Big things, small packages

Anna Mitchell takes a journey through DSP and finds easy-to-use products don’t have to compromise on functionality. It seems manufacturers have big ideas for smaller applications.

Small venues often have big ideas regarding how they want their audio systems to work but struggle with the time and skills needed to implement a system that provides the desired effects. Take a bar for example; multiple rooms with various sound requirements and management that is unskilled in setting up and operating audio control systems. Thankfully for those that run bars, restaurants, small conference venues and hotels there are many manufacturers that offer digital signal processors (DSPs) that don’t just offer standard EQ, limiting, time delay and matrix functions but a whole host of additional clever features as well.

Simon Bull, national sales manager at Martin Audio, says for applications that need a sound specialist on hand at all times, his company offers “an engineer crushed up and put in a box”! Sounds painful? Well thankfully Bull assures us that no engineers were harmed in the making of this product but does say that Martin Audio’s Engineer has utilised “human adaptive algorithms” that are designed to mimic the way an engineer would monitor and control audio.

The product recently scooped an InAVation Technology award in the commercial category and you can see why those that voted deemed it innovative. In addition to incorporating standard DSP facilities the Engineer boasts a circuit function called the BassCreator. Jim Cousins, from Martin Audio’s R&D department, filled InAVate in on exactly what this means.

“What has been found over 100s of years is if you produce the harmonics of a bass note in the right combination then you can get the feeling of low bass note without the low bass having to be reproduced. It’s a technique oddly enough has been used in pipe organs in churches for hundreds of years,” he said. “BassCreator, using the DSP, adds an algorithm to cut out the lowest frequencies - you can select how low you want to go - and then it creates the harmonics that give the brain the impression the low frequency is still there. It doesn’t over-exert the drivers in the loudspeaker and a typical application would be a restaurant where you have no room for subwoofers. It also cuts down room-to-room leakage of frequencies. So if you’ve got, for example, a club in the middle of a building that’s being used for other things like cinemas there’s less leakage.”

Next up, Extron has recently announced its MPX Plus 866, a media presentation matrix switcher. It is the first matrix switcher to incorporate Extron’s ProDSP, a new audio DSP platform based on a 32/64-bit floating point DSP engine. Rainer Stiehl, marketing manager for Europe explained the product combined VGA, video and audio matrix switching, a microphone matrix mixer and DSP processing. “It provides an ideal one-box solution for complete audio and video integration in a wide range of common audiovisual presentation applications,” he said. “The product can be used in any presentation environment with multiple sources and multiple displays, such as modern courtrooms, lecture halls and auditoriums.”

The product is designed to be user friendly. Stiehl: “The DSP configurator software is the user interface to ProDSP, and features a unique graphical user environment with an intuitive on-screen layout of digital audio signal processing tools. Designers can quickly get a snapshot view of the entire audio system including DSP blocks, routing ties, and microphone matrix mixing assignments. To simplify user adjustments, SpeedNav keyboard navigation offers efficient and fast navigation through the Graphical User Environment, using just the keyboard on a laptop.” And watch this space because Stiehl expects to see more Extron products incorporating the new ProDSP engine.

We also recently caught up with Glenn Harris, sales director for EMEA at the Harman Music Group, to explore dbx’s Professional’s ZonePRO Series. He was able to reveal that four new models will be launched at the Frankfurt ProLight and Sound exhibition in April. The new additions will build on the 640, 641, 1260 and 1261 models, that have proved popular in retail applications, ramping up DSP power and providing additional microphone inputs. The new “M” models; 640M, 641M, 1260M and 1261M; also allow selectable dynamic processing on every mic/line input. The 640M and 641M incorporate a mid/route mixer and all four models have an ambient noise-levelling feature. Harris expects typical applications to include houses of worship, fitness venues, retail environments, bars and restaurants, small conference venues and boardrooms.

Another product not yet released, yet hotly anticipated, is Lab.gruppen’s Lake Processor – the LM 26. This is Lab.gruppen’s first standalone processor and is scheduled for launch around September 2009. Doug Green, product manager at Lab.gruppen, said the digital loudspeaker processor had, rather surprisingly, attracted a lot of interest from the residential market, which highlights its suitability for smaller applications. It accepts audio signals as analogue, AES digital or via Audinate’s advanced digital audio network at 48 kHz and 96 kHz sampling rates. Automatic input priority switching may be enabled and the unit can function as both an input matrix mixer and Dante break-in box.

Yamaha is also celebrating a first, having just released the IMX644, its first zone mixer. Scott Fraser, installation manager at Yamaha, said the product was particularly suited to bar work with the ability to pre-set fairly complicated configurations that can be called up by pressing one of four front-panel buttons. “We suffer in the industry from an affliction called ‘Have button will press’,” joked Fraser. “With this you can lock people out who are not authorised to access the advanced functionality. So the bar manager just has to press a button for Monday nights, a different button for Tuesday nights and so on. We also have an input on the back of the product so fire alarm systems can be automatically linked in.”

Dynacord first introduced its new Promatrix 8000 system at the 2008 security show in Essen. According to Nils Schächtele, Dynacord product manager, an important development on this product was moving the configuration control and monitoring software into Iris-Net. Furthermore the size of the internal matrix of the main unit was made bigger. “Originally on the Promatrix 4000 system we had a four by four matrix. Now we have a flexible matrix which allows up to 16 inputs and up to 16 outputs, using up to two input blocks or two output blocks – the product is very flexible because you can configure them anyway you like”. Although remaining tight-lipped about specifics, Schächtele also told us to watch out for further product developments at Frankfurt’s ProLight and Sound Exhibition next month.

And last, but by no means least, we took a look at Biamp’s Nexia line-up. Matt Czyzewski, VP of engineering at the company took us through the range. “The entire Nexia lineup – including Nexia CS (conference system), Nexia PM (presentation mixer), Nexia SP (speaker processor) Nexia TC (teleconference) and Nexia VC (videoconference)– is designed with a network-friendly open architecture to help create economical, intuitive solutions,” he said. “Each Nexia was designed to handle a specific application and is pre-programmed with a standard system file. If the file isn’t exactly what is required, the internal system design is completely user definable via PC software allowing you to customise the design for your specific needs. Multi-unit Nexia systems can be created utilising Ethernet and NexLink digital audio linking, allowing users to network units and features as needed without excess investment upfront.”

There’s a huge amount of functionality out there to be had and these products predominantly apply powerful features literally at the touch of a button. To return to the bar example, if the DSP product is set up correctly, your average manager can implement a sophisticated audio system with no fuss and minimum effort.

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