I still cringe when I think about the first digital mixer I ever used: The Yamaha DMP-7. It was noisy, it sounded gritty, and its user-interface was horrible. But the DMP-7 had scene recall, moving faders, and it was fully automatable when connected to a MIDI sequencer - features unheard of at its price point. The term "project studio" hadn't even been coined yet when the DMP-7 hit the market, but it was probably the first mixer aimed specifically at the computer-centric project studio. The small studio in which I worked had three of them. In 1998, more than ten years after my first stint with the DMP-7, I found myself looking for a more capable console to replace the small Allen & Heath in my own living room-housed project studio. I wanted an automated console with 100% recall because I tend to work on multiple projects at once, so going with a digital desk made sense. At the time, my budget allowed me three choices: the Yamaha O2R, the Spirit 328, and the Panasonic DA7. I demo'ed all three of them, mixing at least one CD or 7'' release on each one. I settled on the DA7. I liked its built-in automation, it had the smoothest EQ, and its all- around sound was the best of the three.
For two years, the Panasonic DA7 became my main mixing platform. I tracked to a 1'' 16-track striped with SMPTE, using external mic preamps to go straight to tape, and employed the DA7 for automated mixing. Even when I recorded at other studios I preferred to bring the project home to mix. I felt that my mixes could be more precise with the DA7's comprehensive automation and recall. But I also felt that I was making a slight compromise in terms of sound purity. There was a small but noticeable loss of "depth" in everything I mixed through the DA7 - not enough to offset what I felt were better mixes due to the automation, but enough that I knew I would upgrade when I got the chance.
Last year, I started collecting equipment in preparation for a move to a new space with a newly- purchased 24-track tape machine. I wanted a console with at least 24 physical faders, fantastic sound, and of course, automation. But it had to be small enough to fit into my living room studio while I awaited the move. After much deliberation, I settled on the Sony DMX-R100 and put myself on the waiting list. Many months later, I accepted delivery of one of the first production units.
I had Redco in Connecticut build a custom wiring harness for the DMX-R100. The cabling arrived two hours before Bettie Serveert was to visit my living room studio. I had just enough time to plug everything in, do some quick continuity and phase checking, and then drive to Harvard Square to pick up the band. Everyone in the band was impressed with the console when they arrived. "Star Trek" was the operative term when they saw the color touchscreen, the touch-sensitive moving faders and the old-school buttons for machine control. We had no problems tracking straight to tape, using the console only for monitoring.
The next day, I needed to run some rough mixes, so I decided to do my own "shoot out". First I ran some mixes with the DMX-R100. Then I ran some mixes with my DA7. (My Redco harnesses use monolithic EDAC connectors to the patchbay, so it was a matter of seconds to switch between consoles.) Sound-wise, everything I was missing in the DA7 was there in the DMX-R100. The "depth" was incredible. There was more "air" and more "space". The EQ had more "glass" to it. Unfortunately, none of these words equate to measurable specs, as I later used my Terrasonde Audio Tool Box and my Tektronix digital scope to compare the frequency and phase responses of the two mixers, particularly in terms of the EQ section. Frequency measurements were indistinguishable. Both mixers were flat. And my guess that the DMX-R100 had less phase-shift was proven wrong when I measured greater phase-shift in the DMX- R100's EQ (for a single parametric band of boost or cut), than the DA7's. Despite these measurements my ears heard a much better sound through the Sony. Needless to say, I did the final mixes on the DMX-R100.
The changeover to the DMX-R100 came while I was in the middle of two other projects. The first was a set of demos for a soon-to-be-released solo album by Chris Brokaw (Come, Codeine, The New Year). We had already finished mixing a couple songs on the DA7. When we mixed the remainder of the project on the DMX-R100, Chris noticed the difference in sound quality immediately. The second project was a full-length CD for the band Rosa Chance Well (Samuel, Wicked Farleys, Karate). We had already mixed half the album on the DA7. We mixed the rest of the songs using the DMX-R100. When I took the mixes to Peerless Mastering, Jeff Lipton, the mastering engineer, had no problems identifying which songs were mixed on which desk. I came this close to remixing all the DA7 songs, but didn't due to time- constraints. To summarize, THE DMX-R100 SOUNDS PHENOMENAL. No need to read further if sound quality is your only priority. Run to your nearest dealer, and demo one for yourself. Or book time at the nearest facility equipped with a DMX-R100, and mix your next project on it. For those who care about the features, read on.
The DMX-R100 has 48 virtual input-channels, 36 analog inputs (12 dual A/B inputs are independently switchable for the first 12 input-channels), 24 physical faders, and one master fader for the stereo buss. 8 matrix busses, 8 sends, 8 returns, 12 inserts, control- room plus studio outs, and a few external 2-track inputs round out the built-in I/O. Four slots allow you to add optional I/O to meet your interfacing needs via TDIF, ADAT Lightpipe, AES/EBU, XLR-balanced, MADI, or 1/4'' TRS insert connections.
The 48 input-channels are accessible within two layers using the 24 physical faders. Each input-channel in each layer has a motorized fader for level and a rotary encoder for pan. The faders and pans default to normal fader and pan operation, but they can be assigned to operate instead as aux sends, matrix sends, or trims. Furthermore, the built-in routing capability allows you to send any physical input to any input- channel (or combination of input-channels) and any virtual output to any physical output. (You can even assign the talkback mic to one of the faders!) With the DMX-R100, I rarely need to use my external patchbay.
To the right of the faders is a virtual channel strip, with dedicated knobs and buttons for each of the EQ, dynamics, and aux functions. A color LCD touchscreen immediately above the channel strip gives you feedback on what you're doing with the channel controls when it's displaying the channel page. There are many other pages it can display, with virtual buttons, menus, and entry fields operable via the touchscreen and an optional keyboard and mouse.
On the far right of the control surface is the master section. A master fader, machine control, timecode functions, and comprehensive monitoring for both control room and studio are provided. Configurable talkback is in easy reach near the center of the console. Thankfully, there are no fans to pollute the silence in your control room, although the power supply for the touchscreen emits a squeal that can be heard in extremely quiet rooms.
Each input channel includes digital trim, digital delay, buss assignment, dynamics control (expander/ gate/compressor/ducker), EQ, aux sends, pan and matrix pan, and solo. You can assign an EQ and dynamics controller to each and every one of the 48 input-channels, master aux sends, matrix busses, and main stereo buss. That's like having 65 dedicated four- band parametric EQs and 65 expanders/compressors at your disposal. (66 channels, if you count the stereo buss effects as being two channels.)
I find that these built-in EQs and dynamics controllers sound fabulous and offer extremely precise (and repeatable) control. They're so good that once I've taken a signal into the digital domain, I'll only leave the console if I need a special effect on that signal. Not that taking the signal in and out of the console via the built-in ADCs and DACs would damage the sound. When I bought the console, I seriously considered getting a set of Apogee AD-8000s to supplement the console's built-in converters. After demo'ing the AD-8000 converters, I found that they sounded no better than the DMX-R100's converters.
The DMX-R100's preamps are much like its converters: clean and extremely transparent. Personally, I prefer the rock-and-roll sound of my Neve and API mic preamps - transformer-driven lows and all. But occasionally, I'll use the console's preamps when I want the delicate sound of something like an acoustic guitar to sound... well... delicate, I suppose. It's great to have that option.
Overall, I feel that with the DMX-R100, I'm making no compromises whatsoever in sound quality. But oddly enough, I do feel like there are compromises to be made in the usability department - quite the opposite of my experiences with the Panasonic DA7.
The physical interface of the DMX-R100 is well designed. When you're working on an automated mix, you need only touch a fader with the skin of your finger to put the fader into automation record mode. The fader motors are virtually silent. The big, color LCD screen is easy on the eyes. Having dedicated controls for EQ, dynamics, and aux sends makes for efficient tweaking. And having the option of controlling the aux sends via the main faders makes it extremely easy to juggle up to four different stereo headphone feeds for the talent. (I love tracking on this board!)
On the other hand, the software that implements the user-interface (built on top of a real-time UNIX-like, embedded operating system called QNX) is somewhat lacking, especially in regards to automation. As of this writing, the latest console OS is v1.16. (My console shipped with v1.03. Updates were downloaded via the web and installed using the built-in floppy drive. It's been a long and "interesting" battle against bugs and mis-designed features.) With OS v1.16, automation trim mode doesn't work, you can't mix snapshot automation and dynamic automation in one file, there are no libraries, the system could use fader-nulling to provide for smoother edits, the undo feature is extremely limited, there's no provision for offline editing, automation files are stored on QNX-formatted floppy disks, fader grouping takes more effort than it should, and shortcuts are few and far between. In many ways, it's a step back to move from the DA7 to the DMX-R100. To put it into perspective, it probably takes me twice as long to complete an automated mix on the DMX-R100 as it would on the DA7.
In Sony's defense, version 2.0 of the OS should be available by the end of September. Reading the release notes for this major revision, it's clear that Sony has made direct attempts to resolve the issues raised by the early adopters of the DMX-R100. When Sony's Regional Audio Manager for my area called to tell me about the Beta of v2.0, he joked that one of the new features should bear my name - the "Andy Hong Double Tap" for quick access to the fader home page - because I'd suggested it months ago. In fact, 90% of the wish list I'd communicated to Sony has been implemented for v2.0, so I can't wait to get my hands on the new OS! (Many more features suggested by other users have also been implemented.)
If this review has sparked your interest, you can get additional information and read user comments at www.dmxr100forum.com. You can seek out more opinions by searching for "dmx r100" on the Roger Nichols forum hosted at www.musicplayer.com. Another useful resource is the Sony UK DMX-R100 Dealer Support site at www.dmxr100support.co.uk. Sony Pro Audio's official online presence at bpgprod.sel.sony.com is mostly pre-sales marketing.
Nine months after taking delivery of my DMX-R100, my first impression of the console's fantastic sound hasn't changed. As I'm writing this review, I'm sitting at home enjoying a beer after another successful session at Peerless Mastering. I wouldn't call the monitoring situation in my living room studio extremely accurate, so when I get to hear my recordings in the acoustically- controlled environment of a mastering studio, I'm struck even more by how amazing the DMX-R100 sounds!
When I took delivery of the console, the list price was $20,000 USD and the minimum sale price was $17,000. The minimum sale price of the I/O cards ranged from $600 to $865 each. Sony bills directly for the DMX-R100, preventing dealers from selling it for less than Sony's minimum sale price.