MIX FIELD TEST: Euphonix CS2000F
Digitally-controlled Analog Film Dubbing Console
Reviewed by Mel Lambert
The Euphonix CS2000 Series has been through some interesting changes since I previously reviewed the system back in the March 1994 issue. As you may recall, the basic CS2000 comprises a familiar user control surface and companion Audio Tower, which interconnects via a simple serial link and houses the banks of digitally controlled switching, mixing and signal-processing circuit elements. All switch, rotary and fader controls can be scanned and stored as either static SnapShots, or Total Automation dynamic mix data against time code.
Availability of the new Audio Cube unit, which allows additional multiformat or aux buss outputs- in banks of 4- to be derived from each channel strip, adds a new level of assignment functionality. Also available is an add-on Dynamics and Filter Package, which enables a very flexible compressor-limiter, de-esser, expander, noise gate and similar functions to be made available on a per-channel basis. Finally, the recently introduced Digital Studio Control Module (DSC) dramatically improves the ease with which an operator can access and control each of the individual, fully assignable channel and master functions, and also adds a pair of servo-controlled faders, plus a very impressive full-color, active-matrix display screen that eliminates the need for an external video monitor. The DSC screen can be used to display normal system functions, or a graphic display of EQ, dynamics and auxiliary parameters, and features banks of software-defined function keys.
A Spectrum of System Configurations
In many ways, the Euphonix CS2000 has matured during the past two years into a highly flexible, re-configurable mixing system that can be made available in a variety of I/O and user configurations. All systems are now shipped with the DSC, which formally was a system option; it's hard to imagine how you could take full advantage of the system's amazing flexibility and assignable control without it! Mainframe sizes are 40, 72 or 104 channel strips, routing to 24 multitrack busses; multiple-operator formats for film dubbing and video post are also available.
I'm informed that any CS2000 Series console can be upgraded to any other format with the addition of suitable hardware and/or software- either additional channel modules, in banks of four, dual-path strips, or additional Audio Cubes and Dynamics packages. Other system options include a 48-by-48 Audio Switching Router with integral SnapShot of all I/O assignments, plus CleaR [Yes, this is the correct spelling; CleaR- ML] Strip Displays that add two, eight-character alphanumeric displays above each fader; names can be added from the central keyboard, and stored with mix data. The MX464 Master Expander accommodates 16 external mono, 32 stereo or 16 four-track inputs, in any combination, plus enhanced monitoring, talkback and 16 GPI relays for fader-start, monitor-mute are related functions.
The basic CS2000D is similar to the format that I reviewed back in 1994, and offers two independent fader paths per channel strip, with two mic- and four line-level sources per channel, plus phase reverse, phantom power, gain trim and high-pass filter. Eight Auxiliary Sends are available per strip, controlled via four knobs; output from the upper fader bank can be routed and panned between 24 internal multitrack busses, or two independent stereo busses. Two independent 4-band EQ sections are also provided per channel strip. EQ can be assigned internally as a stereo pair to either the upper or the lower fader block, or utilized as two, separate monitor sections per fader. MIDI Machine Control and SnapShot automation are also available.
All channel I/O assignments, EQ, dynamics, aux sends and related functions are controlled from the DSC. Having hit the appropriate ATTN button on the channel(s) to be modified, that section becomes active on the DSC and allows changes to be made very quickly. In contrast to the older technique of using a rotary wheel and toggle buttons, the advent of the DSC system is a major advancement. And, if you prefer not to leave the central sweet spot as you adjust system settings, the DSC also features 48 channel select buttons, plus upper or lower, that achieve the same function as the individual buttons per channel strip.
As before, each four-band EQ section per fader path features high shelving, 1.32 kHz to 21.1 kHz; two mid-frequency parametric bands, 659 Hz to 21.1 kHz and 41.2 Hz to 1.32 kHz, plus a low shelf, 20.6 Hz to 330 Hz. Up to 15 dB of adjustment is available per section, with Q on the two parametric sections adjustable between 0.32 and 11.6. These still offer a very flexible set of parameters, and ones that prove very musical in operation. The degree of overlap is great, and can be set easily by ear, or using the graphical EQ profiles displayed on the DSC. Reset accuracy for each four-band EQ section is within 0.25 dB.
The CS2000M adds Dynamics & Filter Package plus a single Audio Cube, which can be configured to provide 12 additional auxiliary sends normalled from the lower fader bank, or extra multiformat busses for complex LCRS and other multichannel mix formats.
Moving up-market, the CS2000P for post-production applications is supplied with a different I/O module configuration, in that the original 24 output busses are re-configured as six stereo busses per fader, in addition to the familiar pair of main stereo outputs. The multiple stereo busses can be used as feeds to separate stem recorders, or as multi-layered LCRS submix groups, for example. They can also be used as subgroups feeding back into any six stereo faders, and hence to the main stereo busses. As would be expected, all six stereo busses can also be summed to the monitors, which should be adequate for most post applications; if additional sources need to be accommodated, the optional MX464 Master Expander will accommodate 64 external mono inputs, 32 stereo or 16 four-track, in any combination. Finally, for enhanced monitor flexibility- and to add PEC/DIR switching of stem recorders- the optional Otari's PicMix system provides a great way of interfacing the CS2000 with a multichannel playback environments; more on this later.
The CS2000B is targeted at the broadcast on-air and production user, and provides 12 mono mix-minus feeds from every fader. Alternatively, if mix-minus outputs aren't required, the bussing can be jumper-selected to provide six stereo subgroups instead. (Obviously, if you need both types of output, an optional Audio Cube can be specified to add extra functionality.)
Top of the Line: CS2000F Video/Film System
Occupying the high ground, complexity-wise, the new CS2000F system is aimed at the multichannel mix-to-picture and film-dubbing market. The basic system is similar to the CS2000D or -P- with as many as 12 stereo/mono busses from the upper and lower faders- with the addition of an Audio Cube that offers 12 additional multi-format busses; output capacity can be expanded in groups of four to provide up to 48 busses. Since each channel strip can simultaneously access both the two main stereo busses, the normal 12 multitrack/stem busses and the additional Multi-format busses- for use as multiple surround stems, for example, or additional aux sends to outboards- the CS2000F packs a remarkable amount of processing in a small amount of space.
When set up for two- or three-man operation, there are various ways of interconnecting the stereo, aux sends and multitrack/stereo stem mix busses, to provide fully independent control of each section's system functions, or priority switching for solos and mute circuitry, on up to fully integrated automation and other key functionality from the master position; you simply specify what you want, and Euphonix engineers are able to provide the relevant logic and interconnect access point within the I/O topology. (And, of course, you can add these functions if your facility's work load requires it.)
Establishing just how you want the multi-format mix busses to be configured is a breeze. A Setup page accessed from the DSC enables each bus to be labeled from a call-up menu; standard designations are available for the familiar 4-channel Dolby Surround LCRS, 5.1-channel SR*D [now Dolby Digital] and DTS formats, as well as the more exotic eight-channel SDDS configuration; others can be designed as necessary. Having selected the corresponding bus labels, the CS2000F automatically loads the appropriate panning laws onto the DSC's assignable bank of 12 shaft- encoders that provide the appropriate multi-channel assignments for up to four subgroup stems, including divergence across the front outputs.
In addition, since multiple outputs are available from each channel- a simple stereo mix, for example, and a complex 5.1-channel via the multi-format busses- the same pan control can now be used across two, totally independent formats, as either the final mix levels or while developing multi-channel stems and submixes. It's a remarkable system and highly intuitive system to use.
The optional Otari PicMix system provides a great number of the multi-channel monitoring, buss/tape switching (PEC/DIR), joystick panner, meter selection and Sony 9-pin transport control that's currently lacking on the CS2000F; I predict that the majority of CS2000F users will opt to add an outboard monitor unit. (Although I understand that, in the near future, the CS2000 system will incorporate many if not all of these functions, including comprehensive machine control; more details as they become available).
At the time or writing, mix data across the Audio Cube's multi-format busses are only stored as SnapShot information; in the very near future, a planned software upgrade will add full auxiliary and film-style panning automation to timecode. (Because of the enhanced number-crunching involved, this upgrade will also include an additional automation computer and network link.)
Also available as part of the planned upgrade, scheduled to be unveiled at the upcoming NAB Convention in April, will be enhanced automation editing (including joining, copy, move and slip modes, plus selective undo), fully automated EQ, automated punch in/out when a fader crosses an underlying audio position, and absolute offset. Also coming is Bus/Tape switching from assignable keys on the DSC, enable film-style pickups to be handled from the CS2000F, rather that an outboard remote controller, or maybe the optional PicMix system. All in all, these new enhancements are going to dramatically enhance the system's already powerful features.
In Use Assessment: Flexible, Intuitive Operation
With such a large amount of I/O routing flexibility, multi-channel stem options, not to mention complex monitoring assignments, controlling the CS2000F might seem a daunting prospect. Not true. The combination of simple layouts on each channel strip means that all important controls fall easily to hand. Add the master Digital Studio Control module, and the majority of set up and adjustment functions fall into a central location- right where you are mixing- and are very easy to find. While I might like to have seen some additional color coding to help designate certain sections of the DSC- upon first use, you are presented with as sea of closely spaced buttons- although you soon learn what is where.
I consider the active-matrix color graphics display is one of the most flexible user interfaces I have yet experienced. It is fast, easy to read from a distance, and allows a great deal of assignable display functions to viewed easily and clearly. Worthy of note is the parametric EQ display, with color coding of each section, as well as the remarkable- and patented- dynamics displays with real-time display of threshold and attack/release profiles. A separate display can be called up to show faders, pan, aux and mute information against timecode.
The color panel also provides a continuous display of the primary rotary controls that are remapped to shaft encoders directly below the screen, as well as listing of 50 SnapShots with labels that can be used to recall complete systems settings. Also provided within the DSC are two rows of eight assignable keys with alphanumeric labels that can be used to provide additional, user-selectable functions, plus a master machine/MIDI transport control section for controlling external transports. (I didn't have time to fully explore the CS2000F's extensive MIDI functions, which can be used to control external MIDI-capable effects processors, for example, as well as issuing MIDI Machine Control commands.)
The DSC also offers a pair of assignable, servo-controlled faders with solos and mutes that can be selected to any upper or lower fader path on the console. The CS2000 Series Total Automation does just about everything you could ask of it- including elegant take-over and merge modes for the faders that really speed up the process of updating and refining previous mix and mute passes- in addition to providing complete SnapShot storage and recall, with labels, of all front-panel settings. Up to 99 automated mixes can stored in RAM, providing 99 levels of undo and mix-pass tree management. Also, any fader on the console can be set up as master for any number of other faders; operation closely mimics a conventional VCA-based system, and is completely glitch-free in operation.
One addition I'd like to see- and I realize that it would be costly- is some form of moving fader automation across all channels. In many applications- not just film mixing- today's engineers look for visual feed back of where each input channel is currently set, and like to have the ability to perform relative updates of channel, subgroup, master and related levels simply by grabbing the appropriate fader. Also, as a mix progresses, faders will become re-assigned to provide final trim levels for both multi-track stem/subgroup outputs and master six/eight-channel print masters. In these, and other applications, moving-fader automation, despite the higher costs involved, extend the user friendliness of any console.
Having said that, however, I understand that the new software release closely mimics, via the CS2000F's DCA-based automation, the main functions of a moving-fader system. The user will be able to simply grab any fader and enter either Absolute Mode (new fader positions are written instantly), or Relative Update Mode, which adds new data to the existing information as changes are made to previous passes. Although these additions still lack the graphical feedback offered by a moving-fader system, at least it provides more of the simple "grab-the-fader" appeal without nulling or having to pass thought a previous fader setting.
It cannot be denied that, for many film/video-mixing applications, the use of an external PicMix system will dramatically simplify a great number or routine functions. As well as offering virtually limitless monitor formats via a programmable buss output-to-loudspeaker matrix, PicMix simplifies the insertion of various matrix-encoding systems- such as Dolby DS-424 and Ultra Stereo units. Used in conjunction with the PicMix Monitor Console Controller panel, which drops into a spare console area, the system extends the use of multitrack stem and master recorders, by adding a set of transport controls and microprocessor-controlled solo, mute A/B and record/safe functions, plus eight assignable channel strips that can be used to drop in/out on groups of tracks via PEC/DIR-style switches. Also available is an outboard Panner Rack and console module that enables multiple inputs to be assigned and dynamically relocated across the current multichannel surround-sound outputs.
As mentioned earlier, Euphonix is planning to unveils an enhanced monitoring section that will incorporate most if not all of the functions currently available from the add-on PicMix system. Until then, the Otari unit, designed and manufactured for the firm by TG Systems, will extend the CS2000F's functionality for high-end power users.
Back in my 1994 review, I stated that because of their enhanced functionality and ability to pack a great deal of processing power into smaller and smaller control surfaces, the future of analog and digital console design lies in the realm of assignable gain, EQ, dynamics and signal routing. In terms of both extended creative potential, more fully integrated control via the DSC, and outstanding sonic quality, Euphonix has continued to refine and enhance the CS2000 Series. The development of the Audio Cube, outboard dynamics and other system options has kept the Euphonix CS2000 well in the forefront of digital-controlled analog mixing console technology. In these and other respects, the new CS2000F, with notable exceptions, continues to remain head and shoulders above the competition.
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