You know how it is — you wait ages for a buss, and then eight of them come along at once. Hugh Robjohns flags down Mackie's entry into the digital mixing fray.
An increasing number of mid‑market digital recording consoles is now available, such as Yamaha's 02R, Tascam's D8000, Soundtracs' Virtua and Amek's Soho, to name but a few — and this is precisely the market sector Mackie are competing for with their new and long‑awaited d8b digital recording console. Although already shipping in the States, the d8b's arrival in Europe has been delayed longer than planned by the CE certification process. However, the approval tests are now nearing completion, and the d8b should be available by the time you read this.
When compared to the obvious competition, the technical design and implementation of Greg Mackie's new desk is rather different to most, and the operational ergonomics make this one of the most analogue‑like digital desks I have used to date. Although immensely powerful, the d8b is surprisingly intuitive to master, and I found myself tracking, overdubbing and mixing with little recourse to the Owner's Manual — a rare thing with many digital desks!
The primary function of the d8b is as a 24‑track recording console, and that is what this review will concentrate on, although the console obviously also has applications in the broader scheme of things including live sound, theatre, and post‑production work. The technology is impressive: 24‑bit converters, 32‑bit fixed‑point internal processing, 48 EQ and dynamics processors permanently available, and Apogee's UV22 dithering process, to name just a few of the highlights.
The 'console' arrives in two boxes: one very large and heavy, the other slightly smaller but just as heavy! The larger box contains the control surface — the recognisable part of the mixer — whilst the smaller box contains the host computer. This is an industrial PC (a 166MHz Pentium), but before the Macophiles amongst you turn the page in disgust, I should point out that this CPU runs entirely on Mackie's own proprietary operating system — there is no DOS or Windows anywhere near the hard drive! The CPU is used to configure and control the entire system, downloading software to the DSPs on boot‑up, loading effects algorithms when required, and logging the automation and snapshot data. It also provides an alternative means of control through a very detailed graphical display with a point‑and‑click style of operation.
Although not supplied as standard with the system, a normal SVGA monitor, PS/2 mouse and keyboard can be connected to the relevant ports on the back of the PC to provide this graphical interface, which is heartily recommended, although a 17‑inch screen is the practical minimum size, as an awful lot of information is presented on it. Although the screen/mouse/keyboard interfaces are not essential — the desk is surprisingly easy to use with just the built‑in fluorescent alphanumeric display — the point‑and‑click graphics on screen provide a very useful overview of the entire console, including the EQ response, and allows very fast visual manipulation of settings on any required channel.
In terms of its fundamental operation, the console is divided into two parts: the left section carries the faders and key channel controls, whilst the master section on the right carries assignable controls for EQ, dynamics and internal effects, track routing, automation, various system functions, monitoring and the alphanumeric display. Essentially, the d8b is a split console with separate sections for recording, monitoring, mix groups and effects returns, all of which are accommodated on just 24 motorised faders by using four separate banks or pages, each bank representing a separate section of the desk.
The first bank is concerned with the main analogue recording inputs — 12 mic/line switchable inputs plus a further 12 line‑only inputs — which can be flexibly routed to the 24 tape track outputs (or the eight mix busses, or L‑R stereo outputs). The tape returns are brought into the second bank of faders, which would normally be allocated to the L‑R stereo buss as a monitor mix (or alternatively to the eight mix busses for surround work). The third bank of faders handles up to 16 returns from the internal effects processors, plus a further eight inputs accessible through an optional I/O card. Finally, the fourth bank provides eight virtual groups, eight subgroups and eight MIDI controllers. The main stereo output fader is physically separate from the 24 input faders and remains available at all times.
If you add up the input channels you will find that the d8b offers a maximum of 56 inputs (12 mic/line, 12 line, 24 tape returns, and eight alternative returns through an optional I/O card) which is a lot given the relatively small footprint of the console. Clearly, the fader‑paging approach saves a great deal of space, but so too does the use of assignable controls for functions like EQ, dynamics and routing, which are handled by a section called the 'Fat Channel'.
The channel strip of the console is very simply and clearly laid out (see pic above and close up on page 158). Starting at the top are the pre‑fade input meters calibrated in dBFS (decibels below digital full scale), with a nominal alignment of +4dBu equating to ‑15dBFS. There is then an analogue gain trim control and (on the first twelve channels) a mic/line switch. Phantom power is provided by individual channel switches on the rear panel adjacent to the mic input XLRs. Since the trim, mic/line and phantom power controls operate entirely in the analogue realm, they don't fall under the watchful eye of the dynamic automation and snapshot memories, and they cannot be adjusted remotely from the graphical display on screen either. For the mic/line channels, gain is adjustable over a 60dB range (0 to +60 or ‑20 to +40dB for mic and line modes respectively) whilst the line‑only channels offer a slightly smaller range of ‑20 to +20dB. As the trim control is part of the analogue input circuitry, it remains active on the relevant inputs no matter which fader bank is operative.
The remaining six buttons and controls in the channels strip are all part of the automation system, so their settings can be memorised and recalled as appropriate — every switch contains an LED to indicate its status. Below the mic/line switch is a button labelled REC/RDY which sends MIDI machine commands to a suitable tape or hard disk recorder to arm or disarm the relevant tracks for recording. The light in the button flashes when the track is armed, but lights continuously when the machine is actually recording. Next down is the Assign button which is used in conjunction with the track routing panel in the master section. The button can be used in two ways, either to select a channel for allocation to specific tracks or buss outputs (by pressing the relevant buttons in the routing section), or to interrogate which channels are already assigned to tracks by pressing the track button and observing which Assign LEDs illuminate. The third button in this upper trio is labelled Write, and this simply enables the recording of automation data for the channel.
All digital consoles use special kinds of control knobs called 'shaft encoders'. These don't have end‑stops like conventional controls, and instead simply note the degree of rotation applied in whatever direction. Instead of a pointer, an array of LEDs is used to show the original position of the knob (which can be instantly updated when the function of the knob is changed), and to provide feedback of its movement. There are all manner of engineering designs, each with their own proprietor's marketing name tag, and Mackie have chosen to call theirs V‑Pot. Presumably as a means of controlling costs, the V‑Pot uses only a 12‑segment LED array around the base of the knob to indicate position, and this appears to give it a much more coarse resolution than is actually the case. The inclusion of an additional LED inside the knob is a thoughtful touch — when the knob is centred, this LED lights up, which is helpful, as in this position, the V‑Pot itself would normally obscure the user's line of sight. A V‑Pot is available in each channel strip, as well as in various parts of the master section, not least the 'Fat Channel' used to control EQ and dynamics functions.
The V‑Pot on the channel strip defaults to being a Pan control, but can also be globally assigned to any of the eight mono and two stereo auxiliary sends, tape send level, or tape return level trim (ie. input level to channels 25‑48). Immediately below the channel V‑Pot, a pair of LEDs indicate which of the four fader pages are currently active. The top LED indicates the first (input) page, the bottom LED the second (return) page. Both lights illuminated mean the effects return page is active, and neither light implies the fourth, groups and MIDI controllers page. Although the first two modes are clearly indicated by the panel legend, there are no obvious markings which give clues as to the other two possibilities.
We now have a group of three more buttons before the fader, the first of which is a button labelled Select. This is used primarily to access the EQ and Dynamics functions for the relevant channel on the assignable Fat Channel in the master section of the desk. The button also plays a role in cut, copy and paste operations, in creating stereo pair assignments and in grouping assignments.
The last two buttons are the familiar Solo and Mute which are arranged just above the fader, exactly where one would expect them to be. Normally, the Solo is post‑fade and post‑pan, offering 'stereo‑in‑place' soloing, but can be changed globally to provide PFL or AFL if required. The Mute button kills the output at the routing section of the signal path but leaves the tape outputs, the solo buss and any pre‑fader aux sends unaffected.
Finally, the fader is a full‑length motorised 100 mm design which repositions itself according to automation data or when switching between fader banks. They feel fine to operate manually and can be lightning fast if necessary when moving under the automation control, but have the strange characteristic of stopping fractionally short of their final resting position and slowly creeping into position. It is of little significance operationally, but it was slightly disconcerting to see them creep almost imperceptibly whilst 'groaning' quietly!
The master section is, in my view, the weaker of the two main desk elements — not in its content or technical abilities but in its ergonomics. The problem is that the desk is essentially black, and virtually all the buttons are, you guessed it... black. This might look good on a graphic designer's sketch pad, but makes it unnecessarily difficult to find your way around. Sure, the buttons are grouped sensibly enough, and the panel markings are good, but with well over 100 buttons in this section, a little colour would have made the recognition of functions so much easier and clearer!
Whinge over! The master section is divided into 12 logical parts, most of which are instantly recognisable and located where one would expect to find them. Across the top of the master section, directly below the fluorescent display, is the Fat Channel — a collection of four V‑Pots and several buttons which works on a soft‑function basis according to the screen legends. The Fat Channel controls the various DSP parameters for a selected channel including EQ, dynamics, and internal effects selection and parameters. Since the buttons and knobs relate directly to display messages, the Fat Channel controls are also used in a lot of the housekeeping functions such as file and disk management, synchronisation settings, naming duties, error messages and so on. To enable easy future upgrading and expansion, and to encourage third‑party developers of effects plug‑ins and the like, Mackie have given the Fat Channel an open architecture, and some third‑party software is already available (such as the IVL Vocal Studio which provides specialist harmony, pitch correction and reverb processes).
Below the Fat Channel, the two headphones and Cue/mix sections provide independent cue feeds derived from either of the two stereo auxiliaries (9/10 or 11/12), the control‑room feed (but without solos of course), or any other selected auxiliary. This last function is quite clever in that the current monitor fader mix is copied on to the selected auxiliary send controls, allowing a basic cue mix to be created instantly, and requiring only some minor tweaking to produce a perfect cue signal. A V‑Pot determines the overall cue level.
To the left of the two Cue sections is the Studio and Solo section. The left half concerns the various solo modes: PFL, AFL, and mixdown. The first two should be obvious, and the last is a destructive solo where the selected channels are unaffected, but everything else is muted. Incidentally, it appears that the solo buttons are always additive and latching. The centre of the section has a large red LED which flashes whenever any channel is soloed, and below this is a V‑Pot control. The right half contains four more buttons, the first of which clears all selected solos, and the remaining three allocate the V‑Pot functions. The options are Solo Level (ie. the control room level when any solo function is activated), Studio Level (monitoring output to the studio), and Talkback Level (talkback mic level).
Directly below the Studio/Solo panel is the Control Room section with all the normal facilities for selecting monitoring sources (three two‑track master recorders, AES‑EBU and S/PDIF digital inputs, and the main stereo mix buss), a mono switch, nearfield and main monitor selectors, a dim button and another V‑Pot for monitoring volume. The only oddity in this section is the talkback button which routes the internal talkback mic to the Cue mixes — it might have been more logical to have placed this switch with the Cue Mix panels, although it is closer to hand where it is.
Alongside the control room panel is the bus Assignment section. This is obvious for the main part — simply press the assign button on the appropriate channel and select the desired buss 1‑8 output or L‑R stereo buss. Alternatively, pressing any of the buss buttons will illuminate the assign buttons on the routed channels. Routing channels direct to tape is rather less obvious and I had to resort to reading the manual. The difference is that this function requires three button presses: first the Route To Tape button is pressed before the Select button on the desired source channel, and then the Assign button on the appropriate tape track output. In effect, this is a built‑in patchbay and once its operation is understood, it is incredibly fast and simple to use. The drawback is that the existing tape routing is not obvious from the console itself and it would not be hard to reallocate a track in error...
Although immensely powerful, the d8b is surprisingly intuitive to master...
To the right of the bus Assignment panel are the Automation and Session Setup sections. The first provides the control functionality for the automation including selecting what is to be automated (faders, mutes, pans or everything), a complete automation bypass mode to disable the system, and a button to disable the fader motors. There are just two automation modes: the Auto‑Touch mode automatically write‑enables any control parameter when it is manually adjusted, and the Trim Level mode which allows fader levels to be tweaked rather than rewritten. The Session Setup section is concerned with file management and core system functions such as the Digital I/O configuration, meter assignments, downloading plug‑in effects algorithms from the host PC, and configuring MIDI parameters.
The largest section is the transport panel which provides a time display, a second numeric readout associated with the snapshot automation controls, and a full set of transport functions for any MMC‑equipped recorder (or Sony 9‑pin compatible device via an optional Video Sync I/O card). The time display can be configured for SMPTE (HH:MM:SS:FF), or MIDI timecode (Bars:Beats:Ticks) and the secondary display shows either snapshot memories or locator points depending on the selected mode. A 0‑9 keypad is provided for data entry and at the bottom of the section a large jog/shuttle wheel allows precise control of suitable machines.
To the left of all this is the master strip with the main stereo output fader at the bottom. Immediately above the fader are a block of four fader paging buttons providing access to channels 1‑24 (inputs), 25‑48 (tape returns), 49‑72 (effects returns) and the masters. Also in this group is a Shift button which permits multiple channel Select buttons to be engaged simultaneously, and is useful in cut/copy/past commands when the settings from one channel are to be copied into several others, for example.
At the top of the Master strip is the Master V‑Pot assign section which determines the function of the channel V‑Pots. Dedicated buttons select any of the 12 auxiliary sends (1‑8, 9&10, 11&12) and the last two pairs have associated Pan buttons to configure the V‑Pot to adjust the panning from mono channels onto stereo Auxiliaries. Two other buttons assign the V‑Pots to control Level to Tape or Digital Trim (tape return levels). Below these selection buttons is the Master V‑Pot which provides the auxiliary master control for each selected Aux send, complete with its own solo button. An adjacent button selects the channel V‑Pots to function as pan controls.
The rear of the d8b is largely self‑explanatory — at least at the analogue end. The first 12 inputs feature electronically balanced mic inputs on XLRs with associated individual phantom power switches, plus balanced line inputs on TRS quarter‑inch jack sockets. Unbalanced insert points (send on the tip, return on the ring) are also provided. Inputs 13‑24 are provided only with balanced line input TRS sockets.
The output section is a similarly conventional arrangement with TRS sockets for the three balanced two‑track returns, nearfield and main control room monitors, studio speakers and the two cue mixes. There are also two footswitch sockets for record punch in/out and to enable the studio talkback. The main master stereo mix buss outputs are available on both TRS sockets and male XLRs, and the 12 aux sends are also available on more TRS sockets (irrespective of whether the associated internal effects processing is being used).
On the left‑hand side of the console (as viewed from the rear) is a 'card cage' which accommodates the optional digital I/O cards and additional effects DSP cards. The Tape I/O section can accept up to three analogue or digital interfaces (only an analogue card was supplied with the review machine), each of which provides eight channels of record and return signals. The analogue cards use 'D'‑Sub connectors employing the Tascam wiring convention, whilst the digital cards (designed by Apogee) combine both ADAT optical and Tascam TDIF interfaces on the same card, complete with a word clock output signal for synchronisation.
The fourth slot in the cage accepts the Alt I/O card which provides eight additional analogue or digital inputs and outputs. Although not available at the time of writing, Apogee have designed a low‑jitter clock card which will replace the Mackie one currently housed in the fifth slot. The new card will have word clock I/O, and in addition SMPTE In and Thru connections will be added to the MIDI card in the host CPU. The sixth slot houses the standard stereo digital I/O which provides AES‑EBU and S/PDIF inputs and outputs. The outputs are derived from the stereo mix buss and the inputs feed the monitoring selector directly.
The last four slots in the card rack are allocated to DSP effects cards. The console is shipped with one card installed in Slot A, providing two mono‑in, stereo‑out channels normalled to Aux 1 and 2 for the sends, and returned on FX1/2 and 3/4. Three further cards can be installed to provide a full complement of internal effects processing.
The only remaining connections on the rear panel are to link the console with the host CPU. A 'D'‑Sub connector carries all necessary data between the two, and the most meaty connector imaginable conveys the power supplies. Apparently this over‑engineered connector became necessary to comply with the FCC and EC regulations for screening, and it certainly looks impressive.
The host CPU is much as any other PC, with the usual IEC power inlet and loop‑through for a monitor, plus the chunky fixed power cable to the console. I was disappointed to find that the cooling fan seemed to be a constant‑speed device which was unacceptably noisy — a real problem since the power and data cables to the console are only 15 feet long. The rest of the connections include standard PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, a serial port (to accept a joystick or trackball device for surround‑sound panning), a parallel port, a colour SVGA monitor port, and an RJ45 ethernet socket (allowing software upgrades and plug‑ins to be downloaded from the Internet — and permitting the connection of other d8b desks). Finally, an adaptor is provided for MIDI input and output on the usual 5‑pin Din sockets. The front of the host CPU carries nothing more than a floppy disk drive and a power on‑off switch.
Powering the d8b up takes about a minute as the system checks itself before downloading the core DSP algorithms from the host CPU to the console. The console always boots to the condition in which it was last used — useful protection against an unfortunate power‑down during a session. There is also an auto‑save function which will back up the session data either after every pass of the automation, or after specific time intervals. Loading an effects algorithm takes around 30 seconds, but could be longer depending on the complexity of the algorithm, and the number of effects cards in the system.
Selecting the sample rate of the internal word clock is easy — simply press the General button in the Setup panel of the Master Section, and scroll through to Sample Rate. The two choices are 44.1 and 48kHz, although these will be extended when the Apogee external clock card becomes available. There were a number of minor discrepancies between the manual and the operating software on the machine, but none that couldn't be figured out with a little perseverance. In fact, the manual appeared to be a pre‑production version as there were several pre‑proofing queries and requests for additional information from the technical authors left in! Even in this form, though, the Owner's Manual is quite superb and extremely readable. It takes you through setting the console up and running a session from the ground up, and although it looks like a daunting prospect, it is very helpful and easy to follow.
Once the basic settings of the desk have been established (normally a once‑and‑forget task), the session can be started. All session data is stored on the internal hard drive (and/or removable floppy disks). Sessions can contain up to 100 snapshots and 100 locate points, and separate libraries are provided to store or recall useful settings for the EQ and dynamics processors, with factory presets as well as user memories.
Saving and recalling snapshots or locate memories only involves pressing the relevant mode button, followed by a two‑digit memory value, and either enter to recall it, or save and enter to store it — all instantly intuitive. It is also possible to set loop points for the locate memories using an obvious button labelled Loop to define the loop‑back point — this all assumes a MMC‑equipped recorder of course.
Setting levels and optimising the signal path through the machine is as straightforward as an analogue console once you become familiar with the digital metering. Routing the signal through to tape and optimising levels is logical enough once understood, and setting up the monitor mix is back on terra firma again. As with any console using fader paging (or an in‑line console with switched EQ options, come to that), you need your wits about you when it comes to applying signal processing, just to make sure that you are treating the signal you really mean to. It is surprisingly easy to find yourself adjusting the tape send signal when you meant to tweak the monitor signal. This problem obviously recedes with experience of the console, but it is also much clearer if you use the VDU screen — I started without and probably picked up some bad habits.
The Mackie d8b is an impressive desk by anyone's standards. For me, one of the best things about it is that it feels more like an analogue console than virtually any other digital desk I have experienced to date (bar Sony's OXF‑R3 'Oxford' console — but we are talking third‑world national debts for one of those!).
With most of the current crop of digital desks, there tends to be a layer of complexity between the operator and the job in hand which was never there with analogue mixers. Nothing insurmountable, and familiarity allows far greater things to be achieved than ever before, but desks like the 02R or 03D, the Virtua and others just don't seem to be as inherently intuitive as the majority of analogue desks, and I often find myself having to think about how to do something rather than what I want to achieve — with the danger of stunting creativity. The d8b does not seem to suffer from this syndrome to anything like the same degree. You don't find yourself looking at a small LCD screen to figure out where the pans are, or what the EQ is doing — it is all laid out in front of you, and mostly in places where you are used to looking. The VDU screen presents the whole desk in a very traditional way, and can be manipulated in a click‑and‑drag process, so again everything appears where you expect to see it, and can be modified very intuitively. That makes a huge difference when the pressure is on and the job needs to get done.
The Mackie d8b is an impressive desk by anyone's standards. For me, one of the best things about it is that it feels more like an analogue console than virtually any other digital desk I have experienced to date...
Aside from the fan noise of the host PC, my only real complaint is that the desk is very black! Trendy it may be, but it can become fatiguing to work on after long periods in low lighting. Coloured buttons and a slightly lighter base colour would help here, as would better graphics to differentiate the master section panels more clearly. But these are relatively minor complaints in a sea of positivity! There are a few things the desk can't do yet — the most obvious one being its current inability to resolve to an external word clock, something which completely removes the console from the shortlist of broadcast or video post‑production houses. However, these issues are being addressed, and the desk will meet these challenges in the near future.
For the time being, the Mackie d8b is a music recording and production console, and a damn good one. Expensive it may be, and the costs of the VDU, mouse and keyboard must be added on top (as would some form of VDU extender system to allow the host PC to be put away in a machine room). This puts the d8b a few grand above a fully loaded Yamaha 02R, but still substantially lower in price than any other comparable digital desk. At the AES Convention in San Francisco, Mackie were using the slogan "democratising digital", and in many ways they are bringing the qualities and flexibility associated with big‑name desks into a more affordable range. The icing on the cake is the possibility of third‑party plug‑ins, which means that the potential for customising and expanding the capabilities of the desk is enormous. Look what it did for Pro Tools — and, like Pro Tools, I think that the d8b is destined to become an industry standard.
One of the most critical elements of a desk like this is how easy the automation is to use. I am a firm believer in the benefits of moving‑fader automation and the Mackie desk works very well in that regard. The three simple modes are sensible too: absolute for the first pass, Autotouch when it's nearly right but you want to be able to grab something when you notice it, and then Trim Levels for the final bit of polishing. The ability to select only the key elements for automation is also very useful, providing 80 percent of the flexibility on just a couple of buttons. Simple but effective, and perfectly intuitive after the first few seconds of playing with it.
The 'Fader Motors Off' mode is a bit disconcerting. Apparently some people find twitching faders off‑putting, but having all the faders sat on the base line with a mix coming out of the speakers was more than I could cope with!
If you are using the VDU screen with your d8b, you have access to the 'Mix Editor'. This is a software package which allow visual editing and manipulation of automation data, allowing you to create the absolutely perfect automation pass, or to correct those mutes where the drummer always managed to hit the buttons fractionally late... The system is a little too complex to cover in any real detail in the space I have left, but suffice to say it is impressively powerful and is another good reason to invest in a decent monitor for your d8b. A big screen makes a good product really great. You don't have to play Davros (of the Daleks) and use mice and track balls all day — the buttons on the desk do almost everything you would want — but some things (like dragging EQ curves, or setting up groups and stereo pairing) are so much easier on the screen.
The EQ on the d8b is really rather nice for a digital console. Peter Watts, who designed the classic Trident consoles of the Seventies and Eighties, is the man responsible. Apparently, the digital algorithms used in the d8b are modelled on the analogue EQ sections of his beloved 80‑series desks... They certainly seem to have an ability to add character to a sound as well as just making it louder or quieter at specific frequencies (which is the very pure engineering approach taken on the Yamaha consoles for example). The EQ is a four‑band device with adjustable Q over very usable ranges. The system is equipped with A/B memories as well as a bypass so different settings can be compared with the original if required (a facility to morph between settings A and B is also available).
The gating and compression programs are very effective tools too, with a good selection of controls offering sensible ranges. One criticism here though — the default mode for the gate has the range control set to 0dB (ie. it doesn't do anything). It would be far more user‑friendly if it started with the range on maximum so that the threshold could be determined, and then the range reduced if necessary — I found myself cursing at the gate on numerous occasions for not apparently doing anything as I furiously dialled the threshold up and up and up...!
Mackie's onboard effects provide five basic but flexible algorithms for reverbs, chorus and delays (all with their own 3‑band EQ) which would be more than adequate for most purposes. As with any digital console, breaking the signal out to external effects processing is not quite as simple as it is on analogue desks, although the provision of 12 aux sends and loads of inputs means that it should be possible to configure even the most elaborate of setups without too much trouble. Patching a classic compressor across the main output or a group is rather more difficult — well, impossible really — but the onboard effects are usable, and I'm sure third‑party algorithms such as those already available on the Pro Tools platform will be ported across pretty quickly. I believe there is even a version of the DSP card being developed which will use the same chip as the Pro Tools system to make that conversion easier.
- Well thought out.
- Immensely powerful.
- Sounds good — good EQ and dynamics, converters, and mic amps.
- Intelligent use of VDU graphics combined with hardware controls.
- Third‑party plug‑ins for future enhancements.
- Unacceptable fan noise from PC.
- Aesthetics and ergonomics of the master section slightly dubious.
- External clocking option not yet available.
- Lack of inserts on groups and main outputs.
- VDU/mouse/keyboard not included in RRP.
The Mackie d8b is the closest that any affordable digital console has come to being as easy to use as an analogue console, whilst providing all the power and flexibility of a digital board.