Field Report: Omnia Audio Omnia-6fm

May 1, 2004

In the spring of 2003, Union Broadcasting acquired KZPL-FM - The Planet - a 50kW station that serves the Kansas City metro. Prior to the acquisition, the radio station had been on the air for just a couple of months with program feeds originating from the Best Broadcasting Studios in Dallas via a T-1. When Ed Treese and I, the contract engineers for Union Broadcasting, walked into the transmitter site, we saw our first Omnia-6fm processor. As usual, the station's program director and operations manager wanted the sound of the station to be open and loud, so I started working on finding the station's signature sound.

It takes about five minutes to set this unit up and make it operational by using one of the many presets. Just plug it in, connect the input and output, select a preset and go. But if you have a working knowledge of processing audio, the 6fm will give you control beyond your wildest dreams. The good news is that this processor provides the control and performance of a Ferrari. The bad news is that if you are not used to driving a Ferrari, you can hit the wall.

Performance at a glance
96kHz, 24-bit sampling rate
Output sampling rates of 32kHz to 96kHz, user-selectable
Composite, analog and digital outputs available simultaneously
Comprehensive stereo and bass enhancement controls
Ethernet, dial-up and serial remote control options
3RU height
Upgradeable to Omnia-6EX

The unit features 24-bit resolution and a 96kHz sample rate. After the input level was set, I looked into the settings for the first stage wideband AGC, the five-band crossover for the five-band AGC, the mixer circuit that combines the signals from the five-band AGC, the bass and stereo enhancement section, the six-band crossover for the limiter sections, six limiters, the final summing mixer and multiple clipper stages at the output. I can say with confidence that the unit provides control of the audio comparable to, if not greater than that of a recording studio. Some presets can even bypass the wide-band AGC and multi-band AGC stages for use with pure formats such as classical or traditional jazz.

The Omnia-6's AES/EBU audio inputs will work with sample rates from 32kHz to 96kHz. Connections are simple too, with XLR female and male connectors for analog and digital I/O and BNC connectors for composite outputs. The Omnia-6EX has parallel processing paths individually optimized for conventional FM audio and digital transmission chains.

I was asked whether different modes could be activated; for example two-band AGC instead of five. The lower priced Omnia processors, Omnia-3 and Omnia-5, can use two-band AGC, but Omnia-6 can't be throttled down, and frankly I can't imagine why anyone with an Omnia-6 wouldn't want to take full advantage of all five bands.

All of this control sounds pretty complicated, but it's actually easy once you get into the right mindset. I find it beneficial to think of the nine stages of the Omnia as a digital language. The trick is to think digitally in the first place, not think analog first and then translate to digital.

I also found that after about 30 minutes or so of maneuvering the thumb wheel, I could move anywhere within the unit in seconds. I can change the current setting, rename, save and engage that setting in as little as 20 seconds. The Omnia has two screens: the one on the left shows metering and the one on the right shows movement through the various stages with a Dorrough Loudness Meter at the top. Everything is clearly displayed at all times; the metering screen shows everything. It is hard to get lost in the menus or mess up any settings. The Omnia-6 also includes Ethernet remote control capability that makes off-site adjustments a breeze.

The setup screen shows the unit's signal flow, which provides access to each section's individual parameters.

Other nice touches are daypart-programmable timed processing changes that let you switch presets on a schedule, and the ability to download new presets from the Omnia website that you can load, share with other Omnia-6 users or store for later use. This is a pretty easy process; the Omnia Remote software transfers downloaded presets into the unit with little effort. The system can store as many as 50 presets on a removable PCMCIA memory card.

There are a lot of features in this unit. One useful feature is the parallel processing structure for analog and digital FM transmission. The HD side passes the full 20kHz HD Radio bandwidth and uses look-ahead limiting to make sure the digital peaks are controlled properly. We don't plan to transmit IBOC in the immediate future, but when we do, this feature will make the change easy, because we won't have to change or upgrade our processing — the capability is right there, waiting.

Since we installed the Omnia, we have found that our listeners are tuning in for longer periods of time and they are even commenting on how much better we sound compared to other stations in our market.

Rogers is a contract engineer in Kansas City.

Omnia Audio

Editor's note: Field Reports are an exclusive Radio magazine feature for radio broadcasters. Each report is prepared by well-qualified staff at a radio station, production facility or consulting company.

These reports are performed by the industry, for the industry. Manufacturer support is limited to providing loan equipment and to aiding the author if requested.

It is the responsibility of Radio magazine to publish the results of any device tested, positive or negative. No report should be considered an endorsement or disapproval by Radio magazine.

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