Soundcraft Expression Si 1 Digital Mixing Console
By Craig Vecchione |
Can a digital console offer one-control / one-function mixing?
By Craig Vecchione
Soundcraft’s Expression Si digital console supersedes the Si Compact line. It’s available in 16, 24, and 32-channel input sizes. With appropriate optional I/O devices, up to 66 input channels can be handled on all three models. All three models share identical feature sets; only the number of channel fader sets and input jacks varies.
What You Need To Know
- 16 XLR mono mic inputs
- 4 TRS 1/4" line inputs
- Color touch screen interface
- 66 channels to mix possible
- Pre/Post selection per input per bus
- AES in and out
- Global mode encoders
- Soundcraft FaderGlow™
- GEQ on every bus
- 20 sub-group / aux busses
- 4 FX busses
- 8 Matrix busses
- LR and C Mix busses
- 4 Stereo Lexicon Effects engines
- Delay on inputs and outputs
- 4 Mute Groups
- Freely assignable insert loops
- Harman HiQnet integration
- 64x64 channel option card slot
- The mixer employs a concept Soundcraft named tOTEM™”The one-touch easy mix”, which essentially means that one key touch will bring up an Aux, FX or main bus to mix to, configurable on the touch screen, and controllable on the faders. FaderGlow™ colors each fader slot to correspond with the fader’s function as different mixes are selected.
- Direct Out Gain Stabiliser, “D.O.G.S.” prevents manual gain control changes from affecting the direct out levels, helpful when recording from direct outs or if two consoles are used and share the same stagebox.
- Copy & Paste allows copying a wide range of functions; channels, mixes, settings such as compression or EQ from one mix or bus to another.
- Security features allow access to be granted to or restricted from users, from the whole console to selected features.
- The four fader pages can be customized, such as for inserting a forgotten mic on a fader page.
- The four mute groups can be set up to control any selectable input for muting, and a group-muted channel’s on/off key will glow red rather than be off to indicate group muting.
- Graphical EQ is available on every bus, and is controlled by the fader bank, which has alternate markings to indicate frequency and + or- scaling. The center detent feel is reproduced on each fader to mimic that if a GEQ.
Two minor items:
- The input section has 16 XLR and 4 TRS line-in jacks. There are no RCA connections for media player/recorders. Insert cables need to be XLR, as do direct outs. Generally this isn’t a problem for pros, but anyone moving from a similarly or lower-priced analog mixer will need to change or replace some of their cabling.
- While the channel EQ offers two parametric midrange controls, the HF and LR are shelving with no Q.
While I embrace technology fully, when it comes to mixing I’m an analog guy slowly moving into the digital world. For a few minutes I found setup to be somewhat confusing until I “got it”, and from that point on everything clicked. I was able to get an initial mix ready in about the same time it would take with the equivalent amount of analog gear, remembering that the console now has most of the outboard processing gear you’ll find in a large rack.
The FaderGlow™ illuminated faders are a good idea. With each mix selection, the fader slots glow to describe that fader’s function. But a cue card with a color glossary would really help anyone new to this console, as there are a lot of colors/functions to remember.
The versatility to create different mixes is impressive. The console can be configured for FOH, monitoring, recording, or a combination of functions with inputs assigned freely to aux’s, matrices, effects, inserts, direct outs and of course the left, right and center/mono outputs. Most setup tasks are easy. Fader groups are an exception, and I found it somewhat tedious to set up one or more groups, a function that is quite simple on most analog consoles. But each mix bus is easily brought up with the touch of the mix button, and can be configured via the touch screen controls. Similarly, the matrix and effects buses are accessed via their selection buttons and configured on the touch screen.
Each bus mix has the full suite of processing available including compressor, delay, 4-band EQ and BSS graphic EQ. None of the processing has to be assigned to a bus; it’s all available all of the time.
The four Lexicon® effects engines have a multitude of options to fully tailor any available effect. Effects are very subjective, but they were pleasing and usable to my ears. The engines are based on the MX400, a popular standalone effects unit. The gates worked as well as any analog rackmount units I’ve used, without any noise or chattering. The compressors were similarly quite good and I found them effective for vocals and instruments alike. The channel/output EQ’s are flexible and effective. A nice feature is that the touch screen can show the channel EQ settings graphically, so this info is available at a glance.
Is the prospect of having one control/one function possible? For mixing tasks during a show, pretty much “yes”. The channel Global Encoders used for channel trim, pan and HPF could be argued as the exception…some sound folk might like to ride gain trimmers as much or more than faders, but I don’t know anyone who would use all three after sound check. The small color touch screen is adequate since it is not typically needed during a show…there is no need to access layers of pages whilst mixing a show. It does have the nice feature of parroting the setting changes you make to the channel strip controls.
Complaints? Well, more like suggestions for improvement. I’d prefer the LR and the Mono metering to be near the respective faders instead of at the top. Also the monitor level meters are furthest from the monitor level control, with the L/R and Mono meters closer. Identifying input channels at a glance is a problem I haven’t overcome, as the only way to check the assignment name is to Select a channel and look at the touch screen, which isn’t fast enough when you need to access a channel immediately. Scribble tape could be used, but might get crowded on the first two faders that are used for channels 1 & 2, and 15 & 16. Finally, it would be nice if the input XLR’s were XLR/TRS combo jacks, and a couple of RCA jacks or a USB would make connecting a media player convenient. I don’t think it’s a big list for a console with as many features as this.
In conclusion, the Expression Si is quite capable of handling virtually any mixing requirement, it sounds great, and the ease of use is very good. While not as intuitively easy to run as a good analog desk, the routing flexibility and immense processing capabilities far outweigh a few usability issues. Even this old analog guy would be happy mixing shows on it.
Musician’s Friend Soundcraft Expression Si 1Catalog Page ($4,200 MSRP, $2,499 “street”)
Soundcraft Expression Si Page
Soundcraft Home Page
Craig Vecchione is an IT professional by day, and dabbles in pro audio and bass guitar in his spare time. He’s been the moderator of the Harmony Central Live Sound Forum since 2006.