CRESCENDO — Digital On the Up
The Amsterdam Music Theatre Extends its Audio System
Back in 2004 The Amsterdam Music Theatre in the Netherlands prompted a feature in STAGES. At that time, the house had made a first step from analogue towards the digital age — with a NEXUS network, a stage-management system, and two smaller CAS digital mixing-consoles. In the meantime, experience with digital technology as well as the physical equipment has grown. An AURUS mixing system and the latest addition to the family, two CRESCENDO consoles — an innovation in the classical music venue world
The Amsterdam Music Theatre requirements are comparable with those in any other classical music house. Top priority is that the mixing console in the hall must occupy the smallest possible space. Space is a precious thing in live venues, in the auditorium itself as well as the in-hall control room because every seat removed means the loss of box-office hard cash.
At the same time, productions and performances are becoming ever more complex, so the demands placed on the console have grown continuously. The CRESCENDO console rises to meet these challenges as is immediately apparent from its name: crescendo is Italian for »growing«. In comparison with the smaller AURATUS or CRESCENDO’s immediate predecessor the AURATUS XL, the new console supports significantly more extensive configurations with up to 300 audio channels and 128 sum buses. A maximum of 96 aux or n-1 buses enables an enormous number of individual monitor mixes and foldback signals to be set up for live use. The combination of mono, stereo, and 5.1 sums as well as stereo or 5.1 linking of input channels is configurable freely, making the console considerably more flexible in modern multichannel-classical music environments than its two smaller siblings. With a comprehensive feature set and numerous options, the CRESCENDO provides almost the functionality of the large AURUS mixing-console system. However, it is operated using a small AURATUS-like control surface.
The Amsterdam Music Theatreowns two CRESCENDO consoles configured identically, one lives in the hall and the other in the control room. The two, 24-fader control surfaces are compact — less than 1.5m in width and just 0.76m in depth. It is intended that only one console will in operation at a time. For each production, the operator uses a change-over switch to select whether the console in the hall is to be used, for example when balancing an extensive microphone set-up, or if the control-room unit is better suited to the task. This mutually exclusive approach is based fundamentally on practical considerations since it prevents two audio engineers working in parallel on the two desks and inadvertently interfering with each others work. Besides which, the two consoles offer an immediate disaster recovery solution since each can replace the other if necessary.
A Bunch of New Functions
CRESCENDO is not simply a new mixing console but a logical progression based on more than 15 years of experience in developing digital-audio mixing consoles. It provides a bunch of new functions. For example, the new SPILL function enables the user to keep track of the sources particularly with complex live productions. At the press of a button all a group’s members can be brought onto the console surface. The SPILL function can be applied to traditional master-slave groups and also to link groups, stereo links and surround bundles. Another feature that improves clarity is the new views on the TFT screens. With 128 summing buses CRESCENDO requires a well thought-out status view to provide the user with an appropriate bus-routing overview. Hence, CRESCENDO’s individual channel strip meters were scaled down to provide additional space for a bus view on the TFT screen.
The aux-to-fader function is very helpful especially in live use. It enables an aux bus mix to be checked at a glance using a graphical view.
However, the most important function of all is the comprehensive theatre-snapshot automation. This enables mixes to be defined for every scene and for the transitions between the scenes. In the context of the changes at The Amsterdam Music Theatrea number of new NEXUS XCI boards were acquired. These are used mainly in combination with the extensive Logic Control feature to control external devices and for controlling the NEXUS and CRESCENDO from external events. These events — for example a switch triggered by the musical director — can be integrated into the snapshot automation and thus make finely-tuned sequencing possible.
Direct Signal Delivery
During the upgrade, the old NEXUS microphone-input boards were replaced by the latest XMIC+ boards because they feature an on-board digital signal splitter with up to four separate outputs for each microphone input. One of the outputs is used for the public address system and a second one connects to the recording studio. Since each user is assigned a separate output of the microphone board, either or both can set up individual gain settings, without any interaction.
Special importance attaches to a third way of operating which has now become possible. Microphone signals can be routed directly to an OB truck or to a local DAW over MADI lines for recording instead of passing them through one of the digital consoles first.
This digital splitting function is critically important for live use and isn’t offered by any other mixing-console brand as an internal solution. It is an exclusive feature of AURUS, AURATUS, CRESCENDO, and especially the NEXUS!
Since the digital microphone inputs enable faster working than a conventional analogue microphone preamp set up, they had already been welcomed enthusiastically at The Amsterdam Music Theatre. The microphone converter’s wide dynamic range offers true plug & play. The microphones just have to be connected — there is no need to set gains since inadequate or excessive levels simply cannot occur due to the design of the converters.
A NEXUS Network
The installation at The Amsterdam Music Theatre was conceived as an all-encompassing audio network. From the user perspective this is clearly an advantage because there is no possible operational situation where extra cabling, always a potential source of errors, would be required. Each user can access virtually any resource on the network, with just one small exception which simplifies the daily routine. All hardwired connections, as for example the cable runs to the PA system or the hardware integrating the electroacoustic LARES system, are lurking in the background hidden from most engineers eyes. Similarly, the sound systems in the dressing rooms, as well as the entire paging system, which is also based on NEXUS components, works hidden in the background to avoid operational errors. The NEXUS network has grown into a huge system integrating all the audio domains in the venue!
An interesting addition to the NEXUS network relates to the NEXUS STAR. This was acquired to host the mixer and DSP boards of both the AURUS and CRESCENDO. Although the two mixing-console systems share the same NEXUS network, they are separated from each other completely and are assigned different network-address ranges. In hardware terms, this is an efficient solution which also dovetails with the notoriously difficult financial situation in the music landscape.
AURUS in the Production Control Room
For the production control room where space is not really an issue, The Amsterdam Music Theatre opted for a big AURUS with 40 faders installed in a large frame. Eleven dual-concentric encoders per channel strip provide for even faster instant access to all critical mixing parameters. In addition, the console is laid out for even more convenient and versatile multichannel mixing where the use of the dynamic automation — which is not present on the CRESCENDO — is another essential tool for efficient working. To support extensive pre-productions and recordings, the console system features three DSP boards. This is sufficient for the in-house configuration of 64 input channels.
However, the decisive argument for the AURUS and CRESCENDO was audio quality. Because at the end of the day, a production, be it on stage or on CD, only needs one thing: a great sound.
Living Up to Its Name
The Amsterdam Music Theatre programme is usually crammed full seven days a week. Therefore, reliability demands on the hardware systems are high because there is very little time for undertaking repair work, not to mention dealing with a technical breakdown. Even maintenance work must be well prepared and scheduled. Experience with the highly reliable NEXUS network, which has been in use since 2004, was the basis of confidence in the new CRESCENDO. While there was no previous experience of how the CRESCENDO would cope in a theatre environment, this highly versatile mixing console has already made its mark in many other applications — from OB vehicles and TV production studios to large convention centres. Incidentally, a number of theatres and operas have been inspired by the Amsterdam example and the number of theatre installations is rising rapidly — or crescendo, so to speak.