Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: April 2015 (Page 2 of 2)

Roland M-5000 First Impressions Pt. 2

Last time we started talking about the new Roland M-5000 audio console. I spent several hours mixing on it a while back and came away with some very good impressions. We like to joke about marketing firms using the words “game-changer” all the time, but this one kind of is. So let’s dig into what I like about it.

Big, Bright Touchscreen

The centerpiece of the console is a bright, responsive 12” touch screen. The interface is very fast, and very intuitive. It’s a very attractive interface with enough color differentiation to make it easy to know where you are all the time. Controls get mapped to two rows of encoders and buttons below the screen, and there is also a touch and turn function. 

Features for Days

Roland clearly listened to actual audio engineers when designing this console because so much of it is laid out the way we’d want it. Each input can have up to three input sources; a main, alternate and track return. The alternate makes a great backup and track return makes it easy to combine live sources with tracked ones. 

The EQ and Dynamics sections can be re-ordered on a per-channel basis. Every input and output has dual dynamics sections—selectable between compressor, limiter, ducker, gate and expander—a four band parametric plus signal delay. Insertion points for external effects can be selected before and after the dynamics and eq blocks.

You can build mix-minus feeds, which are great for recording. There are 24 DCA’s and 8 mute groups available and 8 stereo multi-effects. Each of the effects engines can be mono to stereo or broken into dual mono as needed. There are a ton of built-in effects, most of which you’ll never use. However, I found some plates, halls and delays that were quite good. And if you want it, a Waves Soundgrid card will give you access to the whole Waves universe.

There are two selectable solo systems (useful for soloing both mains and monitors or mains and record), three talkback destinations, and 32 graphic EQs. They even threw in a two 31 band RTA’s for good measure. I didn’t notice this at the time, but there is also a built-in ASIO 16×16 USB audio interface on the console for easy recording of your services.


The Rest of the Family

Of course since it’s Roland, you have access to the M-48 personal mixers—which remain my ultimate favorite in this category. Coming this summer, you’ll be able to configure and control them right from the console. The R-1000 recorders play right along well with the M-5000 as well, and transport control will be available in the next software update. Of course there is iPad control, both wired and wireless, just like the M-200i. And using the soon to be released RCS (Remote Control Software), you’ll be able to lay out and control almost all elements of the console from an attached computer. The window layouts will be fully customizable. 

The Brains of the Organization

The M-5000 is, like all good modern consoles, built around a big ole FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array). FPGAs are superior to DSP in may ways because they can be re-configured with a software upgrade. We saw this all the time with our DiGiCo SD8. One software update added an additional eight multi band compressors and dynamic EQs while another added four more effects engines. They are not using nearly the full capacity of the FPGA chip yet, so I expect many more features to come in the coming years as user feedback really ramps up.

But Wait! There’s More!

Of course there are a ton more features on this desk and it would take days to go through them all. I recommend you go spend some time on their excellent M-5000 website to learn all this thing can do. As we wrap this up, I want to give some impressions on how it sounds. When trying a new desk, I like to go for the EQ and compressors first. This gives me an idea of how much I can rely on internal processing and how much I’ll need to do outside the box. We had some pretty dynamic tracks to work with so I started digging into the comps pretty hard right way. 

Just like with my DiGiCo, I could get plenty of dynamics control without hearing ugly side effects. The EQ was just as musical. Small changes were subtle and large ones made a big difference, just as one would hope. Both the dynamics and EQ were easy to use and get dialed the way I wanted them. 

The effects were good, though I didn’t spend a ton of time on them. Once I found a hall and plate I liked, I moved on. But I could live with them for sure. The scene system is also quite robust. In the software version I used, I saw all the possibilities but will withhold final judgement until I see the next rev of software. Like my DiGiCo, virtually every parameter can be recalled, and I’m simply waiting for individual fade times to give it my final blessing. I’m told it’s coming this summer, however. 

I Like It

In the first article, I told you I liked this desk. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I actually do like it. A lot. It’s a solid mixer that sounds great, is easy to use, is highly configurable and has a ton of features. But at what cost? This is where “game-changer” comes into play. 

Because the system is so modular it’s hard to say how much it costs—it’s simply very configurable. But to give you some ideas, Roland has put together a few packages. First, you can get an M-5000 surface plus two S-4000 stage racks (32×8 or 8×32, you pick) for under $30,000. So that’s the console, with 64 inputs and 16 outputs for under $30K! Or for just under $40K, you can get the desk, two stage racks plus (9) M-48 mixers, the S-4000D distro and (2) R-1000 player/recorders! The landscape just moved again. 

I’m sure we’ll be doing more with the M-5000 as it develops, but it is shipping now, and it’s only going to get better. If you’re in the market for a mid-sized console, you need to look at this.


Roland M-5000 First Impressions Pt. 1

Last fall at LDI, I was given a sneak peak at the new Roland M-5000 audio console. We shot a pretty long video on it, which covered most of the big picture highlights of the desk. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend more time on the desk, this time with current software and audio tracks. Over the course of two days, I probably spent about six hours digging into menus and settings, mixing and generally learning my way around. 

For those looking for the executive summary right away, I’ll tell you up front that I really like the desk. It’s fast to get around on, has a ton of features and sounds good. Most of you know that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool DiGiCo guy, having mixed on an SD8 for four years, loving every minute of it. I’ve also mixed on plenty of Yamaha, Soundcraft, A&H, SSL and other desks. While I have my favorites, I’m always on the lookout for something new, something disruptive. The M-5000 is both new and disruptive. 

What’s In a Name?

Roland has taken some flak for the name of the platform—OHRCA. Cue the Free Willy jokes here. But aside from a funny name, I like what they’re doing. OHRCA stands for Open, High-Resolution, Configurable Architecture. While the M-5000’s main I/O is based on REAC, Roland’s proprietary audio transport protocol, there are two card slots on the back that will accept Dante, MADI and Waves Soundgrid. With those cards, you can connect to pretty much any system. 

The M-5000 will run all 128 processing paths at 96KHz, 24 bits (with 72 bit fixed point internal processing). Many people don’t know this but REAC was always designed to run at 96KHz, so any stage box out there will connect right up to the M-5000 and run at 96KHz. 

It’s also highly configurable. One thing I loved about my DiGiCo was the ability to place faders anywhere I liked on the surface. The M-5000 takes a unique approach to that. Instead of banks and layers, there are scroll buttons that will basically slide the channels left and right on the faders. If you’re set up for say, 80 input channels, that could get tedious so they created “anchor” channels. An anchor lets you define a point of quick access—the lead guitar for example—and scroll to that point in the channel list with one click. 

You also have three completely assignable user layers that you can lay out however you want. Each of the three banks of eight faders can be linked together in the scrolling process or isolated. There are an additional four faders all the way to the right that can be assigned to whatever you need ready access to often. This is a different metaphor for working with lots of inputs and outputs on a small surface, but once I got used to it (it took about an hour), I found it very fast and intuitive. 

The Best from the Best

There are some great consoles out there, and the ones that I get most excited about have a few features in common. First is a flexible architecture. DiGiCo has done a great job with that over the years, giving users the ability to decide how to allocate both mono and stereo groups and auxes. SSL took it a step further and gave us processing paths that can be assigned anyway you like. Midas did something similar with the ProX. 

Roland took that same idea of processing paths and incorporated it into the M-5000. There are 128 processing paths that can be freely assignable between input channels (mono or stereo, selected on a per-channel basis), matrix mixes, groups, auxes and outputs. Groups and auxes can be mono or stereo, and the main out can be LR, LCR, Mono or 5.1 surround (with built-in down mixing) Re-allocating the processing is very simple and every time I did it, audio continued to pass. That’s right, no re-booting or dropping audio to add another few groups or auxes. 

They clearly understand that in today’s large venues, one needs access to a large number of inputs and outputs. You may not need to mix them all, all the time, but you need access to them. To that end, the M-5000 can access up to 300 inputs and 296 outputs at 96KHz. Any input can be patched to any output (or multiple outputs) through separate patch bays, including control of gain and phantom power without having to go through a channel. Gain sharing is slated for the next software release (this summer I believe) so multiple consoles can share the same input racks seamlessly. 

There are so many features on a board of this size, it’s almost impossible to cover them all. So I’ll stop here and pick it up again on Friday with some of my favorite features.

Today’s post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

Mike Has a New Job!

Image courtesy of  Mike Licht

Image courtesy of Mike Licht

Last Friday I told you I was about to make a pretty significant change in my work status. A year ago, I left the church staff job I had been working for five years and signed on with Flexstage, a small AVL integrator owned by Visioneering Studios (an architect firm). That year was everything rolled into one; good, challenging, educational, hard, long and exciting. And while I wasn’t looking to leave, when a great opportunity presents itself, I’ve learned to at least have the conversation. Or several.

The Big News

As of today, I’m excited to announce that I am now a Project Lead for CCI Solutions of Olympia, WA. If you’ve never heard of CCI, you clearly haven’t been reading this blog or listening to the podcast very long. I’ve worked with CCI as a client for many years, and they were an early sponsor of this website. Duke DeJong, a regular co-host on ChurchTechWeekly, has been crisscrossing the country for the last four years spreading the word about CCI. Duke and I have been friends for several years and have talked and dreamed about working together for almost that whole time. The stars have all aligned and we’re excited to see what is in store. 

My Role

As Project Lead, my role will be to own the project from the time it’s sold to the time it’s commissioned. That means system design, product specification, drawings, coordinating with the install and construction crews, commissioning the systems and training. Along the way, we have some great ideas for creating additional video content for both this and the CCI website, as well as covering trade shows just like we always have—and are doing this week at NAB. 

Not much will change here at CTA; I will still be posting on my usual schedule, and expect to have even better access to new products for testing and review. CCI has great vendor relationships and I hope to leverage that to help you make even more informed decisions on gear. 

My Location

While CCI is located in the Pacific Northwest, I will live in Nashville come June. We have so many projects throughout the midwest that it makes sense to have someone stationed there for better client service. So, come the end of May, we’ll be packing up the truck and moving to our new home just outside of Nashville. Once in the new house, I’ll be setting up the Palatial Studio 3.0; and it will actually be palatial this time. It will also include an espresso machine. 

The Upshot

So, if you have a project or equipment purchase need, feel free to reach out and I will do everything I can to help you out. If you need advice or a shoulder to cry on, I remain available to help as much as I can. My hope is that in this new role I will have even greater capacity to help churches better serve their congregations and communities. And, I want to continue to serve the technical community which has really become like an extended family to me. 

Again, I thank you for reading and look forward to another eight years of CTA. Oh yeah, CTA turned 8 last month. I sort of blew right by that as I was busy buying a new house. But yeah, 8 years. Wow!


Change is in the Air

Photo courtesy of  Jeff Kubina

Photo courtesy of Jeff Kubina

I think by now most of you know that for the last year or so I’ve been helping churches in a different way than I had in the past. I left church staff last May and have been working for an AVL integration company called Flexstage. Flexstage is part of Visioneering, which is a cool architecture firm that primarily designs and builds churches. I was attracted to this company because I’ve felt for a long time that many of the problems we see in the architectural design of churches could be avoided if the AV guys were involved earlier in the process. Being the AV guy across the hall from the architects seemed like a great way to do that. 

And it has been. It’s been a great year. I’ve learned a ton, installed over a dozen systems, and helped a lot of churches do ministry better. I’m very grateful for the opportunity and really enjoyed most of the time there (hey, we all have bad days no matter where we are). 

As much as I’ve enjoyed my time there, a new opportunity has presented itself which I simply couldn’t pass up. Making a change again so soon was a hard decision as I don’t really want to be the guy who jumps from job to job trying to climb the ladder. But in this case, it was pretty clear that God was moving and things that we’ve been dreaming about for a long time were coming to fruition. 

So, as you read this, I’m wrapping up my time at Flexstage and preparing to move on to my next Kingdom assignment. I feel like this next opportunity will allow me to get even more focused on what I’m really good at, while taking some of the pressure off the stuff that I’m not as well equipped for. And if all goes well, I’ll have more time to develop new content for this site. We have a lot of ideas and I think you’ll be seeing some cool stuff in the coming months. 

Watch the blog next Monday for the official announcement of where I’m off to next. For some of you it won’t be a surprise at all. But it is going to be fun. Thanks for reading!

Today’s post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

This post is brought to you by Shure Wireless. The new ULX D Dual and Quad wireless systems feature RF Cascade ports, a high density mode with significantly more simultaneous operating channels and bodypack diversity for mission critical applications. Visit their website at Shure.com.

Custom In-Ears Goes Star Trek

As a long-time user of custom-molded in-ears, I’ve had silicone squeezed into my ears on more than one occasion. And while it’s not terribly uncomfortable, and it is a serviceable way to get a good impression, it’s not terribly high-tech. The folks at Ultimate Ears—the ones who are already 3-D printing the shells—have come up with a way to scan the inside of your ears with light and come up with a digital representation that is accurate to within 200 microns. You have to see this!

Today’s post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

The Difference Between What and Why

Photo courtesy of  Michael Coghlan

Photo courtesy of Michael Coghlan

Last weekend I had a cool opportunity to attend a very unique concert. It was unlike anything I had seen and I was grateful for the chance to go. As much as it was a cool musical experience, it was a less than stellar sound experience. 

 As I sat there listening to the choir and orchestra members position themselves on stage—and I could hear them clearly because all the mic’s were hot—it occurred to me that there is a vast gulf between knowing what a given piece of gear or setting does and why you change it. 

Leaving all the mic’s on is just one example. There were numerous EQ challenges and many times when the drums more than overpowered the main instrument. In fact, it sounded a lot like the sound guy dialed up each mic to a good level, and left the faders at unity. So while he technically had good gain structure, he had a less than ideal mix. 

The Great Divide

I understand this challenge. On the one hand, I have seen many sound techs who know music, but had no real understanding on how the equipment works. So while they may be able to force some sort of mix together, they typically lack the technical skill set to make it great. 

On the other hand, I’ve seen as many (probably more) sound guys who really have no understanding of music but can quote specs, theory and technical gobbely-gook all day long. But they lack the knowledge of why any of that is important. 

Science and Art

It’s true that we need to have a firm grasp on the technology we’re using to accomplish the goal of a great mix. But I think even more than that, we must understand the art. The craft. And that is the hardest to teach. I’ve said for a long time that I can teach someone with a modicum of technological understanding how to use the technology. But they have to have an understanding of how music works in the first place if they expect to be a great engineer. 

I believe one of the reasons mixing comes so easily to me is that I grew up listening to music. I bought my first pair of headphones at age 9 and spend the entire summer in front of the hi-fi listening to records. Throughout Jr. & Sr. High, I spent at least 3-4 hours a day listening to music. 

Knowing what it is supposed to sound like is the first step to getting it there. But there’s even more. Knowing when to mute mic’s and when to open them up is another skill that takes time to learn. There are two ways to learn this—spending hundreds of hours behind the console making hundreds of mistakes (and hopefully learning from them) or being mentored by someone who already did that. You can imagine which way I think is better.

Choose Wisely

In the climactic scene of Indian Jones, the villain drinks from the wrong chalice and turns to black ash. The wise old sage says, “He chose poorly.” When choosing people to mix, I have found it’s generally preferable to chose understanding of music over pure technical chops. 

This is not to say that highly technical people can’t mix, it’s just that they usually take a lot longer to get there. And while it may take a musically literate person a little while to get up to speed with the technology, they will usually be better engineers in the end. 

The best scenario of course, is a mixture of both. Those folks are rare, however. When it comes to putting up a great mix, knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing is probably more important than knowing what you’re doing. At least that’s my experience…


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