The Heritage of Avid Live Sound Systems Realized in an Ultra-Compact Console

By in Live Sound, Music Creation, Tech Talk

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


I recently bought a Jeep. Having moved back to the UK after living in the US for five years, I decided to bring a little piece of the American spirit of adventure home with me and buy the same crazy 4×4 I had when in California—but this time I’d get a manual drive.

Now, I drove that same model of Jeep, albeit automatic transmission, up and down California for five years, but what I wasn’t prepared for in my new car was the length or position of the clutch pedal. To adequately engage the clutch, I have to pull my seat so far forward that my nose is practically pressed against the windscreen. This is because I am blessed with short legs.

I am so short that my feet hardly touch the ground. You see, unfortunately my height seems to have been inherited from my mom rather than from my dad. My sister, however, did fantastically well in the height department; she got her share of the height gene and I was left with only 5 feet and 6 inches. So what does any of this have to do with Avid Live Sound mixing consoles? Nothing, I just wanted to complain about it to someone.

I’m joking of course—here is my point: when it comes to genetics, features are inherited at random. When it comes to Avid Live Sound mixing consoles, inheritance is by design.

Avid S3L is the “baby” of the Avid Live Sound family, and as the baby of the family, it has inherited all the hallmarks of the larger consoles. From the studio-grade sound quality and onboard plug-in ecosystem, to the unrivaled interoperability with Pro Tools, high reliability, award-winning VENUE software and highly-intuitive control surfaces, S3L has been given more than its fair share of them all.

As I said earlier, inheritance is by design.

The control surface is the primary point of human interaction with a live sound mixing system. Every Avid live sound console has been carefully crafted to shape a unified user experience between the VENUE software and console hardware. Each section of switches, knobs, LEDs and displays has been designed to make the surface easy to learn and navigate. The mapping of parameters has been carefully considered to provide the most efficient access to the most crucial elements of the mix and enable maximum control of the VENUE software.

This workflow of accessing and operating functions of the VENUE software is preserved across all Avid live sound control surfaces, meaning if you get to know one, you can operate them all, including S3. “One Workflow to Rule them All”, if you are a Tolkien geek.

Now, if you are sitting comfortably, cup of coffee in hand, we shall discuss how this workflow has been passed down the family to land in the design of the super-compact form factor of S3.

The S3 Control Surface can be divided up into three sections: the Channel Section, Channel Control and Global Control.

S3 Control Surface Channel Section, Channel Control, and Global Control

S3 Control Surface Overview

The Channel Section is the central point of control and the largest section of the console. It incorporates all the channel strips, fader banking and the encoder assign controls. The S3 Control Surface has 16 channel strips, each with a high-resolution OLED; assignable channel encoder; solo, mute and select switches; a 10-segment meter; and of course the fader. The 16 channel strips control 64 input channels, 27 mix busses, 8 matrixes and 8 VCAs. Navigating through these channels is achieved in the fader banking section.

Fader Banking

Fader banking is located in the bottom left-hand corner of the S3 Control Surface, the same place as all Avid Live Sound consoles. Seven fader bank switches (banks A-F and User) are provided to access all input and output channels. Like the other consoles, banks A-D provide access to input channels, while banks E, F and User are output channels.


  • Bank A = Input Channels 1-16
  • Bank B = Input Channels 17-32
  • Bank C = Input Channels 33-48
  • Bank D = Input Channels 49-64 or FX Returns 1-8 (when in 48-channel mode)


  • Bank E = Aux Masters
  • Bank F = Group and Matrix Masters
  • User = VCAs and Mains

The Multi-Assign switch is also provided in the fader bank section to make assigning channels to Groups, VCAs and Mains as simple and efficient as possible. The workflow of selecting an output channel, engaging Multi-Assign mode and selecting all the channels you wish to route to that output goes right back to the original D-Show console. Multi-Assign is the quickest and most versatile method of setting up subgroups, VCAs and the Mains Left & Right mix.

Above the Fader Banks is the Encoder Assign section. Encoder Assign provides instant access to the most critical parameters needed during a live mix, and it does this by targeting parameters to the assignable channel encoders.

The bottom row of encoders on the S3 Control Surface and all Avid live sound consoles are called the assignable channel encoders. Every channel strip is given one and every encoder is given a high-resolution OLED that displays the parameter it controls.

Encoder Assign:

How to get quick access to the most important parameters you need during a live mix

You can think of the channel encoder workflow as one parameter for many channels. All the channel encoders will target the same parameter type at all times. If one channel encoder is controlling Input Gain, they are all controlling Input Gain. This is to allow you to dial in parameter values of one channel in reference to the other channels. The choice of parameter targeted to the row of channel encoders is defined by Encoder Assign.

Encoder Assign gives you access to Input Gain, High-Pass Filter, Pan, Compressor Threshold and up to 24 Aux and Variable Group sends for the channels currently banked to the surface. So, if I have selected Fader Bank A (Input Channels 1-16), then I can select any of these parameters for Input Channels 1-16.

Once a parameter is selected and targeted to the channel encoders, you can engage Flip to Faders to map that parameter down onto the faders. This is ideal when you are setting the Aux Send levels for your monitor mixes—again a workflow straight from the other Avid live sound consoles. I will describe this workflow in greater depth together with some other advanced features designed for monitor mixing applications in my next blog entry.

If the Encoder Assign workflow can be thought of as one parameter for many channels, then the Channel Control workflow is the polar opposite: many parameters for one channel.

Channel Control is located at the top left-hand side of the S3 Control Surface and is made up of 8 encoders and some display navigation controls. These 8 encoders give you access to all the parameters associated with the selected channel.

Channel Control:

All you need to know on accessing your channel parameters from the S3 Control Surface

The workflow is to select a channel using the Select switch to the left of the fader so that Channel Control will give you all the parameters for that channel. Just like SC48, Channel Control on the S3 Control Surface provides Input (top of channel) functions, EQ, Compressor/Limiter, Expander/Gate, Aux and Variable Group sends. In addition to this, a User mode is provided, allowing you setup a custom selection of any of these parameters, so that your most important parameters are available to you at all times.

Channel Control User Assign:

How to assign your own choice of parameters to the Channel Control encoders

To the right-hand side of Channel Control is Global Control, the 8 encoders on the top right-hand side of the console and the switches down the right-hand side. A huge amount of power has been designed into the S3 Control Surface, including new functionality and workflows that significantly increase flexibility and performance in a super small footprint. Global Control contains its fair share of these new workflows, including accessing and controlling output channels from the encoders themselves to create a 24 fader console. We will discuss these new, exciting workflows in my next blog entry.

On the bottom right-hand side of the S3 Control Surface is a group of 10 switches. These are the Function switches. S3 has 16 Function switches in 2 banks of 8. Function switches are user defined ‘triggers’ that can be programmed in the VENUE Software to do, well, almost anything you can imagine them doing.

This is all done by the VENUE software’s powerful Events system. Navigate to the OPTIONS > Events page of the VENUE software, choose a Function switch as a trigger and select from a list of available actions to define what you would like that Function switch to do. Choose from mute groups, snapshot control, onboard 2-track USB record and playback, Pro Tools transport control—even changing screens in the VENUE software. I can’t list all the options here as it would take the entire blog to do so.

Suffice to say, when coupled with the powerful snapshot system, onboard 2-track USB record and playback, and Pro Tools interoperability, this Events system transforms Avid S3L from a compact live sound mixing desk to being the central point of control for your complete live production system.  But that’s another story.

OK, you twisted my arm—I’ll tell that story in a blog in a couple of weeks.

The S3 Control Surface offers you an abundance of new workflows, breaking the mold of what was conventionally thought possible in a console of this size. The result is an incredibly powerful, intuitive control surface with an extremely compact footprint that still manages to maintain a strong connection with its heritage—the industry leading family of Avid live sound systems.

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.

In next week’s blog, we will take a closer look at the S3 Control Surface workflows for monitor mixing.

As Director of Product Management 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.