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Author Topic: Soundcraft Vi6 Digital Mixing Console  (Read 41685 times)

Bennett Prescott

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Soundcraft Vi6 Digital Mixing Console
« on: July 13, 2009, 03:48:34 pm »

I've been trying to get my ugly mitts on a Soundcraft Vi6 since I first saw one at AES two years ago. Tom Der had one to spare this summer and shipped it down to Asbury Park, NJ where Jason Dermer's company, TSL, will be putting it through its paces. Since I do a lot of work with Jason, I got assigned the duty of figuring out how the brightly lit control surface works, getting it set up, mixing the openers, and then handing it over to him for State Radio's show this past weekend. Fortunately, my job was easy from that point on.

http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/soundcraftvi6/Thumbnails/1.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/soundcraftvi6/Thumbnails/3.jpg
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/soundcraftvi6/Thumbnails/4.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/soundcraftvi6/Thumbnails/7.jpg

When it comes to digital consoles, I always harp on two points: Usability, and sound quality, usually in that order. This is because most of them sound OK enough, but fall flat in the usability department. There's simply no good way to cram the thousands of knobs and switches that we have come to enjoy on an analog console into a few hundred multi-purpose controls without sacrificing the human interface. When I first had the opportunity to get the inside tour of a Vi6 at AES, I said to myself "Self, I think this is the first digital console that I would be just as happy to use as a large frame analog desk." While it is telling that one has to get into this $60,000 price range to have the same level of control as a $15,000 analog desk, that is not an entirely fair comparison as the Vi6 will mix 64 inputs to 35 outputs (including L, C, & R) and does it well!

Walk-up usability of the desk is really excellent, I would have no qualms handing this over the the most junior of engineers and expecting them to be able to understand everything they need to do to mix within 30 seconds. The desk operates in two banks of 32 input channels with 8 master faders that can bank between VCAs or any of the bus masters. The main outputs have a dedicated fader bank and metering. Each input channel has a clear control strip on the touch screen so that all settings, from gain and polarity to EQ and dynamics to aux levels, are immediately viewable and, with the touch of a finger, immediately adjustable. Above each fader is a beautiful, clear, long LED ladder (with peak hold!) for signal metering, as well as a 9 element ladder for gain reduction. Above that is a soft knob that can be set, globally, as input gain, pan, comp or gate threshold, HPF, or LPF. Everything needed to rip through sound check in too little time because the headliner showed up 4 hours late and diddled around on stage until 10 minutes to doors is right there on the top layer, no banking or extra thought required.

http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/soundcraftvi6/Thumbnails/14.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/soundcraftvi6/Thumbnails/51.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/soundcraftvi6/Thumbnails/52.jpg

Input channels are set up in banks of 8, each with its own dedicated touch screen and Vistonics knobs. That places the Vi6 in the rarified company of desks that allow more than one engineer to work at the same time, independently. Not even intending to, Jason and I did that very thing... while I was mixing the openers, he was finalizing his settings for the headliner, completely different tasks and not once did we get in each other's way (well, except physically). Had we been working on different layers it might have been a slightly different story (the whole desk, aside from the master section, banks at the same time), but the Vi6 thoughtfully allows a touch of the meters on the main screen to bring any bank of 8 channels over to the rightmost fader group for full control, while the rest of the console is elsewhere. This proved useful still, since I buried my effects returns on the last 8 channels (58-64) but could easily bring them up to adjust without losing immediate control of my band channels.
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-- Bennett Prescott
Director of North American Sales
ADRaudio d.o.o.
Cell: (518) 488-7190

"Give me 6dB and I shall move the world." -Archimedes

Bennett Prescott

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Re: Soundcraft Vi6 Digital Mixing Console
« Reply #1 on: July 13, 2009, 03:48:57 pm »

http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/soundcraftvi6/Thumbnails/26.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/soundcraftvi6/Thumbnails/34.jpg
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/soundcraftvi6/Thumbnails/19.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/soundcraftvi6/Thumbnails/39.jpg

Mixing on the Vi6, one quickly and easily settles into the sort of muscle memory quickness that we have come to expect from a well laid out analog board. Controls are where they are expected to be, one doesn't spend the whole time hunched over looking at a little display like I see so many engineers doing on so many other digital consoles. Mixing the show while watching the band is normal again... not as much an issue at FOH (although I do feel that the constant looking back and forth impedes the perception of the mix) but a real life saver at monitors. Speaking of monitors, those two Vistonics knobs per channel make that easy. By default, they are Aux 1 and Aux 2, for each and every channel. A push of a button and they can bank to the next two auxes, or be assigned with the push of another to any other bus send. With the tap of a finger on the channel strip, they can also be opened up to display auxes 1-16 or 17-32 for the selected channel, per bank of 8 of course. That means it is possible to have your "money" mixes always up, and then quickly tap in to adjust any other mix with only two moves, at any time, and without interrupting immediate access to adjusting any other mix from any other channel bank at the same time.

http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/soundcraftvi6/Thumbnails/25.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/soundcraftvi6/Thumbnails/45.jpg

Of course the Vi6 also has an easy to understand output mix on faders mode, enabling it causes all faders to switch to the context of the soloed output bus. All buses also have full parametric and graphic EQ, dynamics, and FX available. Buses can be mono or stereo auxes, groups, or matrixes. Graphic EQs on the outputs can appear on the faders, and there are plenty of inserts everywhere for everything from traditional outboard, to the 8 internal Lexicon effects engines, to keying dynamics from other channels. Insert, direct out, and bus pick points are also easily adjustable... all in all an extremely powerful console.

Now that you know how thrilled I am with the usability and feature set of the console, a word on sound quality. I know sound quality gets mostly lip service in today's world of smaller, lighter, cheaper desks (that still talk to quarter million dollar plus PA systems that take up half a truck and require the latest fancy amplifiers and processors, so I don't know where the savings is supposed to be).
To make a long story short, the Vi6 sounds fantastic. Really solid low frequency response, no coloration, no nastiness in the high frequencies... it sounds as good as good analog. Add to that the exceptional control (high and low pass, full EQ, great sounding and easy to use dynamics) and this is a tool to generate the mixes you've always known were possible, if you only had that de-esser for that channel or if you could only get rid of that guitar gack. Really a pleasure to mix on and listen to.

Coming up, a few things I didn't like as much (honest). Plus, a word on effects, and anything else the LAB would like to know. We'll have this desk all summer, so I plan on being brutal with it and brutally honest with you. I started with things I like because I really feel Soundcraft deserves a solid pat on the back for this desk, but there are a few things that detract from the experience.
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-- Bennett Prescott
Director of North American Sales
ADRaudio d.o.o.
Cell: (518) 488-7190

"Give me 6dB and I shall move the world." -Archimedes

Phillip_Graham

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Re: Soundcraft Vi6 Digital Mixing Console
« Reply #2 on: July 15, 2009, 11:13:29 am »

Does it still take fooorrrreeeevvvvveeeer to boot the UI?  Did they do make some improvements in the usability of the scene advance, especially after a blackout?

Has a great great interface, that's for sure.
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Evan Kirkendall

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Re: Soundcraft Vi6 Digital Mixing Console
« Reply #3 on: July 15, 2009, 06:58:50 pm »

My only real complaint with the desk is the lack of any real labeling on the graphic EQ. Sure, you can throw it up on faders, but it doesn't tell you how much of anything is cut, and the display screen is realllllyyy small.

Other then that, I too agree, that it is a very nice desk!



Evan
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Jason Dermer

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Re: Soundcraft Vi6 Digital Mixing Console
« Reply #4 on: July 17, 2009, 01:11:06 am »

Bennett Prescott wrote on Mon, 13 July 2009 15:48

... and not once did we get in each other's way (well, except physically).

Bennett and I are planning a dinner benefit tour. The rest of you cook us your best regional cuisine for dinner, and we benefit by eating it. Oh, and we'll bring lots of cool toys to play with.

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Bennett Prescott

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Re: Soundcraft Vi6 Digital Mixing Console - Effects
« Reply #5 on: July 28, 2009, 05:49:21 pm »

Sorry to be so long between updates, but I wanted to take some notes and get a few more shows on the console.

The Vi6 we have arrived with Lexicon effects built in on some kind of add-in card. There's 8 engines that can be run in mono or stereo, pre or post fader, and they operate just like you had them patched in externally. They can source their signal from anywhere, including channel or bus insert points. They can be returned almost anywhere as well, but for traditional use they must be patched in as inputs to one of the 64 control channels. I usually stick them in the last 8 channels on the board (56-64) and then just tap that bank of channels on the master when I want to mess with them and they pop up in the right most fader bay. Of course they're also assigned to a VCA.

The disadvantage here is that you lose those input channels... I don't know if there is some trick that could save them, maybe returning to a group and accessing that from the master section? Of course, our snake is only 48 channels and even with CD players and other miscellaneous inputs plus eating 8 channels for four stereo FX returns we've got plenty left over, so it's a non-issue for the kind of work we do. The only application where this would have been an issue was when we did a split stage festival earlier this year and dedicated 32 channels to each side of the stage. In that case we would have had to have a workaround to get at least a few FX returns in somewhere.

In any case, the Lexicon effects all sound excellent. Just like real Lexicon units, unfortunately, the controls don't always make any sense, and the built in FX types don't always sound like you'd imagine from the description. I distinctly remember a good 5 minutes spent with Jason at the board trying to find the "decay" control for a vocal reverb... there's room size, and diffusion, and predelay... but how about decay? Choosing a different reverb type ended up being the best choice. Because they're being returned to channels, there is plenty of flexibility for EQ and high pass and low pass as well as routing, panning, etc.

Another neat trick is that tap delays appear on the user definable buttons at the top of the master section, so it's easy to get delays back in sync at the beginning of a new song and then just push faders to bring them in where desired.

Furthermore, when you've got your FX all set up and being returned into channels, that channel's touch sensitive display strip shows what kind of effect and which engine is being returned there, and a simple touch brings up all the controls. Aside from the typical Lexicon interface obfuscation, there is plenty of control and it is easy to adjust.

You can sort of see both of my delay taps blinking away right above VCA #5 in this photo:
index.php/fa/24056/0/
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-- Bennett Prescott
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ADRaudio d.o.o.
Cell: (518) 488-7190

"Give me 6dB and I shall move the world." -Archimedes

Bennett Prescott

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Re: Soundcraft Vi6 Digital Mixing Console - Complaints
« Reply #6 on: July 28, 2009, 06:21:26 pm »

After so many things I do like, I've got a few items that aren't quite right.

First of all, as Phill mentioned, it really does take the surface forever to boot. Boot times are in excess of 60 seconds. The stage rack and control "brains" are both up very quickly, which means audio will come right back up after a power failure, but you won't have any control over it for another minute after that. There has got to be a way to speed that up... minute boot times are so... 1984.

An issue that plagues most digital equipment at outdoor concerts... washout. What is strange about the Vi6 is that some of the controls do great in direct sunlight, and others completely disappear. For instance, the touch screen and Vistonics displays do pretty well, as do the level indicators around each channel's soft gain/pan/etc knob. The output meters in the master section do pretty well also, but the channel meters almost disappear. The mute and select buttons completely disappear, it is impossible to tell what the status of a channel is in the sun. Basically, any of the "squishy" raised buttons made out of soft rubber are done for once the sun comes out.

Here are example shots in the not-very-bright late afternoon sun:
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/soundcraftvi6/Thumbnails/39.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/soundcraftvi6/Thumbnails/40.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/soundcraftvi6/Thumbnails/35.jpg

Almost as annoying, some of us like to wear sunglasses when we're outside from sun-up to sun-down to avoid squinting all day and permanently freezing our muscles like that. My sunglasses happen to be polarized, which I don't think is too unusual. With the Vi6, I can still mostly see it with my sunglasses on. If I tilt my head a little, though, it either gets completely viewable or completely disappears. Why can't they think of this sort of stuff and just rotate the polarizer in the displays so that you can look at it head on without having to take your glasses on and off all the time?

http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/soundcraftvi62/Thumbnails/8.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/soundcraftvi62/Thumbnails/9.jpg

Of course, they'd have to try and be as bad as the Dolby Lake Processor, which is totally useless in the sun and even worse with the sunglasses-LCD display issue.

http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/soundcraftvi62/Thumbnails/10.jpg

Now, when indoors or when it is dark, the desk really shines. Three brightness settings make it even better, from unobtrusive theatre to full brightness when there's nobody else to bother but you in the mix tent. A built in set of lights at the top of the console, right above the screen, handily illuminates everything that doesn't already have an LED behind it and makes usability even better. Little things like this really make the last 1% for me, and it's nice to see those little "rope lights" on at night.

index.php/fa/24057/0/

Speaking of indoors and theater and things like that, a word on fan noise. The surface is dead quiet. The brains are dead quiet. The stage rack sounds like a 777 trying to accelerate through a cloud of ducks. 1m away I measured 75dB. That's totally unacceptable... do we have a broken thermal unit or something? There are some big fans up in that rack, it has no need to be that noisy. Maybe Soundcraft were assuming that the stage rack would always be on stage, but for those of us with analog split snakes (everyone) that's not the case.
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-- Bennett Prescott
Director of North American Sales
ADRaudio d.o.o.
Cell: (518) 488-7190

"Give me 6dB and I shall move the world." -Archimedes

Bennett Prescott

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Re: Soundcraft Vi6 Digital Mixing Console - Complaints
« Reply #7 on: July 28, 2009, 06:44:29 pm »

The fader taper on the desk is... unusual. I would like to see a centimeter or so more distance between +5 and -5... as is there is much less control than I am used to, which makes it little awkward sometimes setting balance between things in the mix.

index.php/fa/24058/0/

Another control issue is that, with all these knobs everywhere (which is great) it is easy to nudge one while trying to, say, push the soft button on the Vistonics interface. This adjusts the level that knob is controlling by a fraction of a decibel. Since there is no center detent, the knobs have almost no physical resistance, and there is no "resistance" in the software to make zero easy to hit, it is then a small fight to re-adjust that knob back to zero, breathing carefully while adjusting it by fractions of a degree. Yes, a few fractions of a decibel are a very small amount and almost certainly meaningless, but I am neurotic and obsessive compulsive about these sorts of things, plus it messes up my workflow when I look across the console and see a few auxes that are almost, but not quite, at zero. Did I mean to do that? Did I brush against them? It takes my head down from looking at the band and listening to the mix to meaninglessly fight with some little control.

I have a sort-of similar issue with the channel faders. While it is all good and "analog" to have no digital indication of channel fader level, having that be the only control with no numerical readout is odd. I would like to be able to positively set my VCA masters to 0.0dB, and it would be nice to know where my channel faders actually are... -3dB, -10dB, 0dB... why not just pop up the fader level in the "long name" scribble strip at the bottom of the Vistonics interface? Please.

It would also be nice to have a physical button, maybe in the "copy/paste" section, that allows me to zero or return to default any control on the console. I could hold it down and touch an aux send and re-set it to -infinity, or touch an EQ control and zero that band. Would save me a lot of time.
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-- Bennett Prescott
Director of North American Sales
ADRaudio d.o.o.
Cell: (518) 488-7190

"Give me 6dB and I shall move the world." -Archimedes

Bennett Prescott

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Re: Soundcraft Vi6 Digital Mixing Console - Complaints
« Reply #8 on: July 28, 2009, 06:54:11 pm »

A few unrelated complaints:

There are buttons all over the console that do absolutely nothing. I am sure they are supposed to be built into a future software release... like the ability to actually set up any user pages in the master section or the main fader sections. What do the "F" and "ISO" buttons above each channel do? This console has been out for years and while all of the important functionality is there, it seems silly to have missing control features on a non-beta $80,000 console.

There is no button in the dynamics to allow auto attack and release control. There is a button for auto makeup gain (which is great, however they made it work), and the attack and release are easy to set by ear, but sometimes you just need to slap a comp on something now and fine-tune it later, or never. Hopefully this is something that can be added in a later software update.

It would also be nice to have one or two more lights per channel on the stage box. Knowing which channels have phantom is great, but how about a signal/overload light? That would really help with troubleshooting. Maybe a light to indicate mute, or whether the channel has any DCA control to troubleshoot channels not sending any signal.

And a real software bug: If a channel is assigned to a mute group, and that mute group is activated, the channel obviously mutes. One can then push the channel mute button to temporarily un-mute it, which is great for when someone wants to make an announcement or something. One would imagine then that pushing the channel mute button again would re-mute it and return it to control of the mute group... not so. Instead it turns the channel off, and so once the mute groups is disabled (say the band's about to go on) one must "mute" and then "un-mute" that individual channel to get it to come back on.

Here's a photo of the problem, the leftmost channel is showing the issue:
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/soundcraftvi6/Thumbnails/47.jpg

Other than that, I am still very happy with the desk. Mixed on it this past weekend and had even more opportunity to play with the powerful dynamics, which let me get exactly the drum sound I wanted, along with a very nice, subtle, reverb.
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-- Bennett Prescott
Director of North American Sales
ADRaudio d.o.o.
Cell: (518) 488-7190

"Give me 6dB and I shall move the world." -Archimedes

Andy Peters

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Re: Soundcraft Vi6 Digital Mixing Console - Complaints
« Reply #9 on: July 28, 2009, 08:24:18 pm »

Bennett Prescott wrote on Tue, 28 July 2009 15:44

The fader taper on the desk is... unusual. I would like to see a centimeter or so more distance between +5 and -5... as is there is much less control than I am used to, which makes it little awkward sometimes setting balance between things in the mix.

index.php/fa/24058/0/


That looks like PM4K fader taper.

-a
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