Figure 53

Indispensable: Great Products We Can’t Live Without

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QLab 3 is developed by Figure 53

QLab 3 Show Control Software

PART I: Audio Control

Welcome to the first of an ongoing series of product reviews I will be running on here. Like the blog itself, it is my intention to cover a wide range of products, both new and old, that have made my work easier. This first installation covers the newest version of QLab* recently released in May 2013.

In a span of roughly 7 years, QLab has evolved from a sound playback program for Mac OS X into an industry standard show control platform featuring a robust package of functions, featuring cue-based sound and video control, MIDI and OSC integration, video and audio effects plug-ins, surface-based video output for projection mapping, and more. Used in applications from Broadway to Britain’s West End, churches, museums, art installations, and more, QLab makes it easy (and affordable) for anyone to put together rich multimedia designs for live performances and installations.

For this review, I would like to talk a bit about the new audio tools available in Version 3. In later installments, we will look at video and show control.

V3 Audio Additions at a Glance

  • Up to 24 Audio Inputs / 48 Audio outputs per Cue.
  • Dynamic Audio Effects: Built-in Audio Unit (AU) capabilities for applying audio effects to individual cues, cue outputs, or even audio device outputs. These effects (EQ, reverb, pitch bend, and more) each have adjustable, real-time parameters, as well.
  • A new Mic Cue, offering up to 24 channels of live audio input for each Mic Cue (also featuring audio effects).
  • Unlimited slicing of Audio Cues, with each slice having an individual loop count for internal vamping possibilities.
  • Easy manipulation of playback rate for speeding up or slowing down the playback of an Audio Cue (with or without a resulting pitch shift).

In short, audio capabilities have improved and you now need a lot less external equipment. With the addition of Audio Effect plug-ins, you can say goodbye to many of the signal processors once needed (EQ, digital delay, compressor/limiter, etc.) In addition, there is a new level of function with slices and playback rate that allows for greater flexibility once you get to tech. Does the director want four bell clangs instead of three? Add a slice. Does the set designer need 10 more seconds for that scene shift? No problem. Just slow down the playback rate a bit.

Obviously, the new features for V3 are a great selling point. One of the other big plusses for this software is the company itself. Figure 53 stands behind its product 100% and has some of the best customer service you are likely to ever come across. It is a small company and you will talk to the programmers on a first-name basis. What’s more is the user-base of fiercely loyal QLab users on the QLab Forum. Go to figure53.com/support and select the Discussion List to either ask a question or look through the archives to see past requests. This has helped me out of a tight spot on more than one occasion (even at 11pm on a Saturday night)!

Cost

Unlike many other show control applications, QLab offers a number of features for FREE. For many of the high-end features you will have to buy a license, but there are a number of options that make this a cost-effective program. The licenses are split into 5 tiers (Basic Audio, Pro Audio, Basic Video, Pro Video, and Pro Bundle) so you can choose to pay for the number of features needed for your project. In addition, there are rental licenses for as low as $3/day, so you can try out the full package at a small cost. Educators should be aware that there are reduced costs for schools, as well.

Requirements

One important thing to know is that QLab is for Macs only. In addition, you will need to be running OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) or greater to utilize QLab 3. The good news is that the licensing activates both QLab 2 and 3, so you could use V2 on your 10.7 or lower Mac.

Closing Thoughts

The bottom line is that audio control just got a lot more powerful with QLab 3. For those Mac users looking for a cost-effective and user-friendly application for live audio, this program is a Godsend. The free version is likely powerful enough for most small companies, featuring many of the new additions. Notably, the audio effects are missing from the free version, though, so those serious about the full audio capabilities of version 3 should look into licensing.

Part II will look into the video advances in Version 3. Tell a friend between now and then!

* The Fine Print: In the interest of being completely forthcoming, this product is near and dear to my heart, as I recently authored the book QLab 3 Show Control: Projects for Live Performances and Installations. If you are interested in finding out more about the text, follow the “QLab 3 Show Control” link at the top of the screen. I am not an employee of Figure 53, nor have I received any compensation from the company for these reviews. I am a long-time QLab user and have extolled the virtues of the software long before writing the book.