Soundcraft Si Performer: Digital Audio / Lighting Console


Soundcraft has launched arguably its most unique console to date, the Si Performer, which, as well as boasting a series of audio enhancements over the manufacturer’s successful Si Compact, is the first ever audio console to integrate DMX for lighting control.

The world launch of the Si Performer took place in the cosy basement of London’s Soho Theatre in Dean Street last week, where a capacity crowd witnessed a sensational vocal display from West End and Broadway leading lady, Kerry Ellis, who performed Defying Gravity from the show Wicked and then a rendition of Etta James’ At Last, before top covers duo, The Beatniks, took to the stage for an hour-long set of hits from the s and s.

At FOH position for the duration of the show was engineer Pete Freeman, who operated the audio and the lighting from Soundcraft’s latest baby, the Si Performer. This was the first show ever where both of these disciplines were controlled by one person working from one piece of kit.

Little Big Console

First and foremost, let’s be straight: the Si Performer is a very capable audio console. It has a ‘turbo-charged’ version of the Si Compact engine and boasts identical audio quality, yet it also provides a huge  channels to mix – double that of the Si Compact;  busses ( more than the Si Compact); eight VCA groups and eight mute groups; a fully parametric four-band EQ with shelf on the HF and LF bands; and L/R/C panning.

One of the immediate advantages in having more inputs, according to Soundcraft’s product specialist, Richard Ayres, is versatility.

“For example, if you wanted different EQ and dynamics on the house and monitor patches, Si Performer allows you to double-patch one mic to fader one on two different layers,” he explains, “It will process them independently, with layer ‘A’ doing FOH, and layer ‘B’ doing monitors, so it’s horsepower that you can harness without having to dip into your pocket.”

Two models have been released: Si Performer  and Si Performer , which have  and  mic inputs respectively. Both also have eight line inputs and four return FX channels. There are two option card slots, which allow I/O expansion via any Soundcraft stage box (hence the possibility of  inputs to mix) or from CobraNet, AVIOM, or AES inputs via the appropriate cards.

A Bright Idea

But what is entirely unique, of course, is the integration of DMX. A DMX port is set into the back of the console to provide core lighting control – and as Ayres reveals, “It can do a lot of lights”.

“The implementation we are releasing with version one deals with  or  DMX addresses – that could essentially be  independent dimmer channels,” he explains. “We are not trying to make this console out to be something it isn’t, though – if you start wheeling in a bank of movinghead devices each with a US, price tag, that type of fixture is not intended to be operated by this console.”

Unsurprisingly, the R&D for Si Performer was significant; as Soundcraft wanted to make sure its placement in the market was absolutely right. A number of lighting operators and production companies were involved, and members of the Soundcraft team even enrolled themselves in lighting training courses to gain a better understanding of the industry.

“Positioning it is the really important thing for us, and we see that in the smaller applications: churches, theatres, corporate hospitality, small band gigs; we’re not pretending we are a Martin or a [Grand] MA desk, we are exploring a new area for integrated lighting and audio consoles,” says Soundcraft’s President, Andy Trott. “It’s a damn good audio console, that’s for sure, but the lighting adds a new dimension, so you can run a complete event from one console, like you saw at the launch today.”

Another key aspect with any new product at Soundcraft, Trott reveals, is the customer’s business model: “We had an engineer in recently who was blown away by the product,” he says. “In his theatre he has a small audio console and a small lighting console, and under certain applications he can now replace both of those with one Si Performer, which saves a seat, and in turn creates more revenue for his business.”

Ayres says it’s been a fascinating journey so far, and a particularly interesting one for an audio company. He also sees great potential for Si Performer in the US market – a market Soundcraft has already doubled its business in over the last  months.

“One of the customers that this has great appeal for in the US is portable churches; and the schools and colleges have much bigger arts facilities over there than here in Europe, so they’ll also benefit,” he insists. “At a school assembly, for example, you might need the lights up or lights down, and all you’d need to do is open up a slider on the console – very simple.

“Add to that the fact that we have more and more integration with [Harman’s] HiQnet system, and there is suddenly the practical possibility of someone actually doing this from a touch screen panel on their BSS unit, or recording a preset via MIDI. These are all realities today for this console.”

The first release of the software provides four scene masters (A-D) with associated slave channels on the ALT fader layers. Individual colour intensities or parameters are set on the slave faders with an overall master level fader, which itself may be assigned to any of the main fader layers for simultaneous access to audio and lighting levels.

To automate the process, DMX settings can be stored alongside audio settings in the snapshot system, so both may be recalled automatically by a single button press or via an external MIDI command. With selective isolation, snapshots with just audio or lighting parameter changes may be recalled.

Each channel also features a custom LCD screen, which shows channel name, assignments, graphic EQ frequencies and DMX data, as well as signal metering.

Although for now, if working on the type of event where you would typically need a separate light and sound engineer, that would probably still be the case, there are big plans for Si Performer and the future looks rosier still – especially as DMX functionality on the ViSi remote looks to be just around the corner.

The End Of The Tunnel?

“The next step is to set about doing additional coding for the consoles; it will primarily always be an audio console, and we will not sacrifice any audio functionality to tip the balance in favour of the lighting, but there are several areas that we’re excited about enhancing,” Ayres enthuses. “We want to improve support for intelligent lighting, and improve show management; and a big thing you will see soon is DMX functionality appearing on the ViSi remote, which will mean it is then essentially two control surfaces, so you could have one guy working the audio from the console and another tweaking the lights from an iPad. How far this will go, who knows, but it’s been an amazing journey so far.”

“It’s entry level at the moment, but it will soon get sophisticated; and the area that is very attractive for us is the potential of remote lighting control for a pretty complicated show,” Trott concludes. “That’s very interesting, and us coming at it from a naïve area might mean we have new ways of doing things that the lighting guys may have been blinkered to.”

From The Distributor
“For single-operator applications, particularly we think within theatre and corporate AV, the Si Performer combines extremely well specified audio functionality featuring renowned Soundcraft sound quality with the unique integration of DMX control. Sound and lighting fader functions can be combined in layers, delivering comprehensive show control in a single, compact package. Not designed to replace a sophisticated lighting desk – or operator – the Si Performer is a compelling new console option for situations where an operator’s role already combines sound and light.”

Ian Cullen,
Marketing Director, Sound Technology Ltd

Information

• • DMX/lighting control integration
• • 24/32 mic inputs
• • 80 channels to mix
• • 35 busses
• • Eight VCA groups
• • Eight mute groups
• • Two Option card slots
• • HiQnet integration

Manufacturer
Soundcraft, UK
www.soundcraft.com

UK Distributor
Sound Technology
www.soundtech.co.uk

Price Details
UK: £TBA

THE REVIEWER
PAUL WATSON’S experience in the music industry stretches back to his time as a touring musician ten years ago, then working alongside some experienced producers before opening a recording studio and writing for the pro audio world. He now writes for a number of international trade publications.

DMX Explained

The DMX512 protocol is an ANSI standard lighting control protocol, in much the same way as MIDI is a standard protocol for controlling musical instruments – though DMX messages are less specific. Rather than sending individually addressed messages, the DMX packet is a set of 512 (or fewer) value slots, plus a start code that specifies the type of data to follow. Lighting fixtures can use those slot values as required, so a single DMX network might address up to 512 dimmer channels, or 256 pan-and-tilt values, for example.

DMX512 connections are normally made with XLR5 connectors (sometimes XLR3), and a DMX network is set up as a daisy chain with a single master (controller). Basic lighting fixtures normally use sets of binary DIP switches to set their DMX slot numbers (addresses).

The open, unidirectional nature of a DMX packet, means that what happens when the controller sends that message is down to the slave devices in the chain. The controller has no ‘knowledge’ of what is happening down the line.

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