Avid S3L

by George Petersen
in Tech Preview

Avid S3LIt’s been a while since Avid has made a major change or product launch in its highly successful line of live sound consoles. Now, just before InfoComm, Avid has introduced the new S3L, which delivers the sound quality, performance and features of Avid live audio systems in an all-new modular, networked design, supporting Ethernet AVB and EuCon open network standards for professional live sound reinforcement mixing and recording.

The open, scalable system is comprised of a high-performance HDX-powered mix engine running VENUE software and AAX DSP plug-ins, remote I/O stage boxes that expand the system in 16-channel steps, a compact EuCon-enabled control surface and Pro Tools software for integrated live sound mixing and recording. In terms of the latter, the process of capturing (or playing back) up to 64 tracks to Pro Tools (the latest version 11 software is included with the system) or any other DAW via a laptop Ethernet port.

“The entire system is able to connect over that open Ethernet AVB to a computer running Pro Tools, just using the gigabit Ethernet port built into your computer,” explains Sheldon Radford, Avid’s senior product manager for live systems. “There’s no more need for additional peripherals. There’s nothing more complicated than an Ethernet connection from any point on the system into your AVB-capable laptop for recording 64 channels, playing back 64 channels of audio, straight into your computer.”

The system is comprised of three components: the S3 Control Surface, the 2-rackspace E3 DSP engine and the Stage 16 I/O box. Flexibility and scalability are the key here.

“Each of the devices has some of I/O in the back, so even on the control surface, you have the ability to plug in microphones and playback devices and get all that onto the audio network,” says Radford. “So it’s a modular system with everything connected using the open Ethernet AVB standard for transporting audio in a low-latency/high-reliability way throughout the entire system. The gigabit Ethernet connections you see on the different devices allow for a fully redundant, fault-tolerant network that automatically switches over, in case one of the connections becomes broken. This reinforces that need for high reliability with no chance of failure in your network system.”

The S3 Control Surface

The centerpiece of the system is the S3 Control Surface, a slim, compact (28-by-14-inch) surface. The S3 goes further than just mixing your live show, as a future software update will allow the S3 to double as a controller for Pro Tools (or other EuCon-enabled DAW) and can be taken on the bus or to a hotel room after the gig, allowing for quick custom reference mixes or sketchpad-style recording and overdubbing on demos on the road. Originally developed by Euphonix, the EuCon protocol is available to the public as an open SDK and has been adopted by many other DAW manufacturers, as well as Avid’s Pro Tools.

The S3’s surface features 16 channel strips (in six fader banks) with motorized 100mm faders; a total of 32 encoders (eight for channel control functions, eight for global functions and 16 that are assignable) and each encoder has an associated high-res OLED and tri-color function indicator. Frequently used functions — such as solo and mute buttons — are dedicated switches with colored LED indicators, and each fader has a 10-segment LED meter that can be display either pre- or post-fader meter activity.

The rear panel of the S3 includes local I/O, with two XLR mic/line inputs and two TRS line inputs for connecting talkback, audience mics, or playback devices; and two XLR and two TRS line outputs for connecting recording devices or near-field monitors. Also standard is a 1/4-inch headphone output with level control, two gigabit Ethernet AVB ports, two USB 2.0 ports (for connecting a keyboard and mouse), a 1/4-inch TRS footswitch jack, two XLR console light ports with software dimming, a Kensington lock slot and a jack for connecting the external 12 VDC power supply.

The E3 Engine

The core of the S3L system is the E3 DSP engine, which is housed in a 2-rackspace chassis. “It’s as clean and simple as it could possibly be,” says Radford. The E3 is an all-new HDX-powered DSP engine that’s based on the Pro Tools HDX card that Avid introduced last year. “The E3 gives us incredible capacity, and allows us to run AAX DSP plug-ins. If you are familiar with any systems, you know that one of the key things is going to be the plug-ins that we have available on the system. The same plug-ins that run on Pro Tools in your studio mix, but now also available in your live sound mix.”

The system will ship with a full package of production plug-ins, including: the Avid Channel Strip (EQ/dynamics/filter/gain effects); Dynamics III (compressor/limiter, expander/gate, and de-esser); EQ III (high-res, double-precision 48-bit EQ); Mod Delay III; Pultec Bundle (analog EQ simulations); Bomb Factory BF-2A (LA-2A tube compressor emulation) and BF-3A leveling amplifier; Purple Audio MC77 Limiting Amplifier emulation; Reel Tape Saturation (analog tape color/saturation effects); and the ReVibe room-modeling reverb. Avid and third party AAX DSP plug-ins will be qualified for use with S3L on an ongoing basis.

The E3 runs the familiar VENUE software and can handle up to 64 channels with full 32-bit floating-point processing, along with 24 assignable aux buses, LCR, eight mono matrixes and eight VCAs. Four band parametric EQ is available on every I/O channel, along with 16 available graphic EQs and dynamics (compressor/limiter and expander/gate) on all I/Os.

The E3’s has USB ports for stereo record/playback via USB flash drive (with transport and playlist integrated into VENUE software); four XLR mic/line inputs; four XLR line outs; four channels of AES3 digital I/O (XLR); GPIO (2 in/2 out); Word Clock I/O on BNCs; three Gigabit Ethernet AVB ports; an ECx Ethernet port (for wired/wireless remote control); a DVI monitor output; and four USB 2.0 ports (two rear/one front and one internal) — with the latter being a safe, secure place for your iLok.

Stage 16 Remote I/O

All systems include at least one Stage 16 remote I/ O stage box, a rugged 4-rackspace chassis that has 16 remotely controlled XLR mic inputs/preamps and eight XLR line outputs. S3L systems can easily be expanded by adding more Stage 16 units for more I/O capacity, up to a max of 64 inputs and 32 outputs. Each Stage 16 also has four channels of AES3 output on XLRs, two Gigabit Ethernet AVB ports for daisy-chaining multiple units or creating a digital snake (up to 100 meters long) between the stage and mix position via shielded 350 MHz Cat-5e (or better) cable with Neutrik EtherCON connectors.


With all this focus on hardware, it might be too easy to overlook the software side of the S3L system. “One of the things that’s key to the system, of course, is the fact that it uses the VENUE software,” Radford notes. “This is the software that — if you’ve ever used one of our consoles, you will find immediately familiar. It’s the exact same interface, and it is going to work in the exact same way as our other consoles. That was key — making sure we offered that software, so that it was a familiar interface for users.”

Another plus of basing the S3L system on the VENUE software was providing full show file compatibility, so that show files created on an Avid Profile, D-Show, MixRack or SC48 system can load on an S3L System. Similarly, show files created on a S3L can be loaded on these larger Avid systems, allowing users to easily move between systems.

Coming Soon

The S3L System is slated to be available at Avid resellers worldwide in Q3, 2013 in a variety of configurations for different I/O needs, from 16 to 64 inputs. All systems will include: the S3 control surface, E3 engine, one or more Stage 16 remote I/O boxes, VENUE software, Pro Tools 11 software and the plug-in bundle.

At a Glance

Avid S3L

This modular, networked live sound digital mixing/recording system uses an HDX-powered mix engine running VENUE software and AAX plug-ins, with scalable remote I/O, a compact control surface and Pro Tools software. It’s compatible with Avid VENUE show files and offers 64 channels of direct recording/playback to Pro Tools (or other DAW) through a laptop Ethernet port.

MSRP: $17,995 to $29,980, depending on I/O.

Video Tour: www.fohonline.com/foh-tv

Contact: www.avid.com/s3l