Whether mixing in stereo or surround, finding a DAW with a high-quality monitor control, channel mutes, speaker mutes and instant fold-down checking to stereo or mono is a tough call, especially for 7.1 production. Fortunately, the SR7.1 from Coleman Audio is a single solution that does all that and handles it well.
Housed in a single-rackspace chassis, the SR7.1 is a straightforward, no-nonsense unit. The rear panel has two 25-pin D-sub connectors (in standard Tascam format) for the eight channels of balanced inputs and outputs. In addition to the mutes for the individual input channels and left/right speakers, there are switches for selecting various fold-down options, recessed input trim pots and a large ganged volume control. The latter is a precision 23-step attenuator designed to match a logarithmic audio taper, with all channels matched within a tight 0.05dB tolerance.
The build quality is excellent throughout and is in line with the SR7.1’s ultralinear response (20 to 20k Hz, ±0.25 dB) and no perceptible noise. All switching is noiseless and the performance is near straight-wire, almost as if the unit doesn’t exist at all—clean and sweet.
But the SR7.1 offers a few tricks up its sleeve. In addition to the mono and stereo fold-down switches, two other switches can re-route the left-surround and right-surround signals to the rear RLS and RRS monitors, or the left and right surrounds can be brought up to the L/LRS and R/RRS speakers, respectively.
This is great for a quick check of the rear signals without having to crane your neck around. And under the hood are two internal switches for customizing operation to your preferences. One determines whether mono fold-down selected from the front panel routes to the center mono channel or to the left/right front. Another internal switch determines whether the LFE signal is included in stereo or mono fold-downs.
One broadcast trick for easily monitoring multiple language tracks involves folding down the signal feed to stereo and then muting all the inputs. Then, unmuting the L/R plays a stereo English track; unmuting C for mono language 2; LFE for mono language 3; and LS/RS and RLS/RRS for stereo languages 3 and 4, respectively. But the best trick of all is that the SR7.1 can do double-duty as an 8-channel analog summing box; in this application, the unit’s transparent audio performance really comes into play.
If you do a lot of 7.1 work, the SR7.1 is an affordable solution, especially at $1,550. But it also makes a lot of sense in the 5.1/stereo production environment. I do a lot more 5.1 (and stereo) mixing in my studio than 7.1 sessions, so the SR7.1’s flexibility in also doing the occasional analog sum is a real plus, while if a 7.1 gig comes up, it’s simple enough to bring in a couple RLS and RRS speakers and be ready to go.