Posted in education on October 1, 2016 10:42 am EDT

Investigating Digico’s S21 Console

The console finds a home in two churches, and Church Designer reports the outcomes.

S21 Notables: The compact dual-screen design features 10 channel strips per screen, allowing operators instant feedback and control on 20 simultaneous channels.











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TAGS: audio, avl design, education, investigative report, worship space,


By Dan Daley

The S21 user interface brings to mind a word not often associated with powerful technology: comforting. It’s actually designed with the volunteer users that comprise the bulk of church operations staff in mind.

The house of worship market can take as a compliment the fact that much of the pro audio industry has come to view it as one of its most robust verticals. That may sound a bit clinical, like a line out of an MBA textbook, but in a market economy, there may no higher accolade. Except one: when an industry adapts not only its approach but also its products for that market.

"Once we heard the S21 console, it pretty much sold itself."

—Justin Barnett, Worship Pastor, Epic Church, Decatur, AL

That’s what console manufacturer Digico asserts that it has done with its new S21 digital console: developed a platform that meets the specific needs of the house of worship (HOW) user on the key touch points of price, performance, ease of use and flexibility. For all of those metrics, Digico designed the S21 to match the requirements of the HOW customer. For instance, the console’s 40 flexi-channels provide an equivalent of 80 DSP channels and the equivalent of 46 buses—16 x stereo (32), stereo master (2), solo buses (2 stereo, 4 total), and 10 x 8 Matrix (8), all at 96 kHz. And the S21 leverages and benefits from previous Digico console technologies, such as the use of the same FPGA algorithms as the higher-end SD7 and the mic-pre design taken from the 192-kHz SD-Rack.

Operation & Intent

The S21 user interface brings to mind a word not often associated with powerful technology: comforting. It’s actually designed with the volunteer users that comprise the bulk of HOW operations staff in mind. The compact dual-screen design of S21 provides 10 channel strips per screen, allowing the operator instant feedback and control on 20 simultaneous channels. This kind of instantaneous feedback offers total reassurance when mixing large shows, and the newly designed drag, swipe and drop channel layout system makes it simple for operators to move channels and busses across the surface to design their own custom fader layouts. Helpful color coding tells users which channel, aux, or group they’re looking at. Visual feedback is all reinforced with the HTL functionality of the encoder rings, and anything not in use is automatically greyed out on the console so that an operator’s attention is drawn to the right controls.

Two-screen operation offers not only more channels to view at any one time but it allows users to utilize one as a setup or master screen, while still operating with the other. The interface is set up to allow use of either touchscreen operation for functions such as EQ, using pinch, touch and drag for curves on the screen, or for a more tactile experience using the rotary encoders to fine-tune frequencies, then press to change function or switch on/off. The new screen designs are all developed under the flat-designs philosophy, to aid the user learning curve and eliminate distractions.

These new designs will still be familiar to existing Digico users, but also allow new operators to feel at home. One aspect is especially useful for new users. An integrated USB2 audio I/O interface for recording and playback of up to 48 channels (with 40 x input flex-channels mono/stereo producing the equivalent of 80 DSP channels) allows for the seamless multitrack recording of rehearsals and performances, which in turn lets users play back and remix them as they hone their skills on the console.

Matt Larson, national sales manager for professional audio products at Group One Ltd. based in Farmingdale, N.Y., Digico’s exclusive U.S. distributor, says that the S21 leverages many of the technologies and functions of the company’s large consoles, with the economies of scale allowing them to be integrated into a considerably lower-cost platform: the S21 base price is $6,995 and with options such as a D-RAK and digital snake costs $11,995. Compared with the six-figure SD10 or even the $27,000 SD9, the S21 offers enormous bang for the buck in an accessible package.

“What’s interesting is that we’ve found that the house-of-worship market is actually a very challenging one,” Larson says. “Churches can actually push the technology harder, especially in larger churches, because they’re using the console for so many unique applications—services, special events, ceremonies—and at the same time it’s being operated by a group of users with a wide range of knowledge levels. That’s why the S21 was designed as carefully as it was—it has to perform under such a range of conditions. Everything about its operation is intended to feel very intuitive. It’s really very analog in the way you can approach it, but you’re getting the benefit of some very powerful, very mature digital processes.”


Justin Barnett, worship pastor at Epic Church in Decatur, Ala., was looking for a console that could perform well under a range of conditions and applications, and could be intuitively operated by a group of users with a wide range of experience—enter the Digico S21.

The church, founded in 2009, had quickly outgrown the capabilities of the Behringer X32 that had been used in its 1,000-seat sanctuary.

“We knew we needed an upgrade,” Barnett recalls. “We needed more adaptability, flexibility, to let us use the console for front of house, for monitors, for streaming. We needed more channels for more complex live productions. We wanted a better-sounding console. We were ready to take the next step.”

Barnett says he was aware of the Digico brand but had associated it with costs beyond the church’s budget. Thus, he was surprised at the S21’s price tag, when he first encountered the desk at AV dealer Sutherland Sight & Sound in nearby Sheffield. Looking over the range of functions and specifications, he felt it would give the church the step up they were looking for, as well as a pathway to the future, via the console’s Dante-card compatibility and MADI interface, which gave it reach, via a LAN network, beyond the sanctuary.  continued >>