The Live Mixer, Reimagined, in a Futuristic Touchscreen Device from Line 6

Photo: Martha Vdovin, snapped for CDM in the mood lighting of the Line 6 press room at the NAMM show.

Few things are as essential to music making as the experience of a live show. So it’s about time someone took some risks to see if there’s a better way to run live sound. Line 6′s new StageScape M20d is important because it does just that – it finally says the mixer as you know it doesn’t have to be sacred, and tries to build a better one. Traditionalists might be skeptical – and with good reason, as we see if this idea works in practice – but it features some bold ideas worth considering.

Centered on a touchscreen interface, the StageScape mixer eschews traditional channel strips in favor of images and virtual touch controls. Want to tweak your vocalist’s sound? Instead of remembering which channel she’s on, tap the picture of the singer. StageScape brings up an elaborate array of processing options, all performed behind the scenes by Line 6′s DSP tech. You can even store in internal memory twenty seconds of a band playing, then adjust multitrack audio after the fact until it’s right, wandering around a venue using an iPad as a remote control. From processing to preset settings, control to sound experience, StageScape is completely and totally digital. It even “knows” what kind of input you’re using when you plug in the jack.

The solution is radically different than what we’ve seen before. It’s likely to scare away some users, and we’ll have to see how it works in practice. But coupled with some sophisticated sonic capabilities, it just might win over new users and adventurous live sound vets. Here’s a first look, after CDM got to meet with Line 6 at the product’s unveiling.

A Better Mousetrap

For the most part, all mixers are designed with the same basic assumptions in mind. To connect multiple microphones and instruments, the mixer presents a series of columns that represent “channels,” and lines up parameters for each of those channels. To amplify and treat the sound of a singer, then, you connect the vocal microphone to a channel number, then adjust the settings for that particular channel. The challenge is, you are restricted to the knobs and faders on physical hardware, so anything you do is limited to a fixed number of controls – and you have to remember the abstraction of which instrumentalist is associated with which channel. Just writing this out seems redundant and obvious; we’re so used to the arrangement that it’s hard to even think about it. But if you do think about it, there is a layer of abstraction between what you’re doing and the way you’d think about the actual musical ensemble.

Adding a touchscreen interface means these kinds of abstractions don’t have to be there, but most software simply recreates the same setup. It may be easier to label channels once you have a display, but otherwise digital mixers have generally replicated the same setup. And even software has generally aped the lineup of channel strips, rather than design a visual metaphor more closely tied to how we think.

StageScape tosses all of that out the window.

It starts from the moment you plug in a cable. I/O jacks on the back, featuring combo Neutrik connectors, “know” what sort of cable you’ve connected. So, for instance, plug in an XLR, and the mixer guesses you’ve got a mic. Add a 1/4″ line jack, and it works out you’ve connected something that’s line level or instrumental. (I’m still researching just how much the auto-sensing considers, but it at the very least knows which connection you used.) The feature works with both input and output, and sets paramters like channel gain, EQ, effects and routing.

Live sound has already benefited from going digital. Having hung out front-of-house with the rival Avid Venue system, I can already tell you live sound engineers adore the change. Let’s assume you have a lineup of three bands. Already, the ability to label channels for those three different ensembles, set levels, and then store presets for instant-recall of settings for each is huge. In fact, I’d wager almost everyone reading this has been in a live situation – front-of-house, onstage, or both – where the show didn’t sound right because some setting from soundcheck was lost in translation. Digital presets are already a breakthrough.

What’s different with StageScape – apart from the fact that it’s far cheaper than something like Venue – is that the whole process is instantly focused on players, and it’s visual. Got a singer? You place a picture of the singer on a virtual stage on the screen, dragging their position in place with your finger. Got a guitarist? Drag a picture of a guitar. (Note that this view is called Perform Mode – you can also see more traditional views if that’s more convenient.)

The same graphical workflow applies to tweaking sound. X/Y pads take a bunch of DSP functions and label them in everyday English, so instead of adjusting a bunch of EQs and dynamic controls, you drag to settings like “punch” or “bright.” Line 6 emphasized that this will help folks who lack audio engineering backgrounds, but it might be useful to experienced users, too. Dynamics, equalization, and effects are also available as a separate, traditional “Deep Edit” view. Multiband compression and multi-point parametric EQ naturally benefit from touchscreen interfaces, since you can manipulate these graphical views directly. But you can also create your own X/Y presets, so when you need to make quick adjustments, you can quickly navigate favorite settings.

Of Touchscreens and iPads

It’s worth noting that the interface on the SoundScape mixer isn’t an iPad. Various vendors at the NAMM show last week had iPad dock solutions, but there’s an advantage to using a custom touchscreen. What’s wonderful about capacitive touchscreens (like the iPad and iPhone) is the instant response you get from a feathery touch. What’s terrible about capacitive touchscreens is that a feathery touch can quickly screw up your settings in a live show. That’s bad.

Photo: Marsha Vdovin, CDM.

Line 6 joins a number of other music products in instead using a resistive screen. This technology requires some pressure before it senses your finger, which makes accidental touches less likely. It’s also less susceptible to, for instance, sweaty fingers.

Instead of making the iPad the main interface, Line 6 employs Apple’s tablet as a remote control. There, it makes far more sense than locked into a dock. You can wander around a venue and control the SoundScape mixing settings, hearing how they sound in different spots. (Especially useful: those 20 seconds of multitrack recording can be looped, as Line 6 showed off in a press conference featuring Colbie Cailet. It’s a simple thing to pull off, but so badly needed in live sound, it was met with enthusiastic cheers by the gathered crowd.) You do need an optional USB WiFi adapter to enable this functionality.

You’re also not without physical controls. Endless encoders, color-coded to match on-screen controls, provide physical, hands-on control. I don’t think anyone is going to like this arrangement quite as well as motorized faders (or faders, generally), but it does mean you get tangible control. (It’s also not hard to imagine Line 6 offering a motorized fader module if this box is a hit. In fact, I’d very much love to see a USB input on there, unless I missed one.)

Recording and Sound Processing

In addition to being a mixer, the SoundScape M20d is a multi-track recording device, so it can capture the same performance it’s mixing – perfect for preparing downloads of a live show. It records 24-bit lossless WAV to SD card or a connected USB drive or computer.

You also get various effects – no surprise with a Line 6 product – including:

  • Parametric EQ
  • Multi-band compression
  • Feedback suppression
  • Studio reverb
  • Delays
  • Vocal doubling

These in turn are bundled into channel effects.

I/O

While it eschews the channel strip metaphor, the M20d is otherwise a conventional mixer under the hood:

  • 12 digitally-controlled mic/line combo ins (using that auto-sensing feature mentioned earlier)
  • 2 digital inputs from computer, USB, or SD
  • Stereo line inputs
  • 4 monitor outs, 2 mains, each with auto-sensing on balanced XLR

Line 6 also has something called L6 LINK, a multi-channel, digital networked format via an XLR plug that allows you to connect and intelligently-configure Line 6′s own speakers. At NAMM, they were showing off their own StageSource speakers and subwoofer. They sounded terrific, though I am a little sad there isn’t a standard protocol employed on the mixer that would allow you to choose vendors.

What it’s Not

As part of the “let’s put an iPad in everything” trend at NAMM (which included almost everything but a harpsichord dock for your iPad), Mackie launched the DL1608.

In fact, the DL1608 basically is the Line 6, but minus the important features I mentioned.

  • It immediately reproduces a virtual mixer screen on the touchscreen, which has the effect of demonstrating … why physical faders make more sense when you’re trying to reproduce physical faders.
  • Using an iPad as a primary touchscreen saves some scratch, but then your iPad is stuck in your mixer, you have a capacitive touchscreen that can be too touchy when used live, and you have annoying things like notifications popping up while you’re trying to mix.
  • You don’t get a fully-integrated system.
  • When you do want walk-around wireless control, you leave your mixer without any controls at all. (The Line 6 solution, by contrast, supports even more than one iPad, so your sound guy or gal can stay front of house while you and your bass player wander around the room.)

So, sorry. If I’m going to save money, I’ll just buy one of Mackie’s (excellent) non-touchscreen mixers. I think we have to see how touchscreens work for mixer in general, but if I were to go touch, the Line 6 product looks both more practical and better-equipped to actually innovate with the concept.

Mackie DL1608
Via SHOCKLEE blog

They do have a cute video, at least.

Stay Tuned

No official pricing or availability has been announced, but early numbers I heard made this sound accessible.

To me, the big question will be who actually uses StageScape. Line 6 kept talking about bands who lack their own live sound person. But while the idea of a band running their own sound is appealing, that means the same band who couldn’t afford a tech now are buying and lugging around this PA system – possible in some cases, but surely not in all. Someone, it seems, is sure to buy it: venues, perhaps, and certainly academic and institutional settings where its user-friendly features are doubly valuable.

Once in place, we’ll see whether the “magical” interface can really replace a traditional mixer. I can certainly see some live sound people very badly missing the ability to hover their hands over physical faders. Oddly, the folks who might appreciate this most are the people who do live sound, and find its preset storage, built-in processing, and seamless configuration appealing in the field. I look forward to when we get to try it out.

But I applaud Line 6 for rethinking the mixing interface itself. The company certainly has a track record – co-founders Marcus Ryle and Michel Doidic gave us ADAT and then single-handedly popularized digital DSP for guitarists. We’ll see now if this is their third grand acheivement in transforming the business. In the meantime, this could easily be, amidst an avalanche of new gear, the most daring and promising new music product announcement this year.

http://line6.com/stagescape

Mackie announces DL1608 live sound mixer with iPad control

Mackie has introduced the DL1608, a 16-channel digital live sound mixer with iPad control. The Mackie DL1608™ redefines live mixing by combining the proven power of a full-featured digital mixer with the unmatched ease and mobility of an iPad.® With 16 boutique-quality Onyx mic preamps and the performance of 24bit Cirrus Logic® AD/DA converters, you […]

Mix on the Fly – Mackie DL1608 16-Channel Digital Live Sound Mixer with iPad Control

For the full scoop, visit www.mackie.com/DL1608 See what happens when the sound guy for the Portland band Vanimal is introduced to the new Mackie DL1608. It’s a trip! We live in a world where we have mobile control over everything that we love. We communicate, are entertained and use tools that drive both our personal […]

Mackie DL1608

I like many others once owned a Mackie 1604 mixer. At the time it offered major bang for your buck and it was built like a tank. Mackie thinks they have their next big hit on their hands with the DL1608. All I can say is they have created the best mixer commercial of all time (not that I know of any others…but). Please do watch.

“The Mackie DL1608 redefines live mixing by combining the proven power of a full-featured digital mixer with the unmatched ease and mobility of an iPad. With 16 boutique-quality Onyx mic preamps and the performance of 24bit Cirrus Logic AD/DA converters, you have unparalleled sound quality. Seamless wired to wireless iPad control means you can mix from anywhere in the venue. This gives you the mobile freedom to control not only the mix, but also powerful plug-ins like EQ, dynamics, effects and more. The sleek DL1608 even supports up to 10 iPads. Forget bulky consoles and racks of gear. The power is at your fingertips.” – Mackie

For more info: mackie.com/products/dl1608


Winter Namm 2012: Mackie DL1608 für das iPad

Auch Mackie präsentieren nun eine Verbindung zwischen iPad und Hardware. Zugegeben, Informativ ist das dazugehörige Teaser-Video nicht gerade, dafür aber umso unterhaltsamer. Das Dock macht aus einem iPad einen 16-Kanal-Mischer mit Audio-Effekten, die wahrscheinlich als App auf dem iPad laufen. Wenn der DL1608 aber bei jedem Auftritt für solche Folgen wie im Video verantwortlich ist, sollte man sich eine Anschaffung gut überlegen. In diesem Sinne – “Keep on rockin” – und das nächste Mal lieber ein bisschen weniger oder eben noch mehr von der Pizza Funghi nehmen.

Spezifikationen:

Bewährte Hardware:
– 16 Onyx Mic-Preamps
– High-End Cirrus Logic® AD/DA Wandler
– Sehr rauscharme Schaltungstechnik mit hoher Aussteuerungsreserve
– 6 Aux-Wege für Monitormix
– Master L/R Outputs für die Hauptsumme

Integriertes Processing:
– Leistungsfähige, berührungsempfindliche Plug-Ins
– 4-Band EQ, Gate und Kompressor in jedem Input
– 31-Band Grafik-EQ und Kompressor/Limiter in den Ausgängen
– Reverb und Delay

Drahtloses Mischen:
– Nahtlose Anbindung an den Mischer
– Tuning des Raums von jeder Stelle aus
– Monitore direkt auf der Bühne „einpfeifen“
– Personal Monitor Mixing
– Bis zu 10 iPad gleichzeitig nutzbar

Klangkontrolle durch das iPad:
– Intuitives Masterfader App
– Visuelles Feedback
– Preset und Snapshot Recall
– Aufnahme des Mixes auf dem iPad
– Integration von Musik aus jeder App in den Mix

Weitere Features:
– PadLock fixiert das iPad zur dauerhaften Nutzung im Mischer
– Standard Kensington-Lock am Mischer als Diebstahlschutz
– Kompakte Abmessungen – 39,4cm x 29,2cm x 9,9cm

Mackie


Winter Namm 2012: Mackie DL1608 für das iPad

Auch Mackie präsentieren nun eine Verbindung zwischen iPad und Hardware. Zugegeben, Informativ ist das dazugehörige Teaser-Video nicht gerade, dafür aber umso unterhaltsamer. Das Dock macht aus einem iPad einen 16-Kanal-Mischer mit Audio-Effekten, die wahrscheinlich als App auf dem iPad laufen. Wenn der DL1608 aber bei jedem Auftritt für solche Folgen wie im Video verantwortlich ist, sollte man sich eine Anschaffung gut überlegen. In diesem Sinne – “Keep on rockin” – und das nächste Mal lieber ein bisschen weniger oder eben noch mehr von der Pizza Funghi nehmen.

Spezifikationen:

Bewährte Hardware:
– 16 Onyx Mic-Preamps
– High-End Cirrus Logic® AD/DA Wandler
– Sehr rauscharme Schaltungstechnik mit hoher Aussteuerungsreserve
– 6 Aux-Wege für Monitormix
– Master L/R Outputs für die Hauptsumme

Integriertes Processing:
– Leistungsfähige, berührungsempfindliche Plug-Ins
– 4-Band EQ, Gate und Kompressor in jedem Input
– 31-Band Grafik-EQ und Kompressor/Limiter in den Ausgängen
– Reverb und Delay

Drahtloses Mischen:
– Nahtlose Anbindung an den Mischer
– Tuning des Raums von jeder Stelle aus
– Monitore direkt auf der Bühne „einpfeifen“
– Personal Monitor Mixing
– Bis zu 10 iPad gleichzeitig nutzbar

Klangkontrolle durch das iPad:
– Intuitives Masterfader App
– Visuelles Feedback
– Preset und Snapshot Recall
– Aufnahme des Mixes auf dem iPad
– Integration von Musik aus jeder App in den Mix

Weitere Features:
– PadLock fixiert das iPad zur dauerhaften Nutzung im Mischer
– Standard Kensington-Lock am Mischer als Diebstahlschutz
– Kompakte Abmessungen – 39,4cm x 29,2cm x 9,9cm

Mackie