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Amek Einstein

Article from Sound On Sound, March 1993


Zenon Schoepe looks at a serious desk for serious MIDI rooms — Amek's highly specified Einstein.


Amek's Einstein occupies a position just below the Hendrix and above the recently introduced Langley-branded Big, which boasts 'talking' recall, in the UK company's desk range. There is a strong family resemblance between all these consoles in their mode of operation and in the fact that automation is integral to their individual concepts.

Amek's SuperTrue system, which is at its most sophisticated in the Mozart, less so in Einstein and available in its most basic form as MiniTrue on the Langley Big, offers true mix data compatibility across the range. It has recently been upgraded with the release of a moving fader version of SuperTrue called SuperMove. The freedom to fit Amek's software-driven Virtual Dynamics (VD) package to all these desks is yet another strong family selling point. Amek is providing desks for various market sectors that allow the buyer's purchase to be supported elsewhere in the range. Thus the purchase of an Einstein for a small but advanced private studio allows the work to be transferred, perhaps for mixing, to a Mozart room.

Indeed, the Einstein looks designed for and targeted at MIDI-based recording, with the desk's high density of fully featured inputs (64 of them in only 1.4m width) and its optimisation for being in mix mode pretty much from the word go. This approach has been appreciated by many purchasers, who seem taken particularly by the Super-E incarnation with 80 fully automated and VD-ed inputs with patchbay.

The desk is simple in layout and operation, and can be divided into three section types: the central control area containing a miniature keyboard (for the Atari computer required for the automation, housed in a pod under the desk), monitoring selection, control plus aux masters; the group master module for the 24 buss outputs and the main stereo fader; and the building block dual input module.

The dual input module is pivotal to the way Amek have managed to create such a density of inputs. Each of the pretty much identical input sections is stacked above the other, and has its own fader, identical EQ, and full access to the auxes. The desk's architecture is in-line but is hard-wired to operate with the top fader of each strip as the channel input and the bottom fader dealing with tape monitor returns. For tracking, inputs coming into the top sections of the modules can be 24-buss routed, sent to the group output buss pots on the group master module, and then be monitored and returned on the correspondingly numbered buss' module monitor section. For mixing, any input not being used as a tape return can be driven by effects returns or live MIDI lines, with every input automated for fader and mute. Simple.

GET CONNECTED



All connections available on jacks on the back panel are balanced aside from the inserts for the channels, monitors and stereo buss although these can be electronically balanced if a patchbay is factory fitted. Phones come out under the armrest and an output socket for a tuner is provided on the back panel which derives its signal from the solo buss. Nice intelligent touch.

SUPERTRUE AUTOMATION



Einstein uses essentially the same quarter-frame accuracy SuperTrue system that you'd find on the Mozart and Hendrix but with less of it implemented. It is also worth pointing out that SuperTrue is an option, although its inclusion does catapult the desk into a completely different league.

Automation is restricted to channel and monitor faders and mutes, plus the ability to write solo-in-place data into the computer from the screen. Individual VCAs are also disabled from the screen. SuperTrue is not an especially new automation system but it still remains relatively unchallenged in the markets that the Amek desks occupy.

The system communicates with the multitrack via an integrated SMPTE generator/reader, with MTC in the Atari host, and SuperTrue can slave or run to its own internally generated code.

SuperTrue operates in the popular Write, Update and Read manner. Write records the actual real fader movements, Read reads the recorded mix, Update does not require nulling and movements made with the fader have a relative effect on the mix being updated. Fader and mute data can be entered individually or simultaneously by selection from the system's main screen. Automation data entry can then be selected locally from the automation status switches on each input (which cycle through the three modes), be selected by trackball from the main screen, or be selected globally from the screen.

An Auto Read mode puts the desk automatically and safely into Read once SMPTE stops being received, while a Write to End function means you don't have to Write basic template fader positions for the whole duration of a song — stopping the tape holds levels right to the end allowing you to get tucked into the mix good and early. Return to Mix on the other hand will only allow fader Writes while tape is running and the selected faders are in Write mode.

The automation mode switches can be programmed to cycle between Read and Write for effectively dropping in and out on a mix, with a programmable Ramp (up to 99 frames individually for the in and out) between the original data and what you add.

Selecting Auto Takeover and pressing the relevant channel's Select status button allows a fader position to be matched to what is recorded — if it is below the recorded level the Read LED will flash; if it is above, the Write LED will flash. Once the fader has matched the original level the channel kicks into Write. And if you press Select again, the same indicators show the direction in which to move the fader to match the original mix — at which point the channel will drop-out to the safe Read mode.

SuperTrue allows you to Ignore Last Changes to a mix provided you strike the keyboard F key before the tape stops, otherwise it simply builds on what you have already done. To help matters, you can ask the system to automatically save at defined intervals.

The mix processing routines available include Splice (which copies fader and mute data between SMPTE points to another position in the mix). Erase (which trashes selected data between stated SMPTE points), and Extract (which selects certain channels of data and trashes the rest). Trim allows dBs to be added or subtracted right across the board to make sure that you are getting the most from your medium, Copy copies channel data between points for split feeds, while Swap flips channel data when repatching is necessary. Shift allows the slipping of channel data against SMPTE between points which comes in useful when you change that live noisey heavily muted organ patch for a delicate string wash.

Mix data from disk can be merged into the current mix, and 16 Fader Jobs (effectively amplitude envelopes) can be drawn, modified and positioned in a 255-step Cue List to operate between time points. Fader movements can also be edited graphically in 2.5 second sections and then placed back in the mix.

The Cue List can also be used to recall 32 desk snapshots, as well as MIDI events (defined by function in a MIDI event library for storing frequently used commands), switches, and VCA level adjustments; you can even use it to drop in and out of a specified automation mode at given times. One-man operation is, after all, what the Einstein is all about.

SuperTrue is an intelligent and sensible system that benefits from being able to achieve the same ends via a number of different routes. It's also extremely easy to crack, and I regard it as modern in outlook. It's armed for MIDI, and while on the Hendrix this was a welcome bonus, inclusion on the Einstein is almost essential.

The main screen is clear and well laid out, but the Einstein's high number of inputs and the fact that they are stacked above each other on the desk in two rows of 32 on the review model translates a little uncomfortably to a continuous scrollable row of 64 faders on screen. Finding channel fader 12, for example, which translates to fader number 44 in the row, requires rather too much mental arithmetic. Some sort of onscreen demarcation between the channel and monitor faders would help matters. 'Zoom-ins' for consecutive blocks of eight faders are accessed via the desk's computer keyboard function buttons. A fader can belong to three sub groups, from a total of 16, and each group can control a total of 64 inputs.

Still on the matter of software, it is worth noting that Amek's Virtual Dynamics package can be fitted to the Einstein, providing compressors, gates and limiters of many different types on a channel-per-channel basis.

THE DOWN SIDE



One of the positive qualities of the Einstein — the fact that it has dual identically-featured long and short faders per module, both of which are automated — can also be construed as a drawback because unless you repatch you are stuck with using the short fader for the channel and the long for the monitor.

While this is fine for tracking, and even setting up a mix as you track, come the real mix it is always nice to flip faders according to which input is going to be the busiest, because everyone prefers to work on a 100mm fader to a 60mm. A magic flip button would have helped.

Like the Hendrix before it, some of Einstein's switches are exceedingly small, and they seem more diminutive because there are fewer of them. It is also hard to determine whether some switches are in or out, especially the EQ button.

The position of the channel input Mute switch is a little tight for comfort, particularly if you come at it from the wrong angle, and the same applies to the channel Solo switch. Speaking of mutes, the lack of even a single mute on the Aux sends baffles me. Doesn't anybody send single lines to effects units anymore?

AFLs are missing on the Aux masters, and while an Aux can be previewed on the main monitoring source section they are called up in pairs, which might not be what you want.

Given the density of inputs there is very little room on the strip for you to mark inputs — particularly the channel inputs — with anything meaningful. 64 channels or more of Einstein going full blast is likely to be a headache for anyone with faulty personal short-term RAM. I don't really know how this could be overcome, because while the monitor fader area could be Chinagraphed, marking the channel faders would call for masking tape on the base of the meter bridge, which is still not satisfactory.

THE UP SIDE



I like SuperTrue. It's an effective, sophisticated and approachable package, and one that takes some beating. Also among Einstein's notable plus points, the luxury of identical EQs on the channels and monitors should not be overlooked.

Aside from the large amount of tone shaping available on every input, the ability to effectively reverse channel equalisation on the monitor is wonderful. It also sounds very modern; the HF and LF sections are, respectively, thump and sizzle personified with the switchable frequencies doubling their power. The way the mid bands interact with the top and bottom bands is good, but not quite as impressive as the Hendrix with its four fully-parametric sections of identical twin frequency spans. Switchable Q on the Einstein mids would have been nice, but as it stands the section works well with plenty of activity in the voice band.

It's important to relate EQ to its primary intended function, which with the Einstein is keyboard-based sources. As such it is excellent.

Eight auxes may seem paltry by some standards, but remember that you have access to the 24 busses for extra sends at mixdown, which verges on the excessive.

CONCLUSION



I'm happy to criticise Einstein quite freely, because in my heart I know that there is little I can say that will detract from this beautifully simple and efficient desk. It performs stunningly.

While not nearly as sophisticated a tool as the Hendrix, Einstein is an easier desk to justify, not least because of its price and the fact that it is directed squarely at MIDI rooms. At half the cost, Amek has yet again managed to simultaneously create and fill a market need. Do you need lots of inputs with real EQ and stacks of auxes, exemplary sonic performance and a grown up automation system? In a desk that is geared to handling plenty of line inputs, whilst being quite happy with mic recording, in a format that is constantly mix-ready? Then this is the desk for you.

Amek have taken a risk by targeting the desk so surely, yet if the target audience is honest with itself in admitting how it really works, then the Einstein will establish itself as very important product indeed. Get real — check this out.

Further information

Amek Einstein (64-input) £17,625 inc VAT.
64-input with SuperTrue £24,322.50 inc VAT.
64 channels of Virtual Dynamics £14,607.50 inc VAT.


Amek Systems & Controls, (Contact Details).

EINSTEIN MONO INPUT MODULE

Note identical EQ facilities on both channel and monitor inputs, and access from either to the auxes and routing.

1. 24-buss routing accessible from the monitor or channel paths or auxes 7 and 8
2. Sends monitor path to the 24-buss routing.
3. Aux pre switching for auxes 1 to 4
4. Dual concentric pot for auxes 1 and 2
5. Switches auxes 1 to 4 from channel to monitor path
6. Level and pan dual concentric pot for aux 3 and 4
7. Pre switch for aux 5 to 8
8. Dual concentric pot for auxes 5 and 6
9. Switches auxes 5 to 8 from channel to monitor path
10. Level and pan dual concentric pot for aux 7 and 8
11. Routes aux 7 and 8 to the 24 multi-track busses for use as extra dedicated sends 12. Shelving +/- 14dB HF pot
13. HF 6kHz and 12kHz selector
14. Upper mid dual concentric pot for +/- 14dB from 500Hz to 18kHz
15. EQ switch
16. Lower mid dual concentric pot for +/- 14dB from 100Hz to 4.5kHz
17. If 60/120Hz selector
18. Shelving +/- 14dB LF pot
19. 12dB/octave 120Hz high-pass filter
20. Channel mic/line gain pot
21. Channel pan pot
22. 48V phantom
23. 20dB pad
24. Mic/Line selector
25. Phase reverse
26. Channel to stereo buss routing switch
27. Channel solo
28. Channel automation Select switch with green Read LED, red Write LED. When both are on the channel is in Update.
29. Automated channel mute
30. Automated 60mm channel fader
31. Monitor group/tape return switch
32. Monitor input gain pot
33. Automated monitor mute
34. Automated 100mm monitor fader


CENTRE MASTER CONTROL SECTION

Eight aux masters. The Blend buttons on Auxes 1-4, when depressed, merge these outputs into those of Aux 5-8.

Talkback through a mic mounted in the meter bridge has a gain control with routing to slate and auxes 5/6 and 7/8.

Five external sources can be monitored, in pairs, along with the eight auxes and the main stereo buss. Two pairs of nearfields can be selected, and they have their own level pots; the same is available for two pairs of main monitors. Monitor outputs can be monoed, muted left and right, 20dB dimmed and muted altogether. Luxury.

3-frequency oscillator with switchable calibrated output routable to slate and available on a socket on the rear panel.

Metering is surprisingly comprehensive, with each dual input module having its own 15-segment LED display, switchable VU, peak and peak hold. All meters can be switched globally to read pre-fader channel inputs, with the default value of channels 1-24 meters reading tape return or group output (depending on the position of the group switch in the monitor section) and channels 25-32 meters reading pre-fade monitor input. Two additional meter pairs above the centre section always follow the main stereo output and the control room monitoring source, be that a solo or external source. Impressively simple and all quite wonderful.

Solo switchable stereo AFL or stereo solo in place for destructive isolation.



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The Beloved

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Publisher: Sound On Sound - SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


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Sound On Sound - Mar 1993

Gear in this article:

Mixer > Amek > Einstein

Review by Zenon Schoepe

Previous article in this issue:

> The Beloved

Next article in this issue:

> Hands On: Apple Macintosh Co...


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