Fairlight Prodigy: Integrated Digital Audio Production System

For more than two decades, Fairlight has been an innovator in disk-based recording/editing/DSP systems. From its CMI sampling instruments that-years before
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For more than two decades, Fairlight has been an innovator in disk-based recording/editing/DSP systems. From its CMI sampling instruments that-years before MIDI-introduced the concept of sequencing, to the latest incarnation of its no-holds-barred MFX3plus workstations for post-production, to the FAME console and MediaLink network systems, Fairlight has developed a comprehensive production power line. Now comes Prodigy, a full-featured, integrated digital audio production system with a more affordable $68,000 price targeted at the mid-level post and broadcast market.

Unveiled at AES Paris (with shipments slated to begin last month), Prodigy is a 24-bit, 24-track workstation/12-bus digital mixer that integrates technologies developed for FAME and MFX3plus. The system comprises a central DSP engine core and 24 channels of analog and digital I/o in an eight-rackspace chassis that can be located remotely from the control surface, creating a single recording, editing and mixing production center. The controller's 16 assignable moving faders and two joystick panners control as many as 36 fully automated channels, providing an easy-to-navigate work environment, with a central control section that offers transport buttons, dedicated edit function controls, jog/shuttle wheel, assignable user keys, trackball and QWERTY keyboard-all within easy reach. Prodigy's 24-bit A/D and D/A converters and 40-bit floating-point DSP are designed to maintain purity throughout the signal path, while digital routing/patching, 5.1 surround output buses and monitoring facilities and the option to connect to Fairlight's MediaLink audio networking complete the package.

Prodigy is not a stripped-down, underfeatured sibling to the company's FAME and MFX3plus systems. It is essentially an MFX3plus play engine with a different control surface. "We spent a lot of time developing a system and file structure that's well-suited to audio, and taking that core expertise and applying it in new products is a natural progression," says Fairlight marketing VP Tim Cuthbertson. "With Prodigy, we've strayed a bit from the traditional Fairlight philosophy of making every system customizable, configurable and custom-spec'd to the individual user. The secret to the system's $68,000 pricing is the Henry Ford model of making the same product many times over. Every system has the same control surface and I/o configuration-24 inputs and outputs-analog and digital. Prodigy comes in a standard configuration, which we consider to be what 90 percent of the midrange post-production, radio and jingle production customers would want."

Yet, even in its "standard configuration," Prodigy doesn't cut corners from a features standpoint. Its 24-bit audio pathways support material at 16-, 20- and 24-bit, and users are free to mix any of these resolutions within any project, especially to maximize storage efficiency. For example, tracks from CD music or effects libraries can be loaded directly in 16-bit format, without having to "waste" 24-bit storage on this lower-resolution material, while other sections of the project-say, delicate Foley effects or wide-dynamic-range symphonic scores-can be recorded or loaded with full 24-bit fidelity. Prodigy's "ready for anything" sync modes include control of-or by-a 9-pin machine or LTC chase; and the system's sample clock can be referenced to video, AES/EBU, word clock or LTC sync. one option is Fairlight's Vivid system, a rackmount, disk-based video recorder providing random-access picture, controlled from Prodigy via 9-pin protocol.

The MixerThe console controller is divided into five main areas: Fader Sections, Central Assignment Panel (for setting EQ, dynamics and auxes), Edit Controller, Joystick Section and a Master Section with hardware switching of fader assignments, oscillator, talkback and control room monitoring.

The mixer has 36 channels and 12 mono buses, with the number of available auxes governed by the number of unused buses after allocation of mixing buses. Here, the user makes the determination regarding how bus resources are allocated, depending on the project. other mix features include 16 assignable, touch-sensitive 100mm moving faders; ten VCA-style fader groups; insert, sends and returns assignable to any bus, input or output; and dynamic or snapshot automation of levels, mutes, pans, aux sends, EQ and dynamics, with saving and recall of all parameters. There's also onboard MS decoding; a choice of three solo modes (solo-in-place, AFL or PFL); 4-band EQ and dynamics on all channels, switchable between inputs and disk track returns; 4-band clip-based EQ and level control on all recorded material; compressor/limiters on all mix buses; integrated machine control; and cue list automation of console snapshots and outboard equipment settings. Regarding the last, a library of interfaces to numerous MIDI-controlled outboard processors is provided, with direct control from Prodigy using a simulation of the device's front panel. Settings can be automated to timecode and stored in two libraries or with the project data.

Two automated joysticks control surround panning, with an LED display that indicates joystick positioning of replayed mix data for precise matching to the current joystick position; also, depending on preferences, users can automate surround pan movements via the joysticks or conventional panpots.

A separate monitoring sub system offers comprehensive digital control of Prodigy's six discrete analog monitor outputs, and stereo or 5.1 surround monitoring does not "steal" from mixer resources to provide full monitoring functions. The system provides for Dolby decoder insertion, with dedicated post-decoder Lt/Rt monitoring. Another feature is switchable metering points, allowing meter access to the monitor path either pre-Dolby insert, post-Dolby insert, post-mono and, for calibration, a post-monitor gain setting.

Also provided are full talkback facilities, with a TB mic connector on the console. Talkback can be routed to auxes, main/sub buses and directly to the studio speaker feeds. Two talkback groups offer talkback routing to two different locations.

The console top can support three picture monitors-one for mix/automation data, a second for the disk recorder/editor and a video monitor. The monitors are not included with the system, but all use standard S-VGA interfacing, allowing customers to select whatever brand they need according to their budgets and preferences.

The EditorBased on Fairlight's MFX3plus system, Prodigy offers flexible, nondestructive editing in a proven platform, and as with the mixer, users are free to determine how they want to work, with a choice of dedicated or assignable controls. Twelve keys offer access to user-defined macros that can automate virtually any system function or combination of functions. Projects reside on hard disks inside the DSP rack, and Prodigy automatically downloads all mix data from the control surface for storage with the audio data and its edit list in the project file. This single file can be copied or archived with everything needed to re-create the session.

on the subject of files, Prodigy projects are identical to MFX3plus and FAME projects (Rev. 15.5 and higher), and projects can be moved from Prodigy to FAME and back (i.e., from a mixing room to an editing suite for changes), with all mix data intact. A Save As function allows Prodigy data to be transferred to systems running earlier software versions. Currently, Prodigy offers support of oMF, Lightworks, Akai, WaveFrame and Digidesign Pro Tools files.

The PackageThe Prodigy system offers a lot, particularly at its $68,000 price point. Yet it's not an everything-to-everybody product: For example, it doesn't have enough simultaneous recording inputs to become a full-on multitrack replacement for album production (this would be more the domain of Fairlight's Merlin disk recorder), and users requiring more extensive needs or custom configurability can turn to the company's MFX3plus and FAME products. According to Cuthbertson, another advantage Prodigy offers is that "it's a fully integrated package in one box. It's not like having to build a studio from a kit from a dozen manufacturers. All you need to add is studio monitors, computer displays, a DAT and video deck and perhaps some favorite mic preamps." In any case, Prodigy should appeal to the mid-market user or as an addition for that second/third room in any facility.

Fairlight, 844 N. Seward St., Hollywood, CA 90038; 323/465-0070; fax 323/465-0080; www.fairlightesp.com.