Tascam DS-M7.1 Professional Digital Surround Monitoring Controller

Studer injects a little humanity into digital boards with their new Vistonics user interface.

With loudspeakers still operating almost exclusively in the analog domain, third party surround monitor controllers have by and large required users to exit the digital world in order to monitor their surround productions. Now, with the introduction of the TASCAM DS-M7.1 Professional Digital Surround Monitoring Controller, owners of small-format digital console can upgrade their production facilities to handle projects in every standard surround format without first having to leave the digital domain.

The principle is the same as with analog add-on monitor boxes. The DS-M7.1 is an eight-in, eight-out unit that interconnects the digital console’s eight output buses, the tracking recorder, the mastering or stem recorder, and the surround monitor system. Add the DS-M7.1 to any digital console with eight output buses and-voila!-instant surround monitoring.

The unit comes standard with TDIF, AES/EBU, and ADAT I/O interfaces, supports surround formats from LCRS to 7.1, including 5.1 and 6.1, and operates at 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz and 96kHz sampling rates with pull up and pull down utilizing an external master clock source. The DS-M7.1 supports downmixing from any surround format, bass management, insertion of an encode/decode processor, and comprehensive software setup of all parameters.

The unit incorporates two TDIF interfaces to send and receive eight channels of digital audio to and from a suitably equipped digital mixing console and multitrack recorders. This being a TASCAM product, the unit is obviously well suited to interface with the DM-24 console and the MX-2424 or other DTRS multitrack machine. Three sets of connectors offer TDIF, ADAT and AES/EBU connections to the master recorder. Eight outputs and inputs of AES/EBU or analog audio are available as inserts to monitor the effects of a surround encode/decode device or for use as returns from a multitrack recorder.

Two sets of monitor outputs, analog and digital, operate in parallel. The digital output has the advantage of allowing the user to select the monitoring as pre or post all internal processing and settings. The configuration allows the AES/EBU output to drive a suitable meter bridge in parallel with the analog monitor setup.

A pair of analog connectors accepts the stereo control room output from the console for routing and patching to the surround monitor system, negating the need for a separate pair of nearfields. A 3.5mm socket allows the connection of remote mute and dim switches.

The control panel provides switching of the various functions, a rotary level control and LED SPL readout, and an LCD window, through which the system parameters are set-via another rotary encoder plus two cursor keys-and the system status is viewed. The panel ships attached to the front panel of the 3U box but may be removed by unscrewing two large captive thumbscrews. A standard 15 foot computer-type extender cable is recommended and the manual includes specifications for making a longer cable up to a maximum of 60 feet in length.

The panel is easy to use and will be familiar to anybody who has operated a third party monitor controller. The keys immediately below the screen serve a dual function, allowing setup of input routing and patching, channel-to-monitor mapping, delay (to compensate for speaker placement), surround level trim, and pink noise parameters in Shift mode. Unshifted, those same keys provide switching of the screen between status display and system setup, insert selection, downmix and bass management parameter setups, and mono downmix selection.

A BUS/RTN key selects either the console buses or the returns from the mixdown recorder-PEC/Direct switching, in film parlance. The SRND/ST switches between the master recorder I/O and the console control room output. A block of nine keys and associated LEDs operate with a master Solo/Mute switch to control monitor solo or mute selection of individual channels for the currently selected surround format, which is indicated by the lit indicators. A Mute All switch is included, as is Dim, which attenuates the monitor output by a software-selectable value.

An adjacent ALT SPK switch activates a stereo downmix from the current surround format, routing it to the LC and RC speaker outputs. An additional key switches between the current surround monitor format and the downmix mode as selected in the system menu, allowing compatibility checks. The downmix from each surround format is setup in the system software, as is the attenuation value for each individual channel being folded into the downmix. Any surround format may be downmixed to stereo or mono, but not all downmix formats are available from every surround setup: for example, 7.1 and 6.1 may not be folded into LCRS. When pressed with Shift, this key alternatively performs an automatic downmix to mono of the current format.

Pressing the BASS MGT switch activates one of two selectable monitor-only schemes to replicate typical consumer systems, one deriving the subwoofer signal from the main channels, the other routing LFE to all other channels. In both modes the crossover frequency may be selected at 80, 100 or 120 Hz. The first scheme also allows selection between two sets of attenuation values for the rerouted and summed signals.

Film and TV post producers, in particular, may find the shortage of additional switched sets of multitrack inputs to be a problem, requiring the use of console inputs to sum their dialog, effects and/or music stems. But while lacking the more comprehensive functionality of some high-end third party analog surround monitor controllers, the TASCAM DS-M7.1 offers an easy-to-use and elegant upgrade solution for any digital eight-bus studio making the transition to surround production.

Surround Professional Magazine