simplifiying audio mixing
( And making it sound great! )
Mixing live audio is an art. It takes practice and experience to hear and adjust hundreds of parameters to make an ensemble sound good. It's also like a performance. Everything happens LIVE so minimizing mistakes is crucial to delivering a great performance.
16 channel analog mixers have been around for years, they are the bread and butter for most mixing applications. Digital mixers have also been around for years, but have only now become affordable enough to reach the 32, 24, and 16 channel sizes at a price pro-sumers could afford.
At the time this project started, Mackie, Behringer, and Alesis had all come out with mixers offering many of the advantages of digital mixing anchored to a tablet device, particularly iPads. The problem with these mixers was: 1) a steep entry price 2) constant shifts in iOS features 3) changes in iPad sizes4) and most notable, poor connections and interfaces. Other digital mixer offerings from *Presonus and Allen & Heath combined small non-touch LCD displays crammed with minuscule graphics with features buried in deep menu structures.
*Our lead industrial designer worked on the initial design of the Presonus StudioLive shown above. StudioLive was an enormous hit for its time, alas technology changes!
From its inception audio pioneer Greg Mackie and QSC product manager Gerry Tschetter related their vision of this device to creating a "point and shoot mixer" akin to professional cameras with automatic settings. Cameras embody precision and tactile elegance. Their metal bodies and machined details convey craftsmanship and high regard for quality. We wanted a mixer that embodied that same commitment to quality and craft while at the same time welcoming new users with a simple and clean interface that wouldn't intimidate.
Great sound needs gear
No band or performer will sound good through a "dry" unaltered audio system. Audio engineers use effects, equalizers, gates, compressors, and loads of other tricks to get audio to sound great. Physically cramming what used to be racks of gear is possible through digital means (so long as you have the processing power to do it). However, this only solves the problem of space, and not the problem of control. Live mixing needs immediate access to many controls. We didn't have the luxury to build a "forest" of knobs and sliders, the mixer would be huge. The only way to fit it all was to use a display and develop an interface to control it all.
Touch and turn
The idea of a "glass mixer", a mixer that was totally screen based, has been around for a while. Touchscreens grant the ability to navigate around thousands of parameters quickly with the touch of a finger. The disadvantage, however, is the lack of any tactile control. Finely tuning levels, panning, or adding just a pinch of an effect is extremely precise business better suited for a knob or slider.
Because our screen graphics would be changing from channels to gates to equalizers, it didn't make sense to drop in a bunch of static control knobs. We've seen this approach before. Gain controls turn into pan controls, which turn into Aux Sends, and then turn inactive and utterly unconnected in FX screens.
So we came up with the idea establishing one highly tactile "master control" knob. The user would use one hand to touch items on the screen for control and use the other hand to tune and adjust things with the knob. The risk was, would people miss faders and knobs? Adding 8 slider faders is a great idea, if we could afford the space, but they would need to me motorized to reflect changes between input banks and add cost.
Zooming in and Out
The second major challenge was taking a relatively small screen and allowing immediate access to every input and output parameter within a touch or two. Users who came from analog mixers were not going to accept digging through layers of menus.
What we came up with is the "Nav Strip". A horizontal bar that groups all the channels into banks of eight. From here users could easily navigate to sections of the mixer quickly to change levels or mute channels.
Instead of taking additional space for select buttons we used the "write strip" name as a method to view channel specific settings. Hitting the name of any channel immediately brings the user into a detailed channel view.
Getting "Home", back Mixing
The "Channel Tabs" view encompasses all the parameters available to that channel fanned out at the top of the screen. This approach allows users to toggle through every parameter quickly so they can get back to mixing. The main L/R fader is always visible on the right side of every screen. This is critical for ramping down sudden, nasty feedback loops or cutting off an inadvertent hot mike.
To get back to Main Mix screen we created the "Home" button and its sister button "Menu". Home takes you back to your previous screen with one click and completely home to the Main Mix screen with a second. Should the user need to get to a problem channel they can do it fast. Menu brings up screens that don't fit in the channel paradigm like overviews, wizards, and mixer settings. So with two buttons you can quickly get back home to mixing and quickly reach any additional features. Additional hard buttons were added as shortcuts critical to certain mixing applications.
Breaking some paradigms.
Blah Blah blah . . .
Modeling our concepts
With our 3D data in place, we begun taking some of our 2D styles and translating them into 3D models.