NBA All-Star Game Audio Goes Wide for Two Nets

The NBA has long understood the synergy between the game and music — after all, rappers Nelly and Jay-Z have ownership stakes in NBA teams (the Charlotte Bobcats and New Jersey Nets, respectively). And the NBA All-Star Game that will take place on Sunday Feb. 26 at the Orlando Magic’s Amway Center will be as much a concert as a match. That has contributed to the expansion of the networked-audio distribution that will provide signals for both Turner Sports’ game broadcast and NBA TV’s coverage of the sport and the music.

Stagetec’s Nexus router is at the core of the distributed system, which will allow live sound and broadcast mixers to pull signal from pretty much anywhere, including courtside and from the music stage. All four trucks supporting Turner Sports’ coverage of the weekend are connected to the Nexus Star router from a central hub, referred to as Splitsville, via two MADI interfaces. The same hub will allow game audio and music to flow freely for both Turner and NBA TV’s broadcasts of the weekend’s events.

Turner and NBA Entertainment each have their own Nexus network, which cross over in Splitsville — the former provided by CP Communications, the latter by Wireless First/Clair Global — with fiber cabling linking the MADI signals between them. This will allow the two entities to share a total of 128 channels of sample-rate–converted audio in two MADI signal streams. All signals are locked to video using black-burst synchronization from the NEP ESU truck.

The higher degree of distribution will enable the use of a larger number of base devices, including courtside stage boxes for more effects audio, says Stagetec USA President Rusty Waite. “The mixers for NBA TV will be able to access any of the inputs and outputs of the system, regardless of where they are throughout the venue, via the Nexus router.”

NBA TV has a significantly expanded agenda for this year’s All-Star event. The league’s network will deliver more than 95 hours of dedicated programming — including interviews with LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, and other participants — and will have the exclusive live presentation of NBA Commissioner David Stern’s All-Star press conference on Saturday. Other events on the NBA network include the Dunk-A-Thon on Thursday and the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge practice on Friday, as well as the Sprint Pre-Game Concert at NBA All-Star on Sunday.

The NBA All-Star Game will also reflect the increasingly diverse mix-console landscape seen in broadcast these days. The main production consoles will be Calrec, such as the Alpha in NEP’s SS24 main production truck. A 40-fader Stagetec Crescendo console will handle submixes for NBA Entertainment, and a 32-channel Stagetec Aurus will do the same for Turner Sports in the CP truck. A Yamaha PM5D and Avid Venue will be used as FOH for the music stage connected to the Nexus via MADI.

Waite says all audio will be sent through the Nexus system, including some of the intercom audio, using the RS485 control format to extend the key panels at the booth and other locations. “What’s very different this year,” he says, “is the comprehensiveness of the distributed audio system — everything is available to everyone on fiber and MADI — and the sheer quantity of audio sources.”

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Dave Grundtvig, the A1 who will be mixing the game and much of the rest of the three-day weekend’s activities for Turner Sports, is happy to have the help the MADI and fiber-based Nexus router system provides.

“It definitely makes my life easier,” he says. “In the past, we did these shows using conventional DT12 [copper] cabling. We’d have between 50 and 60 mults going around the building and to various trucks. Now we’re down to about seven or eight mults; the rest is on fiber. We’ve condensed a lot of man-hours and cabling down to fiber and MADI streams.”

The move to an all-fiber infrastructure changes some of the logistics in the design. For instance, where Grundtvig would have been able to send voltage down the same copper that the audio signals rode on previously to power microphones that require 48-volt phantom power, he needs to make provisions for alternative power supplies in local racks closer to the devices. But he can use the Nexus’s ability to turn power supplies and devices on from the user interface, which saves time and effort.

Grundtvig, who has mixed the past nine NBA All-Star events, says it differs from a typical NBA game in several ways. For starters, there is far more music in the mix, including in the extended player introductions and an extended halftime entertainment event (which will be mixed from Turner’s TS1 truck). He will get the live and prerecorded music mixed by Tom Holmes separately as AES 5.1 surround music stems to be mixed into the larger game mix. In fact, the entire weekend’s broadcast will be in 5.1 surround sound.

Second, he notes, the players tend to showboat a bit more for this game, which could add more color to the replay audio from the Quantum5X QT-5000 player microphones that some of them and the referees will be wearing. Those microphones have been modified for this year’s game: the standard Countryman B6 mic capsule used last year has been exchanged for the B6 W5 Red Band capsule, which has reduced sensitivity and will give improved performance in high-SPL environments.

What might dampen all that enthusiasm is the fact that, thanks to the lockout-shortened season, the players will be coming to the All-Star Game after back-to-back regular-season games, instead of the off days that usually precede the event. “That could affect the energy to some extent,” says Grundtvig. “It’s one of the things you have to listen for. It’s a complex show with a lot of elements, including a lot of music. It’ll be a fun weekend.”