer (plus input modules) isn't too bad. 

The interface is pretty clean, and easy to use. Since it's not officially out, we can't yet give it the thumbs up or down, but it's certainly a product to watch.