Euphonix CS3000 Review

Euiphonix CS3000 image
FIELD TEST: Euphonix CS3000 Series
Digitally-Controlled Analog Production Console

Reviewed by Mel Lambert

On two previous occasions I've had the opportunity, as it turned out, to wax lyrical about the CS3000 Series' predecessor, the CS2000. As you may recall from my original review of the CS2000, back in the Spring of 1994, I favor assignable designs that enable all control panel settings to be scanned, memorized and recalled to the accuracy of a video sub-frame, and whose processing functions can be commanded from a central working position. And if the system is modular, and available in variety of expandable I/O and control-surface topologies- as I discovered in my April 1996 assessment of various emergent -2000 configurations- then the console can be offered in a number of serving suggestions for music, broadcast, post, film dubbing and other applications.

   All in all, the new CS3000 Series represents logical extension of Euphonix' original concept, but with some remarkable advances- most of which, I understand, were in direct response to customer feedback. In essence, the CS3000 take the -2000's digitally-controlled assignable concept (which is still being offered for users that don't need moving faders), and adds a new control-surface layout, an enhanced MixView 3.0 automation package and a bunch of other useful features. The basic CS3000 comprises a user controller and companion Audio Tower, which interconnects via a simple 33-foot serial link and houses the banks of digitally controlled switching, mixing and signal-processing circuit elements. All switch, rotary and fader controls are scanned, memorized and instantly reset as either static SnapShots, or Total Automation dynamic mix data against time code. Dynamic automation includes all major mixing controls- motorized faders, mutes, equalizers, stereo pans, compressor/limiters and aux send levels.

   The most obvious change from the previous generation is a complete face lift for the Control Surface. The CS3000 features P&G-equipped moving-fader automation on all Lower-path sources, plus flexible buss routing from the Upper and Lower banks. (Moving-fader automation is also available as an option on upper faders.) Knobs are now aluminum and color coded, making it far easier- for these tired old eyes at least!- to locate the correct control under low lighting levels. A new FaderLink feature allows control from a group master fader over many more aspects of the console than traditional fader grouping. FaderLink also allows any parameter of the channel to be dynamically automated from the moving fader.

   The CS3000's integrated machine control includes a timecode generator/reader that is capable of operating the board in either master or slave mode. The CS3000 will control up to three ATRs/VTRs via RS422 serial protocols, TimeLine Lynx network, and three MIDI Machine Control-capable decks or workstations, from motion control buttons located in the DSC master section, which also includes a locate function with an on-screen cue list. All timecode rates and formats are supported, together with MTC and external video sync.

   In addition to setting up the board to provide access to all 24 busses from the upper section (track routing) and stereo buss from the lower (tape-machine/monitor returns), the 3000 now boasts split bussing, with access to 12 dedicated busses from the Upper and Lower faders. For post/film application, in particular, the 12 busses could be used during predubs/prelay to provide access from every fader to recorder/submix inputs. Then, during the final mix, these busses might be split up as six stereo mix stems- for example, music, effects, dialog, Foley plus M&E stems. Groups of four busses can also be used as an LCRS mix stem. (There is no real distinction between upper and lower signal paths; it's just convenient to draw attention to their function when mimicking in-line designs, or when setting up the faders for film/post applications, for example, when the upper and lower sections will carry different types of mixed signals.)

   The control surface has also received a completely revised Lexan overlay design, with new color-coded labeling of sections, for example, all of which makes if far easier to find your way around the control and switches. Two different I/O control modules are available with different front-panel designations. These show either 24 busses (labeled 1 thru 24 and 25 thru 48, with multiple outputs per buss) from the upper faders, or 12 busses from every fader. A simple, yet very useful touch.

   Other cosmetics include leather-covered palm rests and meter bridge top caps, plus optional ClearR electronic channel labeling strips for both upper and lower fader sources. Metering functions has also been improved, with the provision of dual-LED meter scales to indicate normal, expanded, digital-peak or RMS/VU modes, together with a master meter module equipped with three dedicated VU meters (Left, Right and Mono, or L, C and R), and a very useful LED phase correlation display. The CS3000's frame design is all-new for additional rigidity (and ease of installation).

   Within the companion Audio Tower a new design of circuit has been utilized in the analog I/O blocks and control sections resulting, Euphonix claims, in an improved audio performance and enhanced routing options. While I didn't get the opportunity to measure the new board during my extended evaluation sessions at the firm's Studio City Demonstration Studio, I must confess to never having a problem with sonic performance of the CS3000's predecessors; in that respect, I cannot fault the current generation- it is quiet, silky and very clean sounding, just as one would expect!
   The majority of system functions are controlled from the central Digital Studio Control Module, which was first offered on the CS2000. The DSC provides easy and intuitive access/control for each of the individual, fully assignable channel and master functions. It also incorporates a full-color, active-matrix display screen that can be used to display normal system functions, or a graphic display of EQ, dynamics and auxiliary parameters, plus banks of software-defined function keys. A set of 12 assignable rotary knobs are used as assignable controllers for a variety of functions; controls are mapped to the screen display.

   The CS3000's totally new MixView 3.0 software supports moving faders and dynamic EQ automation and HyperSurround (more later), with up to 999 titled Mix Passes (and flexible Undo), plus the ability to perform off-line editing of automation data. Also added is an essentially beefed-up MIDI interface that enables integration and automated control of external signal processors and MIDI-capable workstations. All normal mix functions are provided including Merge, Edit, Update, Touch-Write, Trim and Step Back Modes; if you are familiar with, let's say, Flying Faders, then MixView is a breeze.

   Standard Central Facilities include a pair of assignable moving faders; two automated stereo mix bus faders with insert points; three stereo monitor outputs (linkable to discrete four/six); centralized routing; 16 function keys with eight-character alphanumeric displays; individually/globally assignable talkback; comprehensive file and session management system; internal 1.6 GByte hard disk, plus Iomega Jaz removable media for backup and data exchange; a SCSI interface; and a 3.5-inch floppy drive.

   The optional MX464 Master Facilities Expansion adds 64 external monitor inputs, configurable as any combination of mono, two or four-channel returns that can be named and selected from DSC assignable keys. Also available via the MX464: eight stereo speaker outputs (usually set up for four sets of stereo CR monitors, Foldback A and B); eight stereo output Feed Matrix that enable the two main stereo busses and/or four monitor returns from the MX464 to be routed to any of eight stereo outputs; three Mic Inputs for talkback; and 16 General Purpose Interface Relays (GPIs).

   If your application runs to more than 24 busses, or you need more than the standard eight Aux Busses (mono or stereo) provided per module, the optional Audio Cube allows additional multiformat or aux buss outputs- in increments of four, to a maximum of 48- to be sourced from any channel strip. Although a standard CS3000 will handle complex mixing with hard assign, an Audio Cube adds dedicated surround-sound mix busses configurable for 5.1, 7.1 and beyond. An add-on Dynamics and Filter Package enables a flexible compressor-limiter, de-esser, expander, noise gate and similar functions to be made available on a per-channel basis.

Variety of System Configurations

As with its predecessors, the new CS3000 is highly modular and available a number of frame sizes, dependent upon the number of I/Os you need, and the intended application(s); in many cases, however, it's possible for a facility to re-configure the 3000's mainframe to accommodate changing session requirements. Building blocks are the I/O Control Module, which provides control for four, dual-path channels.

   The basic CS3000D/P/B-2-40 comprises two frame sections and 40 faders- an input bank of 16 dual-channel signal paths to left (four Control Modules), a central DSC, plus eight more dual-signal path modules to the right (two Control Modules). Modules can be moved to any position you require. Larger systems accommodate either three or four frame sections, the maximum capable of handling a total of 104 simultaneous mono/stereo inputs. And for film/post applications, the CS3000 can be supplied in two- or three-person configurations. User prices range from $177,800 for a basic CS3000D/P/B-2-40 music/post/broadcast console, on up to approximately $5000,000 for a large-format CS3000F-4-104, capable of handling complex mix-to-picture and film dubbing.

   The two signal paths per channel module are each equipped with a four-band EQ section, and up to six mono/stereo input sources that can be assigned via the central DSC panel: two Mic/Line inputs (with independent gain control, phantom power, pad and phase reversal), plus four Line-level inputs. The two EQs accessible per module (recall that in reality they reside in the Audio Tower) can be utilized on two mono sources- one for the upper and one for the lower- or for a stereo input source to either the upper or lower. (Of course, then you're left with no EQ on the other fader. This should pose few problems if the sources are, for example, pre-mixed/pre-equalizes stems or submixes being blending into a final stereo or multi-channel surround mix.)

   The CS3000 can be factory-configured to handle a number of different applications. Tailored specifically for on-air broadcast applications, the CS3000B features 12 mix-minus busses accessible from every fader. The CS3000P is designed for audio post, and the CS3000M for music recording/mixing.

   For TV and post session, the CS3000P packs a remarkable amount of power into a small amount of space. The 12 group/multitrack busses can be set up to be accessible from every fader, in addition to the main pair of stereo busses. In this way, a mix can be split into multiple stereo or LCRS stems via the bus outputs, and returned to a master mix via the lower sections. Alternatively, during track lay-up, all fader sources can be used to access multitrack outputs.

   It is easy to overlook the fact that both mono and stereo sources can be accessed as a signal source for each CS3000 fader; it is remarkable how flexible such a design becomes, and how few faders you need in front of you as the mix comes together, and sources start being returned as stereo pairs, or involve stereo returns, for example, from external processors.

Other standard channel features include up to three programmable insert points per module; four dynamically automated Aux Send controls accessible from a total of eight busses; stereo PFL and AFL. plus Kill Solo with Solo Safe; two programmable post-fader outputs; and two main stereo mix busses. DCA Group Mastering is also available from any fader.

Moving Beyond Stereo/Surround: HyperSurround software

With a growing emphasis being placed on surround-sound and multichannel mixing for DVD and related 5.1-compatible formats, the CS3000 offers a powerful arsenal of routing/panning capabilities. The CS3000's monitor section can handle simple hard-assign LCRS balances, while for more demanding surround/multistem monitoring you can might opt for the full-on PicMix Monitor Matrix, which incorporates calibrated monitor feeds and inserts for surround-sound encoders/decoders.

A setup screen allows multiformat busses- up to 48- available to the system from an optional Audio Cube to be divided between aux sends and surround-sound mix stems. The format for each panner, or stem, of the surround sound busses can then be selected from a list of standard formats, including mono, stereo, three-channel, LCRS, 5.1 and 7.1 split-surround, plus custom configurations with up to 16 busses. For example, 16 available busses could be configured as four LCRS stems, or two 5.1 split surround and one LCRS stem, or two SDDS 7.1 split surround stems. Or maybe LCRS, a 5.1 split surround and one stereo stem.

   The really neat thing, however, is that these mix stems are available simultaneously; in this way we can create separate Dialog and M&E 5.1 stems for a DTS or Dolby Digital production, let's say, at the same as we are realizing a totally separate LCRS balance. The applications are virtually limitless and, I would hazard, unmatched in a console within this price range.

And just when you felt it was maybe safe to take a breath, the new HyperSurround software, which can be accessed from the DSC, includes assignable left/right pan, front/back pan, front/back divergence, rear pan, rear divergence and a series of focus controls. An optional trackball panner (TrackPanner) simplifies precise positioning within multi-format busses if you're heavily into spatial localization.

   To do full justice to HyperSurround would take more space than I have available here (pardon the pun). In essence, the Focus function allows the localization or a sound cue to be either narrow or diffuse, dependent upon what the operator needs to achieve. One example come to mind. Suppose you need to pan a sound source across, let's say, five front-channel busses for a film-format SDDS mix. While the left/right and front/back controls handle the sweep or movement of a sound, and divergence narrows or spreads its apparent location, the Focus control enables the "sharpness" of a pan to be altered. Now the sound can be targeted at a single loudspeaker location for, let's say, hard effects, or- as might be the case of a moving multi-element sound effect- to be more diffuse across the soundfield, with no real precise source. the end result is a smooth and seamlessly transition of sound, without the moving sound effects appearing to jump from speaker to speaker.

   Under the planned MixView Version 3.1, which should be available when this issue hits the newsstands, all pan, divergence and focus controls will be dynamically automated against timecode. All in all, Euphonix' HyperSurround and its companion display screens provides a very powerful creative tool for film/post and multimedia applications. (I also understand a fader-flip function is promised under V3.1 software.)

   For film re-recording sessions, the 12 group/multitrack busses can be made accessible from every fader; the addition of an Audio Cube provides every fader with multiformat busses, in addition to the dozen standard busses, that can enable up to eight independent 5.1 split-surround stems, with full spatial panning from every fader.

   For Two/three-Operator layouts, the provision of 12 group/multitrack busses and 12 multiformat busses per operator would be appropriate for 5.1 split-surround operation, since every bus can be made common to all operators, but with each bus separated- either via the patch or, in the case of multiformat busses, via software-controlled links. Wild inputs- external submixes, for example- can be added to any of the busses via the patchbay without taking up faders.

Outstanding Sonic Performance: EQ and Dynamics

As with the CS2000, every channel strip on the 3000 features a pair of four-band digital control equalizers that can be dynamically automated, or reset from a SnapShot Recall. All EQ automation moves are stored with fader, aux. send, stereo pan, SnapShot and mute automation data in a Mix File. EQ control is via a bank of assignable controls and color screen located in the center of the console. Usefully, real-time frequency response curves can be displayed, to show band interaction.

   The Low-Mid band sweeps from 41.2 Hz to 1.3 kHz; the Hi-Mid band from 659 Hz to 21.5 kHz- both with adjustable Q/Bandwidth from 0.32 to 11.6. Completing the section are a lowpass shelving filter, from 1.32 kHz to 21.1 kHz, and a highpass shelving filter, from 20.6 Hz to 330 Hz. Up to 15 dB of adjustment is available per section. The two independent equalizers in each channel can be locked for stereo control, or placed in series on a mono signal to create complex EQ characteristics.

   Again, I was impressed with the EQ section's flexibility, and the ease with which profiles can be generated, stored and recalled as necessary, and even copied across multiple signal sources (stereo returns, for example, or a multichannel predub). And the CS3000's EQ sounds extremely musical; it has a warmth and definite spatial quality that often means you reach for far less savage curves than you might on a conventional board. Once experienced, seldom forgotten!!

Used in conjunction with CS3000's central assignable controls and color display, the Digital Control Dynamics/Filter Processors are a major achievement- and a very powerful sonic tool. A great-looking graphical interface provides real-time display and control of system functions. Dynamics and filters can be added, eight at a time, up to a maximum of two per channel; they can be assigned to any input pre/post-EQ, or into the mix busses.

Dynamics functions include compressor, limiter, expander, gate, and ducker, with various combinations of these basic operations. Variable knee control, frequency dependent keys, and fast gate attack times with extended hold functions are also possible. Individual compressor, gate, or filters elements can also be switched out. The filter section provides a variable, 12 dB/octave slope and, to augment the module's EQ, can be set to lowpass, highpass, bandpass, or notch are switchable from the dynamics side chain to the primary signal path.

   Dynamics/Filter settings can be stored and instantly reset as part of SnapShots. Standard gain settings can be retrieved from a library of factory presets; user-defined settings can also be added to the library. Negative compression ratios can also be selected for unusual (to say the least!) gain-based effects. One of the latest factory presets, "Dynamic Notch," creates a narrow band compressor with a sweepable center frequency- great for de-essing and de-ringing problem signals.

All in all, the CS3000's Dynamics/Filter Processor is very flexible and easy to use. The graphic display also provides a great way of visualizing exactly what's going on; you can see the ballistics of the input signal, place limiting, compression and gating functions exactly when you need them, and then view the output/gain reduction. Euphonix' unique graphical display shows the gain curve, as well as visually representing attack and release times by means of GainBall, a red object that moves along the gain curve to illustrate the amount of gain reduction and the effects of the time constants. Elegance personified!

In Nutshell: Powerful Functionality and Dynamic Recall of ... Everything!

As with my previous two reviews of Euphonix hardware, I am likely to run out of superlatives while describing their latest offering. With any product, it makes far more sense for a company to innovate new and enhanced features as the targeted users can appreciate the benefits and cost effectiveness of advanced technologies. This highly sensible approach seems to be Euphonix' current paradigm. From the original Crescendo console, through the CS2000 to the current CS3000 Series, we find appropriate, emergent technology at a price point that isn't going to break the bank.

   For film and post applications in particular, the CS3000's ability to access up to a total of 48 multiformat busses plus 12 hard-assign busses from both the upper and lower faders adds unprecedented flexibility. These mix busses and accompanying pan functions can be arrayed to handle simultaneous mono, stereo, LCR, LCRS, Dolby Digital, DTS, HDTV, SDDS and lots of other custom formats. Stem formats are saved with each title, and user presets are available for fast and repeatable setup; multiple stem formats can also be mixed independently of one other. The bottom line is simple: the CS3000's multiformat panning enables identical imaging to be simultaneously maintained between different playback formats.

   The combination of great sounding, digitally-controlled electronics, plus very powerful MixView automation of moving faders, EQ and optional dynamics functions, is a world beater. Factor in the flexibility of HyperSurround and we have an extensible console that can be utilized in a variety or multi-format sessions being encountered on a day-to-day basis by post and film-dubbing houses, in addition to music studios being called upon to handle 5.1-channel mixes. Without a doubt, the CS3000 is a product of our times; Euphonix are to be congratulated for extending the technology envelope.
 


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