QSC product manager and veteran tour/audio engineer Jon Graves explains the history and impetus behind the design of the company's new TouchMix series...
Developing a successful product always begins with a customer’s problem or at the least an understanding of their desire to accomplish a certain task or set of tasks. Quite often a user may already be doing what he or she wants but, perhaps not as quickly or efficiently as they would like. Sometimes a user may not even realise there is an easier way until an alternative solution is presented. So if digital mixer users are already achieving the results they desire, what problem(s) does the QSC TouchMix solve?
The QSC TouchMix is the brainchild of eight professional audio veterans. It was born from their discussions, experience and desire to create a lower-cost, easy-to-use, compact digital mixer. The intent was to develop a digital mixing console for working musicians and live sound reinforcement applications.
The three driving principles which guided this team was to create a mixer that 1) made it easy for users of all skill levels to achieve professional results, 2) offered users “big mixer” features and functions in a form-factor that was 3) as compact as possible and included everything in the box they would need to mix a show.
Beginning with a week-long working session based out of a hotel room in southwestern Canada, these eight individuals developed a concept for what they believed would be a game changing product. Their expertise included years of proven mixer product development success, experience using a wide variety of analogue and digital mixing consoles in live performance settings at the highest levels, backgrounds in electrical and mechanical engineering, and most importantly a whole lot of customer insight. At the end of that week, the team walked away with a product concept that was so well defined that most (around 95%) of the product wireframe models, user interfaces, mixer screen designs and navigation and features they talked about are found in the QSC TouchMix digital mixing consoles. Because the vision was so clear, development time from these initial meetings until the mixers’ public introduction was a mere 16 months.
L-R: Mike Burke (Program Manager, Mixers), Jon Graves (Product Manager, Mixers), Gerry Tschetter (VP Marketing), Ray van Straten (Sr. Director Marketing Communications, Training & Education), Joe Pham (CEO)
Achieving great results regardless of the user’s experience level was a key requirement of the QSC TouchMix. To do that the team believed that the mixer had to be easy-to-use and easy-to-transport yet still have all the features and functionality of a high-end professional console. In the past, these were often competing interests and products that attempted to serve both needs often fell short of adequately serving either. In order to get great results, the mixer required complete signal processing on every input and output. It also had to have a complete suite of high quality effects and the ability to do multi-track recording directly from the console.
Comprehensive features, functionality, and versatility is a great foundation to build from but having these only solves half of the users’ problem. It is typically not just a lack of mixing console capability but in many cases limited engineering expertise. What is one user’s rich feature set can be another user’s excessive complexity.
So, how does one go about serving both masters? For the solution, the QSC TouchMix development team borrowed an idea from the world of photography. For a professional photographer, knowing how to use the various settings and features found on a sophisticated camera is part of the job and necessary to get the results they desire. However, for the average person simply looking to take a few pictures, choosing a preset on their camera and then simply pressing the shutter release is invaluable. The camera with all the sophistication and image quality that the pro photographer wants can also be the same camera that offers the simplicity of the preset enabling the average person the ability to get impressive results.
Based on this design philosophy, the QSC TouchMix team created a “simple” function that gives novice users an easier way to control their mix but leaves an advanced function for more seasoned users. For working musicians and some smaller venues, product functionality and user knowledge can both be limiting factors in maximising audio production quality and to that end the team knew an in depth library of presets had to be developed. The intent was to create presets good enough so a user could recall an appropriate preset, do the show and get very good results. Even expert users would find the presets to be a time-saving starting point. Since the intent of the QSC TouchMix is live sound reinforcement, the presets found in TouchMix were created in a variety of live sound reinforcement settings by engineers with over 30 years of live sound, performance and studio engineering experience. Common microphones that everyone owns were used and a live system with a range of speakers and stage monitors was deployed. We subjected a group of musicians to the longest sound check ever using various combinations of instruments, microphones and speakers. Finally, we validated the presets by bringing in a completely different group of players with their own instruments.
Beyond the features and the sound quality of the desk, the user interface and workflow was another key consideration for the QSC TouchMix. So the various functions are clearly and logically laid out on the touch screen. In addition, hardware buttons and – most importantly – a rotary encoder are provided. The combination of graphical and physical interface is fast, powerful and precise. At the same time it dramatically decreases size and cost compared to mixers with a large number of knobs, buttons and faders.
So back to the question of what problem(s) does the QSC TouchMix solve? The QSC TouchMix takes the performance typically found in higher-end mixing consoles and makes it easy for users of all skill levels to achieve professional results. Moreover, these features are housed in a compact form factor that will fit anywhere and transport easily. This combination of sophisticated performance housed in a compact form factor offers working musicians and live sound reinforcement professionals at all levels a mixing solution unlike anything else previously available.