Equalisation on the desk, as with most of the channel options, takes place on the left-hand screen, which has a series of dedicated controls around it. The most important are probably the 12 dedicated knobs split into four sections: bass, low–mid, high–mid, high. The lowest row, illuminated with a red LED in the cap, controls cut and boost. Above and to the left, with a yellow LED, is the Q or bandwidth control, and to its right, with a green LED, is the frequency selector. Immediately above these knobs, a section of the screen is dedicated to displaying the equalisation either as a single curve showing the summed action of the four sections, or as four individual sections showing the action of each band, or as a visual display of the knob settings in terms of frequency and gain in dB (the least useful, I found). These display modes can be switched using a button to the right. The left side of the screen has four more knobs beside it, whose purpose varies depending on the screen setting. In most modes these control gain, trim and the high– and low–pass filter frequencies. Once again, dedicated knobs control crucial functions.
In between the two screens are another six knobs. These control the functions of the right-hand screen, which can be set to display a number of options. I found the gate/comp option to be most useful. This view provides a cut–down look at the gate and compression section of the selected channel, with the top half showing the gate and two of the knobs controlling the threshold and depth. (It would have been nice to see the third control utilised for decay). Below the compressor section you have control over ratio, threshold and gain as well as a handy display in both sections showing you what the signal was doing (à la Waves).
Other options include auxiliary sends, effects controls and more comprehensive compressor controls, and you can assign shortcuts to three views of your choice onto the soft keys.
Despite screen space being allocated to these other tasks there is still sufficient space for the main equaliser window. The centre touchscreen gives you all the information you could need, as well as space to manipulate the sound with even the clumsiest digits. The equaliser provides lots of options, with fully parametric mid–range bands, and the lows and highs being switchable between parametric, shelving and high-/low–pass options. This last option did cause me problems, as the options cycle through with the filter coming second. This can cause you to lose all the top end, as I did on the main mix, before you cycle through to shelving, the setting I was looking for. This, I believe, is being looked at in a later revision of the software.
There are not many desks that I feel I can approach with this level of confidence ... With the dLive I felt I was in control.
The channel view provides you with not just a view of these screens but tabs to view the primary high– and low–pass filters, which can be set to various slope types such as Butterworth and Bessel. The gate and compressor sections can be seen in detail here too, with all the options such as side-chain filtering and key options. These are easy to route internally from drop–down menus. I used the key option to trigger the gate opening on the various drums from my drum contact mic channels. The side-chain input I used to help attenuate the Fender Twin channels when the Marshall came in to help balance the level between the two. Internal routing and control were easy, straightforward and well laid out.
Outputs are as easy to use as inputs. From subgroups to matrix mixes, auxiliaries and outputs, the controls are again very accessible. The fact that they all use the left screen helps build muscle memory as you always tend to go to the same place to achieve similar tasks. I like this way of working and I found it very intuitive. The second screen to the right of the console tends to cover the 'house-keeping' options such as patching, metering, scene control, ganging, grouping and utility options. During a show I tended to keep this on the meter page. This gave me an overview of all the inputs and outputs of the desk, but the screen also has a dedicated area that always shows a meter strip that can be scrolled left or right to see a section of the inputs and outputs, even when you're using the main screen for something else.
The right-hand screen has three shortcut buttons that bring up a choice of screens that have dedicated knobs. I found this balance of dedicated and multifunction knobs very user friendly. In cases where a knob is not needed, such as on the OptTronik compressor, which only has two controls, the LED in the cap turns off, indicating it has no function. This does save you the embarrassment of twiddling to no effect, and also provides monitor engineers with a handy DFA control!
The desk can also be used to record and play direct from a USB drive, although I did find the desk a bit picky about which drives it would talk to. Having said that, the ability to stick a playlist on a drive and play walk–in music without having to leave a laptop or iPod out I found very appealing. I recorded all the shows using an optional MADI card, as the band's high channel count exceeded the 32-channel limit for recording to USB. This worked pretty well and meant that I could do a virtual soundcheck of the previous night's show at the next gig.
I have a personal passion for effects, which is one of the reasons I had first struck up a conversation with the amiable Robin Clark, now MD at A&H. We had got chatting at a trade show many years ago about effects units, and what we did and didn't like. This led to a few more conversations and Rob going away and modelling a few of my favourites. It was nice to have a manufacturer show such passion and this is reflected in the built-in effects on offer in the dLive.
I was very impressed with their version of my go–to reverb, the EMT 250 plate. I have several emulations and this stands up well against the best. It was very usable and sat in the mix well. There are almost 50 presets across several different reverbs, and these are a combination of hardware emulations and 'real' spaces. I managed to find something for all my needs on this show. There are numerous echo machines as well as more specialist effects such as chorus and ADT, and a really good sub–harmonic generator which got some use!
I felt no need to look outside of the desk for any extra sounds. Normally I would tour my favourite effects but I had no need — even my beloved Dimension D was nicely emulated on board.
There are so many features of the desk that I don't have time or space to go into, but I wanted to give a summary of how I found it in practice. I used the desk on six shows, I only had one soundcheck, and they were all high-pressure gigs. I can honestly say I felt confident at every show. By the first half of the first show I had relaxed into using the desk and started enjoying it. By the last show I think I had pretty much mastered it enough to say I was a confident user. My only blips were down to a dodgy multicore (it wouldn't let the desk talk to the mix rack), and my own incompetence (I hit my poorly assigned master mute whilst distractedly thinking I was adjusting the echo tempo). I received a reasonable number of compliments, and the desk definitely sparked interest in the FOH tower.
I was not alone on my festival run, however: on several occasions I came across bands further down the bill also using a dLive, but mostly the C1500. These diminutive desks have only 12 faders and a single screen, but with similar power to their larger brethren, and come in a package you can carry single-handedly through a field and check in on a flight! If push came to shove it would be an option I would happily consider.
I stood in on sound duties on a few dates with Bring Me The Horizon. Their monitor engineer, Jared Daly, is a confirmed advocate of dLive. He was touring with a large–format version but also carried a Peli hard case with his backup desk. This was a regular laptop running the A&H Director software and an IP8 dLive remote controller. This is a small box with eight faders and a few softkeys. If his console did fail for any reason, he would still be able to control his mix rack with this powerful setup. This seemed very appealing, especially when a cheap 'get out of jail' option is preferable to touring with a spare desk (yes, it happens!). As a monitor desk Daly was more than convinced by the power of the dLive and was using it to the max, with a huge channel count and numerous mixes.
In conclusion, I found the desk a doddle to use. I also enjoyed using it. I was happy to develop my mix and had no qualms moving channels around, adjusting the layout, and tinkering with things without the safety blanket of a soundcheck. I think this is very telling; there are not many desks that I feel I can approach with this level of confidence. It is all too easy on some desks to tinker and find that you have inadvertently de-routed a channel or an output, but with the dLive I felt I was in control, and I don't consider myself an experienced digital desk operator! I also spent the summer proudly showing off my somewhat diminutive FOH setup. I had no external rack beyond a set of drawers and a pair of laptops (one for recording, the second for playback). My footprint was smaller than most other headliners, for which the local techs were grateful, and it all worked each day. In short, I would highly recommend the dLive to anyone, and in any of the formats.
Thanks to Skan Hire for their support, and Biffy Clyro for providing such great–sounding inputs!
The dLive console without the input rack retails at around the same price as the Midas Pro2, Soundcraft Vi4 and DiGiCo SD12 consoles. If you include a mix rack it brings it in line with the Yamaha CL range. The dLive is a very keenly priced product, and in terms of channel count, control and facilities, it competes with some consoles that are almost twice its price.
My main headache on this gig was the large guitar rig of the main man, Simon Neil. I had inherited the previous engineer's channel list and wouldn't have time to make any changes as these could impact negatively on the monitor engineer. I decided to go with the existing list, adding just one channel. The guitar setup was not overly complicated but featured four amplifiers. The guitar started with a clean sound from a Fender Twin, which was miked and DI'ed; this ran continuously, but for heavier parts a Marshall would be switched in, also with a mic and a DI. Occasionally the sound would be bolstered by one of two Kemper amplifiers, which provided a direct feed. This meant a total of six channels of guitars stage-right. And just to make it more interesting, the guitar rig was duplicated! Yes, there was a second Marshall, Fender and pair of Kempers off stage should anything happen to the main rig. This was also miked and DI'ed up, should any problems occur. This is where the dLive really came into its own...
Laying out the fader banks, I assigned a layer for the main guitar and on the layer below I duplicated the positions with the backup guitar rig. Inside the channel preferences I linked the Fender Twin mic with the mic on the spare. Linking gives you options and I decided to link every option apart from routing and mutes. Whenever I made a change on the main rig (EQ, compression, level and so on) it would be replicated on the spare rig. I then routed all the channels of the main rig to a master subgroup and the spare to a second subgroup. If I lost the main rig, I would just have to unmute the spare rig and it would all be set as the main, in theory!
Using amplifiers like Kempers alongside traditional amplifiers such as Marshalls and Fenders is problematical. The Kempers, being digital, do have latency. This is not noticeable when they are used stand–alone, but if the output is mixed with the output of the Marshall, comb–filtering occurs. This can make the sound thin at some frequencies, accentuated at others, and is generally undesirable. The dLive has a handy page that gives you access to all the inputs and allows you to delay any channel by samples, metres, feet or milliseconds. By delaying the channels of the Marshall and Twin by about 5ms I was able to compensate for the latency of the Kempers. This was all easy to achieve and within 20 minutes I had overcome the biggest headache I had anticipated.
Harmony is the name Allen & Heath give to their graphical user interface. It features across their digital product range and unifies the user experience. It is based on a conscious decision by A&H to adopt the technologies we use every day with our smartphones and tablets, and to that end, the capacitive touchscreens on their desks respond to all the usual pinch, swipe and drag–and–drop gestures that we have all become accustomed to.
The Harmony interface shares a common look across the whole product range, so going, as I did, from a desk with primarily app control (the Qu-Pac) to the large multi-screened dLive was easy.
All the digital products have the ability to be controlled by apps allowing you wireless remote control, as well as access to most of the features on the desk in compact and clear, well laid–out remote screens. The desk screens and any apps share a common format, so things are in the same place, meaning very little re-learning as I progressed from an iPad app to the larger more complex desk. This doesn't mean that you can do everything on a Qu–Pac that you can on a dLive, but that most tasks have a seamless commonality.
The combination of a well-presented and sensibly thought–out GUI along with dedicated hardware control sped up my workflow to a level that was comparable ergonomically to the analogue flow I am accustomed to. I believe that even a Luddite like myself would find my productivity increasing exponentially as I got more familiar with this console.
Why review a desk that most people can't afford? I have been asked this question a few times, and the answer is twofold. There's the aspirational side, of course — people like to read reviews of top–end gear even though most could not afford to buy it unless they won the lottery — but the more important factor is that this is not a desk that is usually purchased by engineers, but rather by hire companies. Hire businesses stock the items that are most requested, and that they know they can recoup their investment on through rentals. From speaking to a few major companies this summer Allen & Heath are establishing themselves as a solid stock item, so even if you'll never be able to own one yourself, there's a good chance you may end up working behind one!
- A great feature set.
- Flexible and easy to use with a very shallow learning curve.
- A great all-rounder.
- After several weeks I could find no real downside to this console.
Significantly cheaper than some top–end desks, the dLive punches well above its weight. Adaptable and well featured, the dLive is equally at home at FOH or on monitor duties, as well as on theatre shows.
S5000 £15,000, DM64 £9000. System prices range from £12,500 to £25,000. Prices exclude VAT.
Audio-Technica UK +44 (0)1132 771 441