Audio Mixing Consoles of the Future Could Exchange "In Box" Design for Boosts in Networking and Processing Power

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A new audio mixing console with a design that takes advantage of advancing networking technology shows how audio consoles could be built in the future

“This approach represents a profound shift in how audio is mixed. Eventually, all audio mixing will be done this way.”

With the introduction of the “Dimension One” console, Wheatstone Corporation presents a new console architecture that enables significant increases in networking and processing capabilities.

Audio mixing consoles have always done three basic things: mix, process, and internally route signals. With the arrival of digital technology in the 1990s, designers looking to boost performance moved from a focus on the mix function to a focus on digital signal processing. Now, as part of a second wave of digital innovation, the Dimension One console focuses on networking, replacing the traditional internal routing with a fully interactive digital network. According to Wheatstone VP Andy Calvanese, “This approach represents a profound shift in how audio is mixed. Eventually, all audio mixing will be done this way.” The new architecture departs from that of traditional “in-box” design consoles in the following ways:

Audio functions have been moved outside the console box to expand processing power

Instead of locating audio functions such as mixing, signal processing, and logic inside the console box, the new design moves them outside of the box, into an equipment rack, while an intuitive control surface remains in the production studio. The advantage is that the amount of digital signal processing (DSP) power is no longer limited by the size of the console box or its ability to dissipate heat. As a result, the Dimension One offers a big jump in processing power for its price category, delivering 1,024 channels of digital signal processing -- enough to deploy 72 surround sound (5.1) capable faders. It can also accept up to 3,072 audio inputs.

An interactive digital network replaces traditional “inside the box” routing

A digital network allows previously fixed audio functions to interact. Unlike “in box” design consoles that limit the number and type of audio sources connecting to faders, the new design offers total flexibility: Any audio source can connect to any fader, using any kind of audio signal. The Dimension One console can accept analog line level, analog mic level, AES digital, MADI, SDI, and GPIO, at any input and deliver it to any fader.

The digital network can be extended outside the console box as well

Because the heart of the new design is an actual digital network, real audio networking capabilities can be extended into the facility. When used for external networking, the Dimension One becomes far more than just an audio console: It becomes a facility-wide audio control and routing system. Without the additional expense and complexity of adding external routers or interface extenders, it now becomes possible to. . .

  •     Quickly add more control surfaces. As soon as they are connected to the digital network, they are immediately connected to every audio source and destination.
  •     Quickly add a small mixing console for “handing off” control of select faders during a complicated mix.
  •     Access any audio source “on the fly.” Because the control surface connects to a network containing all audio sources, if one source goes dead, a board operator can immediately access a replacement.
  •     Operate all facility audio sources and destinations through an automation device, without a physical console or control surface. We don’t recommend you do this, but the fact that you can shows just how powerful the control and networking capabilities of this product are.    

  •     Create remote audio pickup points throughout the facility using inexpensive CAT-5 cable. Some TV stations are now using this for live weather reports from the roof of their facility or live reports from the floor of the newsroom.

No eureka moment, just curiosity and hard work

According to Calvanese, the new console design did not come from a blinding flash of insight, but instead emerged from an extensive analysis of how to take advantage of advancing digital technology: “The design started with a desire to use digital technology to the fullest. We began with a wish list of features we wanted to build into our next console, but as the list grew we found we were coming up against the physical limitations of the console box. So, we started working on a design that would move audio functions outside into a single rack unit. Then we wanted to add more features, and we were up to two rack units.

At this point, we realized that we needed a way to connect these parts together. Networking technology had seen tremendous advancements recently, so we thought, ‘why not take advantage?’ Of course, once we added a digital network we started asking, ‘What else can we do with this?’”

The end result of this process is a very different and powerful architecture that delivers big gains in performance. Says Wheatstone Marketing Director Josh Gordon, “While we are excited to have done pioneering work on the design of audio mixing consoles, it is the increase in performance that board operators and engineers will be most interested in.”

The Dimension One console, featuring Wheatstone’s digital network design, will be formally introduced on April 12, 2011 at the National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas NV (9:00 AM, press conference room N242 at the Las Vegas Convention Center). The console can be seen during the NAB Show at the Wheatstone booth, #C 2623.

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Scott Johnson
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