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Author Topic: Allen & Heath iLive 144  (Read 25935 times)

Bennett Prescott

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Allen & Heath iLive 144
« on: September 26, 2008, 02:08:15 am »

I have made no secret of my positive feelings towards Allen & Heath's digital offering, I've wanted to really get my hands on this desk ever since it was introduced as a pre-production model a few years ago at, I believe, InfoComm. Not only is Carey Davies a great guy and LAB contributor, my homeboy Michael Palmer is now their National Sales Manager, and big props to Dave Lewty for truly outstanding support on his end. In any case, I bought Michael a boat and a house in the Bahamas, and he agreed to let me take this baby out for a spin.

The console arrives as a control surface with touchscreen and some local I/O, as well as a rack that contains all the "stage" I/O and the mixing brains, plus two power supplies. The control surface unfortunately came with a bum supply that wouldn't come up, and no backup built in or shipped with it, so A&H had to next day me one at, I'm sure, considerable expense. They were fantastic about it, and shit happens, so I really don't hold it against them.

Two ethernet cables connect the surface to the stage rack, one for audio and one for control. The audio runs over Ethersound, which is certainly nice, I don't know what protocol the control runs or whether it is possible to build in redundancy, and how much.

The iLive is available in three different surface configurations, primary differences being number of channel faders. The stage rack is modular and can be loaded however you want, and the surface has three bays in the back that can be loaded with analog or AES I/O. Mine came loaded with all outputs in the surface, and a 48x16 mix rack. I would have preferred a few inputs on the surface for playback and announce and that sort of thing, but the whole stage rack is sitting at FOH with me anyway so there's no real point.

Photos:
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/88.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/90.jpg

The iLive is laid out with an angled top section that contains prolific indicators for selected channel functions. Preamp, insert, gate (with sidechain, EQ, Comp (with sidechain) and limiter/de-esser (with sidechain). The touch screen provides control for advanced console functions, as well as basic channel overviews and detailed screens for EQ, dynamics, etc.

Closeup of the selected channel control section and touch screen:
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/86.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/87.jpg

Every channel has a fader, buttons for assignment, mute, PFL, and select, a rotary encoder, and a 12-segment LED meter.

Closeup of channel controls:
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/89.jpg

The iLive 144 surface has banks of 16, 12, and 8 faders. It can be laid out however you want, with four available layers to each bank, but mine was laid out so that I had 16 input channels, a 12 fader master section, and 8 more input channels for a total of 24 per "layer". Layers can be switched independently (or linked together in a menu), so for instance I can leave channels 1-24 up on fader banks 1 and 3, while I switch my masters bank down a layer to get at my matrixes, auxes, or FX returns.

Messing around on the surface I discovered 8 built in FX, the ability to load the surface out to at least 64 inputs, and a very responsive interface.

http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/84.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/85.jpg
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/91.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/118.jpg
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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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Saturday Night iLive
« Reply #1 on: September 26, 2008, 02:23:27 am »

The show is the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, MA. I'd had this show earmarked ever since I'd gotten word I could probably borrow an iLive sometime, since I think it's the perfect application for this kind of desk. The Big E, as it is called, is three weekends and two weeks of shows with two stages, the Comcast Arena Stage seats 6,500 or so and runs one A-B level act per day Friday-Sunday. The Comcast Court of Honor stage seats 1,800 or so and alternates two bands for four shows a day the entire duration of the fair, one of the bands changes out every Monday and Friday or Saturday. The entertainment is a minor part of the fair, this past Saturday there were nearly 151,000 people on the ground for the rides, agricultural activities and competitions, and other fun nonsense. Trying to leave the fair at the end of the day is occasionally a hopeless task.

The iLive unfortunately didn't get used until weekend two due to the aforementioned power supply failure, but so far we've already put Malo (latin rock, and our "house band), Tiffany (that Tiffany, from the '80s), A Taste of Honey (Bass-guitar driven funk from the 80s), and Jypsi (country) on it. Finishing up the whole fair is Esteban (from the home shopping network). During the week soundco owners and LABsters Bill Forbes and Scott LaRochelle run the show on the Court of Honor stage since their main stage is shut down, on the weekend it's me at FOH and professional wrestler Keith Lussier on deck (he gets a Ramsa 840).

Aside from a few minutes at trade shows and in the shop, I walked up to the iLive blind on Saturday. Bill had swapped it in the night before and mixed the "house band", Malo, on it but we had a new act "Jypsi" due to go on at 3. Naturally, there was no stage plot and no band. Stage plot showed up around 2:30, band showed up around 2:59. Four women with DIs across the front, three of them sing, bass, drums. Fortunately, the bass rig and drum kit were shared with Malo, so I didn't have to do much to them. Bill had started me off with a scene for Malo, so I set up a new one for Jypsi, and we were off.
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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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Actually Mixing On The Thing
« Reply #2 on: September 26, 2008, 02:47:47 am »

Bill had laid the groundwork for my mix for the first band, so I was just making tweaks... getting my tom gates in a little tighter, adjusting compressors and finding that nasty thing in the lead guy's voice with the EQ, etc.

I called Dave on his cell with a few configuration questions before the noon show, mostly I wanted to get some more VCAs up on my center fader bank and bury my L, C, and Sub faders but leave a "main out" fader up on the top layer. It's great that the iLive is so configurable as to what fader in what layer does what, and really nice that I can have more than 8 VCAs (I used 10, and dedicated the extra 2 to Vox FX and Other FX, which saved me a bank switch). As long as the console is already set up the way you want it (and it was 95% there for me) it's super easy to walk up to and use, but you do have to go into the menus if you want to change it. Dave was super helpful and walked me through it quickly and got the concept right in my head so I'm comfortable doing it myself now.

For the aforementioned 3:00 band that showed up at 2:59, I put their three vocals on channels 22-24 so they were on the top layer on my rightmost fader bank. For their four DId instruments I put them in 25-28 on the second layer of my leftmost fader bank. Since the banks can be switched independently, I spent most of the time on the second layer of my leftmost fader bank, which kept everything important right at my fingertips. If I needed to make changes to the kit or bass I just paged back a layer, but that was pretty dialed in so I pretty much didn't have to touch it. Vocals practically had their own layer on fader bank 3 that only needed to change if I wanted to get at my FX sends, which were conveniently all on layer 4 of that bank.

In any case, I had an easy job of it since half the band was already dialed. I wiped out all my unused channels, brought up their vocals and DIs quickly, and saved to a new scene. Recallability is all sorts of fun, I may have been sharing a few physical channels between bands but I could adapt all the settings to compensate for different styles and volumes... comp the hell out of that bass, and loosen up the gates on the kit since their drummer blew.

And Now, Bennett Hedges About Sound Quality:
OK, not really. The iLive sounds really good, to be honest. It's crystal clear, I had no problem getting the vocals out front and giving every instrument some space. Everything came out of the PA the way I was hoping it might, and I spent my time correcting imperfections in the source rather than fighting a slightly muddy mixer. Congrats, guys.
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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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Things I've Liked A Lot So Far
« Reply #3 on: September 26, 2008, 03:08:23 am »

First of all, look at how great these channel labels pop out under direct sunlight!
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/82.jpg
Now THAT's what I'm talking about when I ask for clearly visible displays on digital consoles.

Even better, when there's a little less light each channel has a multi-color backlight that is user-adjustable, but defaults to channel type (inputs are one color, groups another, auxes another). In the dark, the console is lit up like a christmas tree. Fortunately there's an LED dimmer right on the front so you can get it down and the it's super easy to find your way around on:
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/95.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/97.jpg

Now, the iLive feels like it has a lot of analog design heritage to it. It's very easy to walk up to and use, there's lots of control, the learning curve is really just tiny. For some of the more advanced features I had to hit a manual, but for 90% of mixing tasks I was ready to go in 30 seconds.

The iLive also features a LOT of fader flip (which you can set to go to v-pots instead), which is intuitive most of the time. Find an output, press its corresponding blue "mix" button and you're looking at everything from that output's perspective. It's easy to use this to mix monitors or effects, and pushing an output's mix button to deactivate it returns you to FOH mode. I like it a lot, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that more than once I was in an FX send fader flip and thought I wasn't, ended up with a LOT of wet and it took me a few seconds to realize why I wasn't getting more lead vox.

The metering is also really great... not so much the channel meters, although they're fine generic seeming meters (and a gain reduction meter would be really really nice there as well), but the selected channel controls meters are fantastic. When you're setting your compressor threshold, for instance, there's a little red LED to tell you where your threshold is set, but then all the other LEDs in the snazzy looking arc act as an input meter so you can easily determine where you're setting your threshold relative to your input signal. Same thing with the gate and limiter, although if you set the limiter section to de-ess mode it shows you depth instead.

Another thing I like a lot is each dynamics section has a little histogram that shows you past gain reduction activity. I use it all the time to see how much I'm taking off the lead vocalist, or if the tom 1 gate fired while I was adjusting the tom 2 gate. Fantastic idea, I'd like to see more of it.

http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/110.jpg

Speaking of dynamics, great dynamics! And lots of them! The gate is simple, clean, and does exactly what you ask of it. The compressor is simple and gets out of your way. Having a sidechain built in for that is especially nice. Not only that, but having an adjustable (and side-chainable) limiter section right after the comp was also great. I set it to de-ess on some female vocalists and it was a lifesaver there, but one band had a guitarist who was all over the map. I comped him 2:1 and took 8dB or so off, and then slapped on a limiter on top of that to take another 3 or so off when he really got out of control. After that (well, plus a little doubling effect) he sat right where I put him in the mix. Limiter sounds good, too.
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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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Things I Haven't Liked That Much So Far
« Reply #4 on: September 26, 2008, 03:29:12 am »

Unfortunately, in moderate sunlight while the channel scribble strips are clearly visible, the LEDs and touch screen wash out. The touch screen's no so bad, actually, but the LEDs all but disappear, even at full brightness. I kind of need them to mix.

The channel scribble strips, additionally, are only 5 characters. You'd think that wouldn't be such a big thing, but having 5 characters instead of 6 like I had on that other digi desk was actually kind of a pain. Try indicating "Second Band Stage Right Guitar SM57" in 5 characters. 2SRG7? G2>57? One more character lets you do "GT2>57" which is, like, way better. Imagine what I could do with seven character!

Additionally, while moving an input fader, the scribble strip display changes to the position of that fader in decibels. That's all well and good, but then I can't see what fader I'm controlling after all. This was annoying more than once... I'd rather just not have it at all. The fader is right there, I can see right where it is... or should be. I've also noticed that if I take a row of faders and line them all up perfectly so they think they're at 0dB, they don't line up perfectly on the console. They're always plus or minus several dB... so it's hard to quickly throw faders where they need to go, which means a lot of mixing with my eyes, which is never good.

While the physical interface for the console is very polished and usable, and overall one of the best I've seen (and I'd say the best in this price range), the interface behind the touch screen is not as polished. It could be a lot more information dense, it could be a little shallower (I shouldn't have to dick around two layers deep on the touch screen so much), and it could be higher contrast. For instance, here are shots of a couple of channel screens, I think you'll see what I mean:

http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/100.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/101.jpg
http://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/102.jpghttp://www.bennettprescott.com/images/digi_ah_road_test/Thumbnails/104.jpg

There's a lot of wasted space, some controls (especially the graphs on the overall channel screen) are very hard to interpret quickly, and some graphs (the EQ!) are oddly squished so they're an abnormal aspect ratio, which makes it very difficult to quickly get an idea of exactly how big a cut or a boost I'm making. For the compressor especially, engaging the "soft knee" only appears to change the ratio and threshold on the screen, it should round off the knee... in general the whole screen interface feels a little rough and could definitely use a graphic designer. It's usable, but there's too much of a disconnect between what my eye is seeing and my ear is hearing.

Back to the subject of sound quality, while the mixer sounds great during normal operation, when it clips it REALLY clips. Like, clipping a Mackie mixer bad. You can hear it, but unfortunately it's hard to see since the clip indicators on the channels only stay on a second or so, and if you're a bank away there's a clip indicator per bank so you should know where to go, but it only stays on for a second as well, so by the time you've heard it and reacted you can't see it anymore. Get to the right bank and then you have to wait, watch the board, and hope it happens again (or that you were able to identify the channel by ear). I was unable to find any menu option to extend this.

Additionally, while I found it a little easy to clip the front end, I also managed to clip some of the internal processing. That just shouldn't be... once I get the signal in, I should be able to beat it up however I please as long as I bring it back down so I don't clip my analog output on its way out of the desk. I found myself having to worry a bunch about gain-staging internally... on a digital console! That was annoying, especially because the clip indicators didn't stay on long enough for me to figure out what was clipping. I managed to catch a compressor doing it once, or else I never would have looked for it.

Finally, the internal effects are a little lackluster. They do the job, and they offer reasonable amounts of control, but I spent a lot of time looking for reverbs that didn't sound like, y'know, a ton of generic reverb. It was very hard to find a 'verb that complimented vocals especially, and while there were tons of helpful presets for brass and percussion and doubling and flanging, there were only one or two (if that many) for vocals. I'm not sure I ever found one that really worked the way I wanted it to, and I'm not sure I can really describe what it was doing that I didn't like, but I know I can do better and the console wasn't letting me.
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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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Next Steps
« Reply #5 on: September 26, 2008, 03:52:50 am »

Seeing as I'm on this desk again in... 8 hours, I'd better get to bed and get some sleep. I'll try and update from my phone in between shows as other thoughts come to me. I'll check the Road Test forum to see if there are any questions, as well. And of course, if anyone is in the area and would like to come see for themselves, give my cell phone a call, I'd love to see you!
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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

Mike Palmer

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Re: Next Steps
« Reply #6 on: September 26, 2008, 05:31:37 pm »

Bennett, thanks for the review, I have a few comments.

On your comment on the fader values on the scribble strips.

You can turn those off, so they never go to levels, they always display the channel number/name.


Try the 480L Reverb, its an amazing multi-layered reverb that really does sound great. the other jewel in the FX is the VOC. 2 tap delay very nice delay unit.


you do know that you have 1/3 octave graphic on every output also right?? As well as delay with temperature compensation and comp/limiter/de-esser and 4 band parametric (thats 32 totaly btw)


If you do not want to flip between faders send and faders operating input level, you can turn that function off in the routing feature and have the AUX sends send on ROTARIES, that way the faders never flip to AUX or FX send levels.

Go into the fx or the aux, push the routing button under the screen and on the right side of the screen is a button called "send faders on rotaries" when you do that, the knob above each channel fader sends the aux or fx level instead of the fader flipping to that level.

we also now have the offline/online editor on the website go there and download if you want.

Also when you are PFL'ing a channel if you hit the select button on any of the processing (parametric, comp, gate, etc) you can PFL that particular processor and find out exactly where you are driving the signal.




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Allen & Heath USA
michael.palmer@ah-usa.com

Bennett Prescott

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Re: Next Steps
« Reply #7 on: September 28, 2008, 09:31:20 am »

Mike,

I did find that option in the menu. I'm playing with it both ways, I think I work better with it off, but I can see if I was mixing, say, theater or a corporate show where I have to hit precise gains I'd want it on... of course, then I could just use the (very easy to use) automation.

The delay is very nice, and super easy to use. Having the tap tempo button right on the touch screen is cool, and it works. I'm liking the reverbs on percussion and horns, but I still haven't found one I'm in love with on vocals. They're all good, but I'm not getting "great". I'm starting to blame me.

I'm using both the parametric and the graphic on the mains and auxes, plus the dynamics on the auxes. Nice feature to have. The parametric is my array compensation EQ, and I gave the BE the graphic on faders. Is there a way to stereo link them across the mains? I've been setting one and then copying it over.

Know about the fader flip or rotary encoder option, prefer it on faders... once you forget which mix you're on once or twice it's habit to check from then on and then it's a lot faster to use the faders.

Still love the desk, even in the driving rain this weekend (well, not the desk, I'm in a tent). It's nice to be able to spend most of my time on the surface and only have to go to the touchscreen for deeper config stuff or setting up FX. The touchscreen is very usable, and the little keyboard that pops up to set channel names, etc is handy. No need to truck one around.

I don't know if I mentioned it earlier, but the color coded channel scribble strips are a great idea. Easy visual confirmation that you're on the right bank, or not on the right bank, or going for your FX returns when you want sends. Also, it looks cool in the dark.

We've got Esteban for two days this weekend and I got his BE up and running on the board, completely comfortable, in 5 minutes. He was comfortable to sound check almost immediately, explaining what was on each bank and how to mix FX with fader flip took the rest of the 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: Next Steps
« Reply #8 on: September 28, 2008, 12:08:10 pm »

An annoying thing about automation... There's no confirmation dialog when either saving or recalling a scene. We're using scenes for each band, with totally different mains EQ, channel settings and routing, etc. I have made changes to my current mix, gone to save them, and hit recall instead of "Store All" in my haste, wiping out all my hard work. I haven't yet stored over an entire scene from another, but that would be even more tragic. Please add a clearly worded warning dialog!

Additionally, stereo channel settings are not stored in scenes. I made two keyboard channels stereo for another BE and now they're stereo in the scene for the band I'm mixing too! Fortunately they're channels I'm not using, but there's absolutely no reason to make stereo channels so complex and special.

Safing channels from automation is, fortunately, simple and works.  
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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

Darren Scaresbrook

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Re: Next Steps
« Reply #9 on: September 28, 2008, 12:42:40 pm »

Hi Bennett,
If you go to the preferences page you can turn on the confirmation dialogue box for saving/recalling scenes and shows.
Also, check how you are saving, as the ilive lets you save only some, or all of the parameters in a scene dependant on your needs.
Which version firmware are you running? The latest 1.32 adds some very nice features.
Cheers,
      Darren
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