Barry has teamed up with For The Record to share his reviews with the latest in recording products. Barry is a recording engineer/producer and contributing editor for MIX Magazine, ‘New Toys’ columnist for L.A.’s Music Connection Magazine, and writer for www.prosoundweb.com. He also is editor/writer of Gear Lust, his online special review section at www.barryrudolph.com.
The two-rack space Crane Song Egret is an eight-channel summing/mixer specifically designed for both straight ahead DAW mixing and composite mixing where both virtual instrument or other audio sources are mixed together with DAW audio tracks. To accomplish this, there is a lot of impeccably built technology packed behind the beak of this bird!
The ultimate aim for an audio equipment designer is purity of sound and to that end Egret works transparently–a pure system that adds no gain or ‘coloration’ to the overall sound. However to satisfy music producers/mixers who depend on their equipment for a certain “je ne sais quoi” quality, Egret also has a Color control knob for each of the eight inputs. It adds (or subtracts–depending on your perception) a certain analog softness to edgy audio sources.
Egret uses eight D/A converters just like those used in Crane Song’s Avocet mastering monitor controller. Supporting rates up to 192kHz, a Cirrus Logic 4398 D/A chip is used along with an 8421 SRC chip (sample rate converter used for input jitter reduction) surrounded by Analog Devices OP275 amplifiers for interfacing to the unit’s discrete Class-A summing and mixing bus circuitry.
There is a front panel switch to disable the SRC for cases where lower latency is required and the Source switch chooses the unit’s digital source between three inputs: AES/EBU (4) XLRS, ADAT Lightpipe, and a third ‘yet to be determined’. Currently the converters and the interface supports AES single wire to 192KHz, ADAT, and S/MUX to 96kHz and can be upgraded as the technology changes. The converters will also independently operate even at different sample rates if required.
Features And Front Panel
Each channel of Egret has a level control, a cue send, and pan control. Each channel also has an analog/digital source button where either the output of the eight-channel analog-to-digital converter or an alternate (eight rear panel TRS jacks) analog balanced line input can be selected. The alternate Analog Inputs could be used for virtual instruments running along with the mix or live sound sources such as in a DJ or FOH mixing application. You could also use them as returns from external processing gear.
To add external processing to any channel in Egret you would send to outboard gear from the direct out (eight rear panel XLRs) and return its output to the analog input. By switching between the digital (actually the output of the D/A converter) and Analog In you could A/B the inserted processing.
There are both solo-in-place and mute buttons on each channel’s line up and a built in Aux send bus with Master level control that works for either a cue system or as an effect send. The headphone monitor jack’s output follows the stereo bus output for a monitor mix when Egret is being used in multi-channel location recording.
Also borrowed from the Avocet’s design is the master bus level control. It’s a Grayhill rotary shaft encoder that drives a microprocessor-controlled bank of relays for super-accurate and repeatable 1dB stepped attenuation. An absolute necessity for recalling mixes, the stereo gain matching is better than 0.05dB.
Egret is built so that the stereo, and cue buses can be chained together to create a many input system. With a special cable, Egret’Äôs bus can be tied to a Crane Song Spider to sum additional analog inputs for complete DAW recording and mixing/interface system.
The Egret Flies
My first test was to reassign the outputs of an “in the box” Pro Tools mix I had already done. I reassigned it into four stereo stems. I wanted to keep my mix the same and compare my stereo mix with the Egret’s analog sum of the stems. I configured Pro Tools’ I/O to send ADAT Lightpipe digital audio out the 9 through 16 ADAT spigot of my Digidesign HD192 interface unit. I set up drums and bass to outputs 9-10, guitars to 11-12, keyboards to 13-14, and vocals plus all effect returns on 15-16. All four Pro Tools stereo master output faders were at 0dB positions (unity).
I ran all eight Egret channel level controls at full CW, appropriately pan odd/even channels let and right, and the Master level at one LED dot below 10. Again like my Avocet volume control knob there are green LEDs ringing the stereo level control to show levels in 1dB steps.
The stereo LED meter on the Egret shows peaks levels at about 2/3 of full scale–obviously Egret has tremendous dynamic range with substantial headroom to spare. I connected my Benchmark Media ADC-1 to convert the Egret mix to digital and sent an AES/EBU signal back to a new stereo mix track in Pro Tools via the AES Enclosure input. Also everything was clocked from the ADC-1.
Since I wanted to check for any differences between my ITB mix summed inside of PT with the Egret’s analog summing, I had to place the same stereo plug-in processing chain on the Egret summed mix back in PT.
The result was both mixes matched closer than I would ever imagine. So does this prove anything? Considering I’m doing two extra conversions: the D/A in the Egret and then the A/D in the Benchmark and applying the same stereo processing, I was surprise that the Egret was this transparent and that the eight channel inputs tracked each stem’s level so exactly. It is a testament to the quality and design of Egret, the quality of the converters used and lastly the accuracy of Pro Tools HD Accel.
So why go through this setup if it ends up sounding about the same? The answer is that you gain more mix control valuable when mastering or supplying stemmed mixes in post-production jobs.
Separate processing of mix stems goes back to George Martin and the Beatles when he would mix their mono singles to a ‘twin track’ (2-track) tape deck with vocals on one channel and the track on the other. In mastering he would compress and EQ the vocals and track differently and recombine them for maximum punch and loudness.
I Go Deeper
So my next test was to apply the same stereo bus processing I put on the entire stereo mix separately to each of the four stems. For this song I had: WAVES’ SSL Stereo Bus compressor followed by the Sonnox Stereo Limiter and followed that with Sonalksis’ SV-517 Stereo EQ. Of course in a big and powerful Pro Tools rig (like mine) this is all easy to do–no need to buy three more hardware stereo EQs, limiters, and compressors you’d need if we were working in Abbey Road studios circa 1965!
I put those plugs all set the same across each of the four stereo stem masters. Immediately the Egret’s stereo master had to come down 5dB with the increased average level jump of each of the stems. The mix was all wrong necessitating new vocal rides, drum sound changes and everything else.
For this to work I would have to start a new mix using this stem configuration. After a little work starting a new mix, I could hear that the vocals took on more clarity especially after readjusting EQ and compression and doing new gain rides. I tried compressing the drums and bass more without affecting the rest of the song’s instruments and vocals. Since my stem masters in PT are automatable, there are loads of creative opportunities with regard to remixing tricks and general mayhem.
I also had a chance to see what the Egret’s Color controls did. It is a very subtle effect most noticeable on electric guitars. It mellows out any abrasiveness in the sound without a big shift in loudness. Applied to all the stems, it is another sonic choice you cannot get in any other way I know of.
I’ll Take Four Please!
So my only wish is for at least four Egrets interconnected for 32 mix channels. I’d set them all the same at unity and all odd/even, left right for standardized recall. Like my Crane Song Avocet and Phoenix TDM plug-ins, the Egret is a big winner for me. All pro all the way, it is one of the most flexible, great-sounding summing/mixing systems I’ve used so far’Äîand I’ve tried a lot of them! It sells for $5,600 and for much more go to: www.cranesong.com/downloads/egret%20data.pdf