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How Avid is Advancing Key Industry Trends Highlighted at the HPA Tech Retreat 2016

It’s not often that I have the opportunity to join all of the “who’s who” of technologists in the post production world in one location, especially those ingrained in Hollywood’s post environment, so attending and presenting at this year’s HPA Tech Retreat was a notable experience.

I stopped by the HPA Tech Retreat, February 15 – 19 in Indian Wells, Calif., to present at the “Your Guide to Next Gen Cloud Workflows” panel discussion with fellow industry thought leaders. While there, I quickly learned why the HPA Retreat is a major draw to many in the industry.

It’s apparent to everyone who attends that the retreat provides the perfect backdrop to discuss the major trends in the industry, innovations on the horizon, and where the industry is headed in the years ahead. Much of this content was covered in the panel discussions and witnessed in the innovation zone, where individuals and companies shared new and innovative technologies, including Avid. This year, a major draw to our stand at the innovation zone was the demo of cloud collaboration for Pro Tools, a major player in enabling artists and musicians to collaborate from wherever they are via cloud workflows.

A dominant theme throughout the retreat was “what role do we all play, as technologists and the makers of technology, in advancing the industry forward.” During my panel discussion, I had the opportunity to address Avid’s position on this theme in relation to next generation cloud workflows and the tools Avid is creating to enable practical production work both on premise via and in the cloud.

It was great to present Avid's position on cloud workflows during the “Your Guide to Next Gen Cloud Workflows” panel discussion at the HPA Tech Retreat.

Overall, the next generation of cloud workflows for the media community will bring us tools to connect and collaborate like never before. As primary drivers for cloud workflows, the ultimate result from a technical standpoint is a lower cost of infrastructure deployment, especially when using Avid’s MediaCentral | UX platform.  This leads to a much more scalable, secure and flexible production environment that enables ease of deployment.

This is true for on premise (or private cloud workflows) and public clouds. With the Avid MediaCentral Platform, we’re working to make our technology stack portable and related to customer needs as we advance cloud workflow technology.

Another key take away of next generation cloud workflows is how they will enable highly collaborative and automated workflows that everyone from a solo aspiring artist to a large studio or broadcast organization can benefit from. Just imagine having technology to automate the sharing of data through a collaboration process on the cloud that will result in synchronizing data from one desktop to another. We’re doing this now at Avid with cloud collaboration for Pro Tools.

Through the MediaCentral Platform, we’re working to give Pro Tools users the ability to expand their current use of our Public Cloud Services to collaborate on projects from anywhere in the world. We’re effectively creating mutual collaboration over the cloud on team projects that all can access in a secure environment. You’ll hear more about cloud collaboration for Pro Tools from Avid this year at NAB 2016.

Cloud collaboration for Pro Tools will be a major player in enabling artists and musicians to collaborate from wherever they are via cloud workflows.

Moving beyond cloud workflows, a few other common topics arose at the event that in my opinion will play a critical role in the media industry’s future. For quick reference, here’s a breakdown of those topics and what we’re doing at Avid to see them gain traction:

 

A camera daily process that is highly scalable and automated. Why do this?

A typical dailies process requires transcoding, re-wrapping and metadata insertion for a large volume of camera original material to create proxies and high resolution media. These processes also require asset management and archive services to keep track of the media and versions. There are multiple Avid products and modules such as Avid Media | Director, and Interplay | Media Services that support automated processing and seamless relinking. There are APIs such as AMT and Interplay Web Services that Avid offers under its connectivity toolkit program to enable other products to fit into the workflow. The continued development of the Avid MediaCentral Platform is enabling a highly scalable, portable and resilient architecture for these services and for asset management—whether Avid supplied or 3rd parties.

 

Secure point-to-point networking, a key area of growth, to transfer media from remote locations back to the facility to complete an end-to-end workflow.

With the Avid platform based products, several remote network-based transfers are core to workflows. Examples include remote transfers under Avid Interplay services, remote streaming, and media delivery using Media Composer | Cloud. As we enhance the platform further, we continue to use the latest technologies for fast and secure transfers over larger distances, including transfers between client and cloud storage locations.

 

4K/Ultra HD and HDR workflows. They’re hot and they’re here to stay.

Avid provides an end-to-end editing, storage, asset management solution in this area and a resolution independent DNxHR codec that is being standardized as part of SMPTE VC-3. The recently release Media Composer 8.5 version adds native HDR project support for multiple standards such as SMPTE 2084 (PQ), Hybrid Log Gamma and ACES profile amongst others.

 

The connections we made at the retreat and innovations we shared will undoubtedly make lasting impressions on Hollywood and all those who work in post production. I know the Hollywood post industry will benefit from the MediaCentral Platform and tools within it, which will give them the power to make their customers post production experience more simple and streamlined as ever.

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Under the Hood—S6L’s VENUE v5.0 Software

Al McKinna is the principal product manager on Avid’s Live Systems and Consoles team who oversaw the development of S6L’s VENUE version 5.0 software—a key cornerstone of the new system. I spoke with Al about this enormous engineering project and the team’s design approach to creating the new software for S6L, which provides current VENUE users with a familiar software interface optimized for the powerful system while offering new customers the benefits of 10+ years of road-proven mixing workflows.

 

DH:  So let’s start at the beginning—how did the team decide to build S6L using the existing VENUE software versus creating a new software interface?

AM:  First and foremost it’s about familiarity. VENUE has developed over the course of about ten years. So by the time we started developing VENUE v5.0 software for S6L, not only had we built up a huge user base familiar with using VENUE, but we had also engaged with countless engineers over those years, and as a result, have a very good understanding about how they want to work. VENUE has an intuitive UI that is very easy to navigate around—even for novice users—while providing experienced engineers with all of the deep features, controls, and fast navigation they need to handle the most complex shows. We didn’t feel it necessary to reinvent the wheel, when the VENUE software that was already being used was working for a huge user base. By leveraging the existing software, any engineer familiar with VENUE can walk up to S6L—which at first glance doesn’t look like other VENUE systems—navigate the external GUI and start mixing straightaway.

The navigation, the location of all controls—all of that is unaltered. And that means, of course, that if you’re a Profile user, you can immediately go and work with S6L and vice versa. You don’t have to learn everything again. And you can move between systems freely so that you can scale your show up and down, depending on what system you need for the gig you’re doing. It also means that you can use the VENUE Standalone software to learn the software offline and then learn the control surface afterwards.

Robb Allan mixing Massive Attack on S6L

S6L also offers compatibility with show files created on other VENUE systems, enabling you to easily move between systems. We have a whole community of engineers that have spent years perfecting their VENUE show files from tour to tour on various VENUE systems. Someone that’s been using VENUE over let’s say the last eight or nine years will have their mixes dialed in. We weren’t about to bring out a new system and have these customers have build new show files from scratch in order to make the jump to the new system—we wanted to make that transition as easy as possible. Between the common VENUE software and show file compatibility, the learning curve for jumping onto S6L is minimal.

Show file portability is a very complex thing to design. To take something from a completely different architecture and then bring it across onto a new system that technically runs on a completely different environment is a huge challenge. But when you load a show file from another VENUE system, S6L automatically recognizes what system and version of VENUE software your show file was created on and knows the differences between the processing capabilities it can provide and the processing capabilities that you had before, and resolves these differences, providing you with a list of any aspects of your show file that have changed.

Charlie Bradley mixing monitors for Duran Duran

DH:  What then was the biggest challenge in updating the VENUE software for S6L?

AM:  We knew early on that S6L would introduce a new level of performance to the industry with the huge jump in processing channels. We wanted to remove any concern about having enough processing channels and busses. We wanted to provide engineers with more than enough power to make those questions academic, so they wouldn’t have to worry about specs when choosing the right system for the job. But apart from the significant engineering challenges of creating the new E6L engine, the greater challenge in many ways was how to design a user interface to navigate and control all of this power. If you’ve got 192 input channels, you can’t just have them all sitting in front of you at all times. There has to be some kind of meaningful way that you can get to the things that you need instantly, which is, of course, the requirement of the live sound engineer. So that was the primary UI challenge: how to enable quick access to a specific channel or parameter when you’ve got so many to navigate through. Furthermore, everything needs to be presented in a way that’s simple to understand and provides quick navigation—without having to dive through layers of menus.

DH:  Let’s talk more about the relationship between the VENUE software GUI and the control surface touch screens—how are they related?

AM:  We could have just incorporated the traditional VENUE software directly into the control surface if we’d chosen to do that, but it was a conscious decision to split the VENUE GUI from the surface screens—we think of them as being two separate areas. The functions that are driven from the control surface screens relate directly to operations you perform on the control surface. You can see and access all of your channel processing and surface navigation—what is displayed almost always relates to something physical in front of you, on the faders or knobs.

Closeup of the S6L control surface

On the other hand, the external GUI displaying the VENUE software relates to what’s happening in your wider live sound environment, including functions like Snapshot programming, patching, and other configuration—typically functions that you probably don’t need to access during show time. Walk up to the console, and the screens display everything you need to operate the control surface and control your mix. Turn to the external VENUE GUI, and it’s your window into the wider live sound environment and your system configuration.

 

DH:  Looking at the VENUE GUI, the layout is almost the same but the look has been updated from previous versions—why is that?

AM:  The first thing you’ll notice is that the software has a new ID, and that the look and feel of the control surface matches the new look and feel of the software. For example, the way EQ’s look on the control surface screens match those in the external GUI. We’ve also designed the new software to be touch driven, and we’ve optimized the touch zone for the various controls to prevent miscuing. We know the average touch space required for each control, and we’re very careful about what areas of the screen you can touch to actually affect a control to make sure that it’s very difficult for you to alter something that you didn’t intend. When you get on S6L and have a play with it, you’ll see that it is very accurate in that way.

VENUE 5.0 Plug-in Rack

Smack! AAX DSP plug-in running on S6L

In addition to being optimized for touch, the software has also been designed purposely for the resolution of the touch screen that we’re supporting. So it’s not that we’ve just taken the VENUE software and stretched it for a wider aspect ratio or made it work for HD. We’ve made sure that when a user is operating the external GUI, they’re getting the exact user experience that we had in mind when we were developing it.

You’ll also notice that the VENUE software now sports a darker look to provide better contrast between the elements on screen. This improves navigation, which is now a lot clearer. The UI designers putting together the color scheme were always aware that daylight-readability was one their highest priorities, fully understanding the kind of stark contrast needed, given that S6L would be going out in the midday sun.

S6L at FOH for Carols by Candlelight in Adelaide, Australia

We also unified our design approach to consistently present functions in a similar manner to speed up navigation, no matter whether they’re on the surface, a touchscreen, or the external GUI. That applies to consistent use of color as well. You’ll notice that the color scheme that we’ve used for the control surface and in the GUI all aligns with what we’ve always used in the Channel Control for SC48. So EQs are green, compressor is blue, the gate is yellow. And by maintaining these color schemes across the system, it’s very simple to identify these elements quickly. We can also use color schemes to do things like highlighting. For example, we use an amber highlight or amber surround to identify that something in the UI is selected or targeted, and we use bright blue to identify that something is “attentioned” as the globally selected channel. At first you might think about them intellectually, but it quickly becomes second nature to identify these colors with specific operations.

S6L Channel Knob Module is glowing green to show that EQ is being controlled

DH:  Explain the difference between “attentioning” and “selecting” a channel with S6L, and how does each factor into the software navigation?

AM:  There are two interlinked concepts that we use to create the most flexible UI possible and take the greatest advantage of S6L’s multiple touchscreens and external GUI: “attention” and “select”. “Attention” is what we used to call “select” in earlier versions of VENUE, and can be thought of as a single, globally-targeted channel. When you attention any channel (via a surface key, Universe View, or external GUI), it will immediately be targeted to the external GUI, be displayed on the central, master screen of the control surface, and if the user has it configured this way, automatically assigned to one of those two little master faders that we call the Flex Channels for instant control. This allows us to have instant access to a single channel at all times, irrespective of the active bank on the surface. Think of this as a “money channel” that is available on the surface and External GUI at all times.

In S6L “select” refers to something different than with older VENUE systems—“select” is now a local operation that only impacts a specific region of the control surface. This allows us to assign and control multiple channels across various sections of the console independently of each other, which is absolutely awesome and gives us simultaneous control over multiple channels at once—it’s also perfect for dual operator workflows. Just select a channel on any bay of eight channels, and you can instantly access its parameters on the corresponding knobs and touchscreen above.

So rather than just going for a kind of local selection for everything, you can now choose any channel from anywhere across your system—all 192 inputs and 96 outputs—and have it up on the screen at all times without interrupting your control surface workflow, which is something that we’ve never been able to do with VENUE before.

S6L’s Channel Modules (left and right) S6L enable you to assign and control multiple channels across various sections of the console independently of each other, while the Master Touch Surface (top center) gives you direct access to all of your inputs, auxes, groups, matrixes, VCA’s, and more—you can even create mixed custom views

DH:  You’ve taken us through some of the cosmetic changes to the software and the touch-optimization, but I’ve noticed that there are several other tweaks—can you talk about some of those?

AM:  Although we kept pretty much everything in its original location, you will note a few changes. On the Inputs page, for example, customers have long requested that we present the elements in order of signal flow, so you are now presented with input channel functions feeding into EQ, feeding into the gate and compressor, etc. You’ll also notice that we’ve optimized the way that we present the various inputs and outputs to more easily navigate the huge number of processing channels that S6L provides.

VENUE Software Inputs Page

Another addition is that VENUE now offers you tabs with which to switch between channel, GEQ, and Matrix Mixer views for all outputs. This is important, as S6L not only features a seven-band parametric EQ for every output, but it also enables you to simultaneously assign a GEQ across any output. And maybe you also want to access the matrix mixer for the channel—that’s a bunch of different information all relating to that output channel. The tabs allow you to quickly navigate from channel processing (with EQ, dynamics, inserts), to your GEQ, to your matrix mixer.

VENUE Software Outputs Page

Another new thing that you’ll see is the significant work done with the Options > Devices page. S6L is a modular, networked system that has multiple components all connected via Ethernet AVB. The new Options Devices page shows you all of the components available on the network, and offers quick drag-and-drop configuration of engine, control surface, stage racks, and attached Pro Tools workstations for recording. Once you pair your control surface with an E6L engine it’ll be paired for life until you un-pair them, and you can name each component so that you can quickly identify what each is for, and your system will automatically boot up in the same configuration every time until such time that want to change the configuration. This page will be especially important when S6L’s I/O Sharing functionality comes into play, and will offer a comprehensive overview of all components across various networked systems. In addition to managing your various system components, this page also displays the processing capabilities of the E6L engine’s HDX cards that run your plug-ins.

 

DH:  I know from the S6L surface workflows that we now have user-definable fader layouts—explain that feature and how does it relate to the VENUE GUI?

AM:  At the bottom of VENUE’s Inputs and Outputs pages there’s a little tab labeled “layout”. We first introduced user-definable fader layouts with the VENUE | S3L-X system, and it’s an especially important feature in S6L that enables you to always keep your most critical channels at your fingertips. It allows you to assign any channel—input, output, VCA, group, etc.—to any fader on the control surface, enabling you to create custom layouts for all your key workflows. And the cool feature here is that you can create multiple custom fader layouts and then recall them via snapshots—you can imagine the kind of power you get right there.

VENUE Software Snapshots Page

When you go to the VENUE Snapshots page and look at the scope section, there’s a new button there that says LAYT, and that relates to the user-defined fader layout. If you scope that as part of your snapshot, then whatever the current assignment of the user-defined fader layout is, that’s what will be stored within the snapshot. So when you recall that snapshot it’ll recall those assignments instantaneously. So for example, you can always have the most important faders that you need under your fingers for each given song based, automatically updating what’s in front of you based on the snapshot recalled.

 

DH:  Finally, can you tell us about VENUE’s expanded Virtual Soundcheck capabilities?

AM:  There’s also been a major update to VENUE’s Virtual Soundcheck feature. All of that VENUE Link functionality from version 2.9 on is brought forward to S6L: automatic session creation, naming, patching, etc. But now you also have the ability to run Virtual Soundcheck per channel, which is another feature that we first introduced with S3L. There is now a button for every input channel that toggles the feed of that specific channel from the stage rack input to the associated Pro Tools playback track, letting you select which tracks from Pro Tools you want to play back on a per channel basis. This enables some completely new and very powerful workflows. For example, you can run Pro Tools playback tracks back in through all of your input channels for everything except the vocal, in order to let the vocalist to sing over the Virtual Soundcheck from yesterday. It allows us to have a bass player that couldn’t make sound check suddenly join in with a Virtual Soundcheck to add him back into the mix.

Patrick Eckerlin, FOH engineer for PUR, records every show in Pro Tools and is a big fan of VENUE's Virtual Soundcheck

Let’s say that you’re a monitor engineer and you want to work on various different parts of the mix in real time. You can now get individual band members on stage, open up a live mic, and work with them to perfect the monitor mix for each song without needing the other musicians. This is a very powerful feature because you can recreate the exact environment that the artist was in when performing on the previous night, and we’ve already heard from several monitor engineers that this is an invaluable new tool for them to hone their mixes. The added bonus of this new functionality is that it also allows us to engage Virtual Soundcheck without having to change the configuration and reboot the system, it will just do it with a button press and it’s seamless and the audio glitch free so you can just do it in real time. So it’s very, very powerful!

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Under the Hood—The Ethernet AVB Networking Backbone of VENUE | S6L

VENUE | S6L is a modular and scalable system that can be freely configured to meet the requirements of any live sound production. A key technology that enables this modularity is Ethernet AVB (also known as AVB/TSN)—the underlying network architecture used to connect the various system components. In this blog, we’re going to take a closer look at what Ethernet AVB is, explore why Avid chose it as S6L’s networking backbone, and take a look at some unique innovations that S6L offers to maximize the system’s performance.

What is Ethernet AVB?

Audio Video Bridging (AVB) is the common name for the set of technical standards developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)—the world’s largest association of technical professionals and one of the leading standards-making organizations. The institute’s notable networking standards include the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet standard and the IEEE 802.11 Wireless Networking standard.

The Audio Video Bridging Task Group of the IEEE 802.1 standards committee is responsible for providing the specifications that will allow time-synchronized low latency streaming services through IEEE 802 networks. The group has also developed a series of enhancements that provide highly reliable delivery of low latency, synchronized audio and video, without complex network engineering.

Furthermore, development of Ethernet AVB is not standing still. The IEEE recently added new enhancements called Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) that build upon the AVB specifications to expand the range, functionality, and applications of the AVB standard. This includes seamless redundancy and low-latency, high-priority control traffic for critical functions.

Finally, the AVnu Alliance, of which Avid is a member, has the job of guiding what is needed from the AVB/TSN specification for new applications across markets, and simplifying the process for engineers and designers to build products using Ethernet AVB. To help ensure interoperability between devices that implement the AVB standards, the AVnu Alliance develops device certification for the automotive, consumer, and professional audio and video markets and is actively involved in marketing Ethernet AVB’s benefits across these various markets.

Stage 64 I/O Rack offers both etherCON (copper) and SFP (fiber) ports (supports both multi-mode and single-mode SFP transceivers)

Ethernet AVB offers several advantages for audio and video products:

  • Provides precise timing to support low-jitter media clocks and accurate synchronization of multiple A/V streams
  • Delivers assurance of timely packet deliveries through bounded latency
  • Offers extreme reliability, including a redundant clock master and redundant data traffic
  • Provides industry best practices for secure access and transactions
  • Requires little to no network configuration, meaning anyone can deploy a highly reliable networked A/V system
  • Has wide market appeal and adoption by industry leaders

 Let’s take a closer look at a few of these benefits…

Back of the S6L-24D control surface - Ethernet AVB ports are located in the center area

Bounded latency and reserved bandwidth ensure reliable connections

With legacy Ethernet, the data traffic flow is indeterminate, and intervening traffic can delay stream data. Because of this uncertainty, the receivers in legacy systems typically employ large buffers so as not to underflow. One of the most important features of an Ethernet AVB network is that reserved streams pass through with a low and bounded latency, ensuring not only the arrival of time-sensitive streams, but also when they will arrive.

The IEEE created the Stream Reservation Protocol (SRP) as part of AVB because the simple stream treatment that existing reservation protocols provide was inadequate to the requirements of demanding applications, such as with professional A/V. In order to prevent network congestion that could result in packet loss and delivery delays, SRP configures a network path to provide the bandwidth needed, automatically setting up the associated hardware queues, packet forwarding, and VLAN configuration.

By controlling the queuing and data flow—in effect, smoothing out the delivery times to prevent the “bunching” of frames—an Ethernet AVB system is able to deliver the lowest possible latency without losing streams as you increase traffic. For this reason, AVB end stations (like live sound consoles) don’t need big buffers to solve congestion problems that could result in packet loss and delivery delays.

Multiple Stage 64 I/O Racks can be connected to the network and offer great flexibility with a range of input and output card options

Distributed timing keeps all of your devices in sync

A key benefit of Ethernet AVB is the synchronization of networked devices, which is enabled by gPTP (generalized Precision Time Protocol). The gPTP standard (IEEE 802.1AS) developed by the AVB Task Group provides a common time base needed for professional-quality audio and video clocking, as well as for time-sensitive streams such as industrial robotic controls (+/- 500ns of all gPTP nodes).

This level of synchronization is the underpinning that enables protocols built on gPTP (such as AVTP) to subsequently synchronize the media clocks of talkers and listeners with uncompromised professional quality. And because the timing information is distributed to all nodes (endpoint devices as well as switches), clocking in Ethernet AVB is very resilient, offering features for automatic changeover to a secondary master clock should the first one fail.

VENUE | S3L was Avid's first live system built on an Ethernet AVB architecture

Choosing Ethernet AVB for VENUE | S6L

During the initial stages of S6L development, our product group researched all of the available connectivity protocols—open and proprietary—to determine which solution would best fit the company’s needs for a comprehensive, overarching networking backbone across its various products moving forward. After assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each, the team determined that Ethernet AVB was the ideal solution because:

  • It supports the capacity required by our most demanding audio and video solutions
  • It provides the low latency required by professional A/V applications
  • It features fully deterministic playout
  • It’s built on open (non-proprietary) industry standards
  • And it’s free to implement, so it can be used across every product

In addition, Ethernet AVB enables our teams to develop products around a single company-wide, networked ecosystem—from high-end, professional solutions like S6L, all the way across our various audio and video product lines, and all the way down to our entry-level solutions. It’s also supported natively on every Mac sold, providing our customers with a free recording solution that doesn’t require any additional hardware or licenses.

VENUE | S6L offers 64 tracks of Pro Tools recording and playback via Ethernet AVB

The fact that Ethernet AVB is based on non-proprietary industry standards also protects against any future uncertainty that may result from a single company’s financial hardship, manufacturing problem, or other issue. When you survey all of the various protocols that have come and gone in the audio industry, the ones that have stood up over time are open standards such as MIDI, MADI, and AES/EBU.

This is not to say that all proprietary protocols are doomed to failure, but the past is littered with protocols that have fallen by the wayside. Contrast this with Ethernet AVB, which is finding widespread adoption in industries beyond pro audio, including automotive and industrial applications. The fact that industry giants like Cisco, Intel, BMW, GE, General Motors, and others are adopting AVB and developing products around it demonstrates the protocol’s momentum and bodes well for its longevity well into the future.

Back panel of the VENUE | E6L engine - expandable with additional AVB-192 Ethernet AVB Network Cards

Our secret sauce: the AVB-192 Ethernet AVB Network Card

Beyond the inherent benefits offered by Ethernet AVB, our engineers have further optimized the VENUE | S6L system’s performance by developing the AVB-192 Ethernet AVB Card, which is found in all three system components—the S6L control surface, E6L Engine, and Stage 64 I/O rack. In the case of the control surface and Stage 64, a single AVB-192 card is mounted internally, offering two independent Gigabit Ethernet ports—copper and fiber (via SFP).

The E6L Engine, on the other hand, ships standard with one AVB-192 card, but you will soon be able to expand it with up to three AVB-192 cards to support higher input and output counts. Each AVB-192 card offers hundreds of channels at 96 kHz operation—with the capability to support up to 192 kHz in the future.

Not only do these AVB-192 cards serve as the system’s Ethernet AVB connectivity points between the various system components, but each card also includes a built-in 7-port switch. In addition to making daisy-chaining easier, this enables you to run redundant loops between the various system components for even greater reliability, with seamless, sample-accurate switchover—with no dropout if a cable were to go down.

S6L will offer a range of connectivity options beyond Ethernet AVB

This onboard switch also enables the bridging of multiple AVB domains in the E6L engine to support the high channel counts offered by the system, as well as connectivity across multiple Stage 64 I/O racks, local control surface I/O, and external Pro Tools workstations for recording and playback (supporting runs up to 100 meters with Cat5e cables and longer runs up to 500 meters or more using fiber-optic cables).

Finally, although the recommended AVB latency is around 2 ms, the team has been able to tune the system’s network latency down to less than 1 ms in each direction. The total roundtrip, including converters, is less than 3 ms.

It’s important to note that, although Ethernet AVB is the backbone of the VENUE | S6L system, it does not in any way dictate your connectivity options to the larger world. Avid will offer a comprehensive array of other connectivity options beyond Ethernet AVB for S6L to ensure that you can connect the system into any existing environment. For example, we’ve already announced that Audinate is developing a Dante card for S6L, and there are other cards planned, including options for MADI and Thunderbolt.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what Ethernet AVB is and why Avid has chosen this powerful and open standard as the networking backbone of the new S6L. As you can see, the significant capabilities that the AVB-192 Ethernet AVB Card brings to this groundbreaking live system will greatly benefit any live mixing application—especially with your most demanding productions.

VENUE | S6L

VENUE | S6L Now Available

The next stage in live sound is here—with the award-winning VENUE | S6L system, you can take on the world’s most demanding productions with ease.

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Building a Pristine Live Sound Preamp—Under the Hood of VENUE | S6L

Building the Pristine Live Sound Preamp—Under the Hood of VENUE | S6L

VENUE | S6L is much more than Avid’s latest live sound console. It’s actually a completely new live sound platform—and Avid’s largest live sound project to date. Although the S6L is built on VENUE software and its associated workflows, the system’s hardware has been developed from the ground up.

There are two key areas of development Avid’s engineers wanted to achieve. One is that the system would support the highest possible sample rates for both mixing and recording. And two, further improve the signal chain from input to output to deliver the best sound quality possible.

VENUE systems have been highly regarded for their pristine sound quality for over 10 years. And their uncolored sonic profile is the perfect complement for the huge assortment of onboard plug-ins available to engineers to tweak and enhance their mixes. With the S6L project, our engineers relished the challenge of updating VENUE’s sound quality even further, using the latest technologies and components available, while still maintaining the sonic flexibility that VENUE systems are known for.

VENUE consoles are designed for transparency. Before VENUE, I had spent 25 years shrouded in analog, where every component texturized what I wanted to do. When I moved to VENUE, I was able to finally go to the very depths of what I had dreamed of, certain sounds, and explore to find them—and the console never got in the way. I was so free, I was giddy!”

– Greg Price, FOH engineer for Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath, Van Halen

A key piece of the puzzle was to design a new preamp for the system. One that would deliver uncompromising performance, with unerring accuracy, and support up to 192 kHz operation. Avid’s philosophy is to offer the most accurate sound possible in order to provide engineers with the greatest flexibility and sonic palette.

If a preamp imparts a strong sonic signature, you can never uncolor it—you are stuck with the preamp’s innate sound regardless of what you may want to do with the signal afterwards. Preamp coloration that works for some sound sources may not be ideal for others, and most live sound engineers mix a variety of artists and genres and should have the flexibility to add their creativity to the mix without being painted into a corner because of a baked-in sound.

“The style and topology of modern preamp designs for digital consoles requires us as mixers and engineers to think a little differently.”

— Robert Scovill

According to award-winning concert sound mixer Robert Scovill,  also a senior specialist for live sound products at Avid, “The style and topology of modern preamp designs for digital consoles requires us as mixers and engineers to think a little differently, and in turn, set different expectations for what we want to achieve at that point of the signal chain. With ‘one-trick pony’ preamp designs that have their own signature sound, you really have to tailor your preamp choices in order to truly do justice to the sound of each source. This is all fine for studio tracking workflows where time may allow you to optimize the pre choice for each source and song, but that approach is wildly impractical for the live sound workflow. It’s simply why I love our approach of offering ultra-high quality and accuracy that results in a completely transparent pre design, and all accomplished just before the digital conversion. Once converted, the choices of character and color refinement can then easily be changed at will—even on a per song, or per sound basis if we desire to do so. That is beyond empowering with regard to creativity.”

Robert mixing FOH for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

As long as I’ve chosen the correct mic and the correct position, then what I hear with VENUE matches very closely to what I’m looking at on stage, and that is exactly what I’m looking for. I then have the choice to color the signal in any direction I choose, be it warmer or grungier, without being hampered by preamp coloration.”

– Chris Madden, FOH engineer for Pink, Sade, Jessie J.

Chris mixing FOH for Sade

Designing a preamplifier circuit is a mix of art and science. From the beginning, the team’s goals were to make it as clean as possible, with a wide dynamic range, low distortion, a great signal-to-noise ratio, and sample rate support of up to 192 kHz—while minimizing delay through the audio chain. To achieve this, the team decided early on to use a microcontroller to control the mic pre gains for superior performance. After significant research, they chose the 5173 digital gain controller from THAT Corporation. THAT Corporation is an audio engineering company focused on creating high-performance analog components for professional audio applications. Some notable customers include Apogee, Benchmark, and Great River.

The 5173 is a very robust digital gain controller (IC) that operates at larger voltage rails, so it’s more forgiving and requires less circuitry that can compromise audio performance. One of the advantages that the 5173 provides when used in conjunction with Avid’s special hardware around the IC, is that when it applies gain changes, it dezippers in a nice, deterministic manner to ensure the lowest possible switching noise and provides smooth gain changes in 1 dB steps. Even with its compelling performance specs, the 5173 offers substantial power savings over many competitive IC solutions—a significant benefit, given that the S6L’s Stage 64 I/O rack supports 64 total inputs, an improvement over the 48 inputs offered by our previous generation Stage Rack.

The 5173 digital gain controller mates with THAT’s 1580 low-noise differential audio preamplifier IC. In contrast to alternative solutions that offer all-in-one ICs, THAT Corporation splits its controller and preamp components into separate ICs. This not only gives manufacturers like Avid greater design flexibility to mix and match optimal componentry, but—more importantly—it optimizes the ICs by fabricating the digital gain controller section in a high-voltage CMOS process. And coupled with the 1580 analog preamp, which was designed from the ground up in a BiCMOS process, together they deliver lower noise and higher performance, offering the best of both worlds—a unique approach in high-end pro audio. So while competitive offerings have limited input voltage capability, S6L’s preamp offers a gain range of 10–60 dB and is optimized for an input impedance of 4K—regardless of whether the input pad is on or off. This means it is possible to passively split an incoming microphone signal to several consoles without degrading the signal.

THAT 1580 low-noise differential preamplifier IC

The team also applied their collective experience in optimizing S6L’s preamp design even further, utilizing careful layout characteristics. This includes thin film resistors to minimize Johnson noise (which ultimately causes higher distortion), and pristine power supplies to feed all of the analog circuitry for the most accurate performance.

The result? The team significantly exceeded the target specs, testing all the way up to 192 kHz operation. But perhaps FOH engineer Greg Price said it best when the team took S6L to a recent Van Halen sound check and he heard the preamps for the first time:

“Those inputs are sounding the way I’ve always dreamed of!”

VENUE | S6L

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Under the Hood—The Secrets Behind the VENUE | E6L Engine’s Incredible Power

Introducing VENUE | S6L

Since its unveiling at the 2015 NAB and Prolight + Sound shows, Avid’s VENUE | S6L live sound system has been garnering a lot of attention. Central to this new system is the groundbreaking E6L engine, a brand new design that delivers industry-leading performance and unique processing capabilities. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at what makes this unprecedented new engine special and why it can make a major difference in how you mix and record live performances.

VENUE | E6L

VENUE | E6L Engine

And so it begins…

When the S6L development team first embarked on developing a new engine for the S6L system, they knew that they needed to build a platform that could evolve and grow over time. An engine with the ability to expand in the future—not just something to solve an immediate product need for the next couple of years. They envisioned an engine that could balance system performance, scalability, and price, providing engineers with more than enough power to face any challenge, as well as a solid return on their investment.

To achieve these goals, the team decided early on to use two parallel technologies in tandem—a state-of-the-art, real-time processing engine to handle all routing, channel, and mixing functions for maximum stability and power, and an HDX-powered DSP engine to manage all onboard AAX plug-in processing.

The need for speed leads to the RTX Real-time Operating System

After researching various processing engine options, the team chose IntervalZero’s RTX real-time operating system (RTOS), which uses Intel-based processors, to handle the S6L’s core mixer functionality. They thought it was simply unfeasible to deliver the number of channels and processing power that S6L would require using standard DSPs or FPGAs—especially when running at 96 kHz. Not only would these approaches be too costly, they would make it challenging to scale up the engine in the future.

With an Intel-based architecture, the engine can take advantage of the industry’s commercial processor trends, which offer a much faster rate of development than DSP or FPGA solutions in terms of processor speed, performance, and power specifications. This architecture offers the greatest possible performance, while taking advantage of the world’s leading processor developers’ latest investments and advances. It also makes E6L as “future-proof” as possible, given the ever-changing technology landscape. And it provides easy scalability, with two engine variants available—E6L-144 and E6L-192—so you can choose the ideal one for your specific needs now, with room to grow.

The RTX RTOS is a proven platform that’s used across a wide range of mission-critical industries, including aerospace, defense, industrial automation, and medical applications. By adopting the RTX RTOS, Avid gains IntervalZero’s considerable development experience and high-quality standards, without having to deal with all of the challenges involved with building and developing a custom operating system. RTX delivers exceptional control, reliability, and stability, and provides integrated routing flexibility to and from a range of sources and destinations, including E6L’s parallel HDX plug-in engine, Pro Tools for recording and playback, various networking and I/O formats, outboard processors, and Waves SoundGrid servers.

The Avid Smack! compressor/limiter plug-in - one of the many AAX DSP plug-ins that can run natively on E6L's HDX engine

Mixing power increases with a dedicated HDX plug-in engine

Since Avid released the D-Show System in 2005, VENUE live systems have been the only consoles capable of running plug-ins natively, without requiring any external processing hardware. Not only does this approach offer unmatched integration with the mixing surface and VENUE software, but it also leverages the vast number of plug-ins available from Avid and our connectivity partners—the same industry-standard plug-ins used on countless Pro Tools recordings. And the S6L system is no different—yet its E6L engine is very different.

Working in tandem with the RTX engine, E6L also features the scalable HDX Plug-in Engine, which is solely dedicated to handling all AAX plug-in processing. This ensures that you always maintain the highest level of mixing performance, no matter how large or complex the production. Depending on your processing needs, additional HDX cards can be installed into a single E6L engine.

VENUE Plug-in Rack

The system supports the latest generation 64-bit AAX DSP plug-ins, which run natively on the HDX Plug-in Engine. This extremely robust, low-latency, sample-accurate, and deterministic DSP environment is optimized for live sound, tightly integrating in parallel with the RTX RTOS engine using ultra low-level drivers. The environment also provides automatic delay compensation for all plug-ins, guaranteeing phase-accuracy—no need to manually calculate delay to compensate for time-shift when doing complex double-bussing or routing.

The plug-ins are fully integrated into the VENUE software as well, enabling automation of all plug-in settings through Snapshots that are stored in the VENUE show file. This makes it fast and easy to perform complex mixing tasks live, and it enables you to transport your settings to any other VENUE system using just a USB thumb drive.

VENUE | E6L

E6L Engine Back Panel

Designing the E6L engine hardware

A lot of thought and deliberation went into the development and design of the actual E6L engine hardware as well. Our team started by looking at what has worked well in our past designs, what didn’t work as well as we’d hoped, and what designs worked well for others in the industry. They also reached out to the VENUE user community to draw on their countless years of collective experience and knowledge, applying what they learned into the new engine design. Our own Customer Care team also provided a lot of insight based on years of supporting VENUE customers—identifying possible issues, challenges, and points of improvement—and all of their feedback fed forward into the engine’s design process.

From the way cards are mounted, to the way they’re inserted, installed, and removed, the team worked to streamline and harden the engine components, keeping the internal cabling as logical as possible. Even something as simple as how you gain access to the inside of the unit was scrutinized—it’s easy; just four thumbscrews and a sliding tray and you’re in. In fact, you can remove the entire unit from the chassis and bring it up onto a more convenient workspace so you don’t have to huddle over inside the rack with your headlamp, looking for something. Even such small details as outfitting the chassis with captive screws means you don’t have to worry about dropping screws into the innards of the engine. Everything’s on a thumbscrew, so you don’t need a whole toolbox in order to access the engine.

E6L features a redundant N+1 power supply design—the same power supply modules used in the S6L control surface. By standardizing on one part, you can carry fewer spares and freely swap power supplies between components in an emergency.

This redundancy carries throughout the system. The engine features redundant fans for cooling to keep the show running in even the most challenging environments, and offers fully redundant connections to and from the Stage 64 I/O racks over Cat5e and/or fiber cables.

Hot-swappable power supply modules

HDX card for plug-in processing - additional cards can be installed to meet processing needs

Keeping cool under pressure

The team also designed both the E6L engine and S6L control surface to meet or exceed a very specific acoustic target—a near inaudible NC20 noise criteria rating—enabling you to use the system in the quietest performance environments. Of course, this made designing the cooling challenging, given the significant power required by the system’s Haswell-class motherboard and significant expansion options.

To meet this goal, the team took great pains to address the thermal issues, developing a design that required fewer and slower fans. They achieved this by optimizing fan profiles under microprocessor control, installing a huge radiator to efficiently dissipate heat, and using fanless power supplies. The result is a massively powerful engine with an acoustic noise floor that is almost imperceptible at room temperatures.

Finally, if you’re concerned about space, you’ll appreciate that the design team was able to pack all of this power—that’s over 300 processing channels and 200 plug-in slots to play with using the E6L-192 engine—into half the size (just 5 rack spaces) and roughly half the weight (only 61 lbs) of the current VENUE FOH Rack.

Yes, good and powerful things really can come in small packages!

VENUE | S6L

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Avid S3L: The Center of Your Live Production Environment

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.




The Power of Events with Avid S3L

Designing Avid S3L: The Power of Events with Avid S3L

The following is the sixth 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.

 

Oh, the tales I could tell you about the power of events. The things I have seen on my travels. The things they can do are mind-blowing, eye-widening, jaw-dropping, and other such hyphenated phrases.

Events can trigger pyros, stage lights, on-air lights, applause lights, and even console flight case bead lights. Events can fire in spot effects, cues, and playback music from a single button press. Events allow a tiny control surface to follow an engineer’s every move as he navigates through multiple monitor mixes while jumping in and out of flip to faders triggered only by an AFL switch. Events can change the patches of onstage keyboards and guitar effects pedals and trigger recording to high-channel multi-track recording systems simultaneously using only a snapshot recall.

I’ve seen an engineer target channels using only footswitches so he could keep his fingers on faders and knobs for the entire show. I’ve seen the curtains open and the entrance music triggered from a simple fader start. I’ve seen a single live sound console control a second live console as well as a lighting console at the same time. Hey, I’ve even seen a console hooked up to a coffee machine!

The possibilities blow my mind, and it’s all down to events.

Avid S3L is extremely compact but incredibly powerful. We knew when designing S3L that we would need to provide an incredibly rich Events system as it would become integral to the versatility and efficiency of the console.

Consider just a few of S3L’s applications:

  • High-demand concert sound and festival applications with quick turnarounds and many acts
  • House of worship applications with large quantities of performers and speakers
  • Theatre applications with multiple scenes, complex control surface workflows and integration with playback systems
  • Corporate AV applications with talking heads, presentation systems and video
  • Live broadcast and recording applications with a constant rotation of multiple acts when maintaining a deadline is paramount

With these scenarios in mind, the ability to link unrelated operations together via a detailed and user-friendly interface becomes tantamount to S3L’s effectiveness in these high-pressured environments. This is exactly what the Events system is designed for.

We knew when designing S3L that we would need to provide an incredibly rich Events system as it would become integral to the versatility and efficiency of the console.

So what actually is an event?

If I was to employ the skills of Nick Pellicciotto (Avid technical publications writer extraordinaire) and ask him how to define an event in the VENUE software, I am guessing he would say something along these lines…

“An event is a user-defined combination of one or more triggers to cause one or more actions. Each event serves as a type of software ‘macro’ in which you can establish a cause-and-effect relationship between a trigger and the resultant behavior of the S3L system, the action.”

In fact, Nick did say this exact thing because I plagiarized it right out of his S3L System Guide. What it means in real-world terms is that you can customize and enhance the behavior of your S3L system so it can perform multiple tasks simultaneously, using previously unrelated functions. This customization can relate directly to the way that the S3 Control Surface and VENUE software behave, and more excitingly, how S3L interacts with other devices in your live sound environment. All you need to do is access the OPTIONS > Events page in the VENUE software, create an event and define its trigger (the function that kicks off the event) and the action (the resultant behavior of S3L).

The list of triggers available in the Events page is extensive. Almost any button on the S3 Control Surface can be used as a trigger, including the 16 function switches and 4 touch strip zones, together with non-control surface items such as snapshot functions, footswitch activation, GPI inputs, and even toggling Show and Configuration modes.

The list of triggers (left) and actions (right) in the OPTIONS > Events page of the VENUE Software is extensive.

The list of actions available is extensive also. You can select any channel in the system, mute any channel, engage mute groups and mute stage outputs, change view modes in the VENUE software, trigger snapshots, and control the transport of the onboard 2-track record and playback system and even a connected Pro Tools system.

Events can be programmed offline in the VENUE standalone software, so to check out the full power of them, just download the software. It’s on us and available here.

 

Tips & Tricks

With all this functionality, where do we begin? Let’s give you a few starting points, a few simple tips and tricks for cool stuff we can do with events. These will do nicely for starters…

  1. Changing VENUE Software View Modes
  2. Triggering Mute Groups
  3. Setting the Tap Tempo
  4. Recalling Snapshots

Also remember to check out my previous blog on using S3L for monitoring mixing applications. I included some neat tricks to quickly navigate through mixes on the S3 Control Surface, optimized for the monitor guy.

 

1. Changing VENUE Software View Modes (via a Function switch)

Avid S3L provides a number of ways to navigate through the pages of the VENUE software. You can use the view buttons and navigation on the S3 Control Surface, the function keys on your QWERTY keyboard, or just use the mouse. However, if you need to access a particular page or screen quickly, the best action is an event (pun intended).

Here’s how you make Function switch 1 target the PLUG-INS page of the software:

  1. Navigate to the OPTIONS > Events page.
  2. Press Create to create a new Event.
  3. Double click the Event to rename it. Rename it “View Plug-Ins (F1)”.
  4. In the Triggers section press ADD.
  5. Select from the dropdown list Function Switch 1.
  6. In Actions section press ADD.
  7. Select from the dropdown list Change View Mode, Plug-Ins Page.

Changing view modes of the VENUE software using Function switches.

2. Triggering Mute Groups (via a Function switch)

Avid S3L gives you 8 mute groups. Channels are assigned to mute groups in the INPUTS page of the VENUE software. There are no dedicated mute group switches on the S3 Control Surface, so activating mute groups is done via the Events page, which gives us a wider range of choices for engaging them.

For simplicity, let’s say we have drums on channels 1-12 and we want to mute the entire kit as one entity from a single button press. We can assign a VCA to do this, but let’s use a mute group this time.

Here’s how you make Function switch 1 activate Mute Group 1:

First you need to assign your drum channels to a mute group:

  1. Navigate to the INPUTS page of the VENUE software.
  2. Press the Assign button in the Mute Groups section of the INPUTS page to enter Assign mode.
  3. Make sure the red button for Mute Group 1 is activated.
  4. On the S3 Control Surface or in the software, select the drum channels (channels 1-12).
  5. Press the Assign button once again to exit Assign mode. Mute Group 1 is ready.

Channels are assigned to Mute Groups in the INPUTS page of the VENUE software.

Now you can set up an Event to activate Mute Group 1 using Function switch 1:

  1. Navigate to the OPTIONS > Events page and create a new event.
  2. Rename the event “Mute Group 1 (F1)”.
  3. In the Triggers section press ADD and select Function Switch 1 from the dropdown list.
  4. In the Actions section press ADD and select Mute Group 1 from the dropdown list.

Activating Mute Groups via Function switches.

Remember that you can trigger mute groups using other triggers than just the Function switches. Mute groups can be triggered from snapshot recalls, the mute switches of any channel in the system, and any other previously unrelated function the Triggers list provides.

 

3. Setting Tap Tempo (via a Footswitch)

Avid S3L provides tap tempo for syncing the delay of your plug-ins with your performance material. It’s handy to have this Tap Tempo assigned to a footswitch, so here’s how to set it up:

  1. Connect a footswitch to Footswitch port on the rear panel of the S3 Control Surface.
  2. Navigate to the OPTIONS > Misc page of the VENUE software.
  3. In the Tap Tempo section, press the ON switch.
  4. Navigate to the OPTIONS > Events page and create a new event.
  5. Rename the event “Tap Tempo (Footswitch)”
  6. In the Triggers section press ADD and select Footswitch from the dropdown list.
  7. In Actions section press ADD and select Tap Tempo from the dropdown list.
  8. Step on your footswitch and set the tempo.

Setting Tap Tempo using a footswitch.

4. Recalling Snapshots (via a Function switch)

You can use Events to recall any snapshot available in your Snapshots list. A handy workflow is to use the Function switches on the S3 Control Surface to recall next and previous snapshots so your scene recalls are right under your fingertips.

To make Function switches 7 & 8 recall previous and next snapshots follow these steps:

  1. Navigate to the OPTIONS > Events page and create a new event.
  2. Rename the event “Recall Previous Snapshot (F7)”
  3. In the Triggers section press ADD and select Function Switch 7.
  4. In the Actions section press ADD and select Recall Previous Snapshot.
  5. Create another new event. Rename this one “Recall Next Snapshot (F8)”
  6. In the Triggers section press ADD and select Function Switch 8.
  7. In the Actions section press ADD and select Recall Next Snapshot.

When you start integrating S3L’s Snapshots system with its Events system, the functionality can go pretty deep. Consider using a fader start to trigger the first snapshot in your show that subsequently triggers playback of the walk-in music on your 2-track USB drive or even the sound design from a connected Pro Tools system. One Snapshot recall can be set to trigger subsequent snapshot recalls, so a whole series of events can be set in motion with a single button press.

Remember that MIDI messages can be transmitted via snapshot recalls, as can GPI outputs via an event, so S3L can interact with the lighting guys, the pyrotechnics, video dudes or even trigger other audio consoles in the auditorium… Phew!

I’ll let you ponder the possibilities.

 

Integrating Events with the MEDIA page

This little blog entry would not be complete if I didn’t mention the MEDIA page. The MEDIA page is the central point of control in the VENUE software for S3L’s onboard 2-track USB record and playback system. Plug a USB flash drive into any available USB port on the E3 engine and the MEDIA page allows you to manage the stereo recording to the drive and the playback of stereo files from the drive through the Patchbay integration, simple folder navigation windows, transport controls and playlist, all fully integrated into your Show file. However, the system truly comes into its own when used in conjunction with Snapshots and Events.

The MEDIA page is the central point of control in the VENUE software for S3L’s onboard 2-track USB record and playback system.

Let’s start with playback. Any WAV or MP3 file that you want to play back must first be added to the Playlist in the MEDIA > Playback page. Once it’s in there, you can trigger the playback via an event or a snapshot. As all the MEDIA transport functions appear in the Actions list in the Events page, any button on the S3 Control Surface can be used to trigger the playback — just like a sampler. This is great for triggering spot effects or cues on the fly during a theatre show or sports event.

If you are using snapshots, the playback of any file in your playlist can be triggered directly from the snapshot recall, either as a single or repeated play of a track or to begin continuous play of the entire playlist. This couldn’t be easier to set up. A new MEDIA tab within the SNAPSHOTS page of the software allows you to select a file from the playlist and add it and assign it for playback when the snapshot is recalled.

The MEDIA pane in the SNAPSHOTS page allows 2-track USB record and playback to be triggered using snapshot recalls.

When it comes to recording, S3L gets even more interesting. Just like the playback functionality, recording can be triggered via an Event, so again surface controls can start the 2-track recording to the USB drive. Recording can also be triggered via a snapshot recall. But here’s where it gets even more clever…

Let’s say you have built your show using snapshots. You are running a show with a snapshot for each song in the set. Before the show, the lead vocalist asks you for a simple board mix of tonight’s performance. You oblige.

You plug in your USB flash drive. You go to the SNAPSHOTS page, you select the first snapshot in the list, and in the MEDIA tab you click Record > Use Snapshot Name. You repeat this process for every snapshot in the list.

2-track USB record and playback can be triggered using snapshot recalls.

The powerful Events system provided by the VENUE software streamlines your workflow through a user-defined system of advanced control functionality, enhanced beyond the capabilities of any other live mixing desk.

It’s show time. The band comes on stage. You are recalling snapshots for each song in the set. Every snapshot recall triggers a recording to the USB drive. Now, because S3L has a record divide function, every time you trigger a snapshot recall the USB recorder finalizes the current recording and instantly starts a new recording, each time taking the name of your snapshot as the name of the file being recorded. At the end of your show you have a USB drive containing audio files for each song in the set, already cut into discrete files and labeled to match the set.

The artist thinks you’re a genius and that’s fair enough, you are.

So in closing what can I say? Only this—you are in control.

The powerful Events system provided by the VENUE software streamlines your workflow through a user-defined system of advanced control functionality, enhanced beyond the capabilities of any other live mixing desk. It takes S3L into a new realm of live production control beyond that of mixing the audio. The Events system is powerful and wholly user-defined, so that power is all yours.

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 my final blog entry for our Designing Avid S3L series, we are going deep. We are drawing together everything we have talked about over the entire blog series, adding a little sprinkling of Pro Tools and a few snapshots, and discussing how Avid S3L is much more than just a digital mixing console.

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 sounding mixing desk. Avid S3L is a live production system, and the central point of control of your live sound environment—in my next blog entry, you’ll find out why.




Designing and Optimizing Your Live Sound Monitor Mixing Workflows with Avid S3L

Avid S3L

The following is the fifth 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.

 

In this week’s blog we are going straight to the point. No introductions, no tongue and cheek opening gambit, no setting of the scene. We are going straight to the heart of the action.

This week we are standing by the side of the stage in monitor world. We are talking about managing multiple mixes to multiple destinations across a distributed network of I/O. We are talking about super-fast shortcuts and navigating with speed across an ultra-compact control surface with the grace of a gazelle that your job depends on. This week we are talking monitor mixing workflows with Avid S3L live sound system.

Lets start with system configuration. Avid S3L provides 64 input channels, 24 mix busses, 8 VCAs, 8 matrixes and mains, and the system can be placed in one of three bus configurations:

  1. 8 Auxes and 8 Stereo Groups
  2. 16 Auxes and 8 Mono Groups
  3. 16 Auxes and 8 Variable Groups

Avid S3L provides a choice of three bus configurations in the OPTIONS > System page of the VENUE software.

For the monitor guys out there, there is option #3: 16 auxes and 8 variable groups. Informally, we call this bus configuration Variable Groups Mode that essentially gives you 24 aux busses (a variable group being an aux bus that can be routed to mains).

To place S3L in Variable Groups Mode, navigate to the OPTIONS > System page of the VENUE software, and under “Bus Configuration”, select “16 Auxes and 8 Variable Groups”. For the rest of this blog, we will be working from the assumption that we have placed S3L in Variable Groups Mode to have the system nicely optimized for monitor mixing applications.

These 24 bus masters can be accessed quickly via the fader banks. As the S3 Control Surface has a tiny footprint (relative to its level of control), 7 fader banks are provided to navigate through all channel types. In Variable Groups Mode, S3 will give you the following banks:

  • Banks A-D = Input Channels 1-64
  • Bank E = Aux Masters
  • Bank F = Variable Group Masters
  • User = VCAs 1-8, Mains

 

Fader Banking:

Aux and Group output channels are accessed from the S3 Control Surface on Fader Banks E and F.

The Aux masters will always appear in Bank E and Group masters on Bank F, irrespective of the bus configuration. In addition to using the fader banks, all output channels can be controlled by the Global encoders (the 8 knobs on the very top-right hand side of the control surface)—more on this later.

Output channels can be labeled up in the VENUE software, and labeling an Aux or Variable Group output channel will automatically label the sends to that bus as well, and populate the name throughout the software and control surface.

All output channels are given discrete outputs in the VENUE Patchbay and can be routed to any physical output, ranging from Stage 16 remote I/O boxes to drive your onstage monitors to any local output on the S3 Control Surface and/or E3 Engine (and additionally patched direct to Pro Tools). To put it bluntly, any output channel can be routed anywhere you like in S3L’s fully distributed system of networked I/O.

Aux and Variable Group output channels can be routed to any Stage or Local output in the Patchbay page of the VENUE software.

OK, so that’s how you access your bus masters, but how about actually setting up your monitor mixes? How do you access the sends to the busses and start dialing in the mixes? Well, on the S3 Control Surface, this can be done in two ways:

  1. Using the Channel Control section
  2. Using the Assignable Channel Encoders

The Channel Control section gives you all the parameters associated with the selected channel. Select a channel and the top left-hand set of 8 knobs on the control surface will give you a choice of Input, EQ, Compressor, Gate and Aux Sends to access for that selected channel. Choose Aux 1-8, Aux 9-16 or Variable Groups to spill those sends onto the Channel Control encoders and you are good to send that selected channel to any mix bus (or multiple mix busses) you might be working from.

This is a great workflow when working from the input channel, and setting up which of the 24 mixes to send the channel to. It is not as efficient for the monitor engineer working from the Aux or Variable Group bus, dialing in the sends for multiple input channels to create a specific mix. For the multi-tasking gazelle-like monitor engineer, we have the Assignable Channel Encoders.

 

Encoder Assign:

Aux and Variable Group sends are accessed from the bottom row of encoders (Channel Encoders) using the Encoder Assign section.

The Assignable Channel Encoders (or just “Channel Encoders” if you prefer) are the bottom row of 16 knobs that stretch right across the S3 Control Surface. Each Channel Encoder is part of each channel strip—every channel strip has one, providing one type of parameter for every channel banked to the surface. If one Channel Encoder is controlling input gain, they are all controlling input gain.

Every Avid Live Sound console has this row of knobs, and they all work in pretty much the same way. On S3, the section of 6 buttons to the left-hand side of the Channel Encoders, allow us to target a range of functions. This section of buttons we call Encoder Assign. Encoder Assign allows us to access Gain, HPF, Pan, Compressor Threshold, and any of the 24 sends via the Channel Encoders. Pressing one of the Encoder Assign buttons targets that parameter to the Channel Encoders.

Here’s how you access the sends. Press the Aux button in the Encoder Assign section. This will bring up Aux Selection Mode. The Aux button will flash and each channel display will show a different aux send. Press the encoder associated with the send you want to access, lets say its Aux Send 4, now each Channel Encoder will give you Aux Send 4 for every channel banked to the surface. Press the Flip to Faders button and you can use the faders to dial in the mix rather than using knobs.

If you want to access another mix, press the Page Left or Page Right buttons above the Encoder Assign section. This will page through all the adjacent Aux Sends—so if Aux Send 4 is targeted to the encoders, pressing Page Right will target Aux Send 5 and so on. This will continue to work even if the console is in Flip to Faders, so you navigate across your mixes and use the faders to control the send levels.

If for example, you are operating from Aux 1 and you need to get to Aux 15, perhaps you don’t want to have to press Page Right 15 times to get there—neither do I. Instead, press the Aux button in Encoder Assign one more time to bring up Aux Selection Mode once again. From here, you can access any of the 24 sends by pressing the associated encoder. Bear in mind that when you are in Variable Groups Mode, you will need to page right to access the Variable Group Sends in Aux Selection Mode.

OK, so before we deep dive into more advanced workflows, let’s have a little recap…

Steps to dial in an aux mix from the S3 Control Surface:

  1. Press the Input Bank (A-D) you want to work from
  2. Press the Aux button in Encoder Assign to enter Aux Selection Mode
  3. Press the encoder for the Aux mix you would like to access (encoder #3 for Aux Send 3)
  4. Press Flip to Faders to dial in the mix on the faders rather than the knobs
  5. Press Page Left or Page Right to access an adjacent mix or press the Aux button to re-enter Aux Selection Mode and target another mix

As mentioned earlier in the blog, all the output channels can be controlled via the Global Encoders as well as the faders. These 8 knobs in the top right-hand section of the console provide access to Aux and Group masters, Matrix masters, VCAs, Monitors and Mains.

Aux and Variable Group masters can be accessed via the Global Encoders freeing up the faders to control input channels and sends to the busses.

To target the Aux masters, just press the encoder displaying “Aux/Group”. This will spill Aux masters 1-8 to across these top right-hand 8 encoders. To AFL an output, double press the SELECT switch next to the encoder. To bank the encoders to Aux 9-16 and Variable Group masters, press the Page Right button.

Being able to control the Aux masters using the encoders enables the 16-fader S3 Control Surface to behave like a 24-fader console, freeing up the faders to navigate around the input channels. This is really powerful when the S3 Control Surface is in Flip to Faders mode, allowing you to navigate through your mixes and keep the aux master (and 7 other aux masters) up on the surface at all times. If at some point during the show you need quick access to any of the 24 mix outputs, you can press Fader Bank E to get all 16 Aux masters on the faders and bring up the 8 Variable Groups on the Global encoders.

Now stay with me, lets go deep.

Avid S3L provides a number of functions to dramatically speed up your monitor mixing workflows. They are as follows:

  1. Aux Follows AFL
  2. AFL Follows Aux
  3. Bottom Row Flip to Faders

 

Aux Follows AFL:

To select this option, navigate to OPTIONS > Busses page in the VENUE software. When Aux Follows AFL is active, every time you AFL an aux bus, the sends to that aux bus are automatically targeted to the Channel Encoders. So, if you AFL Aux 3, Aux Sends 3 will appear on your bottom row of knobs. This workflow is particularly powerful when you have the aux masters up on your Global Encoders.

Here’s why this is cool…

Target Aux 1-8 onto the Global Encoders. Now double press a SEL switch to AFL an Aux master. The Aux master will solo to your headphones and immediately you have the sends to that same Aux bus on your encoders, or when in Flip to Faders mode, to the faders themselves. Now, Global Encoders will retain this AFL state, allowing you to AFL any Aux master by pressing the SEL switch for the next bus just once, meaning you can navigate through all your mixes very fast, soloing each one in turn and having the console follow your every move.

Now you’re looking hot.

'AFL Follows Aux' and 'Aux Follows AFL' modes are selected in the OPTIONS > Busses page of the VENUE software.

AFL Follows Aux:

What can I say, it’s like it says on the tin. It’s the opposite of Aux Follows AFL. Easy right? When this option is engaged, choosing an Aux Send to target to the Channel Encoders will instantly AFL the associated Aux bus. So, if you are paging between the Aux sends on the bottom row of knobs using the Page Left and Right buttons, S3L will solo the master for the Aux sends you have selected.

To use Aux Follows AFL, navigate to OPTIONS > Busses and select the Aux Follows AFL option.

 

Bottom Row Flip to Faders:

Bottom Row Flip to Faders adds that little bit of extra spice and efficiency to the Aux Follows AFL workflow. Bottom Row Flip to Faders is activated via an Event. It is an event action that engages Flip to Faders. This means we can use operations on the console other than actually pressing the Flip to Faders button to engage Flip to Faders mode.

Still with me? You already know what I am going to say right? What function should we use to engage Flip to Faders? How about Aux or Variable Group AFL? Now we are talking.

Navigate to OPTIONS > Events. Create a new event with “Solo Any Output” as the trigger and “Bottom Row Flip to Faders” as the action. Every time you AFL an output channel the console will engage Flip to Faders.

Engaging Flip to Faders mode whenever an output channel is soloed is achieved in the OPTIONS > Events page of the VENUE software.

Using the 3 advanced functions outlined above unlocks a fantastically efficient workflow of accessing, navigating, and creating your monitor mixes.

Let’s put this all together—here’s another example for you:

You are doing a show. The lead singer signals to you, she needs more lead singer in her wedge.  She’s on Aux 3. As always you are prepared. You already have your Aux masters on the encoders. You double-tap SELECT and AFL Aux 3. Automatically the sends to Aux 3 are targeted to the Channel Encoders and thrown down onto faders—the console following your every move. You turn up the send on the vocal channel. You page left and right between your other mixes if you need to, or just AFL the next Aux master and again, the console follows you. You have super-quick access to all your mixes without the need for the arms of an octopus; you’re playing that console like it’s a piano. Forget the aux master, you are the master.

Now you are looking very hot.

Avid S3L is immensely powerful, provides a versatile distributed system of networked I/O and is the perfect size for sitting by the side of stage. The S3 Control Surface is heavily optimized for monitor mixing workflows and purposefully designed to empower the live monitor engineer to effortlessly navigate through extensive parameters and mixes like a true virtuoso.

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 the upcoming blog, we will take a look at advanced workflows of the Media, Snapshots and Events systems, Pro Tools interoperability and how Avid S3L is optimized to be the central point of control of your complete live sound production system.




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

Avid S3L

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.

Inputs

  • 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)

Outputs:

  • 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.




How Avid S3L and Ethernet AVB Create the Most Robust and Configurable Audio Network in Live Sound

Avid S3L

The following is the third 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.

 

Picture the scene:

You are 12 years old. You are in school sitting in mathematics class. Now if you’re a musician, live engineer, studio engineer or roadie, then like me, you were probably sitting at the back of the classroom scrawling Metallica logos over your textbook. The teacher leaves the room. She tells everybody to behave themselves and she’ll be back in five minutes. The moment she is out the door, as usual, on cue a riot breaks out. Everyone in the class starts shouting. The noise is literally deafening.

This is an audio network.

Unlike in my mathematics class growing up, in an audio network, everyone can hear each other perfectly. In an audio network, everyone knows each other’s names, who they are and what they do. In an audio network, like my mathematics class, everyone in the room is shouting; however, unlike my class, every word from every shouter is heard perfectly by every listener. As long as everyone is shouting in the same language, everyone can communicate just fine.

With Avid S3L, the language we are talking about is Ethernet AVB, or Audio Video Bridging, if you are not a fan of TLA’s. AVB is an Ethernet-based networking protocol for the connection of real-time media devices and is one of many such languages that exist in the live sound world. There are of course a number of differentiators between AVB and the other networking protocols used for live sound applications, but perhaps one of the most prominent attributes that makes you cast an eye in its direction is how AVB emerged.

Revert your mind back to the turn of the Century. A few years ago, most audio connections in a live sound system were analog, one-way, and point-to-point. In applications with high-channel counts, this point-to-point serialized connection model resulted in crazy spaghetti-like cable jungles closely resembling a roadie’s bad hair day.

At the same point in time, Ethernet and Wi-Fi were fast becoming the most dominant networking technologies on the planet. Evolution in this technology has been driven by monumental changes in social behavior, the consumption of digital media, and social networking, while mobile technology enabled huge leaps in speed, resulting in Ethernet currently being clocked somewhere around the 100Gbps mark.

You would imagine that with this progress in Ethernet technology, it would fast become adopted as an audio transfer protocol by the live sound industry, removing costly analog cabling and drastically simplifying connectivity. This, however, was not the case, as its widespread adoption was blocked primarily by the cost-per-node expense and the technical expertise required to deploy a networked system. This is until Ethernet AVB emerged onto the scene.

So what is Ethernet AVB?

Well, Ethernet AVB is an open, standards-based networking protocol for the connection of real-time media devices. When I say open, I mean truly open, like MIDI is truly open. AVB is not owned by one vendor or technology provider, which means manufactures do not have to pay a license fee to use it and do not have to pass that cost to you as a customer. AVB is built literally into the fabric of Ethernet networks, making them “media-aware” for the reliable, low latency transmission of audio and video. Essentially, it is a suite of open standards defined by the IEEE, yes that’s the same IEEE that defined the original Ethernet standards in the first place. All of the standards comprising Ethernet AVB are fully ratified, and manufacturers are deploying AVB-capable products.

The AVnu Alliance features major players from the professional A/V, consumer electronics and automotive industries.

What’s interesting is where it’s being deployed. AVB is targeted for widespread adoption across multiple markets, beyond that of live sound. Avid is a member of the AVnu Alliance, the industry forum committed to the adoption and advancement of Ethernet AVB. The AVnu Alliance is made up of major players across the professional A/V, consumer electronics and automotive industries. I’ll leave that one to sit with you—it’s exciting stuff.

What’s interesting is where it’s being deployed. AVB is targeted for widespread adoption across multiple markets, beyond that of live sound. Avid is a member of the AVnu Alliance, the industry forum committed to the adoption and advancement of Ethernet AVB. The AVnu Alliance is made up of major players across the professional A/V, consumer electronics and automotive industries. I’ll leave that one to sit with you—it’s exciting stuff.

These key benefits are the reason that Avid is fully committed to the development and utilization of Ethernet AVB networking technology. When the Stage 48 remote I/O unit was released as an accompaniment to the SC48 console, Avid became the first manufacturer in the world to incorporate Ethernet AVB into an audio console. Subsequently, Avid S3L is the first console in the world to be designed from the ground up utilizing AVB as its audio transfer protocol. The implementation of this networking functionality in the product is highly compelling.

An Avid S3L system is made up of an S3 control surface, an E3 engine, up to four Stage 16 remote I/O boxes, and if you want all the innovative record and playback functionality, a computer running Pro Tools. The E3 engine is the central point of processing of the system, connecting to the other S3L devices with Cat5e cables transmitting audio data via Ethernet AVB.

A fully expanded S3L system provides 64 inputs and 48 outputs on stage, 8 analog inputs and outputs locally at the mix position, 8 digital inputs and outputs also locally, and 64 tracks of record and playback all connected via an Ethernet AVB network and available to be processed by the E3 engine. In addition to this, all the EUCON control data and VENUE Link metadata messages from the S3 control surface and VENUE software are flying down the same Ethernet pipe as the audio. Now that’s no small amount of data to pump down a cable. If you were crazy enough to try to replicate that in analog connections, you would need to start putting a loom together with at least 270 XLR cables.

This level of functionality is fantastic, but as we discussed in my first blog entry, Avid does not want you to have to go away and get a degree in network engineering before you can get some audio coming up on your S3L system. Plug a Stage 16 into any port on an E3 engine and the two will connect, handshake, and talk automatically. Navigate to the OPTIONS > Devices page of the VENUE software and you’ll see that Stage 16 box sitting there ready to be assigned for use, unless of course your E3 has communicated with it previously, in which case you’ll find that Stage 16 assigned for you already.

The Devices page of the VENUE software is the central point of configuration for networked S3L devices.

There are no DIP switches, ID switches, or network settings of any kind that need to be played with when hooking up your S3L system. You do not need to tell the system how devices will be connected, connect devices in predefined ways, set a system latency, or even know the Mac or IP addresses of the units. Plug S3L devices into any available AVB network ports and the E3 engine will organize them for you automatically.

The E3 engine will always maintain the last state of connectivity you left it in, connecting to the devices on the network that you used last and presenting that environment to you. This connectivity state is stored on the E3 unit itself, not in your Show file. This is essential in any scenario where S3L will be used by multiple guest engineers. When S3L is being used as the front of house console at a festival, for example, a guest engineer can walk up to the system with a USB key containing a show file, load all the mix settings, patching, and everything else, and not accidentally change the devices the E3 engine is connected to currently.

But how reliable is all this AVB networking stuff with S3L? We have already discussed the precise, guaranteed low-latency delivery of media this protocol provides, but for that additional piece of mind, S3L gives you redundancy, too. Daisy-chain your Stage 16 boxes in a loop with the E3 engine and the system will automatically give you network redundancy for these devices. This redundancy is not inherently provided by the AVB network, it’s actually facilitated by the implementation of the advanced ring network topology designed specifically for S3L by Avid engineering. Think of it as two simultaneous bi-directional connections for the daisy-chained units. Should any connection fail between devices, the E3 engine engages a glitch-free redundant switch over with no loss of audio. Should this happen, the VENUE software will pop up an alert to inform you this switchover has occurred and that the system is still passing audio.

Even though the networking functionality that S3L provides is progressive and highly compelling, it represents only the tip of the iceberg of where Avid and the industry can go with this proven and trusted, revolutionary technology.

So there you have it, a small study of the simple, reliable, plug-and-play network environment facilitated by open Ethernet-AVB and implemented in Avid S3L—an implementation that has resulted in the most robust and easiest to configure audio network of any live sound console available today. 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 schedule a demo, and as always, let us know what you think.

In my next blog, we will take a closer look at the S3 Control Surface workflows for live sound applications.