U.S. Open Coverage Promises Big Sound

Next week, expect the audio to match the sprawling tennis fest that is the U.S. Open, which begins on Aug. 30. Controlling it all will be a 72-fader Calrec Apollo desk with up to 1,020 channel-processing paths in the new F&F Productions GTX 16 double-expando production truck. The GTX 16 unit also features a Grass Valley Kayenne production switcher with a K2 Summit server and will be used by both CBS Sports and ESPN as the core production unit for U.S. Open coverage.

“The [Apollo] console’s huge, but it’s not overkill for the scale of the event,” says CBS Sports A1 mixer Jack Stocker. “The layered console will work well for the fact that CBS and ESPN will share it.”

There will be more effects microphones spread out over the five courts covered for broadcast, with 20-30 mics per court. Most will be Sennheiser 416 shotguns positioned along the baselines and 816 shotguns mounted on cameras located next to the nets. Sony ECM 77 lavalier microphones will be tied to the lower part of the nets themselves. Several A2s per court will also operate 816s to pick up umpire calls. The umpire’s chair and the umpire are miked by the venue; the broadcast A1 gets the house feed to include in the show’s on-air audio.

As with past U.S. Opens, none of the players will wear microphones. However, Stocker says there is an experiment this year that will place Sennheiser 416s in the family boxes.

The U.S. Open will be mixed in 5.1 surround sound, and the court is essentially static as a left-right stereo tableau; surround elements including crowd ambience will be placed in the rear channels.

Tennis’s characteristic “thwock” as ball meets racquet will come to the broadcast mix as the submix done by Jay Willis, working from a temporary control room between the HD trucks. He will be using a pair of 24-fader Yamaha DM2000 consoles to cover the 30 field and crowd microphones covering the main Arthur Ashe Stadium court. He expects to create an original surround-effects mix this year, rather then sending a stereo feed to the A1 as was done in the past.

Shotgun microphones still produce most of the effects audio, but Willis likes to intersperse some recording-studio–grade microphones to create a fuller sound with more sonic nuances, such as the Audio-Technica AT2050 condenser microphones: “Using a good studio microphone instead of just phase-limited shotguns adds a kind of concert hall sound to the overall sound.”

Stocker says the main challenge with tennis in general, which is amplified by the heightened emotion surrounding the Open, is to keep announcers in perspective in relation to what can be wildly undulating crowd ambience levels.

“Tennis is usually a pretty quiet sport, and the court microphones pick up the thwock and the foot sounds well,” he explains. “But, when something happens, you have to react quickly so that the announcers don’t get overwhelmed.”

Stocker uses the limiting and compression onboard the console but says he has to rely on fader movement to maintain the proper balance. He compares it with golf, which he also mixes. “Whenever Tiger [Woods] walked on, you’d potentially get clipping and distortion as the ambient could suddenly increase. So there’s a lot of movement in mixing this. This isn’t automated at all.”