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Meet the Manufacturer – Calrec Audio (part 2)


Digitally Assignable Console

“In the early 1980s, Calrec built two small digitally assignable analogue
desks for BBC Radio, more or less as an experiment to see whether they would
be more suitable than the previous J Series. The J Series, being ‘unitised’,
came in modules comprising eight channels, eight stereo groups and auxiliaries,
and an output unit with monitoring and metering which were hooked together with
multicores. The problem with this was that for a large outside broadcast there
was a lot of equipment to transport and set up, so even though the modularisation
made this possible, it didn’t make it easy or convenient.

“They thought that if they replaced all that with an assignable console,
they would just have a small control unit that they would carry up the church
steps, or wherever, and have a piece of coax back to the truck where the rest
of the equipment would be. We found from the prototype units that it was a little
early for the technology but we were bitten, and we realised what could be done
with digitally controlled analogue audio.

“At the same time we were getting continuous requests from television
to provide desks with in excess of 72 channels, with memory facilities and in
a small size. One of the main advantages of a digitally controllable analogue
desk is that it can be small, which saves you a lot of cost in the construction
of the control room and makes it very easy to operate large numbers of channels,
in addition to its memory features. We were being pushed by both BBC and Independent
Television for this step in technology. Thames ordered the first one, the BBC
ordered theirs shortly afterwards. We supplied a reasonable quantity of them
for BBC, Thames, Channel 4, TSW, CNN and a number of other people, so it has
been a successful product. We are the only company to have made it work utterly
reliably, and more importantly give the right performance audibly. Reliability
was the big worry that everybody had, that it was going into a live television
studio and somewhere in the heart of it there was one microprocessor and if
it popped off then it all popped off, and it’s true to say that that’s
the case with all these products, somewhere there is a component that will shut
it all down. The first program that Thames did with their assignable desk was
‘This is Your Life’ live, and it was the first time they had done
the programme live as well. Our digitally assignable desks are very reliable
in service. The beauty over the old analogue desk is that there are no switches
or pots to wear out, and analogue audio has been very well developed over the
years so you get good performance, very high reliability, and yet you can have
the sophistication of digital control.

“When had done all of that, we decided that the next step to go to
was the fully digital desk. We were encouraged to do this by various people
around us and we, like everyone else back in around 1985 which was when we started
the project, felt that five years on everything would be digital. What I found
was that by 1990 the digitally controlled analogue desk was only just starting
to become accepted. The digital revolution certainly didn’t happen as people
thought it would, as far as mixing desks are concerned.”

David Mellor

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David Mellor