LX6464ES – a turning point for live sound recording?|
Espace Concept roadtests Digigram's new LX6464ES soundcard
Everybody dreams of launching "the" product that will revolutionize the
market and change the way people work forever, but few actually achieve
it. And very occasionally a product is launched with a potential that
even the manufacturer himself hadn't anticipated. The iPod is a case in
point – even Apple hadn't bargained on how the concept would
transform an entire generation, and not just those who were already Mac
users, which, in this highly partisan world of ours, (at least where
Mac and PC are concerned) is a phenomenal achievement. |
Now, no-one is comparing themselves to Apple here, but in terms of a product that has the capacity to revolutionize a market, and even surprise the manufacturer in the process, the new LX6464ES from Digigram has all the right ingredients.
The challenge for Espace Concept was to offer their customers added
value. Established in 1999, Espace Concept has always been interested
in the development of new, cutting edge technology and the company's
inventory reflects this: digital mixing consoles from INNOVASON, a Nexo
Geo S tangent-array system, Camco amplifiers and digital processing via
the dedicated Nexo NX242. Furthermore, INNOVASON and Nexo are both
EtherSound licensees, so wherever possible, Alain chooses to work with
an EtherSound network "We're
a small company, but the one thing we can offer is quality, and if we
can be one step ahead of the competition in terms of technology, so
much the better," notes Alain. "Already the fact that we work
mostly on an EtherSound network gives us a tangible advantage in terms
of sound quality and ease of installation. Working with the LX6464ES on
the EtherSound network is yet another jump ahead in audio quality and
allows me to work in ways I had never before thought possible."
So what is the LX6464ES? Simply put, it's an EtherSound-enabled PCI network sound card. Containing DirectSound and ASIO drivers, the LX6464ES can transmit and receive up to 64 EtherSound channels, thus connecting computer-based audio applications to the EtherSound network. According to Digigram's Philippe Onillon, "When we designed this card, we had principally our traditional markets in mind. For example, it's an ideal solution for logging applications and surveillance monitoring where you might need to record many channels from different rooms in the building via an EtherSound network, or even playback and announcements in multiroom venues such as hotels or conference centers. And of course it's an invaluable tool for multichannel audio delivery and distribution over standard Ethernet in broadcast installations. However, we weren't quite prepared for the strength of the reaction from the live market, so it's an unexpected and extremely welcome bonus!"
The LX6464ES, installed in a PC running suitable audio
recording software (compatible with either ASIO or DirectSound), is
effectively plugged into the EtherSound network between the INNOVASON
console and the DioCore (which is INNOVASON's dedicated,
EtherSound-enabled stagebox housing all of the mic preamps). The
devices are daisy-chained using a single CAT5 cable capable of sending
and receiving up to 64 EtherSound channels.
"The thing to understand is that this is not just a simple soundcard," explained Alain. "The more I used it, the more I realized that we're actually dealing with a 64-channel multitrack recorder 'par excellence'. One of the first things I discovered was that I could cut down significantly on soundcheck times by using a recording of a previous show which can be played back exactly as it was heard in the auditorium. All you have to do is deactivate the DioCore so that the pre-recorded tracks appear on the desk rather than the microphones. Once the soundcheck is finished, you just reactivate the DioCore and away you go. It couldn't be simpler. This enables me to complete most of the soundcheck myself without the artists having to be present. They just turn up at the last moment for the finishing touches, and that's it, job done. It's a real time-saver for everybody, and at the same time allows the artists a far clearer picture of how they actually sound to the audience, which is something they appreciate enormously."
"The second thing to note is the simply breathtaking audio quality we can achieve using the LX6464ES on an EtherSound network. It should be noted that the audio quality is a function of EtherSound, not the LX6464ES itself, but the fact that the LX6464ES runs on an EtherSound network means that any recording made using the device benefits from outstanding sound quality. In fact, I was gaining up to 25dB of dynamic gain at the desk (and therefore on the recording) by pushing the gain up to the max on the inputs (yes, really!) and then down on the outputs. Essentially you want to make full use of the digital dynamic on the desk so that you are receiving the maximum amount of information in the digital domain, and then you can adjust the level on the analog outputs. It's a completely different way of working, and one that scares the living daylights out of most traditional sound engineers, but the results are phenomenal. Given that the PC is recording exactly the same sources as are being fed to the console from the DioCore over a very low latency digital network, and the mic pre-amps are only 10-20m away from the artists rather than 150m you get the same stunning results on the recording. It sounds totally clean, and as if you're there in the same room as the musicians. In the case of jazz musicians or an orchestra, it's as if the sound is non-amplified, which is, of course the Holy Grail of music recording."
"You no longer need a mobile recording facility at a cost of tens of thousands of Euros!"
"This leads me onto perhaps the most significant point of all, and the one that could potentially revolutionize the music recording industry," continued Alain, "And that is the LX6464ES's capacity as a multitrack recorder. Given what we've already demonstrated in terms of sound quality and ease of deployment, using the LX6464ES in the way that I've described offers both a massive improvement in terms of sound quality, and a huge reduction in the price of live recording. You no longer need a mobile recording facility at a cost of tens of thousands of Euros, which can't even offer you better quality; you don't even need a separate desk – you can record your entire show in digital studio quality on 64 tracks whenever and wherever you like. All you need is your console, stagebox and computer complete with LX6464ES card all on the same EtherSound network, and that's it. The implications are HUGE, and if I were a manufacturer of multitrack recorders or the owner of a mobile recording studio, I'd be seriously worried!"
"Where do you start?"
asked Alain with a grin. "We
could be here all day!" INNOVASON's Hervé de
Caro is in complete agreement. "The
LX6464ES is an absolute marvel," he confirms. "I couldn't wait to get my hands
on one to put it through its paces, and I was both delighted and amazed
with the results."
Once he'd installed the card and configured the software on his PC, Hervé used a single CAT5 cable to send 40 microphone signals from the DioCore directly onto the 64 tracks of his recording software, although you can, of course, record up to 64 microphone inputs if you wish. This left him 24 spare EtherSound channels for recording pre-mixes (sub-groups) from the desk if required. Indeed, this is one of the beauties of using the card on a bi-directional EtherSound network; you can record either directly from the source, or you can take pre-recorded mixes from the desk, and you can mix and match in any combination as you see fit.
"It was astonishing to realize what a powerful multitrack recorder I had created with the combination of the console and a simple PC," noted Hervé. "I recorded 48 tracks (40 microphones sent directly from the INNOVASON mic preamp outputs and 8 pre-mixes) with absolutely no problem at all. However, when I listened to the results I was staggered by the quality of the audio. There was absolutely no distortion whatsoever of the signal from the preamps – the sound was warm and yet crystal clear at the same time. To be honest, this set-up finally convinced me of the possibilities of digital recording. Past experience had proved that unless you invest astronomical sums of money in state-of-the-art equipment, the majority of digital recordings sound as if they've been made in a huge metal drum, often with special blizzard effects on brass instruments and female vocals! However, we had none of that in this instance. Instead, we were listening to something that sounded as if it could have been recorded in a high quality analogue studio equipped with, say SSL or Neve."
After the recording session, Hervé then turned his attention to mixing where, still using the same network cable, the audio software sent 48 pre-recorded tracks back to the console. The LX6464ES's ASIO driver enables the user to adjust the overall latency according to how powerful the PC is. Using a PC equipped with a 3.2GHz Pentium D processor Hervé was able to work at a latency of less than 3ms with no problem at all. This, in turn, allowed him to use his software plug-ins in real time. "I assigned the I/Os of the plug-ins to the I/Os of the LX6464ES and then assigned the console's aux sends to the EtherSound channels that corresponded to the plug-in inputs. Finally I patched the EtherSound channels corresponding to the plug-ins' effects returns to the input faders of the console, and hey presto! I could then use my plug-ins as if they were external effects. I have to confess that the final results were more than satisfactory," he said with a grin. "I recorded a local heavy metal band called Under, and if anyone's interested, I'll be more than happy to send them a demo CD!"
"The reason for setting up this recording session in studio conditions was to give myself the time and space to put the LX6464ES through its paces and see what it really had to offer before putting it into a live environment, which is, after all, INNOVASON's primary market," continued Hervé. "Having seen what it can do in studio conditions, I believe that the LX6464ES used in conjunction with an INNOVASON console on an EtherSound network is a live recording weapon extraordinaire! This configuration enables you to record a live concert onto 64 tracks with exceptional audio quality and above all an ease of set-up and use that is currently unmatched by any other solution. Once the recording is made you're then free to use it to mix your live album or run your soundcheck without the musicians having to be present."
Hervé concluded by saying, "The implications of this technology in the world of live recording are nothing short of monumental. I look forward to seeing where it will take us!"