Avid S3L: The Center of Your Live Production Environment

By in Live Sound, Music Creation, Tech Talk

The following is the final post of a seven-part blog series from Al McKinna, Principal Product Manager, Avid Live Systems & Consoles, that provides a look inside the design of Avid S3L.

 

Picture the scene.

It’s Friday night, 7 p.m. You walk into the auditorium. The walk-in music is pumping, house lights down, band not yet on stage. A sea of heads spreads out in front of you. You approach front of house. It’s another night, another gig, another rock ‘n’ roll band.

In front of you—the new console. Avid S3L. Super slim, super compact.

How can a live console have such a low profile, such striking contours, and such defined lines? The beautiful dark grey surface, unburdened with unnecessary controls, all-white silkscreen popping from soft-touch coating, and the matt finish only marginally reflecting the light. 16 faders, 32 encoders, 32 high-resolution OLED displays and unmatched control and flexibility in an ultra-compact small format. How is it even possible?

And that’s it; you are gone. It’s love at first sight.

Who would think it—you and Avid S3L? At first, you would be forgiven to think this love is skin deep, a surface love. But believe me, it will not be love that’s skin deep for long. Soon this love at first sight will blossom into a beautiful partnership. All you need to do is get to know Avid S3L

Avid S3L is not just a great sounding, great looking, easy-to-use, and ultra-compact digital mixing system. Its capabilities go far beyond that and far beyond any other mixing console in its class. Scratch just a little below the surface and you’ll see how deep the functionality goes. Learn just a little of the snapshots and events system, the onboard MEDIA record and playback system, and how S3L interoperates with Pro Tools and you will be opening your mix to a world of creative possibilities and realizing a new benchmark of production values.

Avid S3L provides capabilities that put it firmly at the center of your live sound production environment. This is achieved by taking many of the capabilities of devices usually external to the mixer (such as outboard processors or triggered playback devices) and providing them to you directly within the S3L system—providing you with a completely unified user experience when controlling your show.

I guess you are going to want specifics right? I’ve already covered some of the key capabilities of the system in my blog series, but let’s pull them all together and take a closer look at how they work together as a complete, turnkey live sound production system. The following five capabilities make Avid S3L much more than a mixing console. It’s these elements that put S3L as the central point of control in a live sound environment:

  1. Avid S3L provides a fully networked system of distributed I/O
  2. Avid S3L uses an onboard AAX plug-in ecosystem for infinite sonic possibilities
  3. Avid S3L provides an advanced integrated system of snapshots and events
  4. Avid S3L provides an onboard record and playback system, fully integrated into all areas of the VENUE software
  5. Avid S3L provides the most integrated interoperability with Pro Tools ever provided by a live mixing console

Avid S3L devices are connected via a robust network of Ethernet AVB and EUCON.

1.  Avid S3L provides a fully networked system of distributed I/O

Firstly, let’s discuss Avid S3L’s fully distributed network of distributed I/O over Ethernet AVB. We have discussed before that with Avid S3L, you can connect up to four Stage 16 remote I/O boxes. Since each box has 16 mic pres, 8 analog outputs, and 4 digital AES outputs, this provides you with a maximum of 64 inputs and 48 outputs on stage. With 100m cable runs supported between devices, Stage 16 boxes can be easily deployed around a venue to establish a system of true distributed I/O.

The cool thing is that S3L is the central point of control, management, and monitoring of this distributed I/O. It is the hub of the assignment process, patching, and signal processing. All network management is done from within the VENUE software directly. No third party devices are required to monitor devices or to route signals to perform setup functions.

The OPTIONS > Devices page is the central point of control for device navigation and network management.

As all Avid S3L devices are plug-and-play, there is no device configuration needed at all. A simple drag and drop method assigns Stage boxes in the VENUE software OPTIONS > Devices page. To simplify this further, the E3 engine always seeks to maintain its last configuration, looking across the network for the Stage 16 boxes it connected to the last time it was in use. The VENUE software acts as a central point of control for the networked devices, providing device health, redundancy indication, and even control of Stage box muting from the software—putting you in maximum control of the networked world as you stand at your mix position.

The renowned Avid Channel Strip plug-in running internally in S3L.

2.  Avid S3L uses an onboard AAX plug-in ecosystem for infinite sonic possibilities

Plug-ins! This concept is still amazing to me—the concept of taking all the outboard gear required for a show and running it internally in the mixing console. This is a concept first introduced with the Avid D-Show System and is as beneficial today in S3L.

Avid S3L’s onboard ecosystem of AAX plug-ins puts infinite creative possibilities at your fingertips. S3L users have no need for outboard or external plug-in runners, as up to 20 plug-ins (in mono or stereo) can be run simultaneously on the system. Plug-in parameters map directly to surface controls, and all plug-in settings are stored in snapshots and show files, meaning you only need a single interface to control what would otherwise take a whole outboard rack of processors to achieve.

Avid S3L comes complete with a full range of plug-in effects. Even more Avid and third party plug-ins will be qualified for S3L on an ongoing basis, increasing your range of creative choices throughout the product’s life.

 

3.  Avid S3L provides an advanced integrated system of snapshots and events

Snapshots and events are advanced functions that can take the heavy lifting from you by enabling you to store and instantly recall huge ranges of parameters, link previously unrelated functions, and subsequently control multiple areas of the system simultaneously. If you are feeling like you need more arms than an octopus, you probably need snapshots and events.

The snapshot system takes the heavy lifting from you by enabling you to store and instantly recall huge ranges of parameters.

The VENUE software provides deep snapshot functionality, and every parameter in the S3L system and VENUE software can be stored and recalled with snapshots. All fader levels, send levels, pans, mutes, and solos. Every parameter within every channel, plug-in settings, VCA members, matrix input levels, even patching and channel names can all be stored and recalled. In addition to this, snapshots can be used to trigger MIDI commands, 2-track record and playback from a connected USB drive, and Pro Tools transport controls and marker insertion.

The Events system is equally as powerful. The huge range of event triggers and actions allow you to configure the behavior of your S3L system to match your workflow, linking previously unrelated operations. 2-track USB record and playback, Pro Tools transport control, snapshots, and even GPIO operations can all be triggered via the Events system.

Pictured left to right: Event triggers and event actions.

4. Avid S3L provides an onboard record and playback system, fully integrated into all areas of the VENUE software

Avid S3L has the capability to record and play back stereo audio files via a connected USB drive. This is hugely exciting and useful functionality to have fully integrated into the system, as S3L can be used to play walk-in music, background music beds, spot effects, and other cues, or to record a simple board mix of the show. This capability is managed in the MEDIA page of the VENUE software, and is directly and deeply integrated into all other areas of the software, including Patchbay, Snapshots, Events, and Show files.

Onboard 2-track playback functionality is managed from the MEDIA page.

The recording functionality is managed from the MEDIA > Record page in the VENUE software. As the USB device appears as an item in the VENUE Patchbay, any pair of output channels can be routed to the USB drive for recording, as can any direct output from any input channel, FX return, or output channel in the system.

The record functionality is directly integrated into the snapshots system. Every snapshot in the snapshot list has the capability to either trigger the record or playback of audio files on the USB drive. When triggering a recording via a snapshot recall, you have the option to take the name of the snapshot as the name of the recording. So, if you are using snapshots for each song in your show, at the end of the gig, you will have a USB drive full of audio files already labeled and cut to length.

Record and playback functionality can be linked directly to snapshot recalls.

The MEDIA > Playback page provides a playlist for you to manage your audio files. Add tracks to the playlist (from multiple USB drives if you like) and then play them back either directly from this page or trigger them via Snapshots and Events.

 

5.  Avid S3L provides the most integrated interoperability with Pro Tools ever provided by a live mixing console

Avid S3L has the deepest interoperability with Pro Tools found in any live mixing console in the world. A single Cat5e Ethernet cable between S3L and a Pro Tools computer brings 64 tracks of record and playback, all the fantastic VENUE Link functionality, and (coming soon) DAW control via EUCON.

VENUE Link functionality is the transfer of metadata between an Avid Live System and Pro Tools. Plug your Avid S3L system into Pro Tools and load a new session—Pro Tools knows its connected to S3L and prompts you to import your VENUE settings into the Pro Tools session, creating an audio track for every mic-pre, generating the correct patching, naming the audio tracks to match your settings on S3L, and even arranging them to match the layout of your channels on your S3 control surface.

But VENUE Link brings even more functionality than this. When Pro Tools is in record (for example, during show time), recalling a VENUE snapshot will automatically place a marker on the Pro Tools timeline. This greatly speeds up the process of navigating through archived recorded material. Conversely, when Pro Tools is in play (for example, during Virtual Soundcheck), recalling a VENUE snapshot locates Pro Tools to the marker created by that snapshot. This functionality dramatically speeds up the Virtual Soundcheck workflow, as Pro Tools playback will always be in sync with the VENUE snapshot you are working from.

Use Pro Tools to record your live show, use Pro Tools to play back music beds, spot effects or sound design, or why not use it for both? S3L can record and play back from Pro Tools simultaneously, enabling you to choose live stage inputs or Pro Tools playback inputs on a per-channel basis.

The Pro Tools transport can be controlled directly from the S3 control surface or VENUE software, allowing you to integrate control of Pro Tools directly into your live mixing workflows and use one interface to control your entire production.

Coming soon with EUCON DAW control functionality, you will be able to take your live recordings and mix them in the box in Pro Tools using S3 as a studio controller. S3 was designed specifically with this function in mind, keeping the console as lightweight as possible with as small a footprint as possible for portability. This enables the console to be used in environments where space is as a premium, such as mixing on the tour bus or in a hotel room.

Michael Brennan with Avid S3L for Primal Scream.

So, lets bring all this great functionality together. Picture the scene once more:

You walk up to your Avid S3L at front of house. You are at the center of a network of distributed I/O, standing before a compact control surface with unrivaled flexibility, controlling a rich UI, and all powered by a next generation HDX-powered engine. The OPTIONS > Devices page in the VENUE software tells you all devices are online, and everything is connected with full redundancy.

You connect your Pro Tools laptop. One Ethernet cable is all it takes for 64-tracks of record and playback, VENUE Link, and EUCON connectivity. You load a new session. Pro Tools sees S3L and with your prompt, automatically creates 64 tracks to match the 64 mic inputs of your mix, naming and ordering every track to match the layout of your console.

At 7 p.m. the doors open. The crowd begins to fill the auditorium. You unmute FX Return 8. This subsequently recalls your first snapshot, triggering the MEDIA playlist to play the walk-in music from your USB key drive. With the press of a function switch, all tracks in Pro Tools are armed and the transport is in record ready.

The band is about to come on stage. Your next snapshot is recalled, loading all the parameters of the mix of the first song, recalling all plug-in settings, and triggering Pro Tools to begin recording 64 tracks, and the name of the first snapshot automatically appears in the Pro Tools timeline.

The band comes on stage. You are all over this little desk with the elegance of a gazelle. Paging through mixes, AFL-ing Aux masters to spill the sends down onto faders, banking the faders to input channels while throwing the VCAs up onto the encoders, mapping plug-ins to encoders. You trigger snapshots throughout the show, each time placing the snapshot name into the Pro Tools timeline. You use a footswitch to set plug-in tap delay and function switches to trigger spot effects directly from the MEDIA playlist.

At the end of the show, you press a touch strip zone to stop the Pro Tools transport. 64 tracks have been recorded into Pro Tools. You pick up your Pro Tools laptop and carry your S3 control surface onto the bus to mix down the night’s recording. With the S3 DAW control functionality via EUCON, you plug your S3 straight into your Pro Tools laptop and do the mix right there on the tour bus, ready to publish to the web.

With the S3 DAW control functionality via EUCON, you plug your S3 straight into your Pro Tools laptop and do the mix right there on the tour bus, ready to publish to the web.

The next day you can use last night’s recording for the Virtual Soundcheck, integrating artists back into the process, as they soundcheck live over the multi-tracks as you control Virtual Soundcheck on a channel-by-channel basis using S3L’s Pro Tools Input switches.

So there it is, Avid S3L. With a fully networked system of distributed I/O, onboard plug-ins, integrated Pro Tools control, record and playback, built-in media system, and powerful system of snapshots and events, Avid S3L is not just a great looking, ultra-portable mixing desk—it’s a live production system and the central point of control of your live sound environment.

This is my last blog entry in the Designing Avid S3L series. I want to thank you for taking the journey and I hope that I’ve been able to pique your interest in this amazing system. But don’t take my word for it—try it out for yourself.

Avid S3L is now shipping and available worldwide. Call your Avid dealer and organize a demo, and as always, let us know what you think.

As Principal Product Manager for Live Systems and Consoles at Avid, I am one of the luckiest guys I know. Every day I wake up, go to work and design live sound consoles for the most talented, creative and driven people in the world.