Joanne Ruddock speaks to Gerry Tschetter, QSC vice president, professional product management, and Jon Graves, product manager, mixers, two of the driving forces behind TouchMix.
What was the thinking behind the move into the digital live sound mixer space?
WIth the success of our K and KW loudspeakers it became clear that there are lots of users who have high aspirations for live sound production quality. The majority of these users do not, however, need speaker systems that can cover arenas or mixers with huge input and output count. So we saw an opportunity to bring these users products that provide the quality and tools the top pros rely on but with a cost and scale that makes sense for them. We felt that we could offer systems that delivered better results to musicians and production people working in small and mid-sized venues.
Was the intention always to go with a compact offering - what challenges did this create and how were they overcome?
When the decision was made to pursue TouchMix, we went all in and aimed for a laptop-sized form factor that would be extremely powerful. Essentially, the two TouchMix models are about as small as they can be while still having enough space to fit the controls and connectors. Probably the biggest challenge was getting the sensitive analogue circuitry (mic-pres), the DSP and the digital control circuitry to get along with each other. We have some engineers who are really good at ‘mixed signal’ design and they worked hard to get it right. On the other hand, relegating so much of the user interface to the touchscreen allowed us to forego a lot of hardware controls that would have expanded the footprint.
How important was ease of setup and use when designing the TouchMix?
Other than sound quality, nothing was more important. There’s a story about a guy who attached a rocket engine to a Chevy coupe and ended up becoming one with the side of a mountain thus demonstrating that lots of power with no control is a dangerous thing. We spent many long days mocking up our user interface and making sure that it made sense to users. Then we did an extended field beta test with real-world users and refined the firmware based on their input.
Was it difficult to balance this ease of use with giving pro users the functionality they expect?
That is a fine question but I’d add one more element how to balance these factors and help the novice get near-pro results. There are some areas where there really isn’t a conflict for example the workflow on TouchMix seems to function well for pro and novice alike. But in other areas it’s a bit more tricky. For example, effects processing is the secret sauce that pro users apply to really polish their mix. But less skilled users can be puzzled by what effect to use and how to route signal to and from the processors. So we developed an FX Wizard that helps the user select the right effect, send an input to it and route the output where they want it all without having to even understand the concept of signal flow. We also created an extensive input channel preset library with over 100 presets. Unlike many mixer presets, these were made for live sound. We used real musicians, common microphones, live stage monitors, multiple PA systems and decades of experience in live sound production and performance. Then we added a ‘Simple’ mode that allows users to select a basic four-knob channel EQ as well as single knob compressors and gates. But they can still recall the presets with all the under-the-hood sophistication we dialed in. We’re hearing from pro users that they like the presets and FX wizard as time-savers that can get them close in a hurry.
What feedback have you had from users about the console?
We are getting lots of comments about the audio quality of the mixer. Our goal was to have audio quality comparable to concert-level mixers so we’re really gratified that owners appreciate the effort. We also are getting lots of comments from users who had been struggling with their live mix finally getting the results they were looking for whether it’s a better drum mix or finally being able to get the stage monitor performance they’ve been missing. The direct-to-hardrive multi-track recording also seems to be well received whether it’s bands using it for critique and improvement or capturing tracks to produce a live album. Maybe our favourite feedback comes from a friend who owns a sound production company. He says that every sound guy needs one of these at front of house because it’s the cheapest insurance against failure of the big mixer you can buy and it’s got the sound quality and features to get him through the show.
One thing that we’ve found interesting is the requests for features and functions typically found only on very high-end consoles. Where these make sense and are technically feasible, they are being implemented in firmware revisions.
Finally, are there any new additions/updates to the TouchMix family in the pipeline?
By the time this is being read, we will have released our 2.0 firmware and an updated iOS app. The 2.0 firmware implements a lot of the ‘why don’t you’ user input with things like multi-level security, more WiFi connectivity options, programmable user buttons, expanded options for auxiliary mix pick-off points and lots more. The iOS app now includes personal monitor mix capabilities for iPhone and iPod touch users. In the near future we’ll be offering an app for remote control by Android devices. Beyond that there’s not much we can share except to say that we didn’t get into the mixer business just to develop two models.
Picture: Gerry Tschetter