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Virtual Radio Console with Mike Dosch

Posted by Kirk Harnack [TWiRT] on Jun 10, 2014 5:04:00 PM

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TWiRT 215Touchscreen technology is mainstream - from iPads to cash registers.  They’ve been an add-on or secondary console controller in radio studios for a couple years now.  At the Spring NAB in Las Vegas, console maker Lawo introduced a new radio console designed specifically for touchscreen - even multi-touch - control.  Mike Dosch, Director of Virtual Radio Projects at Lawo, joins us to describe the technology and where this tech could go in the future.




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Kirk: This Week in Radio Tech, episode 215, is brought to you by the Telos Hx6 and iQ6 Talk Show Systems, six lines and two advanced hybrids for perfect caller conferencing. And by Lawo, and the new crystalCLEAR touchscreen audio console, intuitive, progressive, and focused. The crystalCLEAR touchscreen audio console. Touch-screen technology is mainstream from iPads to cash registers. They've been an add-on or secondary console controller in studios for a couple of years now.

At the spring NAB in Las Vegas, console maker Lawo introduced a new radio console designed specifically for touchscreen, and even multi-touch control. Mike Dosch, director of virtual radio projects at Lawo joins us to describe the technology and where this tech can take us in the future.

Hey, welcome in. It's time for This Week in Radio Tech. I'm Kirk Harnack. Glad to be here. This is the show where we talk about everything from the microphone down here in the studio to the light bulb at the top of the tower, and the people listening over the World Wide Web. It's just everything to do with audio as it applies to broadcast. Sometimes we even talk about TV audio, and how we test audio and listen to audio and process audio, and how we mix audio together and all that stuff.

So, I'm glad to have you with us. We have folks listening to and watching This Week in Radio Tech, or TWiRT, all over the world. We've had listeners and viewers in India, Australia, New Zealand, China, Hong Kong, Ireland, Germany, England, France, Spain, everywhere, and Canada, too. We're glad to have you along. Hello to our friends in Brazil as well.

You can be sure to subscribe to the podcast. You can go to thisweekinradiotech.com, and every episode has a subscribe button so you can use your favorite RSS aggregator or your podcast aggregator to subscribe to the show, that way it'll show up on your iPod or on your other listening and viewing device just all by itself.

All right, this show I'm really excited about. It's brought to you by a couple of cool sponsors. First of all, Telos and the Telos Hx6, and we welcome a new sponsor, and that is Lawo, L-A-W-O. We'll try to get an exact pronunciation of it. Their website is lawo.com, and they make awesome audio consoles. They make some really, really big consoles and today we're going to talk about a smaller audio console that they make and a very cool idea for doing radio mixing and production in the cloud. You know that had to come, and it looks like it may be here.

So, we're talking to Mike Dosch about that. Let's welcome in, first of all, the best-dressed engineer in radio. That's my pal Chris Tobin. Hey Chris, how are you?

Chris: I'm doing well, Kirk. Thanks very much. I'm dressed okay. Not too bad so far. I'm looking forward to this talk today. This is good.

Kirk: So, Andrew Zarian said it was hot in New York. You usually have about a two-sentence weather forecast for us.

Chris: Would you like a two-sentence weather forecast? Overcast skies. Humidity is approximately 65 percent, and the temperature high today will probably top out around 73 degrees.

Kirk: That's not so bad. What's Andrew complaining about? He must have a bunch of equipment in there making heat.

Chris: Well that too, yes. It's very muggy. You'll definitely feel the vapor in the air. Not the cigarettes; not the e-cigs.

Kirk: So, Chris, are you working on any exciting projects? I think you had to scurry to get back to your home studio today.

Chris: Yes, I did. I was actually working with a company - a division of the Department of Commerce. That's all I'm allowed to say. And doing some IP linking with audio. We finished the preliminary work on top of a building here in the city. As I seem to be doing lately, the last three weeks, I've been on rooftops. So, I've actually been part of the Manhattan skyline, so Google Earth may have me waving up to them saying, "Hey, it's me." But yeah, I scurried back, like everyone else.

Kirk: If you follow me on Facebook, you'll know the last couple of days I was in Mississippi at my radio stations. We're getting ready to move one of our studios to a new place, a building that we're buying, and so prepping for that, making measurements, and figuring out where equipment is going to go, where to put the new satellite dish and all that stuff. Oh, gosh, we had a Windows machine just bite the dust and take the eternal dirt nap. So, I had to rebuild a Windows machine from an old motherboard. Oh, it reminded me of just how much I dislike Windows.

Now, granted, we were rebuilding it with Windows XP because that's what we knew was going to work for us. Man, I spent about 12 or 14 hours doing that. It was just a pain. There's got to be a better way. Maybe you can inform me. I must be doing it the old-fashioned way, the way we were doing it in 2002 or something.

Chris: Well, the best thing to do is create an image of the machine after you set it up the way you want. Create an image, and this way if you blow it up, you just throw the image back on and you're done.

Kirk: It works, unless you put a different motherboard in there with a different processor. Instead of an Intel, we had to use an AMD processor. I started to run into the problem where I would download drivers. I even paid a service to make it easy to download drivers for this new, or for this old, I should say, motherboard with this AMD processor. It kept downloading drivers for Intel because the OS had originally been setup on an Intel board, even though the actual hardware now was AMD.

And so I kept getting lots of blue screens and it just locked up, and so I had to figure out which driver . . . it just got to where "You know what?

I'm going to blow it up and install Windows all over again." I did that, and that was actually the least painless part of it. Trying to change the motherboard was the real problem. Do you have any thoughts about that, Chris?


Chris: There is no easy way when it comes to motherboard changes, especially if you're going from two different technologies, Intel and AMD. So, yeah, you'll definitely get burned. If you say with Intel, I just do the images. I change motherboards. I've been very successful with that on many occasions. But, yeah, when you change motherboards, there is trouble to be had, especially with an old XP.

Kirk: This was in Cleveland, Mississippi, and honestly you can't buy a motherboard for a hundred miles.

Chris: I believe it.

Kirk: We had to cannibalize an old sales machine, and, well, it worked. Hey, we've gone astray. We've got to get started with the show after we chat about what we've done this week, and our guest this time is an old friend of mine. It's Michael Dosch. Michael works at Lawo now. Hey, Michael, welcome in. Glad you're here.

Mike: Hi, Kirk.

Kirk: Hi. Michael, I wonder if you could talk to us about . . . you have this title. It's pretty interesting. Director of what, Virtual Radio Projects?

Mike: Yes, I'm the Director of Virtual Radio Projects at Lawo. You have to get the virtual in the right place, because I'm not the virtual director of project at Lawo, but today I might be because I'm talking to you remotely over Skype.

Kirk: So, virtual radio. We're going to talk more about that in the second half of the show, but can you give us an inkling as to what that means? One can guess, but I might guess wrong.

Mike: Well, it's actually a couple of things. We imagine that virtual is products that have been historically built inside of boxes in the past, like I don't know, an audio processor for example. Historically, this has been a box, so one idea behind virtualization is this becomes a software product. Then another idea behind virtualization is perhaps a group of software products, running in a software environment, perhaps they actually completely exist within a server someplace which could be within your facility or the buzzword lately is the cloud.

So, conceptually, you could actually have your entire radio station process running in the cloud someplace, even though that might actually be your terminal room. So, that's kind of the idea behind virtual.

Kirk: Well, we'll explore that more in just a few minutes. Our show, This Week in Radio Tech, is brought to you by the folks at Telos, and the Telos Hx6. This is a phone, a six-line phone. It's right behind me, here. I don't know, can you see it? Oh, there it is on the screen.

The Telos Hx6 is a six-line phone system. It does work with POTS lines, and we do have it working with ISDN lines in the US. European ISDN lines are a little bit more problematic. So, if you have ISDN in the US or POTS anywhere in the world, the Hx6 is a six-line phone system.

The best thing about the Hx6, and its little brother, or actually its twin brother almost, the iQ6, they're inexpensive. They're very affordable six-line phone systems. And they're great for stations that play music or have talk shows that don't need 12 lines. I mean, how many people can you put on the air at the same time anyway? It's usually one or two.

And, the Hx6 and the iQ6 do conferencing just wonderfully, because each of these products, the Hx6 and iQ6, have two telephone hybrids. These are the best that Telos knows how to make. These are fifth-generation telephone hybrids that really eek the best audio you possibly can out of a phone line. There is automatic equalization; there is audio processing by Omnia in there.

What's the difference between the Hx6 and the iQ6? Well, if you have an Axia facility where you're already using Livewire, then you can get the iQ6. The iQ6 doesn't have any traditional audio inputs or outputs on the back of it. You won't find any XLR connectors on the back of it. You'll only find an Ethernet connection, and that's for your Livewire to go in.

So, your program on hold audio goes in there. Your caller audio from the hybrids comes out of there to be used on your audio console, and your mix-minus from the console goes back in there as well all over Livewire. We've talked about Livewire a lot on the show, so you probably know all about that.

So, the iQ6 is inexpensive, six lines, and you control it with the VSet-6. Andrew, if we could bring that picture up again, you'll see the beautiful VSet-6 controller. It works with both the iQ6 phone system and the Hx6.

Now, if you're not a Livewire customer, if you don't have a Livewire audio system in your place, then get the Hx6. It works with anything, because it has traditional analog inputs and outputs, with AES inputs and outputs optional for the Hx6. It sounds great. It's inexpensive, under $3,000 for the Hx6, and right around $2,500 for the iQ6. Then the VSets, they're about $800 or so, but you can get a discount from your dealer.

So, check it out if you would. Great talk shows, and it works with lots of different call screening software. It even comes with some free call screening software from the folks at Broadcast Bionics, the XScreen Lite software, so you can get started right away with either product. The iQ6 or the Hx6, call your favorite Telos dealer and ask them about that. You're going to be very glad you put that on the air. Both of them really sound great.

All right, on with the show, episode number 215. Michael Dosch is with us, and Michael, we're going to talk first about a product that Lawo . . . first of all, tell you what, we ought to talk about Lawo because not many folks, or maybe a lot of folks, don't know about Lawo who are listening to or watching this show.

Mike: This is a German manufacturing company. It started in the '70s. Peter Lawo had actually done work with Siemens and had decided to build a small company that specialized in building hand-built, custom, very exotic, very fancy audio consoles for radio, for German state radio. These things were massive. They were nothing like what we think of as a radio console. I mean, they look really like these large film and recording consoles.

This was kind of how the company got its start. In the '80s, it moved into digital DSP, still a very European-centric company. Then in the '90s, it started to expand its footprint outside of Germany and kind of took the audio-for-video field by storm. They make these very large consoles. They use them in post-production.

Sometimes they're used in recording studios, but mostly Lawo specializes in live event broadcasting, and in particular sporting events. So, if you were to go to Sochi for example and you were to look around, you would see a lot of Lawo consoles there. Right now, a lot of my colleagues are in Brazil setting up for the World Cup.

So, this is kind of the company's specialty, are these very complex shows, event broadcasting, sporting, and entertainment where you have to get it right and it has to be perfect. The consoles have multiple layers of redundancy and backup DSP and backup networks and backup power supplies. You know, everything is ultra-reliable. And then it's German, too, so there is that level of German engineering that adds a certain what would you say - I guess another level of quality even above what you would expect. This is Lawo.

Kirk: Yeah, probably a lot of perfectionism, or very close to it, going on with German engineers. They certainly have a great reputation.

Mike: Affectionate.

Kirk: Yeah. So, let's talk for a minute about big consoles. This is something I don't know much about. Being in radio, we don't tend to have ... at most stations, we don't have great big consoles. We have your basic, on-air console, and we assume that the things that we're putting on the air have already been produced. They're already EQed adequately. They're already on both channels left and right, since we're typically stereo in radio. The levels are already probably reasonably well-produced. So, a traditional radio console is simpler than a big TV production console.

If I were going to walk into an audio control room for a TV facility and I see a Lawo console, what am I as a radio guy likely to find surprising?

What am I going to want to learn about when I take a look at this console and what it can do?


Mike: Well, they are very large, and they're very intimidating because there are so many knobs on them and so many displays and so many buttons. You think "I don't think I'd ever be able to figure this out." The reality is, though, that they are deceptively simple. In fact, even though this might seem odd, the typical radio workflow is actually a bit more complicated than the typical audio-for-video workflow.

These boards, if you pretty much memorize what one strip does, it's multiple copies of the same thing over and over again. So, let's say you had a console that had 40 or 50 inputs. That might be 40 or 50 live microphones.

Generally, you're not bringing all of those open at one time, so you might have different areas of an event, different feeds that you're bringing up at any particular point in time. And each one of these feeds, each one of these microphones, is going to have its own fader channel. Every fader channel is going to have some control over that microphone, everything from gain to equalization to fold backs for monitoring and mix-minus and things of this nature.

And so once you get an understanding of the one fader strip, which could be fairly complex but you can get your head around it, then it just repeats itself over-and-over again times 50. So, yeah, it's a bit intimidating when you walk up to them but they are actually surprisingly easy to use. And I think Lawo actually does a better job than most in terms of making this workflow fast and easy for the operators, because they really don't get a second chance.

Kirk: Let me ask you, then, about the part of a big console that's not repetitive. You make a great point about yes, if you learn what one channel strip does, then you know what they all do and it's repetitive. But on so many big consoles, I see a big section in the center or maybe over to one side that looks like it's a lot of programming.

Then I've had the pleasure of sitting at the Grand Ole Opry behind the radio mix console which they just changed out. It's just something enormous. I think it's a Studer console. I guess they have different presets for the different acts or the different size of acts that are rotating, that are coming up on stage. Is that what the big center area of these consoles typically are?

Mike: Well, that's one of the things. Generally, that center area is a monitoring section, so it'll have control over - well, like a 5.1 mix, for example. You'll have the ability to listen to different things. Sometimes, in that center section also are some assignable functions where you don't necessarily have a dedicated 5.1 panner on every channel, but you want to have an access button on the channel. When that access button is selected, the central section becomes assigned to that channel.

So, these are some of the kinds of things you would find in that central section. And then what you brought up, most modern consoles have the ability to preset scenes where you can basically bring up a snapshot. That would be a configuration, just like your example, the Grand Ole Opry. Different acts would have different mixes. They would do all this during sound check, and then they would save the settings and now they can easily change from one act to the next by recalling a preset.

This is nice. Think about back in the '80s, there usually were a couple of guys who were between acts with a clipboard and a lot of sweat. They were trying to get all the knobs and switches back into the right place for the next act, and now it's a push button.

Kirk: Ah, yeah. Yeah. Hey, Chris Tobin, you've had a chance to work around some big consoles. What are your comments about this? I think a good number of the viewers and listeners to our show may not be familiar with these big consoles. I certainly am not. I don't have any operational or very little installation experience with them.

Chris: Well, I've worked several large ones. I did a couple of productions in theatre, but I've also worked in television stations where a large console - those of us here in the States will be familiar with an SSL or Neve or Calrec. Those are the three biggies, at least some of them. TV, it's like Michael pointed out. You have 30 or 40 sources. In TV, it's literally microphones to OBs and everything else coming in.

You figure out your sections, you have everything laid out, and the audio guys will make it work. But it can be daunting if you don't pay attention and just look at it from . . . I guess break it down in components. But, a few times I've been behind a Neve console working an audio section. You can lose your place real fast. But if you're in a production studio, it's amazing some of the stuff you can do.

There are a couple of post-production houses that use flying faders, the motorized faders, then you do the preset and you just hit a button and they all move to where you want to go. Stage-Tech's another company that makes consoles of that sort that you see in TV facilities, post-production, and a lot of others. In theatre, too.

Kirk: So, this is kind of a goofy question. It's for both of you, Mike and Chris. What's the difference between a production facility that has a great big console, and the operators only know how to use the faders - they only know how to use ten percent of it, because that's all they see. It looks to me like they bought too big a console with too many capabilities. Between that, and a facility that actually does use the capabilities of a large console. Is it just the knowledge of the operator? Is it the complication?

The complexity of the production that they're doing? Goofy question, but I do see this happening where a huge console, ten percent of it is getting used.


Mike: I think it's going to be the latter rather than the former. It's going to be more program-based, not necessarily operator-based. If you've got a big console that can do a lot, but you're doing a relatively simple production, you're probably not going to engage some of those deeper functions. For example, you might have a 5.1 console and you're doing nothing but stereo production. It happens. The operator - there are actually a lot of very skilled operators out there that can do some pretty amazing things with these boards.

Chris: I think a lot of it, too, is a lot of places will buy a console of that size because that's what they do. They're in TV; they buy that console. As Mike pointed out, it may be a 5.1 console arrangement, but you're only doing stereo, or you may be renting out the place occasionally to someone who needs the ability to do all the sweetening and tweaking and everything a console offers.

That's what I've noticed when I've gone into a lot of facilities and look and go "Okay, you guys just do this basic production." It's not simple simple, but it just makes sense, but the console is designed for something very large. A lot of times, the guys will tell me the head engineer or the head tech, he'll say, "Well, we sometimes will try to rent out or do stuff with people, and if you don't have a certain console, they won't even talk to you." Meaning if you don't have SSL, Neve, Calrec, or some of the other now-biggies.

I think that's what we see a lot in post-production television, where in radio it was - well, in the day, back in the day, there were two consoles you pretty much saw everywhere you went: Purity, Ward-Beck, McCurdy, then a few others in-between like Autogram. And that was a given. You knew exactly what the layout was for that station and what they did.

In TV and post-production, it's always been the large consoles, and just huge everything. Like okay, as Kirk pointed out, I'm only using a small percentage of it but I've got to have that console. I worked at a TV facility recently, about six months ago, and they just redid the audio booth or the audio section and they brought in this huge Calrec. I was like

"How much of this do you guys use?" He goes "Ah, we just use the mixer microphones at the studio." "Really?" "Yeah."


I sat and watched a show get produced. I counted 15 microphones on I think a 40-fader board. You can just imagine, do the math, which faders were used and how many and that was it. But they had to have that board. Mike, I'm sure you've probably run into that on many occasions.

Mike: Well, we never complain. If they want a 60-input console and they want to use eight channels, you're certainly not going to find any of us complaining about that.

Chris: And you're absolutely right. I'm not complaining.

Mike: I think there is one other factor, Chris, and that is that sometimes, like in these trucks for example, they will equip them to handle different kinds of jobs. So maybe during that event, it was eight microphones on that console, but maybe there is a different event where they take the same truck and they really do have 40 inputs. They're trying to equip their facilities for the most complex show they can imagine, even though they may not do that on a daily basis.

Kirk: So, we've been talking about the big consoles to kind of give us an introduction to how some folks, like me, got introduced to Lawo as a company. Now let's chit-chat about smaller consoles that are more suited for radio stations. Lawo has been making a couple of consoles, the Crystal and the Sapphire, but now there is a new one that Mike's here to talk about and help us understand. It's such a cool idea. I love the whole notion. It's called the crystalCLEAR.

Mike, maybe you can walk us through that, and Andrew, if you've got a picture or two you can pop up, that would be interesting too so we can have some visual to go with Mike's description.

Mike: Yeah, I'm happy to, Kirk. We had been talking about the larger consoles that Lawo makes. Just so I don't miss the opportunity to explain what Lawo does, we're also making video products, video processing products, and we also make some products for radio. We're into IP audio, so the company has a lot of technology and a lot of interesting applications.

The crystalCLEAR product, specifically, is intended for radio applications, primarily on-air but I imagine people would use this for production as well. The concept behind this is we've been seeing more and more of these all-in-one touch PCs showing up in the market. A very small example would be the Microsoft Surface Pro, which is a tablet, but it basically runs a full-up version of Windows.

Then we're also seeing these products form HP and Lenovo and Dell. It really looks like a monitor. It's got the PC bolted on the back of it, and your interaction as a user with it is not so much keyboard and mouse, but more touch interface. And, of course, the new versions of Windows support all of the gestures and the interactions and everything else.

So, we're looking at these touch PCs, and we're saying "You know, somebody would like to use this as a radio console," because imagine if you don't have any physical controls, you don't have knobs, you don't have faders, you don't have buttons, but you have all of these rendered in software. You'll have the ability now to change things over time, or even have users set up preferences. Maybe one user has a particular clock flavor that he likes, analog. The next one comes in and he wants a big digital clock. One likes his faders on one side of the console; the other one likes them on the other side.

And so you can even imagine, because we're rendering this in software, you can imagine different console layouts for different operators or different scenarios, maybe different day parts. A production console could be different than an on-air console, but both of these could be accessed with the push of a button to bring up the console layout you want on software. This is something you wouldn't be able to do with a physical control surface.

And so that was the thinking. We saw these. We said "Let's make a control surface that can do everything that an on-air radio studio would need."

This is the thinking behind crystalCLEAR. There is an application that runs on this all-in-one PC. This is your control application. There is no audio on the PC. Then this control application speaks to an industrial rack-mount DSP engine with audio IO and it just controls it over TCP/IP, either with a direct connection or over a network.


So all of your audio is in an engine, if you will, a rack-mount industrial engine DSP box with analog inputs and outputs, microphone inputs, AES/EBU inputs and outputs, and also RAVENNA, Lawo's flavor of IP audio networking. So, this is all happening in the back with the control surface all happening on this soft PC or touch-based PC in the front.

Kirk: Wow. So, I take it that the engine could . . . I mean if something happened to the PC, if you had to reboot it, the engine keeps on running?

Mike: Absolutely. In fact, yeah, you could cut the cable and whatever it was doing before it cut the cable it would continue to do while you were finding a new cable and firing the guy that cut the cable.

Kirk: So, we saw some pictures there on-screen. I would imagine, you said you can or you will be able to rearrange the parts a little bit if you need to. What do you have in mind to make flexible?

Mike: Well, right now, crystalCLEAR is available pretty much the way you see it, with the layout that we've shown. But the tools that we use to build crystalCLEAR, this is a Lawo tool set called VisTool. With this tool, we've actually been building custom-configured consoles and button panels and meter panels on displays for years. So, the idea to put this console on a touch PC was not so hard for us because we already had this toolbox, if you will, with which we're able to build these custom panels.

So, as far as crystalCLEAR is concerned, it's pretty much the console that you see there. But, there is the ability using the very same tools that build crystalCLEAR to make pretty much anything you can possibly imagine.

Kirk: Since it works over TCP/IP for control and metering to that all-in-one PC, I would imagine that this would work over a longer connection than just to the rack next to you or the rack room at the back of the radio station. Could you use the controller off-site?

Mike: It certainly can work that way, yes. It is just TCP/IP, so yes, you have a standard Internet connection, hopefully a pretty reliable one. It should work. It's certainly not going to need the level of quality-of-service that you would need for say an IP codec. It's just control, messaging and meter data.

Kirk: So, I guess there are a couple other products out in the world that do this. I know there's a big multi-channel mixing console. Is it called Raven? Is that it?

Mike: That's right, Raven.

Kirk: Raven, okay. That I think I've seen a demo of and I think you've seen a demo of. Is this where we're looking for the industry to go? With flat panels that you touch?

Mike: Well, you know, that's a really great question. Kirk, it's a leading question, because you asked me this when we were working together at Axia probably three or four years ago.

Kirk: I told you what I wanted. I didn't know if the industry would go that way, or if people would be comfortable with that.

Mike: I remember well this conversation, because I think you were showing me an iPad. I think it was an iPad at the time. You said, "Mike, why couldn't we put console controls on an iPad? And then people could have kind of anything they wanted. If they wanted the on/off button below the fader, they could do that; or if they wanted the on/off button above the fader, they could do that." I remember my response to you, because I'm an old console guy. I was designing those PRNE consoles that Chris Tobin was talking about. That was some 20 years ago. So, I've come along to this idea a little bit more slowly than most.

I was imagining, or remembering, all the people that I've watched on the air driving their consoles with their fingertips and not actually looking at them. They might be riding gain on a particular level, maybe their mic level, or maybe the music bed level as they were doing something. They're doing this as they're reading copy; they're not looking at the console.

And so I think my response to you three or four years ago was "Well, Kirk, you'd have to look at the console. In fact, your face, the sound of your voice on the air might even change because you'd be looking down at your console and interacting with it rather than being on your microphone."

So, that was kind of my first response to this idea. But I have to tell you that people are embracing this. I think the idea of touchscreen-based products is so ubiquitous now that people just have an expectation that why should I deal with a physical control? I'm so used to and comfortable with the idea of touch-based controls.

And this idea of riding gain while you're actually on the air? Perhaps they still do it, but they do it a little differently than they might have if they had a physical control there. So to answer your question, do I think that everything is going to become touchscreen-based in the future? I think probably yes, although there may be some hybrids where it's mostly touchscreen and a little bit of physical control. Or, the other thing that we may see is there have been some developments in the area of what's called haptics. Are you familiar with this term?

Kirk: Yeah, yeah.

Mike: Okay, haptics is the idea . . .

Kirk: The touchscreen touches you back.

Mike: Yes, you get some feedback, and the feedback could be physical. In fact, that's the most typical example, where you push a soft button on the screen and the screen vibrates and kind of lets you know that you pushed the button. You get some tactile feedback. There's been a lot of research in haptics, and so far the results, the product applications, have been somewhat disappointing.

But because, again, these touchscreens are so ubiquitous, and because there are so many people working in this area of research, I think we're going to see some very interesting things in the future that don't exist yet, and touchscreens will become more and more useful, better feedback, more resistance as you touch it.

This is something people are working on right now is a texture that can be electronically-controlled. So, you can imagine I'm touching something and sometimes it's smooth and sometimes it has a texture to it, and my muscle memory kind of responds to that in a way that I kind of get used to where the smooth spots are and where the rough spots are and what that means.

Kirk: Yeah. I've heard of this, too. I've heard of military research going in this direction, too, where there is some little film of electrically-operated hairs, if you will, on the surface of the touchscreen that can raise or lower, making it smooth or rough. That kind of creeps me out to think about that, but we'll get there someday. We'll get some kind of feel so you can not have to look at it and know your finger is on that knob that is virtually on the screen.

Mike: Right. That's exactly what we were thinking. Of course, being the old console guy, I couldn't help but talk to the product guys at Lawo about this problem of "Well, how do you ride gain when you have to look at the screen? What if I can't look at the screen right now and I need to ride gain?" And in their own flappable manner, they came back and they said "We have a solution for this," and it's actually pretty cool.

There is a feature built into crystalCLEAR, and actually most of the Lawo consoles now have this new feature, and it's called auto mix. What auto mix does is it basically makes - like it sounds, it makes an automatic mix of the signals that you assign to it.

So you might, for example, in a situation where I think I need to ride gain on a music bed while I talk over the top of it, then when I hit the post I want to fade out my own mic and I want to bring the music up. This is very typical use of physical faders, and yet using auto gain, which is very easy in crystalCLEAR - you just basically select an input, you select an access button on that input, and one of the choices you get when you get inside of the access screen is "Auto mix, yes or no?" And if you say yes, then this source, whatever it is, is going to be part of this automated mix.

In this example, I might just take a music source and I might take my microphone source, have them in the auto mix, and now hands-free I can actually just speak over that music bed and my voice will cause the music to be at a lower level. As I stop speaking, the music will come up and it's a very natural effect.

In fact, we've been demonstrating this for real radio people that never in their wildest dreams could this be as good as doing it manually, and they've been really impressed with it. So, it's easier to imagine not necessarily I'm going to ride the gain while I'm looking at the touch screen, but maybe there are other ways to make this particular function easier to use rather than having a physical control.

Kirk: Well, your description of this kind of harkens back to some stations have had custom consoles built for them, and I'm recalling my days in Beautiful Music Radio where we had a console that was built by somebody under the direction of the programming consultant of this beautiful music station. And you know what? I think it may have had a fader, a knob for the mic. But for the reel-to-reel machines and the cart machines and the remote inputs, there were no fader controls. It was either on or off, and it was up to the engineer to make sure that the level coming into the console was at the right level.

Now, there was no automatic mixing going on there. We depended upon the audio processor after that to ride gain on whatever was happening, and there was the fader for the jock so if it was a quieter or a louder talent, they could make up for that. So, what you're talking about is I take it a lot more sophisticated and predictive and using DSP and algorithms than what we had back then at the Beautiful Music Station.

Mike: Yeah, absolutely right. You can even setup a bit of a bias when you set it up in the first place. You can say, "I want my host microphone to always be a bit louder than my guests, so in the course of us talking to each other or over each other, I get to win." So, you have the ability to kind of pre-program the biases or the way the auto mixer will work.

But I was just amazed at the demos. Even without manipulating anything, just using it kind of out of the box with its generic defaults, it sounded very natural. So, I think the DSP guys really outdid themselves with this.

You know, another feature that's actually kind of interesting within crystalCLEAR, and this is also something that's new, is auto gain. I think you'll probably appreciate this. Setting gain levels, you were talking about this in the Beautiful Music Station.

The engineers said "I want to set all of the levels, then I'm going to lock them down, no faders." Probably no gain controls, either. As an engineer, you certainly can understand that. I calibrated these things, so I've optimized my dynamic range and my signal-noise ratio, and by golly, I don't want you messing with it.

But what do you do when somebody comes into the studio? They're a guest. They're maybe shy with a microphone, and it's not working out so well. You're trying to get their level up to the point where it's consistent in the mix. So, again, you need to have some way to deal with that. I think the Lawo recipe for dealing with that is pretty cool.

We have a function called auto gain, and you basically - going back to the crystalCLEAR - you would bring up a channel, maybe it's a guest mic, and you would hit the access button. When you did that, you would go into a page that gives you various features and functions like auto mix. There is a button there called auto gain. When you push that button and you tell your guest go ahead and speak, he speaks, and as he speaks the system goes ahead and calibrates the pre-amp gain. And this is not a digital gain; this is actually reaching back to the analog pre-amp stage and trimming the gain so that it's optimized, so we get the optimal signal-to-noise ratio and the optimal amount of headroom.

It works beautifully. And during the course of the show, maybe your guest warms up to the mic a little bit, and you decide "Okay, maybe they're not shy anymore and I need to do this again." You can just go back, push the button again, recalibrate, and everything is normalized.

Kirk: Wow. Does auto gain ride the gain during . . . if it's set a bit wrong at the outset, during the test level, does it actually ride the gain to some degree after that?

Mike: It does not, and that was a choice. It was a choice that we made, because when it's actually making its adjustments, it makes tiny little clicking sounds. So, we didn't want that to be in the audio path. But somebody that did like that idea of "I want to ride the gain and the ticking sounds are very low-level and I think I could tolerate them," I guess we could always make the choice to allow that to happen. But, no, when we made the choice, we said no, it won't do that. It will always be muted while the gain is being adjusted.

Kirk: Sure. So, I can think of this as not an automatic gain control like an AGC, but rather an auto gain that goes and sets the gain at the input stage for the source at that time.

Mike: Exactly right, yep. Gain trim, automatic gain trim.

Kirk: Gotcha. I'm sorry, Chris Tobin, I think I stepped on you.

Chris: No, no, I wasn't saying anything. I was just listening.

Kirk: Gotcha. So, we've been talking about this radio console from Lawo called crystalCLEAR, and that's the one Andrew showed you a few minutes ago with the touchscreen, using an all-in-one PC that's got the guts built in the back and has a touchscreen in the front. Oh, Mike, you mentioned -before the show, we were talking. I asked you is this multi-touch? And what was your answer about the technology nowadays?

Mike: Yes, actually, this is pretty interesting. This part of Windows 8, all of the gestures for touch are controlled and contained within Windows now. And so as long as the hardware supports it, you can have all of these complex gestures that Apple has made so famous with their iTouch products.

So the one we were showing at the NAB, it was a Lenovo PC running Windows 8.1 and it had ten-finger multi-touch. Now, we only had eight faders on the console, but I did manage to move eight faders at a time and it worked. So, multi-touch is kind of cool for a console. I mean, certainly it's usually not going to be eight faders at a time; it's going to be one or two faders that I'm adjusting. And so it works beautifully for this.

Kirk: So, we'll wrap up this part of the conversation by closing this out as we would an advertisement, because Lawo is our newest advertiser here on This Week in Radio Tech, by telling you that if you're interested in the Lawo crystalCLEAR console and learning about its technology, head over to lawo.com. That's L-A-W-O, like we might say Lawo, lawo.com, and then click on radio and radio consoles.

From there, you can see a video, it looks like it's got Mike Dosch in it, talking about the crystalCLEAR console at the NAB show that was held this last April. Then, you can go to the radio console section and click on crystalCLEAR and find out all about the ins and outs, how many mic inputs and outputs there are and AES inputs and outputs and see how your PC connects in over the network. Take a look at that, the 1RU box that is the Crystal engine and does all the mixing and then talks to I guess there is an application running in Windows on the touchscreen. Is that right, Mike?

Mike: That's right. That's right, Kirk.

Kirk: Very cool. So, check it out, lawo.com. They have audio routers, lots of radio tools and radio consoles, and if you're in television they've got you covered there, too. So, check it out if you would. Lawo.com, glad to have Lawo as a sponsor on This Week in Radio Tech. Thanks, Mike, for helping to make that happen.

All right, Chris Tobin, I'm sorry. As usual, I've been yapping and taking the whole thing up here. What comments might you have at this point before we jump into the whole idea of radio that you can't even see? It's in the cloud somewhere.

Chris: It's in the cloud. Does it work in the cloud? Two questions. One, actually, was interesting. The crystalCLEAR is definitely something. I've worked with things in the past, not touch - not a point-of-sale type of screen, but similar applications. If I was to use the engine in the TOC, is there a direct connect to the engine with a keyboard and mouse and monitor, so if I lost that TCP connection because somebody cut the wire or the wireless mechanism failed, that I could take control right from there?

Or do I have to come in through a TCP port on the engine?


Mike: I'm pretty sure it has to be TCP/IP. Actually, there is another control port, it's a CAN port, but generally that's reserved for our physical consoles. But, I suppose you could do that as well.

Chris: Okay. The only reason I say is because I've installed some systems where engines were in the back room and the control surface lost communication and it was like totally everything was lost. I was just curious if there is a local way to control it. And also, if I was to set this up, which it sounds like I probably could, I have an OB van at an event. The engine sits in the van, but the control service is back at the studio where the producer or director is and they want to mix everything that way. I assume if you have a good link, you can do that and have fun?

Mike: I think that would work just fine.

Chris: Perfect.

Mike: I think that was kind of what I thought Kirk was asking about when he was asking about...

Kirk: Yeah, I was asking about remote, but actually, Tobin, you asked something that's kind of the reverse of what I was thinking, where the engine is remote, where the sources are for the remote, and the mixing is going on back at the studio. I was actually thinking the other way around, but I guess either way could work.

Chris: Right, because I did a couple of news events in that fashion where we used, actually, kind of - not crude, but we used a remote desktop with PCs on the remote location side, and then controlled our PCs with the audio IOs and the news scripts and everything back at the studio. It worked like a champ, so I always wanted to be able to do the opposite at a couple of events that we worked on. But this is cool. I like this. This is like a glass console. It's pretty cool.

Kirk: Wow. All right, future's here, folks. Hey, next we're going to change gears a little bit and talk about the notion of not a virtual radio console or the crystalCLEAR has been described as a virtual radio console, but something that's even more virtual with that. With the crystalCLEAR, it's the surface. It's not a physical surface; it's an application and a touchscreen.

But, now let's chat about the notion of the DSP engine perhaps not even being on-site. Maybe being in a server chassis somewhere on-site, off-site, in a colo center, or up in the cloud somewhere. Mike, with your title as director of virtual radio projects, maybe you can kind of give us a vision into what you guys are thinking here. I can go online, give my credit card number to somebody, and have a mixer in the cloud somewhere?

Mike: Well, maybe. I'm not sure the answer is quite that simple, but let me tell you what we're up to and maybe that's the answer. Maybe you'll be able to run a credit card and build a radio station in the cloud someday.

Right now, we have a product - Lawo has a product - called Jade. Jade is a very interesting PC application. Actually, I call it PC middleware. What this does, it takes a bit of explanation but once you get your head around it it's pretty cool.

It's an audio management application that runs inside of Windows. So, imagine what we're doing right now today. For example, I'm speaking to you with Skype on a PC. I've got a USB headset, and the audio connection between the PC and the USB headset is being managed by Windows and Skype.

Everything is okay, but if you've ever actually used your PC for more than one audio application you kind of trip over this problem. That is, for example, I'm doing some audio editing. My speakers are working; everything sounds great. I take a Skype call. I plug in a USB headset, and it actually works. But I unplug the USB headset, and my speakers don't work any longer. What happened?

This is very common for anybody dealing with Windows. You get an email from somebody. You click on an MP3 file. Windows Media takes over, and maybe it does in fact play the audio, but now your audio editor is no longer routing audio the way it was routing audio before.

This is very common, and this was a problem that the Lawo engineers wanted to solve. And so they came up with this concept of audio management middleware. It basically takes all of your audio applications and all of your audio resources, whether they be drivers for IP audio, a Livewire driver for example; whether they be soundcards inside the PC; USB headsets or USB audio interfaces; and it basically makes an entire resource pool out of all these things, and manages them. It does so in a very interesting way. It creates a matrix.

And so when you open up the Jade Engine and you take a look at it, it'll be very familiar to you. It'll look like a patch bay. And so you'll basically say, "I want my Adobe Audition; I want the output from this to go to my speakers." So, you make a patch on this matrix-looking graphical thing. "I want my Skype application to interface with this USB headset, and I'm going to do this at the same time so I'm going to make a preset out of this." Any time I'm in the studio working on Adobe Audition editing stuff and somebody wants to call me on Skype, I know exactly where the sound's going to come from.

Kirk: Oh.

Mike: Yeah. And so now I can make a second preset, and that second preset could be maybe of an audio playback that's going to the same speakers that Cool Edit might've been going to before, or Adobe Audition I guess is what it's called these days. And so now I have a second preset.

So, all of these resources and all of these connections, these interconnections, are managed within Jade. They're saved as presets. In so doing, I now have complete control over my Windows audio resources.

If this sounds a little like Mac to you, if it sounds a little like OSX, it shouldn't surprise you because OSX does a much nicer job, and I'm not here to bash Windows or anything like that. But, it's much friendlier to audio applications and audio resources than Windows is. Windows gets pretty tangled up and a bit hard to manage. So, what Jade does is it untangles that and makes it a very intuitive user interface for you to deal with all of your audio applications.

Kirk: Wow. I'm looking at the page here and trying to determine what's the difference between the Jade Engine? It advertises less complexity and more efficiency. I get the explanation that you just gave us with the patch bay and such, and the presets. So, if I'm doing a telephone interview or two mics on my desk, those are kind of different things. Or, if I go to a Skype call, it manages all of those IOs. What about Jade Studio? What does that do in the picture?

Mike: Well, Jade Studio is a console app. It looks very much like a mini version of crystalCLEAR, doesn't it? You've got some faders there. You've got some voice processing presets. You've got a monitor section there to control your headphones and your speakers. So, this is essentially a Windows-based mixing control surface, and it uses the Jade Engine as its resources. So, it becomes a GUI basically for live control of a show that you might be doing, all managed by this Jade Engine.

So, now you can kind of imagine a studio, perhaps, with a touch PC and Jade Studio running there controlling perhaps in the cloud or in a server room a Jade Engine that is managing all of these audio resources. You know, a very typical example . . . and part of the challenge with Jade is explaining it. Once people get it, and I've seen the lights come on when we talk with customers, because it takes maybe five minutes to kind of explain it because it's not really a thing that you can compare to anything else.

But, once those lights come on, then our customers start telling us about all the things they're going to do with it. So, this is pretty cool. Something else about Jade that I didn't mention is it's a host for VST plugins. Are you familiar with VST plugins at all?

Kirk: Just that I've heard of them and I know a little bit about them, but go ahead and tell us.

Mike: Okay. In the music production world, there are a lot of soft instruments that have been emulated, soft synthesizers and soft samplers and things of this nature that have been emulated, and they run inside of a music production environment like Apple Logic or Innuendo or Pro Tools.

So, while you're inside of these digital audio workstation environments, you can pull up a piano for example and you can play a piano part, and it's actually not being recorded. It's being emulated right within this PC environment. So, this would be called a soft instrument.

And there is also, within this environment, within this world of virtual, this virtual world of instruments, there are also virtual processors. So, there is just a universe of plugins that are available to do everything from EQ to simulating tape noise. Yeah, that's a real plugin.

In fact, there are a bunch of them. If you want your digital recording to sound noisy and have the scrape-flutter effect going on of an old tape machine, you can buy a plugin that'll do that. And then all kinds of processors and DSers. I mean, really, you can't even imagine how many of these plugins are out there.

There are a few different flavors, but VST is one of them, and VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology. This came out of a company by the name of Steinberg, which I believe is now owned by Gibson. This is kind of a de facto standard for processor plugins, even though there are a couple of other standards. If you want to go buy a plugin, it's pretty much always available in VST and it may be available in some of the other formats.

So, as a VST host, now we're able to patch in other things into Jade. For example, maybe I have a microphone processor that I really like that has been emulated and somebody has been using it in a music studio and I really dig it, and so he gave it to me. It's a $100 program or a $100 plugin. I run this inside of Jade, and now in real-time I'm able to route a microphone through this microphone-processing plugin and then take the output which is processed and send it on to my recorder or my speakers or whatever it is I'm doing according to my workflow that I've defined within Jade.

And so this opens up a very interesting world, because now what we're doing is we're essentially replacing large, expensive boxes that people have been buying in broadcasting. You know, a microphone processor is usually a multi-thousand dollar thing, at least a good one is, and now we can do this really as a software plugin for $100 or so.

It's fantastic. It's all DSP. It's all running natively within the latent processing capabilities of the PC, and so we're just really tapping into this tremendous horsepower that exists within the PC. We're saying "Look, I'm going to use more and more of the PC and use less and less of these external, expensive boxes."

So, that's kind of what Jade enables you to do is you're able to build these soft workflows that are very complex but very easy to deal with because once you've set everything up you just set it as a preset and recall it and use it.

We actually have this working with a number of our clients. They're using it in things like journalist workstations where they'll preset a very complex workflow, and then the journalist will just simply come in and press his big record button or his big edit button and everything will happen behind the scenes and he'll know exactly how to deal with the different applications that come up.

Kirk: Wow.

Mike: Any light bulbs come on yet?

Kirk: Yeah.

Mike: It usually takes about five minutes, yeah.

Kirk: Chris?

Chris: I've had a few. I know of places that this application would work out very well. I know a few production folks who would love to use their LA-2A plugins with it as well and create little virtual studios for some of the VL work. That's a very powerful application you've got there. I like it.

Kirk: I'm just not looking forward to opening my checkbook and paying for some wow and flutter.

Mike: Well, I think some of those presets might be free. I don't know.

Kirk: Wow, so where . . . I could open a big can of worms. We're about out of time. We've been going on for an hour here, and this has just been fantastically interesting. If folks want to know more information about Jade Engine and Jade Studio, of course that's on the Lawo website as well under the radio tools area.

Then, the crystalCLEAR, our new sponsor, or the product we're talking about from Lawo, is also on the website under radio consoles, crystalCLEAR. Boy, any last comments? Chris Tobin, have you got any last thoughts about this subject? It's a lot to wrap your head around here, and I think we're going to have to eventually.

Chris: It's a great subject, and I would say limited by your imagination, and I've actually done many of the things that Mike described, a combination of hardware and virtual-thinking PCs, not having the luxury of one box doing it all. So, I see a lot of great potential. I see in the next year or two this is going to be popular. If I was a webcasting person, I'd be looking at this virtual stuff. This is definitely cool.

Kirk: Mike, we'd like to have you back again. I understand the crystalCLEAR is going to be shipping not long from now, so you'll be able to ship those.

Mike: That's what they tell me. They said I think July or August, we should be shipping those to customers. And Jade is actually shipping now; the product exists already. But, of course, it's software so they're always cooking up new features for it. But, yeah, it exists right now.

Kirk: Well, and I suppose you'll be able to come back and tell us more about virtual radio in the cloud at some point.

Mike: I would love to, but I have to say one thing Kirk and Chris. I'm coveting your microphones, so next time I'm on the show I have to get a broadcast-looking microphone like you guys because that's really cool.

Kirk: They're more affordable than ever.

Mike: So I hear.

Kirk: All right, thanks a lot. Mike Dosch, the Director of Virtual Radio Projects, that's plural, at Lawo, and Lawo is our newest sponsor. Mike, thank you so much for being with us, and if folks want to go to that website it's lawo.com. Mike, again, thank you.

Mike: My pleasure. Thank you, Kirk. Goodbye, Chris.

Kirk: All right. Chris Tobin from Manhattan.

Chris: Thanks very much.

Kirk: Thank you for being with us, too. I appreciate you being here. Our show is brought to you by the Telos Hx6 and iQ6 six-line studio phone systems to put callers on the air, conference them together, and make them sound as good as possible, as good as you're going to get with a POTS line. It's available at Telos or from any of your Telos dealers.

And, brought to you by Lawo and the Lawo crystalCLEAR audio console. It's cool, because you get to use a touchscreen PC to control it, your whole console laid out on a beautiful touchscreen PC and the mix engine 1RU. It tucks away in the rack nearby, or back in the rack room. That kind of thing, it's the coming thing. You're going to enjoy looking at that and reading all about it at lawo.com.

Thanks to both Telos and Lawo for sponsoring today's show. Thanks to Andrew Zarian for producing the show back in New York at the GFQ Network. We'll see you next week on This Week in Radio Tech. Bye-bye, everybody.

Topics: Radio Technology