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Location, Location, Location

by Steve LaCerra • in
  • April 2019
  • On the Digital Edge
• Created: April 5, 2019

At top, Music Mobile’s Joel Singer. Below, Aura-Sonic Ltd’s Steve Remote

Making Connections When the Recording/Broadcast Truck Shows Up

One of the most important aspects of recording is the location, and for bands that excel in the live performance environment, that can mean recording a live show. There’s no substitute for the energy and edge that a live performance creates, but it isn’t always easy bringing the recording studio to the venue. That’s where mobile recording facilities flex their muscles.

These days, myriad options for connectivity exist, ranging from analog audio via copper snake to networked audio via optic fiber. To get a perspective on how old and new connectivity have to coexist in mobile recording, we spoke with two veterans of the industry: recording engineer/music producer/video director Steve Remote of Aura-Sonic, Ltd. (aurasonic.com) and Joel Singer, chief engineer/co-owner of Music Mix Mobile (musicmixmobile.com).

Music Mobile’s Joel Singer

‡‡         Make Mine MADI

“We’re prepared for all types of venue or artist splits,” begins Singer. “Analog is the easiest, using either the outputs from the venue split or artist’s gear to our own transformer-isolated split inputs. Dante is handled via a Focusrite Dante-to-MADI converter that also can handle sample rate conversion. MADI (Multichannel Audio Digital Interface) is via our DirectOut Technologies MADI SRCs, which can operate at 48 kHz or 96 kHz for use in the trucks. MADI gives us options for single-mode or multi-mode fiber as well as coax. Dante and RAVENNA use CAT or optical cable through SFP fiber conversion boxes.”

MADI can be transmitted via coax or fiber-optic cable. SM and MM refer to single-mode or multi-mode fiber-optic connections. Single-mode fiber has a smaller diameter core that enables the signal to travel farther. As it requires tighter tolerances, single-mode fiber tends to be more expensive. Multi-mode fiber can support a higher data transmission, albeit over shorter distances. An optical or coax MADI connection can transmit up to 64 channels of audio at 48 kHz or 32 channels at 96 kHz.

“The days of running long lengths of analog snakes with a high channel count are (pretty much) done,” says Remote. We may still use analog solutions for dates with a smaller channel count. It depends on what we want to accomplish, while still providing an efficient and economical way to integrate our analog components in today’s workflow dynamic.”

Aura-Sonic Ltd’s Steve Remote

‡‡         Be Prepared

“All of our ‘Mobile Production Environments’ (a.k.a. mobile studios) are based around what I call an ‘open architecture’ and are designed and configured as per the needs of the individual project,” Remote continues. “Depending on the workflow, our rigs are customized to the client’s spec — so just about anything is possible. These days, we typically use MADI digital for our connectivity and have the option of using either fiber optic or coaxial depending on the design spec of the production. We also have the ability to connect to AES50 or a Dante network when applicable.”

Music Mix Mobile currently has four trucks, each of which are equipped with Lawo mc² production consoles. “Eclipse, Voyager and Horizon have mc²56 systems,” says Singer. He adds that the company’s smallest truck, Phoenix, “is fitted with a Lawo mc²36 system. We use our Grace Design preamps on occasion per client’s requests, but currently are using Lawo Dallis redundant frames with 941-53 preamp cards for Eclipse and Voyager. The West Coast operation is using DirectOut Andiamo MC preamps. The Phoenix truck is currently using Aphex 108 preamp racks.”

[Note: Music Mix Mobile’s trucks are equipped with remote-controlled Grace and Aphex mic preamps, all equipped with A/D conversion. The Lawo Dallis is a modular I/O system that accommodates a variety of plug-in cards including analog mic/line, AES3, and RAVENNA I/O — ed.]

“Since our last upgrade to the Lawo consoles, everything has stayed pretty consistent in terms of internal truck equipment,” Singer continues. “We added Universal Audio’s UAD Live Rack Servers to the trucks and also went back to using TC 6000 Systems on surround shows. The UAD, in addition to the Waves MultiRack systems, has allowed us an unparalleled amount of processing channels and effects processing. The TC 6K has primarily been used as a multichannel surround compressor/limiter for broadcast events.”

Aura-Sonic takes a slightly different approach with its “Open Architecture,” whereby any of its trucks can be loaded with a client’s choice of console. “I’m in the process of designing a super-flexible system based around the DirectOut Technologies product line,” reveals Remote. “This new connectivity platform of routing, networking, conversion and bridging will be able to interface between a wide variety of audio formats including MADI, Dante, RAVENNA, and SoundGrid (to date.) We’re extremely enthusiastic and eager to get this essential pro audio system online and out in the field.”

‡‡         What about Analog Audio and Copper?

“IMHO, analog splits are not going away until all microphones and DIs have digital outputs,” says Remote. “Until there’s a standard, that is not going to happen anytime soon. Many venues have moved or plan to move toward digital solutions, but you still have (for the most part) those analog mics and DIs to interface. Whether you’re going 100 percent analog to the recorders or using A/D converters, you still have to split the input sources. That said, we have interfaced to the sound company via MADI or Dante depending on the set of circumstances in which we found ourselves.”

Remote and Singer both stress that pre-production is key to making any project go smoothly. “If a proper advance is done, the only thing I’d be concerned with is the possibility of dirty fiber connections if we’re using the house plumbing,” explains Singer. “Most venues have enough single-mode fiber connectivity that we don’t have to run our own TAC12s [optical snakes]. Sometimes they have been mistreated, so finding enough holes to use becomes a problem. And since we are totally digital, we do not use the house analog cabling any longer.”

Remote agrees: “The biggest challenge is interfacing with a venue when you did not have the proper pre-production or advance done prior to arriving at the venue. Pretty much anything can happen, and it may not be in your favor. Taking the time to talk to band management, band production crew and the venue folks ahead of time is paramount. Addressing your concerns and needs in advance, while also finding out what everyone else needs to accomplish will definitely save a lot of potential grief when you’re at the venue and nothing is like what you pictured it to be.”

Steve “Woody” La Cerra is the tour manager and Front of House engineer for Blue Öyster Cult.

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