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Sony DMX R100

8-buss Digital Console By Hugh Robjohns
Published July 2000

Sony DMX R100

Sony's surprise entry into the project‑studio digital console market looks set to establish a new benchmark for ease of use and operational flexibility. Hugh Robjohns checks out the new DMX R100.

That Sony are highly regarded for their leading‑edge audio and video equipment, both professionally and domestically, is beyond question. However, when it comes to mid‑market audio mixers, few would probably have considered Sony a serious contender. That is not to say that Sony haven't produced many successful consoles over the years, but most have been targeted towards audio‑for‑video applications, with only a very small number of serious recording and post‑production desks, few of which are to be found in the UK anyway.

In more recent years, of course, Sony have been making inroads in the high‑end recording studio market with their spectacular 'Oxford' R3 console. This spaceship of a desk was designed from the ground up by a team of British engineers based in Eynsham, near Oxford — many of whom had previously played significant roles in the development of the early SSL analogue consoles (such as the legendary SSL4000) as well as laying the foundations for the current SSL A‑series digital mixers. The Oxford R3 console has, in some ways, set new standards for the operability and ergonomic design of large digital music‑recording consoles, and is steadily making headway in a marketplace dominated by AMS Neve and SSL for more years than anyone cares to remember. There are now apparently over 40 'Oxfords' installed around the world, including two at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios near Bath in the UK, and even one in an outside broadcast truck in America — the versatile console lends itself to music recording, post‑production, mastering and broadcast applications with equal aplomb.

Enter The R100

The detailed screen displays used in setting up the channel dynamics and EQ.The detailed screen displays used in setting up the channel dynamics and EQ.

Now Sony have set their sights on the upper end of the project‑studio market with the new R100, an eight‑buss digital console equipped for high sample‑rate and 5.1 surround mixing, with a sophisticated colour touch‑screen interface. The R100 follows the assignable format employed on most mid‑market digital desks: the 24 channel faders operate in three 'pages', and rather than every channel having its own dedicated EQ and dynamics controls, the console provides a single set of EQ and dynamics controls, available both on hardware knobs and virtual touch‑screen controls, which are switched to operate on selected channels. It supports full snapshot and dynamic automation (see 'Automation' box) and features extensive and flexible analogue and digital interfacing options.

Despite the similarities between the R100 and the R3, there is no common hardware or software between the two at all. The original Oxford console was designed and developed entirely in the UK, with custom DSP hardware and software — the former filling a 19‑inch rack bay and the latter running on UNIX in an external DEC Alpha computer. However, the R3 console was 'productised' — that is, re‑engineered to make it suitable for manufacturing production — by the pro‑audio design section of the Sony Corporation in Japan, the department responsible for CD mastering equipment, DASmultitracks and the 7000‑series timecode DAT recorders. The R100 is also a product of this design department and, though it is not a scaled‑down R3, it seems that the R3's architecture and ergonomic concepts have had a strong influence on the Japanese team.

The general structure of the R100 is similar to that of the R3. For example, it employs an (internal) industrial computer to run a QNX‑based operating system (a simplified form of UNIX) which controls the DSP hardware and user interfaces. Much of the operational philosophy, user interface and general ergonomics of the console are very similar too, although this is the one area where a direct link exists — both consoles' control surfaces and screen displays were masterminded by John East of the Sony R&D team in Eynsham.

Rather than the immensely powerful bespoke DSP core of the Oxford, the new R100 uses an array of 16 industry‑standard SHARC DSP processors running 32‑ and 40‑bit floating‑point algorithms. a lot of attention has been paid to achieving the best signal‑processing topologies and ensuring the highest possible sound quality through the console — the analogue converters are all high‑resolution 24‑bit designs capable of handling 88.2/96kHz sample rates if required (see box). As would be expected, the technical specifications of the console are well up to the highest professional standards in every respect with most analogue I/O being electronically balanced and digital I/O supporting 24‑bit resolution throughout.

Unlike the Oxford and many of the mid‑market digital desks with which the R100 will be compared, the new console is entirely self‑contained in one modestly sized box. There are no cooling fans at all and no external power supplies, computers or monitors are required (although an output is provided for an external SVGA monitor, as well as inputs for optional mouse and keyboard). All the analogue and digital I/O is integral to the desk, with four option slots providing a high degree of user configurability. The spec sheet lists an impressive collection of standard features including onboard snapshot and dynamic automation with MIDI and timecode‑triggered events; a multi‑standard timecode generator and reader; MMC and 9‑pin machine control with a variety of time display modes; dedicated surround sound monitoring capability; MS decoding facilities when channels are linked for stereo operation; analogue and digital stereo machine monitoring returns; talkback and a flexible lineup oscillator.

The Ins And Outs

Sony DMX R100

The R100 provides a lot of desk for the money. On their first 'page', the faders control 24 built‑in analogue inputs. The first 12 of these have independent phantom power and A/B source selection (from XLR and TRS quarter‑inch sockets), as well as unbalanced insert points on more TRS sockets, while inputs 13‑24 are equipped with Neutrik combi‑jacks. a further 24 analogue or digital inputs, nominally controlled on the second fader page, are accessed through four optional I/O interface cards (see box).

All 48 input channels have six‑band EQ (high and low filters plus four sweeping bands), delay, and comprehensive dynamics processing. There are also eight additional 'Aux returns' on a third fader page — four from analogue inputs and four digital. These take the total number of mixdown sources to 56, although they have no EQ or dynamics processing and are purely intended for pre‑processed signals such as reverb returns.

The console incorporates a comprehensive input and output routing matrix enabling any of the physical I/O to be allocated to any of the processing channels. This would, for example, allow outboard machines and equipment to remain connected to the console and be allocated to appropriate signal paths as required — routing settings are saved in the snapshot memories. These internal routing matrices also permit the user to derive direct channel outputs and create insert points in all of the mix busses. However, the present software version has no facilities for generating clean feeds (mix‑minuses) for broadcast applications — Aux busses or multitrack busses would have to be used instead. In theory, it should be possible to add this facility at a later date, if there were to be sufficient demand.

On the output side there are eight multitrack output (MTR) busses, which double up as the stem busses when the console is used in its 5.1 surround format mode. In this mode, the allocation of busses is fixed in the order L, R, C, Sw, Sl, Sr, across MTR busses 1‑6. There are also eight Auxes (the last four of which are also available on a pair of AES‑EBU outputs) and, of course, a main stereo output on both XLR and TRS sockets for analogue feeds plus on an AES‑EBU digital output. Domestic S/PDIF or TOSlink digital interfaces do not grace the console or its optional interface cards — this is a professional‑format machine only!

The Finer Points

The touch‑screen cleverly mimics the controls of the console's centre section. Virtual knobs can only be adjusted by moving their physical equivalents, but buttons can be toggled by touching the screen or using an optional mouse. The EQ and dynamics settings for the selected channel are shown at the top.The touch‑screen cleverly mimics the controls of the console's centre section. Virtual knobs can only be adjusted by moving their physical equivalents, but buttons can be toggled by touching the screen or using an optional mouse. The EQ and dynamics settings for the selected channel are shown at the top.

The physical controls of the R100 all have a solid, good‑quality feel about them and their colour, size and type help to make their operational functions very clear. The surface feels spacious, is easy on the eye and the controls are all placed where logic suggests they should be — finding specific functions seemed totally intuitive to me!

The 25 long‑throw motorised faders (24 channels plus a master) have a very comfortable channel spacing, allowing several faders to be controlled accurately under the fingers of one hand. Their metallised knobs sense the touch of your fingers, not only obviating the need to arm individual channels when performing automation passes, but also meaning that you don't have that brief fight against the fader's motor every time you want to make a small adjustment! They are also extremely quiet and don't exhibit the rattling that plagues so many mid‑budget mixers. Fader resolution is 10‑bit, or about 0.1dB across the entire audio range, providing perfectly smooth fades, and every fader can output MIDI data to control external equipment or, indeed, be controlled by MIDI (although the 7‑bit code used in MIDI is obviously rather less precise).

As already mentioned, the input channels and output masters are organised in three 'fader pages': channels 1‑24 (the analogue inputs), channels 25‑48 (analogue or digital courtesy of the four I/O option slots), and the 'Masters'. The buttons to select these pages are at the front of the console adjacent to the fader for channel 24, where they fall comfortably to hand. On the Masters page, the first eight faders control the multitrack (MTR) output busses, the next eight are the Aux masters, and the final octet control the Aux (effects) returns

The controls associated with each channel fader are, in part, derived from the highly successful arrangement employed in the R3 console. Above each fader is an illuminated 'Access' button together with two smaller illuminated Solo and Cut buttons. The solo mode is selected globally to operate as either PFL, AFL, or a stereo solo‑in‑place — all using a separate stereo monitoring buss — with either a latching or momentary button action. Soloed channels can be configured to override either or both of the control room or studio loudspeaker busses. Since the Solo bus is only stereo it is not possible to accurately audition solo‑in‑place when working in the surround mode, although Sony have plans to provide a destructive solo mode (ie. the soloed channel remains unchanged while all the others are cut) in a future software update which would enable surround solo‑in‑place checking.

In exactly the same way as the Oxford console, the channel faders can be allocated to control a number of different aspects of the relevant channel's signal path. This is configured through 10 illuminated push buttons grouped to the right of the faders which select one of the channel's eight Aux buss sends, the MTR buss send level, or the channel trim (±15dB of level adjustment in the digital domain). With none of the buttons illuminated the fader behaves as a normal channel fader. The Oxford console allows a mix from the channel faders to be copied onto, say, the Aux 3 send controls; this is an extremely useful function enabling the rapid creation of a headphone mix, for example, but this facility has not (yet) been incorporated on the R100.

The second physical control on each channel is a rotary encoder with a halo of LEDs and an associated Write button. The latter is required to inform the automation system that a particular control is to be updated (as it isn't touch‑sensitive). Just as with the fader, a group of 10 buttons assigns these rotary controls to adjust any of the eight Aux sends, the digital trim level, or the MTR send level. When not assigned, the control defaults to a stereo pan mode. The ability to reassign the function of the fader and rotary control affords a great deal of flexibility and allows two channel parameters to be balanced simultaneously, such as an Aux send to a reverb device against the direct level.

When the desk is configured for 5.1 surround, multi‑buss panning is performed through a dedicated panning display on the touch‑screen. The output busses can be selected here and the sound panned in real time (and with dynamic automation if required) by simply dragging a finger around on the screen. a divergence control determines the 'spill' allowed into adjacent channels, although the on‑screen graphics provide no indication of this increased 'width' of the panned image. The eight Aux returns have no panning facilities, but can be routed directly to one of the busses.

Channels can be stereo linked or ganged and the faders can be configured to operate as VCA groups with master and slaves. The Cut buttons can also be organised into cut groups. At the top of each strip are LEDs, which indicate the presence of signal and peak overloads, and a 20‑step bar‑graph meter covering a 60dB range. a useful display page during automation passes shows the positions of all 72 faders (the three banks of 24), and an Audio Overview page provides the overall channel status across 24 channels at a time. Miniature channel strips reveal the current routing, whether the delay, EQ and dynamics are switched in, and the levels of the Aux sends, Trim, pan and fader. Unfortunately there isn't a screen of meters for all 96 mixdown channels and the 18 output busses — apparently the work load of updating that many meters on a screen (with usable accuracy) is beyond the capabilities of the internal computer. It is a further shame, then, that there is no provision for an external meterbridge either — anyone using this console in a live situation would surely want to know about the levels of channels allocated to the hidden fader page as well as those allocated to the active page.

The rear part of the console is angled to provide a shorter reach from the front and to make the metering easier to view; the analogue input controls are to be found in this section too, aligned above the faders. All 24 channels are equipped with a gain control spanning a 60dB range together with a pad switch, neither of which are memorised in the snapshots. The first 12 channels also feature an A/B input selector determining which of two physical connectors associated with each channel is active, plus a switch for phantom power (to the XLR input only).

The R100 has 24 analogue inputs built in, and its four expansion slots can house cards containing further blocks of eight analogue or digital I/Os.The R100 has 24 analogue inputs built in, and its four expansion slots can house cards containing further blocks of eight analogue or digital I/Os.

At the right‑hand end, above the rotary encoder selection buttons, is the talkback section, recognised by its 'smiley face' cutout over the internal talkback mic capsule. Illuminated push buttons route the talkback to the main stereo output, the multitrack or Aux busses, the studio loudspeaker feed, or Slate, which sends to everywhere at once. a sixth button labelled Setup provides access to a screen for configuring various options such as preselection of which MTR and Aux busses the respective talkback buttons communicate with, and whether the talkback buttons operate in a momentary or latching fashion.

Included on the talkback display screen is the internal calibration oscillator which can be set up with different levels and frequencies on each channel. At present, there is no facility for EBU stereo idents (a repeating break of the left channel tone), nor the more useful BBC version (called GLITS), with the same single break of the left followed by two breaks of the right.

Virtual Patching

Surround panning is carried out by dragging on the touch‑screen.Surround panning is carried out by dragging on the touch‑screen.

Although it might be assumed from the above description that the analogue input controls relate directly to the corresponding faders aligned vertically below them, this is not strictly the case. The input routing matrix allows any physical input to be assigned to any input processing channel, providing exceptional flexibility in arranging the desk layout to suit the task in hand. The desk could be configured to resemble an in‑line console, or a split board; little‑used channels could even be allocated to the second fader page to keep them out of the way!

This internal matrix occupies a pair of screen pages — one page for input assignments and a second for outputs. On the input side, the screen shows a vertical column of buttons on the left representing the various input sources (grouped in eights), with a grid of destination buttons on the right. The source column includes the analogue inputs (1‑8, 9‑16 and 17‑24), the inputs from the four option slots, the eight Aux returns, and miscellaneous inputs (such as the tape returns). The first four destination rows cover the 48 main input channels; then the eight Aux returns, eight (internal) insert returns and six 'external' monitor sources.

Allocating sources to channels is simply a case of pressing on the desired source button on the touch‑screen, followed by a suitable destination button. The whole process is very fast, completely intuitive and extremely flexible. The default condition is for the entire group of sources represented by each button to be allocated sequentially from the first selected destination — pressing 'Source AD1‑8' followed by Destination Channel 9 will route the first eight analogue inputs to channels 9‑16 in one hit! If you want to get dirty and allocate sources and channels individually, holding down the source button produces a fly‑out with separate buttons for the individual inputs. a single source (or output) can be allocated to any or all destinations simultaneously, if required.

The output routing works in exactly the same way from the second screen and provides all the obvious output busses — PGM, MTR and Auxes — plus 48 direct channel outputs and the eight mix buss insert sends. These eight inserts can be freely assigned to any of the mix busses (PGM, MTR or Aux), rerouting the signal via an available physical output (analogue or digital) for external processing and returned through a spare input port back into the buss master signal path. Of course, routing an internal digital signal out through an analogue interface and back again will incur around 2.5mS of conversion delay, but if this is a concern, compensating delays can be introduced into the other busses or channels.

Assignable Panel

Input and output routing is carried out swiftly and flexibly using the touch‑screen.Input and output routing is carried out swiftly and flexibly using the touch‑screen.

The assignable panel is just as simple to grasp as the channel controls and is no different from that of a standard analogue console. Colour‑coded knobs grouped in recognisable patterns make for easy recognition, and each knob does only one thing (with the exception of the dynamics section where the knobs can be allocated for compression or expansion). Aside from the eight Aux returns, which have no EQ or dynamics processing at all, every input channel has access to every function all the time — the console won't run out of steam if you allocate four‑band EQ to every channel and dynamics to every output!

Starting at the top of the assignable controls section, there is a polarity reverse button and a digital level trim knob (red), delay time (green) with In button and scalable in mS, samples or video frames, and the eight MTR and main stereo programme buss assign buttons. Below this is the dynamics section, which features pink caps on six rotary controls. There appears to be some room for further development here as there are three buttons without legends at all (it's hinted that these are being reserved for future plug‑in features), and a number of other buttons which currently seem superfluous or poorly allocated.

The knobs cater for adjustment of threshold, ratio, attack, hold, release and gain or range, as appropriate to the selected expander/gate or compressor/ducker mode. To the right, four buttons determine the appropriate control mode (Access) and enable it (In) although they share the same physical controls, both dynamics functions are available simultaneously. a third set of In and Access buttons are, as yet, unallocated but will presumably apply to future plug‑in functions.

Both dynamics functions also share a single key input which may be derived from any input channel to open the gate or duck the compressor. The dynamics side‑chains may also be linked with the neighbouring channel for stereo operation (in odd/even pairs) or cascaded for multi‑channel linking in surround‑sound applications.

The R100's Master section. At the top are bar‑graph meters for the eight multitrack mix busses, and controls for the monitoring and global Solo switching. Below these are the buttons governing automation and control of up to six attached recorders, with the master fader and main transport controls at the bottom.The R100's Master section. At the top are bar‑graph meters for the eight multitrack mix busses, and controls for the monitoring and global Solo switching. Below these are the buttons governing automation and control of up to six attached recorders, with the master fader and main transport controls at the bottom.

There is a global dynamics bypass button ('Dynamics In') with a further pair of buttons to configure the section pre or post the equaliser. This seems a poor allocation of the available buttons: switching the dynamics pre or post does not require two buttons, but there is no provision for a global EQ bypass button. I am told that a modification is being considered where the functions of these three buttons are likely to be reallocated to provide 'Dynamics In', 'EQ In', and 'Dynamics Pre'.

The equaliser is a conventional four‑band parametric design with separate high‑ and low‑pass filters. Each band covers restricted but overlapping frequency ranges and has its own 'In' button. The two filters have grey frequency knobs and the high‑pass section can be switched to a notch response which is, strangely, not mirrored in the low‑pass section despite the presence of an identically placed button (a notch in the high‑frequency area is often useful for removing TV and computer monitor whistles).

Each of the four parametric bands has controls for frequency, Q and level (coloured blue for the LF, green for LMF, orange for HMF and yellow for HF). The boost and cut span a generous ±20dB and there is an equally expansive range of bandwidths. The top and bottom bands can also be switched to operate as shelf equalisers.

A row of eight light‑blue knobs towards the bottom of this section determine the Aux send levels, each with separate 'On' and 'Pre'(fade) switching. Finally, right at the bottom of the panel, a pair of buttons labelled Channel± allows adjacent channels to be compared and adjusted quickly without having to stretch a cross the desk for the Access button — a thoughtful feature.

Gaining access to all these assignable controls for a particular channel is as simple as pressing that channel's Access button. This action recalls to the screen a graphic showing the channel's settings, with each assignable control mimicked and its numeric value displayed in a box above the representative knob (see the screen grab).

Many high‑end digital desks (the Oxford being one) employ LED halos around the assignable knobs to indicate their current setting, which is a nice but costly technique. The solution adopted in the R100, using a beautifully drawn mimic panel on the touch‑screen, is a reasonable compromise, although I would have liked to have seen clearer pointers on the virtual knobs in addition to the numeric readouts and horizontal scale bars to make it far easier to assimilate the information at a glance.

At the top of the screen mimicking the assignable panel is a frequency‑response plot of the current EQ curve and a dynamics transfer plot (complete with dual gain‑reduction meters). These are redrawn in real time as the controls are adjusted and each can be zoomed to fill the screen for more detailed examination. The EQ response plot includes coloured blobs to represent and identify which section is responsible for which peak or dip.

To the right of the assignable control graphic is a section which identifies the displayed channel, the output routing, pan and fader positions, a level meter and some automation status buttons.

Switching between channels with the assignable panel screen already displayed results in a virtually instantaneous update of the channel information. However, accessing a channel when, say, the input matrix screen is being displayed incurs a delay of around 1.5 seconds before the redraw is completed. However, during that time the assignable controls are already active on the required channel — you don't have to wait for the screen to appear before you can make audible adjustments — but you have no information as to the current setting of any of the controls until the screen catches up. I gather redrawing the graphics on screen is extremely processor‑intensive and, since priority is always given to maintaining the audio control allocations, some screen‑refresh delays are inevitable.

Although the rotary controls represented on screen can only be adjusted by moving the physical knobs, the buttons can be toggled by pressing either the physical buttons on the assignable panel or their virtual equivalents on the touch‑screen — or (if an external mouse is connected) by clicking on the button with the mouse. I can't, personally, see much merit in using an external mouse as the touch‑screen is so intuitive, but if the calibration of touch sensors drifts, control can become unreliable and a mouse is then required for the recalibration process. An on‑screen QWERTY keyboard is available for entering titles and the like, which works very well, but an external keyboard may also be connected — standard PS/2 sockets are provided for the mouse and keyboard.

Monitoring And Machines

The motorised channel faders are smooth to use and quiet in action. To the right of fader 24, shown, are the buttons used to reassign the fader to control its channel's Aux send levels, with the talkback controls at top right.The motorised channel faders are smooth to use and quiet in action. To the right of fader 24, shown, are the buttons used to reassign the fader to control its channel's Aux send levels, with the talkback controls at top right.

The right‑hand end of the console is concerned with the monitoring, output metering, automation and external machine control. a bank of eight meters shows the program, MTR busses or Aux send levels, according to the selection from three buttons beneath the bar‑graphs. Separate sections on the panel control the Studio Loudspeaker, the Solo mode and the headphone volume. The studio speaker selector is provided with its own volume control plus Dim and Cut buttons, with source selection from the stereo programme or a pair of 2‑track returns. a Setup button provides direct access to a screen for allocating sources to these buttons.

The main stereo programme fader has its own Access button to assign the same EQ and dynamics processing as is provided on the input channels, MTR busses, and Aux sends. Above this is the Control Room monitoring section, which has the same volume Dim, Cut and Setup buttons as the Studio speaker panel. Six selector buttons (labelled PGM, AUX, MTR, Ext, 2T‑1 and 2T‑2) can be allocated with sources fr om a preselection screen to enable monitoring of virtually any desired signal on the desk. In the surround mode, selecting 'MTR' or 'Ext' will route six busses to the permanent control‑room monitoring outputs for a surround‑sound array — the former providing the desk output and the latter, presumably, the return from a recorder. One minor foible in the current software is that although pairs of Aux sends can be selected for stereo monitoring, the same is not yet possible on the MTR busses.

Unfortunately, there is only one control‑room monitoring output, with no provision for alternate speakers. Sony anticipate users reallocating the studio control‑room system as an auxiliary monitor feed in one‑room installations such as in mixing, mastering, dubbing and other post‑production applications.

Two of the remaining sections select the various dynamic automation modes and manage the snapshots. Another selects which of up to six 'machines' the desk is currently communicating with: this can be configured for MMC channels, various Sony 9‑pin compatible machines, or the desk's internal timecode generator (which can be allocated as a timecode master machine). There are also the usual transport controls complete with shuttle wheel, numeric keypad and locate facilities.

For an eight‑buss console, one obvious omission is a set of track‑arming buttons. This is apparently because Sony's research has suggested that people prefer to use the remote controller panel associated with their particular multitrack machine, rather than the console's arming buttons. Nevertheless, it is possible to arm tracks from the touch screen if required, and control drop‑ins from the Record transport button on the console.

Working With The R100

The DMX R100 provides comprehensive, cost‑effective and professionally orientated facilities, but begs the question: who is it aimed at? Sony say that, initially, they are targeting professional project studios working in music production and pre‑production. However, with its 5.1 surround capability the console would also fit the bill very nicely in audio‑for‑video post‑production — small film dubbing or television post applications, for example. The 96kHz mode and excellent sound quality will also help it appeal to disc mastering houses, and its compact size but vast I/O make it highly suitable for location recording and even live radio or television broadcasting. With snapshots, dynamic automation and timed Events facilities it could be a serious contender for theatre installations too!

The centre section contains the colour‑coded assignable controls used to set up individual channels' EQ, dynamics, Aux sends, buss assignments and so on.The centre section contains the colour‑coded assignable controls used to set up individual channels' EQ, dynamics, Aux sends, buss assignments and so on.

The R100 is obviously rather more expensive than many of the current crop of mid‑market 8‑buss consoles like the Tascam TMD8000, the Yamaha O2R and the Mackie d8b. On a cost basis Sony's new console sitsin a relatively empty part of the market, but this is the price bracket to which O2R‑type studios are looking to upgrade and where only Soundtracs currently have anything to offer. The R100 has no problem in justifying its price tag with its capacious I/O, ingenious flexibility, intuitive user interfaces, excellent sound quality (both in the converters and signal processing algorithms), and in the solid engineering and operational robustness we have come to expect from Sony.

The V1.0 software realises a fully functional console and appeared completely stable during the time I spent with the R100. That is not to say the console has reached its apogee yet — Sony have plans for a further two releases before the end of the year to augment its technical capabilities, and there will be more to come as the user base grows. Planned developments include activating the USB ports (there was no USB driver available for the QNX operating system until very recently!) and to implement support for the IEEE1394 interface broad‑band Firewire data link (for I‑link and mLAN compatibility).

It is easy to identify areas where software updates would be beneficial: sorting out the Dynamics switching and EQ bypass functions is a priority, as is enabling the stereo monitoring of paired MTR busses. Adding the ability to create mix‑minus outputs, and the inclusion of LCRS surround‑format bussing with suitable panning and routing facilities would also have a wide appeal, but these things only extend the ability of a console which is already highly competent.

The bottom line is that this console is so well specified and its operation is so immediate and intuitive that I would be totally comfortable to use it today for tracking a session and building an automated mix. It is also easily fast and robust enough to use for live recordings or broadcasting, and the snapshot system is sufficiently foolproof for even the most complex of theatre shows. Setting up and driving this console is almost trivial by comparison to some of its lesser competitors, and the clear touch‑screen, with its big virtual buttons that you can stab at with your finger — all in a few logically grouped pages with simple, understandable names — has a real appeal. This is the first affordable digital console which is as easy to use as an analogue desk whilst still providing all the bells and whistles. I really like it a lot!


The automation data is stored as part of a Title (a working project), 10 of which may be on file in the console's flash memory at one time. Currently, a front‑panel floppy disk drive is used for data archiving but when the USB ports are activated any compatible external media may be used. Titles store settings for things like the sample rates and timecode preferences of each project, as well as up to 99 snapshots storing every operational parameter of the desk (apart from the analogue input‑conditioning controls). It is possible to disable certain parameters from being captured in a snapshot (routing, EQ, dynamics, auxiliaries, faders and so forth) or to isolate specific channels from being updated when a new snapshot is recalled.

Sony DMX R100

Managing snapshots can be performed from the touch‑screen, or via dedicated buttons in a section on the right‑hand side of the console — specific snapshot memories can be recalled via the keypad or they can be incremented and decremented manually, through MIDI program changes, or against up to 99 pre‑programmed timecode cues or events (enabled by a TC‑link button).

The first snapshot in a title also acts as the reference base for the dynamic automation. This supports the usual Absolute and Trim modes with automatic saving of automation passes with one level of undo (allowing current and previous mixes to be compared). When an automation pass is stopped the system will either hold the last updated parameter positions to the end of the mix, snap back immediately to the previous positions, or glide back over a user‑defined timescale. Again, all pretty standard stuff.

Any number of faders or rotary controls can be adjusted at the same time during an automation pass, but the nature of the assignable panel means that only one channel can have its EQ or dynamics in write mode at any one time — although you can access and write to any number of channels sequentially during a pass. Each assignable parameter must be individually write‑enabled for an automation pass: this is done by pressing on a small virtual button alongside each control on the touch‑screen.

The dynamic automation system also supports punch‑ins and outs controlled either by a footswitch or by pre‑programmed timecode points.

High Rate Sampling

Switching the R100 to its high sample‑rate mode (which requires a reboot of about a minute) diminishes its capabilities by around 50 percent, as the DSP core has to shuffle twice as much data around the place in the same time frame. Consequently, the system is reduced to only 24 inputs with four MTR busses, two Auxes and the stereo programme buss. However, the full gamut of dynamics and equalisation processing is still available on all these channels.

There is no provision in the version 1.0 software for 5.1 surround working in this mode, although it could be accommodated by combining the MTR and PGM busses, or the MTR and Aux busses. I'm told a future software update will address this issue.

The AES‑EBU inputs and outputs operate in the double‑clocked ('double fast') rather than 'double wide' mode for 88.2 and 96kHz working.

Option Cards And Interfacing

Sony DMX R100 optional cards.

There are currently seven DMBK option cards, with an eighth planned for the end of the year, and more to follow. Available from the launch are three analogue and four digital interfaces. The analogue options are cards offering eight line inputs, eight line‑outputs,and eight channels of inserts (unbalanced sends and receives on TRS jacks). The digital options are eight channels of AES‑EBU in and out on a single card, an eight‑channel AES‑EBU input‑only card with sample‑rate conversion (nominally 44.1 and 48kHz only — not 88.2 or 96kHz‑compatible), and two cards providing eight channels of I/O in either the ADAT lightpipe or TDIF formats.

Towards the end of the year Sony anticipate releasing their own I‑link card, providing an IEEE1394‑compatible broad‑band data interface equivalent to the Yamaha mLAN standard. Next year is also likely to see further cards to increase the amount of DSP power available, or add specific hardware, to support third‑party plug‑in algorithms.

The rear panel is festooned with a variety of interfaces, not all of which are active in v1.0 software. There are, for example, three 9‑pin sockets for RS232 machine control (one input and two outputs) which will support the ESAM video editing protocol shortly. Also, in addition to four MIDI ports (the usual trio plus a separate MTC socket), MIDI may also be routed via a Mac‑standard socket for linking with Pro Tools machines and the like. a standard computer serial port also accompanies two USB sockets and an external monitor outlet.

VAT‑inclusive prices for the already‑released boards are as follows:

  • R101 eight‑channel A‑D card £775.50.
  • R102 eight‑channel D‑A card £775.50.
  • R103 eight‑channel AES‑EBU I/O card £552.25.
  • R104 eight‑channel AES‑EBU input card with sample‑rate conversion £987.
  • R105 eight‑channel insert board £1163.25.
  • R106 ADAT board £552.25.
  • R107 TDIF board £552.25.


  • Stunningly simple to use.
  • Phenomenal I/O capability with flexible options.
  • The promise of future plug‑ins.
  • Nice‑sounding EQ and dynamics.
  • A planned software development programme.
  • A one‑box solution without a cooling fan!
  • Excellent build quality.


  • No alternate control room speaker facility.
  • No overall EQ bypass (yet).
  • Cannot copy fader settings between, say, Mix and Auxes.


This is that most rare of beasts, a digital mixer that any audio engineer would be happy to sit down and use without a moment's thought — it's that intuitive. It has a vast I/O which can be easily tailored to suit any application, nice‑sounding EQ and dynamics processors, and a full complement of automation and machine‑control facilities. The DMX R100 is destined to become the O2R of the new millennium!