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Soundcraft Vi6 Digital Mixing Console

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Bennett Prescott:
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:

Bennett Prescott:
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:

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?

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.

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.

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.

Bennett Prescott:
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.

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.

Bennett Prescott:
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:

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.

Andy Peters:
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.

That looks like PM4K fader taper.



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