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Rack ‘Em Up… Remotely

About a half dozen years ago, I became enamored of a live audio mixing system called SAC. The Software Audio Console.I met Bob Lentini through a weird reconnection with a friend from high school. Julie Prince and I connected on Facebook and found we were both living in Las Vegas. Got together a few times and she eventually convinced me that i had to go to the Palms to see Santa Fe and the Fat City Horns and meet a guy named Lee Pepper who was recording the show using something called SAC and SAW Studio.

I planned to go for maybe 30 mins but stood entranced for a couple of hours as what has become one of my favorite bands on the planet did their thing.  Then i went backstage and saw something that changed the way i look at audio forever.

SAC—the Software Audio Console—took the physical console out of the equation. You had a rack of I/O (inputs and outputs) and a computer. And that’s it. Not as weird is it might sound to some. Especially when you consider that most digital audio consoles are little more than a very specialized mouse and keyboard. All the work is done in a computer core.

Julie died suddenly a couple of years after making that intro. Which sucked. She was in her 40s. Anyway. that meeting at the Palms with Lee led to a meeting with Bob and eventually—after seeing and hearing it in use at a Michele LeGrand concert at the MGM Grand—my buying a SAC rig of my own. I did a review of it back when i was still at FOH, a lifetime ago.

At the time, the only other system i was aware of capable of working without a control surface was the A&H iLive. There was a press release I remember about a touring show band out of Memphis traveling with just a recount iLive mix engine with I/O and IEM packs. Their engineer was controlling the iLive using a MacBook Pro and a VNC program called iTeleport. But that was a ton more money than the SAC solution.

SAC was not easy. There was—at that time—no “off the shelf” product. you had to buy a computer and a specialized sound card and rack mount mic pre’s. But for me it included the Holy Grail. Remote mixing. And since SAC included a total of 25 virtual consoles (1 main and 24 monitors) that were all controllable remotely, I could let band members mix their own IEMs. At least that was the idea.

I ended up selling my SAC rig just because I am a total Mac guy and could never get comfortable with the Windoze interface. Plus I needed the dough. And truth is that right about the time I sold it in early 2012 i think, remote control of consoles became common.

So in the past couple of weeks, we seem to have come full circle, and at prices actually lower than that old SAC solution and with much greater control capability.

First, and coolest by a mile, PreSonus announced the StudioLive RM line. http://www.presonus.com/products/StudioLive-RM-Series    Basically a full-blown 16 or 32 input PreSonus StudioLive AI mix system in a 3 or 4U rack format. All controllable via a Mac, PC or iPad. You get ALL of the features of the AI series with the addition of fully recallable mic pre-amps. That is something that you can’t get on the physical SutioLive Ai mixers. These are the same highly-regarded XMAX analog preamps. But now they are3 recallable which means EVERY setting on the mixer can be saved in Scenes and recalled. Here is a video demo from PreSonus.

 

And when it comes to remote control, this is miles ahead of anything I thought possible when I was trying to use SAC. The software called UC Surface is identical on Macs, Windoze machines and iPads. In terms of multi-touch, no Android but it will support Windows 8 in addition to iPads. There are actually simple iPhone apps (which PreSonus has had for quite some time) that allow you to give a specific iOS device control over just one aux send. In other words, your singer can control his or her own monitors in a simple “more me” mix from his or her iPhone. This is the REAL Holy Grail.

At virtually the same time, Mackie has announced the DL32R. But there is not a lot of info. The only pages are a small story in French from a site called AudioFanzine.com  l  and a teaser youTube video.

 

Also, Behringer has been shipping a rack version of the X32 for a while. I have never seen one “in the wild” and only know what I saw at trade shows. But, while it does have the ability to mix 40 inputs, the rack itself only sports 16. You need additional stage box I/O to get to the rest. And the X32 Rack operates at 48 kHz sampling rate, the StudioLive RM will be a 96 kHz system. No word on the Mackie yet. They are staying shrouded in mystery with just a couple glimpses in the video and an “event” date of Oct. 15. PreSonus says they will have units on the ground in the US in early October.

The X-32 streets for about $1200. No pricing for either the PreSonus or Mackie system has been officially announced. But in a conversation with the PreSonus folks they gave me the expected MAP price which, if i told you I would have to kill you. But I was blown away. Let’s just say that i am looking around at what i can sell off to buy one.

This approach is the future of live mixing. Coming soon will be the Waves eMotion system http://www.waves.com/mixers-racks/emotion-st#emotion-st-mixer-overview  A studio version of that system meant for running plug-ins  with the SoundGrid Studio system is already available and a live version is on the way. I know that at least one company that makes mixers that has been hugely late to the digital party (Peavey/Crest) has announced they will use eMotion software as the foundation for their own rack-mix system.

Some of the older dogs will protest and cry out that they still want dedicated controls. But the kids who have grown up on touchscreen tech are frankly more comfortable with this kind of an interface than they are with traditional faders and knobs. Count this old dog as one all about new tricks. I WILL be adopting one of these systems as my live mix system of choice as soon as possible.

 

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Bill Evans

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