Live Sound System Controllers

Apr 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Steve La Cerra

POWERHOUSE TWEAKS FROM A RACKMOUNT BOX

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Meyer Sound Galileo features CP-10 phase-parametric EQ on each audio I/O.

Meyer Sound Galileo features CP-10 phase-parametric EQ on each audio I/O.

There's nothing like the joy of assembling a new P.A. system. The sweet smell of new cabinetry, manuals everywhere and enough audio wiring to entertain a snake charmer. The best part is building and prepping the drive rack — connecting the audio routers, crossovers, equalizers and delay lines, and then fine-tuning it. Of course, after you've spent a week painstakingly dialing in the crossover, EQ and delay settings, somebody comes along and changes everything when you're not looking.

Luckily, audio manufacturers felt our pain and created the system controller or drive processor. Typically incorporating graphic and parametric EQ, dynamics, crossover, delay, feedback elimination and audio routing, these controllers make touring life easier by consolidating gear that previously existed in a separate chassis. This combined functionality reduces the amount of wiring and rack real estate, a valuable asset especially in small venues.

In addition to the audio functions previously mentioned, most system controllers feature preset and user libraries, and the ability to access them via MIDI, USB or a memory card. This is great for traveling systems in which custom profiles can be created and recalled for use in different venues. Some controllers furnish preconfigured crossover setups or presets for specific loudspeakers to get you up and running quickly. For example, the dbx DriveRack unit ships preloaded with crossover settings for certain JBL loudspeakers, removing the guesswork while saving you time in the process.

Front panel muting, metering and level adjust are a must, and — as it won't be long before analog wiring resides in the Museum of Radio and Television — it'd be wise to choose a device with digital I/O capabilities. More and more manufacturers are providing Ethernet ports and software for control via PC, and you'll find at least one controller (the Dolby DLP) that allows you to remotely make/break ground on audio channels for much faster troubleshooting of ground loops. Security lock-out for the front panel can keep snooping sniffers out of your precious audio parameters.

Some loudspeaker manufacturers produce system controllers optimized for use with their own products, and system control integrated with power amplifiers is on the horizon. Let's look at some system controllers from a variety of audio manufacturers, listed alphabetically.

A BREAKDOWN OF THE UNITS

The Intelli-Q 22 (about $5,700) from Apex (www.apex-audio.be) is a 2-channel processor for stereo or dual-mono use. Each channel has 30-band, constant-Q graphic and 10-band parametric EQ, high- and lowpass filters, shelf EQ, 2-band compressor with adjustable crossover and a look-ahead limiter on the audio outputs. Sidechain inputs allow control over the dual-band compressor or can feed a built-in RTA. AES-3 I/O is available as an option, and a universal switch-mode power supply facilitates worldwide use.

Apex's Intelli-X 48 (about $7,900) comes in a 4×8 configuration, allowing XLR connectors to be switched between analog and AES-3 digital input. Up to 256 filters may be used simultaneously, including 30-band, constant-Q graphic, 8-band parametric and 2-band shelf EQ per input, plus 8-band parametric and 2-band shelf EQ per output. All Apex controllers may be accessed via the company's Intelli-Ware PC software for real-time control.

The 4.24C Protea System II ($1,795) from Ashly (www.ashly.com) is a 4×8 digital crossover/system processor employing active, balanced I/O and 24-bit/48kHz conversion. Input processing includes gain, delay and six filters (parametric, low- or high-shelf), while output processing includes crossover, four filters, delay, polarity reverse and compression/limiting. The 4.24C may be programmed and run from the front panel or via MIDI, Ashly's Protea System Software (Windows) or SIA Smaart software. Preset recall, input level, output level and mute functions can also be controlled by an AMX NetLinx system.

With 3×6 audio I/O, Ashly's Protea 3.24CL ($1,035) was designed for use in small systems. Each input provides control over gain, delay and six filters (parametric, low- or high-shelf). Each output provides four filters (parametric, low- or high-shelf), delay, crossover, gain, polarity and compression/limiting for speaker protection, and may be assigned to any combination of inputs. Conversion is 24-bit/48kHz, and the 3.24CL provides four levels of security.

Behringer's (www.behringer.com) Ultradrive Pro DCX 2496 ($339.95) loudspeaker-management system has a 3×6 configuration, with 24-bit/96kHz conversion and four different operating modes. One of the analog inputs is switchable to an AES/EBU digital input. Onboard sample rate conversion allows easy connection of incoming digital signals with sample rates from 32 to 96 kHz. Zero-attack limiters on all output channels provide optimal signal protection.

Nexia SP ($1,999) from Biamp (www.biamp.com) provides up to 4×8 routing. System configuration is user-definable via daVinci PC software, and you can create multi-unit systems using Ethernet and NexLink digital audio linking. DSP includes a variety of mixers, graphic and parametric EQ, high- and lowpass filtering, two/three/four-way crossovers, dynamics, delay and a signal generator. Rear panel NexLink ports facilitate linking of multiple units for larger systems, and an RS-232 port links a variety of optional third-party remote-control devices.

Biamp's AudiaSOLO ($3,998) is available in 12×4, 4×12 and 8×8 versions with balanced I/O on barrier-strip terminals. Inputs accept mic or line-level signals. AudiaSOLO has a minimalist front panel; Biamp provides software for system design, control and diagnostics via PC. Once a system design is compiled, it's downloaded into AudiaSOLO, where it can be controlled via third-party systems such as AMX and Crestron via daVinci software and/or via dedicated Audia remote-control panels.






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