Technology

Sony DMX-R100 Version 2.0

In just two years, the DMX-R100 has become Sony's most successful console ever. With more than 1,200 units in use worldwide, the mixer has far outstripped 2/01/2002 7:00 AM Eastern

In just two years, the DMX-R100 has become Sony's most successful console ever. With more than 1,200 units in use worldwide, the mixer has far outstripped the company's sales projections, while garnering legions of satisfied users and a coveted TEC Award along the way. Whereas most analog consoles remain essentially unchanged throughout their working lives, the DMX-R100 is software-based. The latest Version 2.0 software update adds a few bug fixes, but, more important, includes a plethora of operational tweaks and a host of powerful new features.

DMX-R100 BASICS

Adapted from Sony's flagship OXF-R3 Oxford console, the DMX-R100 is a 24-bit, 48-channel (or 24 channels at 96 kHz) digital mixer with a base price of $20,000. The DMX-R100 features snapshot recall or SMPTE-driven dynamic automation of all console parameters, including moving faders with 1,024-step resolution. The DMX-R100 also offers 44.1/48/88.2/96kHz support, programmable 4-band parametric EQs, HP/LP filters and comprehensive dynamics (compressor/ducking, expander/gate).

The DMX-R100 is built for speed with an intuitive touchscreen providing access to all menus. Each of the 24 channel strips (which are arranged in two switchable banks) has touch-sensitive faders with a Write button, Solo switch and a Cut feature (automated post-fader muting). The pan control displays status via a ring of 15 positional LEDs. An Access button activates the parameter setting and assignment panels in the central master section, allowing for immediate access to any channel parameter, such as EQ/filters, bus assigns, phase reverse, delay, gain trim, dynamics and any of the eight (pre/post-fader switchable) aux sends on each channel. The monitoring section is comprehensive, with talkback mic, tone oscillator, and selection of six sources in the control room and sends for studio monitoring.

Sony makes the reasonable assumption that DMX-R100 users already have outboard processing gear available, so no onboard effects are provided (other than the built-in dynamics and EQ packages). The mixer includes eight effects return channels, bringing the total number of console inputs to 56 when in Remix mode. Speaking of inputs, the DMX-R100 has 24 analog inputs as standard, the first 12 of which are line/mic switchable (with phantom power) and analog insert points before the 24-bit A/D converter sections. Four expansion slots on the rear panel accept optional 8-channel I/O cards, for handling additional analog (line in/out) or digital signals ain AES/EBU, ADAT or TDIF formats.

The centerpiece of the console is the high-resolution, color SVGA 600×800-pixel touchscreen, which displays parameter and operational settings, as well as dynamics or EQ curves; it also provides touchscreen control for 5.1 surround panning functions.

A rear panel, 15-pin, D-sub port connects an external monitor to duplicate the console display, and a PS/2-type DIN port provides for an optional mouse and keyboard for quick data entry. Regarding surround, the DMX-R100 includes full surround monitoring control, with six discrete monitor outputs on ¼-inch TRS jacks for listening to the L/C/R/LS/RS and sub channels.

Like the Oxford, the DMX-R100 offers programmable matrixing via a set of simple menus that handle all program, aux, monitor and input/output routings for fast setups — all under touchscreen control.

With its compact 45×27-inch footprint and numerous sync features, the DMX-R100 is equally suitable in post or traditional studio environments. A “select machine” panel determines which of six connected transports is controlled by the tape recorder-style transport keys; a large jog/shuttle wheel doubles on transport control and data entry functions. Automation data can be stored/backed up onto the internal 3.5-inch floppy drive, and automation moves can be defined as SMPTE frames or MTC beats/bars; snapshots can be triggered as SMPTE events. Of course, wordclock I/O (with 75⌠ termination switch) and video sync (NTSC or PAL) are standard, along with 9-pin control.

ENTER V. 2!

The Version 2.0 software upgrade is a two-step process. The user first installs a new QNX operating system that supports both V. 1 and V. 2 software. Once this is completed, the V. 2 software can be loaded. There are a few caveats here. Any mix data stored in the DMX-R100's flash memory should be backed up before upgrading, as it will be lost during the installation. Also, due to DSP reallocation in V. 2 software, the new software is not backward-compatible with mixes stored in earlier versions. Once you've updated to Version 2, accessing data from mixes archived in a V. 1.1x title requires reinstalling the original V. 1 software. And, of course, you then have to reinstall Version 2 software in order to return to work on current projects.

The focus on the new software is on functionality, rather than new sounds, EQs or DSP, so the console's “sound” is unchanged. Essentially, the V. 2 software speeds the workflow with some logical operational updates, enhances the system's already extensive automation capabilities, and also enables 5.1 mixing at double sampling rates (88.2 or 96 kHz). Other enhancements include improved Trim and Audition modes; EQ and dynamics library functions; an access-follow-solo feature; a Dither mode for the program output; and DOS-compatible (finally!) floppy storage. The latter is especially useful, because it now allows mix data stored on the DMX-R100's internal floppy drive to be easily backed up or archived using any PC. Another small but appreciated tweak is V. 2's ability to add channel names (up to seven characters) in the Channel GUI. Touch the name and an onscreen keyboard pops up for quick naming.

Previously unavailable in V. 1, the new software adds full surround 5.1 panning at high sampling rates. The double-sampling work in Surround mode is made possible by reallocating the stereo bus and the four 96kHz multitrack buses (normally eight buses at 48 kHz) to create a full five buses (plus sub) with onscreen surround panning, as well as full 5.1 control room program monitoring and switching to an external 5.1 playback source. One slick touch is the addition of a jog wheel control of the subwoofer level in conjunction with the 5.1 panning screen. This puts everything you need right at your fingertips — it's fast and easy.

A Channel Link function now allows linked control of numerous parameters (trim, EQ, delay, dynamics, mute, channel or multitrack fader, solo, etc.). Adjacent channels can become stereo pairs or 5.1 groups can be set up using channels 1-6, 7-12, 8-18 or 19-24. I liked being able to create an EQ and assign it to output groups such as the LCR or surrounds, which was great for setting up mastering-style multichannel tweaks.

Available in several modes, V. 2's new “Mask” function gives the ability to link or copy only a user-defined selection of parameters. Another plus is the ease of use of the Copy function: Just hold the access key of the source channel until it blinks; now, when the access buttons of any other tracks are pressed, any settings are immediately copied — either globally or selectively via Mask. Also a Fader Copy feature enables copying of fader settings, either as individual channels or in entire banks. Using this function to copy a program mix to the cue mix was a definite timesaver in the studio. Working from the program mix copy, I could quickly create an intricate cue mix by building from the program mix as a starting point. Yeah!

Zero Reset automatically puts all levels, faders, knobs, EQs and dynamics to default settings, for a clean, fresh start on a new mix. Sony has also added a Snapshot Library with the ability to store up to 99 EQ and dynamics curves per title, for fast assignment to any console channel. The idea is cool, but the next step would allow these snapshots to be copied and easily imported into any other title, perhaps with the addition of a simple offline editor application for storing/organizing favorite settings.

One neat trick that I liked with the DMX-R100 in 48kHz mode was the ability to set up simultaneous 5.1 and stereo mixes — ideal for dry studio tracking while cutting a live 2-track mix. The facility would also come in handy in a broadcast or other live mix environment. In such cases, channels can be set to output as pre-EQ, pre-fader or post-fader, depending on your needs. And, although not specifically new to Version 2.0, the console's I/O Status window — which displays the sync status of all I/O cards — is one of those “everyone needs this” utility tools. Providing an immediate checkout for those times when problems arise (usually something simple, such as a clock or incorrectly set sampling rate), the I/O Status window gives answers in a hurry.

AUTOMATION TWEAKS

A number of new enhancements were added with the V. 2 software, but one thing I noticed was that the automation seemed to be significantly more stable than in earlier versions. But V. 2 adds lots of new automation functionality as well. Automation options can be pulled down from any page. An Audition feature offers a “Rehearse” mode that disables the automation on playback and puts the system into Safe mode, allowing fader trim updates to be auditioned before overwriting a previous mix — great for post work where you want to separate longer segments into scenes. A Touch Hold mode latches the automation on touch, with quick, one-button punch out, which is ideal for on-the-fly automation changes, particularly on longer passages. Also new is the ability to offset the time code used in automation, as opposed to that coming from an external source.

Previously very basic, the Automation Trim mode is now greatly expanded. New fader movements are stored as soon as a fader is touched. Various automation drop out modes offer a wide selection to choose from, including Butt, Ramp, To End, To Next and Top To End. The latter is especially suitable in cases where you're working with slow transports such as audio MDMs or tape-based VTRs and you only want to make changes at the tail of a reel.

FUTURE STUFF

There's no doubt that the Version 2.0 software offers a huge leap forward in functionality for DMX-R100 users. There are still a few tweaks to be made — for example, due to a minor bug, the compressor page is inaccessible except by first pressing the Expander Access button followed by the Compressor Access button. Hopefully, this will be taken care of in the next release, Version 2.1, which is due next month. Version 2.1 also includes support of the optional MADI interface board (required for cascading two DMX-R100s for 96-track (at 44.1/48 kHz) or 48-track (at 88.1/96 kHz) production. On a single mixer, the MADI board also expands the console's total digital I/O capability to 72. Version 2.0 software is included with new DMX-R100s, or owners of existing consoles in the U.S. can get the upgrade free by calling 800/538-7550.

Sony Professional Audio, One Sony Dr., Park Ridge, NJ 07656; 201/358-4201; www.sony.com/proaudio.