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Soundcraft Vi6 Digital Mixing Console

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Bennett Prescott:
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.

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.

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.

Bennett Prescott:

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.

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.

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.

Evan Kirkendall:
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!


Jason Dermer:
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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