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Road Test: Digico S21 Digital Mixing Console

By Rick Camp at Master Mix Live Las Vegas, NV. Dec. 20th, 2016

Digico has supplied Master Mix Live with their S21 mixing console for our evaluation. The console is fitted with a 64-channel DMI-Dante card and accompanied by the D-Rack stage rack with 32 input channels and 8 line outputs @ 96K. At first glance the console appears very streamlined with its two large touchscreen displays and six rotary knobs and two LED meters positioned to the right side of the displays above the main surface with 20 channel faders and one master fader. The rear panel of the console is fitted with 24 XLR mic inputs and 12 XLR line output connectors. There are an additional two DMI card slots that can accommodate a variety of option cards such as Dante, MADI, Aviom, AES, and Waves Soundgrid. The D-Rack can accommodate a maximum of 32 input channels and 16 line output channels via either analog XLR or AES on XLR connectors. Or as a card option, use the Aviom interface for artist self-mixing capabilities.

 

(For more on the S21’s I/O and general feature set, check out the review in FOH.)
Console Set-Up

As I’m like most engineers who have been mixing and setting up large-scale sound systems for a long while, I like to see how user-friendly a piece of gear is by trying to figure out the initial set up and then how fast I can get thru my normal sound check and run-of-show workflows without reading the BOOK!! (Let’s be real! Most veteran engineers are not interested in re-learning some complicated mixing console invented by some computer geek who doesn’t have a clue about mixing a live show.)
I found the S21 to be pretty user-friendly after you’ve figured out where the main MENU button is located at the top left-hand corner of the right-hand screen, haha! And then learning to use the up and down arrow keys in combination with the two push buttons next to them to access the different layers of parameters such as input channels 1-20 on the first layer, 21-40 on the second layer, followed by Auxs and Sub Groups, matrixes and Control (VCA’s) groups. The two push-buttons control your user-defined spill group and the global channel re-assignment sections. For more on spill groups check the video.

As mentioned earlier, there are two large touchscreens that show your channel inputs in line with the channel faders. Or depending on which layer you’re on, you might see the matrix output channels, auxes, sub groups or control (DCA) groups. The touch screen layout is pretty intuitive. To access the input section, you tap on the top of the channel strip and all of the associated controls for input come up on the right-hand screen such as, input source, input processing, inserts, channel processing, output routing.

Under the input tab, you can touch other tabs such as EQ, high & low pass filters, aux sends, and panning. Below the touchscreen, there is one rotary knob, which by default is dedicated to access the channels pan position, but can be switched to control other user definable parameters. So I found the touchscreens and the process for accessing the different parameters to be very user-friendly. You just touch a parameter like EQ, and it pops up on the right hand screen and then you have the choice to either use the six rotary knobs to the right of the screen to adjust your settings, or what I’ve found to be much faster, is to use the touchscreen to drag the handle icon on the band you wish to change and change frequency and boost or cut at the same time (WOW!!) You can’t do that with regular EQ. knobs. Then you can take two fingers and pinch the outer areas of the EQ curve to change the width of the “Q” .

In the main menu tab is were you find the console set up parameters such as Sessions & Snapshots, Preferences, Audio sync, Macros, FX rack, Graphic Eq’s, Matrixes, Console shutdown & restart, etc…. Input/ Output Routing Input and output routing is done via the screen matrix. You tap the source button which opens up the input routing screen. You are then given a menu on the left-hand side of the screen that lets you pick ports from which you route, such as local inputs, stage rack inputs or DMI option cards, etc. From there you can individually route each channel or “ripple route” multiple channels. The console outputs are routed in the same manner.
EQ., Dynamics & Effects

The EQ on the S21 is, in typical DiGiCo fashion, very responsive and accurate, and the addition of both high and low pass filters—not expected of a console in this price range—gives this unit some features that are indicative of a console in the 100K price range. As I mentioned earlier, once you try the EQ drag handles and see how fast you can sweep the frequencies while also boosting or cutting them at the same time you’ll be hooked!

The input channel compressor dynamics section #1 features a single band compressor on every channel input or a multiband compressor, in this software release you can only have four multiband compressors at any one time, (I do expect Digico to increase the number in later software revisions.)
The input channel dynamics section #2 is again typical Digico. The noise gate is very responsive, the attack, hold and release functions work just as effortlessly on the S21 as they do on the SD7 or SD10 series, either in normal operating mode or in keyed mode from an external source. It can be switched to three different modes of operation, normal gate, ducker or single band compressor with side chain access.
The effects pallet features the standard reverb halls and plates along with delays and there’s a dedicated “Tap Tempo” button on the console surface located just below the EQ. knobs on the right hand side of the console. The Sound The sound of the S21 was just what I expected from a Digico console, BIG!! There’s plenty of head room on the mic preamps with the classic Digico warmth and the feature I was most impressed with is the ease of use.

I believe DiGiCo brought all of the same performance qualities of the SD series consoles and what they learned about engineer workflow to create a better, faster, leaner machine that’s very intuitive in a price range with other consoles that have far less features and ease of use.
I recommend this console for any small or large-scale touring situation (it will fit under any tour bus), house of worship, corporate meetings, and live performance-driven club.

 

Other Voices

Mark Frink on the S21 via Live Sound International

Stevie Winwood and the DiGiGo S21

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Bill Evans

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