Surround Monitor Controllers, Part 2

This site offers surround professionals an opportunity to exchange information, voice their opinions, and get their production questions answered by their peers. This was created for you to discuss issues pertaining to the surround sound revolution.

Last issue, we took a look at two surround monitor controllers and saw that there�s variety out there. This time around we continue our look at controllers with a look at three more very different units.

Adgil Director
While many new controller designs tend towards the simple and straight-forward, the Adgil Director takes a different approach, enabling the user to custom design a system as large and sophisticated as the need requires. Indeed, the Director can handle an enormous number of inputs (as many as 300!), and thanks to a host of plug-in modules, can be configured to control just about anything that a studio can thrown at it.

adgilThe Adgil Director is a programmable, microprocessor-controlled multichannel monitor controller that can handle up to 7.1-channel monitoring as well as two auxiliary stereo systems concurrently. The system will monitor a number of sources simultaneously and can be used as a line level mixer for stems or submixes. It can also provide an insertion point before the gain control for listening through an encoder/decoder. Typical monitor functions such as system Mute, Dim, Mono, and Solo (which can be triggered from an external console), as well as individual Cut on speaker channels, preset monitoring levels, and downmix functions are included. The unit is also multi-remote capable for use with a multi-operator console.

As with most controllers, the Director consists of two components; the electronics chassis, which is a 3U high rackmount metal box that houses all audio and control connections, and the remote control that contains all necessary controls for the operation of the system.

All I/O into the main chassis is via DB25 connectors (utilizing the TASCAM pin-out format) on plug-in cards that are selected depending upon the system configuration desired. There�s a host of plug-in modules that cover almost any contingency. These include the 9808 Matrix Input Card, which has eight balanced inputs, and the 9805 Output Module, which handles all switching, routing, and level control (achieved with DCAs) for the speakers. All outputs are equipped with relay protection against turn on/off transients, which is an extremely nice feature. Two of these are required since one 9805 module handles the only the first four speakers of the main system and two stereo systems.

Other plug-in modules include the 9803 Bus Amp/Insert Send Module and the 9804 Insert Return/Mono Module for up to eight channels of insert send and returns, bypass switching for pre or post insert listening, and the Mono function, and the 9814 Downmix/Solo Input Card that provides an LCRS downmix from 7.1 or 5.1, a stereo downmix from 7.1 or 5.1, and a stereo solo input. A 9806 Communication Module provides power and communication for the remote control as well as other studio functions (switching external encoder/decoders, red-light, talkback, etc.).

The 9840 Remote Control is a bit intimidating at first but becomes very friendly upon closer inspection. It features ten rows of eight LEDs that show the status of up to 80 inputs overall, a 4-character display for SPL level and programming functions, 32 sources that are assignable to any of the 80 inputs, and individual mute/solo for eight speaker channels.

System controls include a master speaker Cut button, Insert in and out, Cue for external cue track control, a Wild key that either toggles a source on or off or acts as a programmable group master, and three separate Speaker system selectors. There are even PEC/DIRECT programmable groups. All switches have a status LED to indicate if the particular function is enabled.

The level control is extremely precise, providing 0.375 dB per step attenuation (according to the manufacturer). There are also two programmable preset level buttons for specific formats, such as 85 dB SPL for film and 79 dB SPL for television, as well as a programmable Dim.

Since a monitor controller is such a critical link in the monitoring chain, specs are important, and the Director�s audio performance is up to the task. According to the manufacturer, the bandwidth is down only �.2 dB at 10 Hz and �3 dB down at 70 kHz, with a THD+N is 0.004% (10 to 30k Hz), which is awesome.

In Use
As you would expect from looking at the specs, the Director sounds terrific. It�s clean and quiet and that�s most of what I want from a controller. The other things that I want are ease of use and at least a little bit of flexibility. If anything, the Director is sometimes a bit too sophisticated. Like many units with lots of flexibility, it can cause you to scratch your head and run for the manual at first when it comes to programming the unit. That being said, after that initial setup it�s relatively clear sailing afterwards.
A small point here, but it seems to be a common oversight � the mono switch routes mono to the left and right front speakers rather than to just the center speaker. This isn�t crucial by any stretch of the imagination, but it makes it a lot easier to differentiate between a pure mono signal and one that has only moderate stereo components when the mono is sent purely to front left and right.

Price and Contact
The Adgil Director is truly a quality unit more for what it doesn�t do as much as what it does, meaning that it�s extremely quiet and transparent and adds no audible artifacts to the signal path. Because the unit is so flexible and easily customized to almost any recording situation, the Director should be considered for use in any application where sound quality is of the utmost importance. Although there are a great many possible configurations, the base price for an 8-input/8-output system is $4375.
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Kurzweil KSP8
Whenever a musical instrument manufacturer designs a product aimed at studio professionals there�s bound to be a bit of skepticism. But when the product exceeds any marketing hype by leaps and bounds, even hardcore pros are quick to jump on the bandwagon and use it. Such is the case with the Kurzweil KSP8, one of the best sounding and most versatile outboard pieces available today. And one that pays particular attention to surround.

While it�s really easy to think of the KSP8 as just an effects box, it can be a lot more than that if you want it to be, especially with the right optional I/O. The KSP8 actually is a multi-bus, 8-channel effects system complete with multi-band EQ and stereo and multichannel panning on every input, feeding 16 processor engines that can access a host of mono, stereo, and surround algorithms that can then be routed via eight internal busses. While this might not mean much if you�re sitting in a studio with a console that already has EQ, panning, and bussing, the KSP8 comes into its own in the field with the addition of the optional mLAN card. In this case the KSP8 becomes not only your I/O to and from your laptop via a FireWire cable, but essentially a small console as well. And all with latency in the sample, rather than the millisecond range (meaning it�s really, really low).

The KSP8 allows inputs and outputs to be routed easily, with effects bussed either to the KSP8�s outputs or to internal mixdown busses for submixing. The routing setup, as well as the assigned effect presets, effect chains, effect bus assignments (including all MIDI channel and controller settings), and all multi-band equalizer settings, can be saved as a snapshot (which Kurzweil calls a �Studio�) for recall later from its 999 storage locations. Plus, a multi-stage metering section allows for metering at four points in the signal path for all eight channels.

An extensive list of 249 DSP algorithms are used to create over 600 effects presets, including reverbs, rooms, flangers, choruses, delays, distortions, chaos generators, rotary speaker and cabinet simulators, equalizers, and dynamics. Tempo-based effects such as flangers, panners, filter sweeps, and delays can be sync�d to an internal or external MIDI clock, with internal system tempo set with the front panel Tap Tempo button. Manipulation and automation are possible either via MIDI or on-board modulation sources, including up to 36 LFOs and 36 envelope generators, with 72 functions available for combining control sources.

The Specs
The centerpiece of the front panel of the KSP8 is a 240 x 64 fluorescent backlit display that has six soft keys underneath. These soft keys are the primary user interface for the major unit functions. On either side of the soft keys are two buttons; the one on the left is the Edit button and the one of the right is an Exit button, for quick movement forward and backward in a preset. Above the Edit button is a brightness control for the display, and Config and EQ/Sends key (both with on/off LEDs) for quickly jumping to the routing and EQ pages respectively. There are four keys above the Exit button for accessing each of the four bus pairs. There�s also a scroll knob, data entry keypad, and dedicated buttons for display navigation. Dedicated buttons for level metering, effect bypassing, and tap tempo round out the functions.

The optional RSP8 remote offers totally remote operation over all KSP8 functions plus a little bit more. The remote offers the same display, navigation and data entry controls as the front panel of the KSP8, but also adds a joystick and eight additional knobs that can be used for instant access to effect parameters. One RSP8 can control up to seven KSP8�s when used with an optional multi-port hub.

KurzweilOptionsPricesKANA4 4-channel Analog I/O$450KAES88-channel AES/EBU or SPDIF I/O$409KADT8 8-channel Alesis Lightpipe I/O plus 8-channel TDIF I/O$299RSP8 Remote control unit for KSP8$595KMLN8 mLAN option$650HUB7 Hub connection box$230

The KSP8 comes with four analog inputs and four analog outputs (on TRS plugs), stereo AES digital I/O, and MIDI in, out, and thru ports. The unit can accommodate one of several I/O options, which include four additional channels of analog I/O or eight channels of digital I/O in the form of ADAT Lightpipe/TDIF, mLAN, or AES/EBU formats. The Lightpipe/TDIF option also provides a BNC word clock sync input. The mLAN option provides a direct FireWire connection, allowing the KSP8 to function as complete solution for digital I/O and a MIDI interface as well an effects processor for computer-based recording applications.

The unit features 24-bit, 128x oversampling converters with a dynamic range of 110 dB, and with maximum input and output levels at a respectable +22 dBu, according to Kurzweil. The KSP8 can also be updated at any time via Flash ROM from either a SmartMedia card (there�s a front-panel slot) or via MIDI.

In Use
It�s obvious that the KSP8 is a formidable machine feature-wise, but that really doesn�t matter if the sound isn�t there. With that being said, the best thing about the KSP8 is that it has some of the best sounding reverb algorithms that I�ve come across. After using it in both surround and stereo situations, the �verb is both smooth and lush, making it a great glue in a mix. On other reverb units I usually have to play around with the algorithms and parameters for a while until I find something that works since the sound either sticks out too much or not enough. Not with the KSP8, which seems to sound great regardless of the algorithm chosen. And the best part is that every time I use it, the client or artist comments on how great the �verb sounds.

The surround algorithms on the KSP8 are spectacular (there�s a bank of 12 of them), being very diffuse and natural sounding. What I like best is the sound of the surrounds, which is very apparent while not being intrusive. Yes, the box is capable of a lot more surround effects, but it always seems to get plugged up as the main reverb and sounds so good that I don�t get to experiment with anything else.

While the sound is top-notch and as good as anything currently available, the interface is a little dated with a display that feels more out of the early �90s than 2003. That being said, Kurzweil has done a pretty good job of making such a deep machine as usable as it is, given the restrictions of the user interface. It�s a deep machine, but no harder to use than some of the classic outboard pieces that we�ve grown to know and love.

Price and Contact
The Kurzweil KSP8 is truly a bargain at an MSRP of $2995. Not only do you get some reverb algorithms that are hard to beat at any price, but a machine that�s capable of doing much, much more if you want it to. Highly recommended!
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Studio Technologies StudioComm Model 78
and Model 79

While there are now many surround controllers on the market, few incorporate an essential element of surround monitoring: the bass manager. Studio Technologies StudioComm Model 78 controller and Model 79 control console does, however, in a most elegant way, along with monitoring capabilities up to 7.1 channels.

Occupying a single rack space, the Model 78 controller allows connection of two 8-channel wide input sources (one for source and another for playback) and an 8-channel monitor output. The signal of each of the inputs can be precisely calibrated via 15 turn trim pots on the front panel, while the outputs can be adjusted via software in 1/2 dB steps for monitor calibration from the Model 79 control console. The front panel also contains a Data Active and Power LED. The unit�s audio path features analog switches for input source selection and digitally controlled analog gain circuits for monitor level control via an 8-bit microprocessor.

Audio input and output connections are made using three 25-pin D-sub connectors. A 9-pin D-sub connector is used to connect the Model 78 main unit to the Model 79 remote, while a second 9-pin D-sub is available for remote interfacing with a console. By providing access to the StudioComm�s mute and dim functions, talkback or slate activity from an audio console can control the monitor output level remotely. AC power can be selected for 100, 120, or 220/240V operation, and the internal power supply utilizes two toroidal mains transformers for quiet audio operation. As a nice bonus, protection circuitry provides power-up and power-down protection from unwanted pops and noise bursts.

As stated above, bass management is integral to the Model 78/79 and allows for a fair amount of user adjustment. It�s possible to entirely bypass bass management or change the slope and frequency of the filters, although these do require internal component and jumper changes on the Model 78. To their benefit, Studio Technologies spells this out in great detail in the manual.

The Model 79 control console is the heart of the system, and packs a lot of functionality into a small footprint with a very substantial look and feel. The unit has a row of eight input mute/solo buttons across the top arranged in an AES/EBU 5.1 format (L, R, C, LFE, SL, SR, with Back L and Back R added for 7.1), with an associated mode switch that selects between the buttons engaging either mute or solo. Below that are two buttons for complete mains output muting and sub-only muting. This is a nice tandem that makes system calibration go a bit faster. An input section allows for selection between Surround Inputs A and Surround Inputs B with accompanying buttons for an added 10 dB to the LFE for each. Below that is a Downmix section that selects between 5.1, LCRS, stereo, and mono. In mono (which comes only out of the center speaker, unlike many controllers) there are two modes; one that sums only LCR and one that sums all seven of the mains channels.

The main Output section incorporates a large rotary level control with a 4-digit numeric display that indicates the monitor output level in real time. There are also associated Dim, Mute All, Reference Level, and LFE Lowpass Filter buttons as well. The reference level is user configurable by taking an electronic snapshot of the position of the rotary level control. All selector switches on the Model 79 have an associated on/off LED indicator.

While all that seems like a lot, there�s a host of hidden functions associated with each of the selector switches. Thanks to a recessed Configure button on the rear of the Model 79 near the cable connector, you�re able to access a number of user settings such as level control taper, power-up mute functions, additive/exclusive solo, level range, dim level, downmix stereo and mono modes, and more. Just don�t lose the manual though, because all of these modes depend upon which switch LEDs are enabled, so you�ll need it as a reference.

The manual is very thorough, covering not only all operations, but level calibration procedures, pin-out diagrams of all connectors, and internal bass management adjustments. Plus, Studio Technologies customer service is very prompt and helpful if needed.

In Use
I like this unit a lot. It�s compact, easy to use (as opposed to many units that I see), sounds pretty good, and has an integrated bass manager on-board. This not only saves money, but rack space, cabling, and more stuff in the signal path as well.

I was a bit confused with some of the hidden functions during initial setup and system calibration, but I attribute that to not reading the manual carefully enough. After setup it was smooth sailing, and chances are you rarely have to refer to them again during normal operation.

Price and Contact
The Studio Technologies Model 78/79 is a fine choice for many smaller surround installations. If you only need two wide inputs, want bass management, and need it to work with a minimum of hassles, it�s hard to beat. At an MSRP of $2799, you certainly get a lot of quality functionality for your money.
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