Calrec Brio 36. Small but a real killer.
Today at TM Broadcast we analyze the Calrec Brio 36, a console 100% targeting broadcast that features exceptional processing power and connectivity capabilities if we consider its size and price. Let’s get down with it.
One of the first things surprising me when I switched on and started operating the Brio 36 is the absence of a monitoring control. In fact, an external monitor needs to be connected –through DVI in this instance- in order to have a monitoring display. This means that in order to operate the console, both the console and an external screen are required. This could be seen as a drawback but thanks to this circumstance, the size of the console remains really compact and enables placing level monitoring in a flexible fashion in our workplace. Once a display is connected, it is fully customizable, of course, both in regard to channels and to metering. From the typical level to loudness, peak meters, and even a combination of channels, buses and masters are all possible because this is a fully customizable, flexible interface.
The second thing that strikes the eye is the faders, the quality of the device and a small thing we are reviewing below. In the Brio 36, faders are not touch-operated, which means that the channel we use is not changed by just touching the fader control, but we must remember this is a console for broadcast. In my personal opinion, the fact that faders are not operated by the mere touch is a requirement for live consoles as in this environment reaction time is a critical issue and the number of channels to handle will typically be higher than in broadcast. This makes it a must to save every second in operation, either when live or in any prior trials. However, in broadcast, where both the number of channels and live improvisation are somewhat more limited, this feature is not a real must. It is true that bigger consoles have this option available even for broadcast, but let’s bear in mind the range of consoles in which the Brio 36 falls and its approximate price, which is quite behind large English or US studios, but adequate for 90% of day to day productions.
Aside from this, the Brio 36 has 3 sections with 12 faders each, two of them in the main area and the other on the upper side, adjacent to the touch screen. Right below this screen are located the physical controls relating the display. Still today some nostalgic operators –myself being one of them- prefer to turn a knob or push a button instead of just rotating the finger on the screen or pinching with both fingers to pan a channel, in addition to the USB connections and all other general functions.
Each fader module is really easy to operate, featuring AFL (After Fader Level) and PFL (Post Fader Level) buttons, ON/Cut button (not to be confused with the MUTE button), two user buttons, and the “Access” button for channel selection. Each channel has a small screen that displays information on the channel and even some degree of monitoring, but only for information purposes. I do not think this can be used as a real monitor.
The one thing I really loved about the fader -some may think this is nonsense, I know- is the small touch featured, which can be disabled when passing over zero. I am a bit of a freak and I like to operate with levels always set to zero and then adjust gains, especially when in broadcast. Whenever I am dealing with live music I tend to be “looser” and discovering that I can really have all channels in my production set to zero was something I liked and which I did not expect in a console within this range. A welcome surprise, no doubt.
The screen in the Brio 36 is really suitably responsive to touch: it is neither too hard as some live consoles that must withstand weather conditions or sometimes even an ice beer, nor as soft as a home tablet, too delicate to my taste. Its size is commensurate to that of the console and I do not find it small at all. Furthermore, the design of the bundled software is really well adapted to the screen and the operations.
Hands-on, audio and network model
Let’s get our hands on this device and see how it really performs. Figure 1 shows the internal logical structure of the console and provides us with an overview of possibilities at a glance.
To the credit of the console’s designers, it may appear straightforward at first sight, as simple solutions to complex issues is normally the best approach, but underneath this apparent simplicity, we can –in a second look- notice this console is full of features and allows us to tweak signals and buses almost the way we please.
This has a good side and a bad side, as usual. The good side is that expert operators can really do wonders with this console and make it work as if it were one within a higher range. However, less-experienced operators might be overwhelmed by the possibilities offered and even find it hard to carry out an initial setup and get started with it. My recommendation: set up the console based on the initial “demo” configuration provided rather than start from scratch if you are in the second group. If you love playing with signal routes and squeeze buses as much as we can, clean the console with the thick brush –the so-called ”Factory Reset”- and enjoy getting everything to your own taste.
Another good hit by Calrec is the inclusion –already in this range of consoles- of its Hydra 2 network as shown in Figure 2.
And the thing is that Calrec’s Hydra 2 network enables expanding the console not only by adding its own twins, but also other larger consoles and network resources as patches. To this purpose, the network creates a virtual patching panel that can be operated from any control surface, thus enabling us to make use of any signal available within the network in any of the consoles that are part of it. Obviously, this can be restricted in order to prevent an operator from stepping on the hose of another, but in a well-coordinated environment in which permits are properly configured the full potential of the Hydra 2 network is enormous. This allows seeing the Brio 36 as yet another element within a much bigger audio network. So this console is not as small as it first seemed, right?
Operating the Brio 36
The first thing to be done is allocate a channel to a fader and an physical input –or a virtual one, of within a Hydra network- to said channel in order to have the required signal available in the fader for proper operation. This intermediate step in a notion of a channel between input and fader may seem confusing, but it is actually very powerful if properly grasped from a conceptual point of view as it allows not only selecting inputs as signals, but also buses and other internal signals in the console by using the same concept, thus avoiding limitations in the processing of any signal available in the event.
For each input we find the typical controls for adjusting gain, phantom feed, available by channel in stereo inputs, and tone generator in the selected input.
In addition to all typical features the source and target protection feature is something really necessary during operation of consoles like this one -with such a flexible setup- thus avoiding common errors like using the same source twice or modifying parameters for a target already in use by another bus or fader.
Signal processing – let’s play
All controls by channel -keep in mind, by channel, not by input- are the usual ones, such equalization, dynamics, automations and group controls such as VCAs. Special mention deserves the side-chain configuration for dynamics, which allows controlling parameters of dynamics for a given channel based on the level of a different channel in any of them in a very simple way, just by linking the parameter with the channel. That’s all.
Already well-know and good nonetheless are Calrec’s automixes. They are really useful in broadcast environments as they ensure the same kind of mixing throughout the whole event in a consistent manner, thus allowing operators to focus on what is really important. Automixes are really efficient in recorded sources, as they are triggered in punctual moments and always at the same level, which results in a really good performance of these. In voices or other sources from microphones I would not use an automix as it is too risky to let machine decide for us what mix is going to make in unknown scenarios, in my opinion.
Another really interesting automated function is the autofaders, which allow automating the rise and fall in levels as if it were a noise gate, but directly executed on the fader. A good thing is the 100% graphic configuration, which makes it a very intuitive task.
The Calrec Brio 36 is a bigger console than it seems by just looking at its size. It has features and capabilities typically found in much bigger consoles, both in size and price. Maybe some things must be learnt from scratch to make use of them, such as signal routing or initial setup of faders and the external monitoring display. But it is precisely this flexibility what provides enormous possibilities. Such a compact size requires the use of a external monitor for control, for instance, but its high-density control surface and optimized software for the screen size cause that a higher number of controls for daily operation will not be missed.
Undoubtedly a very good option for our daily broadcast productions.
By Yeray Alfageme