Best PA Systems for a Large Venue

The cutting edge of live sound consoles is evolving and changing at an astonishing rate. Every few years, leading manufacturers will design new consoles that outstrip their older counterparts in all respects including channel counts, scalability, DSP power, routing flexibility, and user control. If you keep running into the limits of your PA system and can’t accomplish what you’re envisioning in your head, you should consider looking at these top-of-the-line systems. Although, be aware that great power comes with a price tag.

Scalability: A PA System for Your Wildest Dreams

When you’re considering purchasing a mixing console for any large-scale production (including music festivals, international touring, theaters, arena concerts, or broadcast work) your needs may be very extensive and specific. For instance, you might only need 32 input channels, but you need to provide just as many separate mixes. You might need to connect your stage boxes via MADI, Dante, or some other protocol. You might need a giant library of plugins for tone shaping, or only a handful. Depending on your needs (however peculiar they may be), leading manufactures have designed their top models with scalability and flexibility in mind. As such, these consoles are all highly customizable depending on the application, and will vary in price based on the specific features chosen.

If you’re looking to invest in the most recent pinnacle in the evolution of live mixing consoles, the following four flagship models from Allen & Heath, Avid, Soundcraft, and Yamaha will not disappoint.

Allen & Heath dLive S7000

Overview

Allen & Heath’s recent dLive flagship mixing console series offers enough flexibility and expandability to tackle any mixing scenario including outdoor festivals, large venue installations, theater productions, broadcast work, or international tours all while maintaining tank-like build quality and an ergonomic workspace. The S7000 model is the largest of three mixing consoles offered in the series, which can pair with three different MixRack modules depending on your input and output needs. The user interface is fully customizable to match individual workflows so the user can focus on mixing. Rather than trying to mimic older analog console interfaces, the dual gesture-capable touchscreens (with drag and drop, swipe, and pinch functionality) make the console feel like operating your phone or tablet’s touchscreen.

Pros
  • 36 faders
  • 6 fader-bank layers for a total of 216 assignable fader strips
  • Dual 12” touchscreen including daylight visibility
  • 3 pages of 6 assignable rotary controllers for each screen
  • Fully customizable layout
  • Color-coded scribble strips
  • 8 XLR mic/line inputs
  • 8 XLR line outputs
  • 2x I/O ports providing 128 channels at 96kHz via Dante, MADI, etc.
  • Expandability with 3 different MixRack modules: 1) 64 mic/line inputs and 32 line outputs, 2) 48 mic/line inputs and 24 line outputs, and 3) 32 mic/line inputs and 16 line outputs
  • Embedded plugins (5 different compressors, de-esser, delays, reverbs, transient designer, etc.)
  • System latency of less than 0.5 ms
  • USB recording and playback
  • Dual redundancy for power supply and all Cat 5 audio connections
  • 3 year warranty
Cons
  • Smallest touchscreen surface area
  • Heavy (90lbs)

Avid VENUE S6L-32D

Avid VENUE S6L-32D

Overview

Avid released their flagship VENUE mixing system in 2005, with the most recent S6L version coming out ten years later. The three S6L models offer a varying number of fader banks and touchscreens, with the largest 32D model including 34 faders and 3 touchscreens. Each system is outfitted with an E6L-144 or E6L-192 engine, offering 144 or 192 input channels respectively at 96kHz. If you’re comfortable working in Pro Tools, then VENUE mixing systems will fit right into your normal workflow. The S6L’s Pro Tools integration and vast library of onboard Avid plugins (including many emulations of classic and modern effects processors) enables you to bring studio-quality mixing into the live sound arena.

Pros
  • 34 faders
  • 4 daylight-visible 12.1” touchscreens
  • 12 I/O card slots, including an option for additional DSP processing power
  • Dante, MADI, Ethernet AVB, and thunderbolt compatibility
  • Expandability by Avid’s Stage 64 racks which are customizable with up to 64 inputs and 32 outputs.
  • Pro Tools integration
  • 8 XLR mic/line inputs
  • 8 XLR line outputs
  • 2 different engine options: E6L-192 and E6L-144 provide 192 or 144 input channels at 96kHz
  • Onboard effects including parametric EQ, expander/gate, compressor/limiter, delay, and 4 plugin inserts
  • Vast library of Avid plugins (including classic and modern emulators)
  • Compatible with certain 3rd party AAX plugins including McDSP and Sonnox
  • Redundant power supplies and network connections
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Separate Pro Tools contract required for Pro Tools updates

Soundcraft Vi7000

Overview

Soundcraft’s 2015 update to their high-end Vi live mixing console series boasts a feature set that can compete with models at price points up to three times that of the Soundcraft Vi5000 and Vi7000. With an emphasis on creating a user-friendly interface, the Vi series includes Vistonics touchscreen technology putting multi-function rotary knobs and switches right on the console’s many touchscreens while FaderGlow technology allows the user to color code faders. When you’re using the Vi7000, there’s little question what parameter you’re tweaking. Soundcraft’s user-friendly technologies are rivaled only by their forward-thinking dedication to sound quality. Additional Realtime Rack integration gives the Vi series consoles access to world-renowned Universal Audio (UAD) plugins, a real game-changer for live sound engineers.

Pros
  • Up to 128 inputs and 32 buses
  • 5 touchscreens that each have 8 faders and 16 rotary knobs
  • Vistonics touchscreen technology
  • FaderGlow technology
  • Up to 384 I/O channels with Soundcraft’s Local Rack hardware
  • 2 slots for stagebox connections via optical or Cat 5 MADI
  • Records 128 channels with Dante or MADI
  • Optional I/O cards for Dante, AES/EBU, Aviom, Blu Link, Cobranet and Ethersound connectivity
  • 8 Lexicon multi-FX units and built-in BSS equalizers
  • Realtime Rack integration enables use of UAD plugins (two versions available: Ultimate Live with 74 plugins and Core Live with 14 plugins)
  • Redundant power supplies
  • Redundant operation mode for network connections
Cons
  • Operation at 96kHz requires additional DSP cards and a reduction in channel count
  • 1-year warranty

Yamaha RIVAGE PM10

Yamaha RIVAGE PM10

Overview

The RIVAGE PM10 is the continuation of Yamaha’s industry-defining PM mixing console series. If names like Rupert Neve Designs, TC Electronic, or Eventide make you smile, then you should be happy to learn that Yamaha collaborated closely with all of these companies in designing plugin emulators for the RIVAGE PM10. Not only is this console designed to fit almost any circumstance with extensive input and output scalability, but the RIVAGE PM10’s ergonomic design makes achieving fantastic mixes a joy, not a chore. Virtual Circuit Modeling (VCM) of Rupert Neve Designs transformers and SILK processing on every input channel can turn your digital mix into a vibey vintage masterpiece. 40 onboard plugins including emulations of classic 1970’s and 1980’s gear further expand the RIVAGE’s color palette to match any mixing scenario.

Pros
  • 144 inputs, 72 mix buses, and 36 matrix buses
  • 2 touchscreens (15” each)
  • 38 faders
  • Virtual Circuitry Modeling of Rupert Neve Designs SILK processing available on all input channels
  • 4-band parametric EQ, 2 compressors, delay, and 2 inserts per channel (each insert can have up to 4 plugins)
  • 40 built-in plugins featuring emulations of Rupert Neve Designs, TC Electronic, Eventide, and Audinate hardware
  • Optional 144 channel Dante network I/O card
  • 2-track USB recording or optional multitrack recording and virtual soundcheck via Dante
  • Yamaha RPio622 stage boxes provide I/O via TWINLANe for up to 96 channels at 96kHz
  • Redundant power supply and network connection
Cons
  • Heavy (the control surface alone weighs 187lbs)
  • 1-year warranty