Here’s an overview of the  iQ console, a new digital console from Axia.

One of the two iQ prototypes

The Axia iQ is the new, lower cost addition to the Axia’s line-up of networked audio consoles and devices. Like all Axia products, it’s based on Livewire audio-over-IP technology.

If you haven’t heard of Livewire yet, it’s a standard developed by Telos and Axia that allows multiple channels of audio to be carried over a standard Cat5/Cat6 cables. And not only audio, but GPIO and control signals as well. At the heart of the Axia network is a multicast switch, which by design makes every Axia system a router/matrix system. Livewire uses standardized protocols such as RTP and UDP, however the synchronization mechanism that enables syncing of all streams in the network and provides low latency, is proprietary. It is available for licensing and there are a number of manufacturers supporting Livewire and equipping their products with Livewire I/O connectivity. Note: Axia recently released limitless Livewire license (unlimited number of devices) for a $500 fee.

The iQ is the latest addition to the Axia family and is targeted towards smaller radio station and smaller installations, which reflects its low price. Typically, an equivalent Axia Element configuration (with roughly the same number of I/O and faders on the console) would cost twice as much.

The basic iQ system consists of the Main Frame (8 faders and a monitor module) and an iQ core. The core is a similar concept to Axia Powerstation, in a sense that it combines a console power supply, DSP mixing and processing engine, a network switch, GPIO ports as well as digital and analog I/O.

The control surface of the console has a clean and easy-to-understand layout and most users will be able to use it immediately, without too many instructions. The Main Frame has 8 fader channels, each with 100 mm conductive plastic faders, high resolution OLED display, an optical rotary ‘Option’ encoder, 4 program buses, preview and soft buttons and two heavy-duty ON and OFF switches. The rotary encoder is used to select which source to assign to a fader, to adjust gain, equalization, select stereo/mono mode (for stereo sources) and provide pan/balance control.

OLED screens provide information at a glance

All this information, as well as the source name and a small pre-fader level meter, is clearly visible on each fader’s OLED screen. EQ is available on up to 6 channels, but there is no dynamics processing available in the iQ (some things had to be sacrificed for the console’s low price point). However, that is not a serious limitation as you can simply add an outboard voice processor to the system, if you want to.

The monitor module features volume controls for the control room and studio speakers as well as headphones, selection of monitoring sources (two external inputs are supported), preview volume control with an option to route preview to headphones. There are also talk back buttons, a profile recall selection (the iQ can store and recall 4 console “snapshots”) and buttons to select metering and adjust timer/clock. The metering bridge has horizontal OLED meters for monitoring two, three or four program busses and a timer/clock display.

The Main Frame is essential, but there are also additional frames available for users who wish to expand the console with more faders/functionality. The maximum number of frames that an iQ core can support is 3, limiting the maximum number of faders to 24. Expansion frames that are available are: additional 8-faders expansion frame, 6-faders expansion frame that has two sets of 5 film-cap configurable push buttons and 6-faders telco expansion frame with built-in controller/dial-pad for the iQ6 telco gateway. All frames can be placed on the table top, recessed in the table, connected together to form a unified console surface or even mounted in a rack.

Available expansion frames

The heart of the system is the iQ core which is a mixing/processing engine with power supply, multicast-enabled switch and I/O interface – all in a 3U enclosure. This time Axia got the number of inputs and outputs right, as there are more inputs than outputs and a sufficient number of mic and analog inputs. To be precise, iQ core has 4 microphone inputs, 16 analog stereo inputs and 8 analog stereo outputs, 2 AES/EBU inputs and 2 AES/EBU ouputs and 8 GPIO ports – more than enough for most installations. All audio I/O (except microphone inputs) are on RJ45 connectors following the StudioHub+ standard. Additionally there are 6 100Base-T ports to connect other Axia/Livewire devices, and 2 Gigabit ports to connect/daisy-chain studios together.

I/O connectivity of the iQ core is substantial

There is another limitation here, however – the iQ supports 16 network (Livewire) streams (12 sources and 4 destinations or 8 sources and 8 destinations). This is limitation one has to be aware of when building a studio with iQ. For example, adding an iQ6 hybrid will take away 2 of your sources and destinations. A playout system using Axia Audio PC driver might take you anywhere from 1 to 4 or more sources and 1 or 2 destinations. Omnia processors such as Omnia.One will use up one destination as well, etc. Adding an AES/EBU node would eat up all your network sources and destinations, if you would want to use all of its inputs and outputs. Luckily, iQ has quite a sufficient number of inputs (especially analog) that a full-size node will rarely be needed. If you need network sources than iQ can provide, that probably means the Element console would be more suited for the size of your installation, which has no limitations of this kind.

The iQ also packs 8 GPIO ports for remote control of devices and red lights, 6 Ethernet ports (4 of which are auto-sensing PoE) and 2 Gigabit SFP ports, so you can use either copper or fiber cables. It’s worth mentioning that like most recent Telos, Axia and Omnia equipment, iQ core is convection cooled and you can put it any studio as it produces no noise at all. An optional backup power supply (2U high) is available, if you want to add power supply redundancy.

Configuration of the iQ system is as easy as connecting a PC to the network, opening a browser and entering the IP address of the iQ core. Everything is done through the web interface – configuring the console, assigning inputs and outputs, defining source profiles, saving show profiles (snapshots)… For Element users, it should be pointed out that iQ has only one virtual mixer and one virtual mode circuit, but also that there is now a check box to mix preview with CR monitoring. You don’t have to use a virtual mixer to achieve this functionality anymore, which is a nice addition.

Some more screen shots of the web configuration options:

As an example, a simplified studio layout based on Axia iQ could look like this:

Example configuration of the studio based on Axia iQ

The 6-fader telco expansion frame is added to the Main frame, for the total of 14 faders. The integrated call controller makes it easy for an operator to talk to the callers off and on-air and also read the status of the 6 phone lines (POTS or ISDN) that can be connected to the iQ6 telco gateway. The iQ6 has two digital hybrids under the hood, both of which are using the advanced 3rd generation Telos hybrid technology with Digital Dynamic EQ and dynamics processing by Omnia, for consistent audio from call to call. It also features AEC (Advanced Echo Cancellation) from Fraunhofer Labs to reduce feedback and echo, especially with mobile and VoIP calls.

iQ6 dual digital hybrid with 6 POTS or ISDN phone lines

Additionally, a VSet12 can be connected to the system to provide a physical phone and hybrid controller in one device. VSet12 has a large LCD color screen to display phone line status, caller information, fader assignment, access built-in address book or call logs etc. A VX Producer software is also available for call screening purposes, but it can also act as a phone as well – just connect the headset to the PC running VX Producer and you can not only talk to callers, but record it and later edit it with built-in audio editor and send to studio for playback. A very nice feature, great for news desks!

On the other side, there’s a PC with playout software and Axia Audio PC driver, delivering digital audio straight into the Axia network. The same PC can receive streams from the iQ, such as EXT1 for logging purposes or PGM4/Record bus for recording voice tracks and other bits. Finally, an Omnia One processor running FM, AM or Multicast software feeds the transmission system for broadcast.

As with all Axia and Livewire installations, the cabling is reduced to minimum as one Cat5 cable will carry many channels of digital audio and control signals, routing is as easy as clicking a mouse in a browser window, mix minuses are automatically generated and with Axia Audio drivers for PC, there’s no need to use sound cards anymore. On top of all that, all Axia devices carry a 5 year limited warranty.

The iQ is a very nice, compact and modern audio-over-IP broadcast console. Perfect for smaller radio stations and other installations, it has substantial I/O capability, enough faders even in the basic configuration and the flexibility and advantages of Axia’s Livewire technology. A basic Main frame + iQ core costs only $7,990, while our example configuration together with iQ6 hybrid and Omnia One processor will cost you $15,275 (prices valid on July, 2010.).

Goran Tomas

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