The firm’s latest large-format console is designed to meet the demands of any gig, but does it pass Andy Coules’ test?
It’s now been over ten years since the launch of the VENUE platform and those original Digidesign consoles (Profile, SC48 and D-Show) are still common sights at venues and festivals around the world. Now we have the new VENUE S6L, which utilises some of the technology from the S6 and runs the latest version of the VENUE software, but is it a worthy successor to the much-loved originals?
The S6L utilises the standard three-piece architecture of control surface, engine and I/O unit. The control surface comes in three varieties, the S6L-32D (four touchscreens, three knob modules and 32 channel faders), the S6L-24D (three touchscreens, two knob modules and 24 channel faders) and the S6L-24 (one touchscreen, two knob modules and 24 channel faders).
The engine comes in two flavours: the E6L-192 and E6L-144 – the numbers denoting the number of input channels. The 192 has 96 mix busses (+LCR), a 24 x 24 matrix and 200 plug-in slots. The 144 offers 64 mix busses (+LCR), a 16 x 16 matrix and 125 plug-in slots. To complete the package there’s the Stage 64 I/O unit, which can be configured with up to 64 inputs and 32 outputs.
In addition to the different combinations of touchscreens, knob modules and fader banks each control surface also has a master live module. This features two small screens surrounded by buttons, two master faders called flex channels, function keys (which double up as transport controls), snapshot navigation and various other buttons familiar to users of previous consoles (config, multi-select, etc). The two small screens denote the function of the buttons arranged around them, which enable various operations including layer switching, shortcuts and user-defined keys.
There are a couple of handy new additions not seen on previous models, which include an overwrite button (to enable quick saving of the current show) and I’m sure many people will be happy to know that there’s also a dedicated tap tempo button.
The fader banks include the usual range of controls you would expect to find on a digital console (select, mute, solo, channel name display, etc) as well as a level meter, which is as long as the fader and includes compressor gain reduction and gate state information.
The most obvious departure from the original VENUE consoles is the absence of a set of single channel controls – now there are multiple control knob modules. Each module comprises 32 touch-sensitive tri-colour knobs, each of which have two buttons and an OLED display (which shows the function as well as the value). Gone forever are those classic ‘mushroom’ knobs that made the original consoles so unique. The modules are versatile insofar as they can show a range of control options, either as a vertical analogue-like channel or to show more detail of a specific function of one channel across the whole bank. Once a channel is selected you can quickly jump through the various sections (i.e. preamp, EQ, dynamics, plug-ins, etc) via a row of buttons at the bottom of the module.
The preamps and converters have all been redesigned and improved and The level of Pro Tools integration is as high as you would expect on an Avid console, which makes both recording and virtual sound-checks extremely straightforward.
In terms of appearance the control surface is very sleek in its black livery; the OLED displays jump out at you with their brightness and clarity, which bodes well for those murky dark and smoky gigs. The whole surface is illuminated by an LED strip above the screens, so there’s no need for annoying gooseneck lamps.
The new VENUE software is also much darker in appearance and has been optimised for 16:9 screens; you can also have the traditional overview screen, which can also be a touchscreen. Not only does this enable you to keep a key view (such as plug-ins or snapshots) available at all times but it also enables a second operator to interact with the console without getting in the way of the main control surface.
There is now also a new Universe View, which provides a compact overview of all the inputs and outputs and is going to be very handy for those large channel count events. Another great feature is the backwards compatibility of the show file – you’ll be able to bring a show file from any previous VENUE console to the S6L and vice versa.
I must say that the way in which it utilises touchscreen and knob modules is reminiscent of the Soundcraft Vi series. This suggests that console manufacturers are starting to refine the digital paradigm in a way that means all consoles are tending towards a similar standard design that users have been demanding ever since the advent of the digital console, which can only be a good thing.
Basic operation is pretty straightforward; accessing the channels you need is easily done via the Fader Banking layer select buttons or via a side scrolling option where you can move the channels left or right along the faders by a single channel or by eight. There are also user-defined layers, which enable you to create any combination of inputs and outputs in any order you desire across all the available faders, which I know will make a lot of people happy.
Using the knob modules took a little getting used to but once you figure it out you soon realise that you now have more ways to quickly get to what you need. I like the level of detail you get on the individual views (i.e. input, EQ, dynamics, mix, etc) but I also found the channel view very handy as it provides an overview while also giving access to the most commonly used input, EQ and dynamics functions – much like the single channel controls found on previous consoles.
There is also an option to create a custom layout for the knob modules, which gives you the ability to organise a channel strip any way you wish which, coupled with the user defined layers, make the console incredibly flexible and should enable fast and intuitive operation.
As you would expect from a modern console everything sounds crisp and clear, the channel EQ is smooth and sweet sounding and the channel compressor is still among the best built-in compressors I’ve ever used. Overall it’s a pleasure to work with, offering a great combination of familiarity and new features as well as previously unseen levels of configurability.
It’s this combination of familiar functions and neat new features that make the S6L feel like an evolutionary leap forward that builds upon the past while still offering something new, which makes it a fitting successor to the VENUE line.
- ‘The most powerful processing engine in the industry’
- High-performance preamps and extended sample rate support
- Fully integrated onboard plug-ins from Avid and its ‘connectivity partners’
- Pro Tools recording and playback without an external interface
- Freely configurable modular system components and I/O
RRP: From £46,700
Andy Coules is a sound engineer and audio educator who has toured the world with a diverse array of acts in a wide range of genres. andycoules.co.uk