Bob Zelin Looks at the Blackmagic Design Audio Monitor
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I recall seeing the Blackmagic Audio Monitor at NAB2013, and my instant reaction was "boy, this is an expensive product for just an audio monitor – especially for Blackmagic." Well, I finally got to install one for XOS Digital in Orlando, FL. in their all-SDI machine room.
XOS Digital's extensive system is centered around a Blackmagic 72x144 HD-SDI Broadcast Videohub, that routes signals from DirecTV Satellite Receivers and Bright House Network cable receivers into their shared storage system, where virtually every college football game in the United States is recorded.
In addition, there are banks of VTR's of every format, where college football can be digitized into the shared storage system. All of this media can be edited by numerous FCP 7 editing systems. The Blackmagic router also feeds several Evertz multiviewers, so that any source can be brought up multiple large screen plasma and LCD displays, for monitoring.
The nine Middle-Atlantic racks are packed full of equipment, which makes finding space in the racks a challenge.
Because of all of this equipment, it is quite noisy in the machine room, and the nine Middle Atlantic racks are packed full of equipment, which makes finding space in the racks a challenge.
In the old days, people would say "what's the big deal, get some cheap speakers, set them up on a shelf, and hook them up to your audio patch bay." But this is 2013. Everything is HD-SDI with embedded audio. Even the cable boxes are transcoded from analog component video with analog audio, into SDI using Blackmagic Design's OpenGear A/D Converters. So you just can't plug in a cheap set of speakers to hear what is going on, and there are no audio outputs on the Blackmagic Broadcast Videohub router.
All of a sudden, the only way to monitor audio is with a specialized piece of equipment that can accept HD-SDI, de-embed the audio signal, and let you listen to it. This is exactly what the Blackmagic Audio Monitor does. But it does so much more.
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Modern HD-SDI sources have multiple audio tracks on them – as many as 16 discreet embedded audio tracks. With the simple push of a button on the front panel of the Blackmagic Audio Monitor, you can select between audio channels 1-2, all the way up to 15-16. And if you just want to hear the left track or the right track, there are solo buttons available for each channel (left or right).
There is a single knob on the Blackmagic Audio Monitor, and this is the volume control. If you want to instantly silence the unit, there is a mute button which kills the speakers. Turn the volume control again, and the signal is un-muted. The Audio Monitor has a 1" LCD screen built right onto the front of the unit that displays the HD-SDI video signal coming into the unit, so that you can have confidence that the audio that you are listening to does, in fact, correspond to the video source.
The Audio Monitor has a 1" LCD screen built right onto the front of the unit.
And there are two MASSIVE LED audiometers on the front of the unit that display the levels. These VU meters have no calibration points, and have no way to recalibrate them, so if your audio reference is -18 or -20dB, you can't use these as a critical reference. But it does quickly let you know if you have any audio signals on your tracks, instead of just relying on the audio that you here. When you change what audio channels you are monitoring, the channel numbers are displayed on the 1" LCD screen.
There are two MASSIVE LED audiometers on the front of the unit that display the levels.
How's the audio quality? Eeh – it's ok. It's not like you are listening to a set of Genelec's or Tannoy's (or whatever your favorite speakers are), but remember – all of this is in a 1 rack unit box – that includes the stereo speakers, the HD-SDI video display, and all the buttons, so you are not bogged down with layers of menus. The important thing is that the Audio Monitor is loud – loud enough to clearly hear your audio source, even in a very noisy machine room. This makes for a perfect complement to a QC station that has an HD-SDI monitor, a waveform monitor/vectorscope, and an audio monitor.
In fact, this must have been what Blackmagic was thinking when they came out with this unit – to complement their SmartView HD 17" Monitor, and SmartScope Duo waveform/vectorscope combination. The Blackmagic Audio Monitor is the third piece to the puzzle of a complete QC station for a machine room.
The Blackmagic router also feeds several Evertz multiviewers, so that any source can be brought up multiple large screen plasma and LCD displays, for monitoring.
The Audio Monitor has stereo analog audio inputs (using XLR connectors), RCA audio inputs, as well as a single AES/EBU audio input. But I cannot imagine anyone ever using these inputs, as anyone who is going to spend $1500 for an audio monitor has an HD-SDI requirement, and this meets the demand for that perfectly. While $1500 may seem expensive, this product is dirt cheap compared to a Wohler audio monitor, which basically does the same job, and costs dramatically more.
The chief engineer of XOS Digital, Dave Wilson, commented on the one major thing missing from the Blackmagic Audio Monitor – a set of reading glasses. Looking at that 1" LCD display is quite a challenge, with all the status information showing on the display – ESPECIALLY if you are over 40 years old. Of course, I completely agree with this. In the attempt to squeeze all of these features, and the video display all into a 1 rack unit box, it is quite a challenge for the visually impaired (like me) to see everything clearly without glasses!
With Blackmagic making such amazing products, like the entire Decklink series, the Smart Scope Duo, The Smart View Monitors, all the mini converters, etc. all for under $1000, it is surprising that they are charging $1500 for the Audio Monitor. But if you need a machine room QC Audio monitor that is HD-SDI compatible, and that is loud enough for your noisy machine room, so you can actually hear the audio sources, well, this is the least expensive thing on the market, and it does it's job perfectly.
As a final comment, this product is truly "plug and play." We took it out of the box, plugged it in, looped the HD-SDI source from the HD-SDI monitor, and instantly heard audio, as well as saw the video. There was no setup, and no need to read the manual. It plugged in and worked. Why can't all products be like that?