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Issue 93

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Ableton Live 12
What’s in. What’s out. What to expect.

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ALLEN & HEATH iLIVE-T 112

By

15 July 2013

112 front

Allen & Heath’s new digital console ‘system’hammers yet another nail into the analogue FOH coffin.

Text: Mark Woods

The new iLive-T Series of digital consoles by Allen & Heath offers mainstream appeal via a simple user-friendly interface. Allen & Heath has evolved the T-Series out of the company’s modular iLive range and aims to provide distributed audio digital mixing for live shows in a convenient and affordable package. The company has a long-established reputation for high-quality analogue consoles and while the new iLive-T Series has some analogue-style operating functions, it’s real strength lies in the way it uses the latest digital technology to create a powerful mixing system that effectively replaces lots of bulky and expensive analogue gear, while simultaneously providing control options not available in the analogue domain.
The iLive-T 112 ‘surface’ – as A&H describes it – is not a stand-alone mixer, but rather, part of a full-blown system. But don’t let that scare you; the system’s as simple as falling off a wedge. It begins with the Mix-Rack, which houses the same A/D and D/A converters and mix engine as the iLive range, and is capable of processing up to 64 channels, 32 mix buses plus eight stereo effects processors. There are two available models of the Mix-Rack: the iDR-32, featuring 32 XLR preamp inputs and 16 XLR outputs; and the iDR-48, with a generous 48 preamps and 24 outputs. All the audio stays in the Mix-Rack unit, and during a live show this can typically be found sitting side of stage. The Mix-Rack replaces the traditional stage box, allowing for convenient connection of the mic leads to the inputs and the processors/amps from the outputs.
There are three console ‘surfaces’ available: the iLive-T 80 has
20 faders in four layers for control of up to 80 channels, the iLive-T 112 has 28 faders in four layers for control of up to 112 channels, and the recently released rackmount R72 has 12 faders in six layers for control of up to 72 channels, hence the
respective names.

PLAIN & SIMPLE

On first inspection the iLive-T 112 surface seems quite large and sports inordinate amounts of vacant space. The design is somewhat plain compared to some of its competitors, but the upside to this is that it’s also less intimidating to the unfamiliar eye. The angled top section of the board has a large control and parameter display (processing strip) above the input channels, which only lights up when a channel is selected. There’s a touchscreen above the master section on the right-hand side with a row of buttons beneath it to access configuration functions and preferences. There are also eight user-assignable buttons (soft keys) to the right of this screen.
Above each fader there are four buttons, an LED screen, a level meter, and a multi-function rotary knob. The LED screens display channel information that can be easily named and colour-coded by the user. The buttons are largely self-explanatory with SEL displaying that channel’s parameters on the processing strip and touchscreen. The PAFL and Mute buttons are easy; the only button that needs some explanation is ‘Mix’. Routing channels to groups or outputs is achieved by pressing Mix on the desired group or output channel then pressing Mix on the channel you wish to route to that output while holding down any one of several assign buttons.
Pressing Mix on an output channel flips the faders to show
send levels, while pressing it on an input channel flips the
output faders to their send levels for that channel. As is often
the case with functions on digital consoles it took me a little while to get used to this feature, but after that the console felt
fast and intuitive to drive.

CONFIG & SHOWTIME

Configuring the iLive-T surface is easily achieved using either the supplied templates or by following the helpful menus. There are a wide variety of channel types to choose from including mono, stereo, group, aux, main, DCA master, matrix master or engineer’s wedge/IEM. The LCD screens are easy to name but are unfortunately limited to only six contrasting colours. More (or preferably infinite) colour choices would have allowed for more creative and individual colour schemes, but it was still simple enough to make a personalised show template. Once I was over this small hurdle I was ready to give the system a whirl.
The first show was an evening event and immediately the afternoon setup was noticeably faster than usual. The iLive-T 112 is not exactly compact at 1006 x 353 x 707mm, but it’s small enough for one person to carry and it happily replaced my heavier analogue console and FOH outboard rack. The Mix-Rack iDR-48 is about the same size as a dozen bottles of wine – albeit lighter – and the connecting 50m Cat5 cable I used for the show was easier to run than a power lead.
Powering up the system, however, made me glad I’d configured the console in advance. The day of the gig was a sunny one – as it often is during festival season – and even though I was under shade I couldn’t read the screen no matter what I did with the brightness knob and no matter how much I tried to shade the screen. To be fair, this is a common problem with touchscreens, but it’s nonetheless disconcerting to discover just before a show. Fortunately, the parameter displays and the LCD screens are easy to see so there was no problem operating the show, but there were a couple of preference settings I would have liked to change if I’d been able to read the screens.
Once a show starts, however, the important things are: does it sound good and is it pleasing to drive? Sonically, I couldn’t fault the iLive-T and found the input preamps (derived from A&H’s ML series of analogue consoles) to be quiet and clean. I connected the Mix-Rack and 112 surface to two other existing systems during the festival season and each time it improved the sound of the system with a smooth, transparent overall quality, and equalisers and dynamics controllers that are powerful and predictable. It’s fun to operate as well. What initially seemed like unused space on the surface soon turned out to be a positive attribute, creating an uncluttered mixing environment that focuses on the channels and the mix.
The console reminds me (perhaps a tad ironically) of old analogue devices with its big displays and lots of room between knobs. When an input channel is selected the control functions are displayed in large groups in the aforementioned processing strip, which takes up most of the angled top section. The parameters are adjusted analogue-style with one easy-to-reach knob per function; this goes a long way towards eliminating the operational gulf that typically opens up when an operator has to think twice as he or she reaches for a control. There’s a lot of them too, including the expected input controls, gate, PEQ and compressor. Extras include the HPF, limiter, and a handy de-esser per channel.
It’s also possible to insert external devices. Output channels get an additional graphic EQ that can be flipped onto the faders with frequencies displayed on the corresponding LCD screens.
The iLive-T 112 also has a comprehensive audio monitoring system; it’s possible to listen at any point in the signal path and peaks are indicated irrespective of the layers. There’s a wide selection of on-board effects modelled on well-known units so it’s easy to predict what they’ll sound like and up to eight of these can be used simultaneously. All channels can get all the processing all the time and apparently it’s impossible to run out of DSP – impressive.
I eventually took the iLive to the Theatre Royal in Castlemaine (as I do with all my review equipment) for a couple of shows and here again it was quick and easy to set up and interface with the house system. The first night featured Paul Dempsey and his FOH engineer, my old mate Clinton Krauss, who took to it like a duck to water. He enjoyed the big, bold controls and commented afterwards that the sound quality during the show was “excellent”. The next night I mixed several bands in the same venue and appreciated the way the iLive-T 112 kept me concentrating on the mix, by minimising distractions during normal fader mixing. When you select a channel the controls and parameters light up like a Christmas tree, but when you’ve made your changes and de-selected the channel, the surface returns to just input level meters, faders and the dimmable LED screens. Pressing SEL on a control function on the processing strip brings that control’s parameters onto the touch screen and most parameters can also be adjusted by touching or dragging on the screen.

UNFAMILIAR GROUND

I mostly tried the iLive-T 112 and iDR48 Mix-Rack in familiar live settings but part of the appeal of the iLive-T system is the other ways the system can be controlled and the numerous interface options. As well as A&H’s ACE connection between the surface and the Mix-Rack, other network devices can be connected using TCP/IP. Local analogue, S/PDIF, MIDI and USB are available on the surface and there are four network interface cards available that can be fitted to the Mix-Racks and surfaces for M-MADI, Ethernet, ADAT, and Aviom interfacing. A&H’s PL series remote controllers can be connected via PL-Anet sockets for remote individual monitor mixes or changing scenes. Using iLive-T System Manager software, the system can be controlled by more than one person at a time so, for instance, one could be mixing and the other adjusting EQ or alignment settings. Using iLive-T Editor software, the mix can be controlled by more than one person/device at a time.
If that’s not scary enough then you can try mixing the show from a laptop, perhaps wirelessly. This is an interesting concept and individual operators will find their own ways of using this functionality to benefit specific productions. A laptop could theoretically be used to replace the mixing console completely and while that wouldn’t work for all shows, it could certainly work for some, particularly for operators used to computer recording. Using a mouse or trackpad to adjust levels is arguably not as fast or accurate as using a fader, and it would be hard to change several faders quickly, but for some applications the benefit of being able to mix from a seat in the house, for example, may outweigh these drawbacks. It could also be a handy tool for adjusting the sound in different parts of the venue during setup or soundcheck; switching back to the main console for the show. As expected, show settings, personalised libraries, and system parameters can be saved and recalled with a user security facility preventing unwanted overriding of any critical system settings. All settings can be developed off-line using iLive Editor software and loaded into the system as required.
The iLive-T Series digital system will no doubt appeal to PA companies, audio designers, and venues looking for a good sounding and easy-to-operate system with enough ins and outs for all but the very biggest shows. The system easily integrates into existing setups and there are enough interface options to allow for any number of audio distribution or digital recording requirements. The iLive-T 122 surface is a powerful audio controller indeed, one that combines extensive local and remote functionality with an enjoyable and focused mixing experience.

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READ ONLINE NOW
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Issue 93

REVIEWED

Ableton Live 12
What’s in. What’s out. What to expect.