DiGiCo Improves The Voice Of The Voice

Emmy Award-winning reality television singing competition The Voice has been a ratings juggernaut for NBC, with Season Six debuting at the end of February 2014 to an audience of nearly 16 million viewers. As the season moved into its final live performance phase in April at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, front-of-house mixer Andrew “Fletch” Fletcher selected the DiGiCo SD7 console as the best choice to optimize broadcast audio quality and manage the show’s large number of inputs and outputs.

DiGiCoLogo“The SD7 sounds amazing. I challenge myself now on how little EQ I can use, as most things sound great with just a high-pass filter,” says Fletcher. The Emmy Award-winning engineer’s credits include such major television entertainment and awards shows as The Grammy AwardsAmerican Idol,Film Independent Spirit AwardsMiss UniverseBillboard Music Awards and numerous others.

According to Fletcher, the DiGiCo console is uniquely capable of handling the large number of inputs and outputs. “This is the only console I can do this show on, if I want to use one console, as I have 153 inputs and 53 outputs.”

From the SD7 console Fletcher generates 53 outputs from the live band music mix and contestant vocals, as well as production audio playback elements, feeding a multi-zoned PA system flown above the audience. Dialog from the four judges (Adam Levine, Shakira, Usher, and Blake Shelton), host Carson Daly, and the contestants is fed to a speech-only speaker system positioned under the audience seats, at various locations around the stage, and flown above the set. ATK Audiotek of Valencia, CA supplied all of the production sound equipment for the show.

“For The Voice I have to land 144 inputs from the stage plus effects returns and a few local inputs such as an iPod,” Fletcher continues. “All of these inputs have to be available on the surface at all times as I have to seamlessly transfer from a musical performance to a dialog section and then back to another musical performance again, which may consist of a guest band or the house band with a live string or horn section. I keep all of my dialog inputs in safe mode and switch snapshots for the music during the dialog portions of the show.”

Fletcher separately processes the music and dialog feeds in order to minimize coloration from the front-of-house PA leaking into the mix being created by broadcast production mixer Michael Abbott in the nearby NEP Denali Silver remote truck. The SD7 is integrated with a Waves/DiGiCo MultiRack SoundGrid and SoundGrid Server One. “The SoundGrid system really helps because I can put Waves plug-ins on everybody separately,” says Fletcher.

“Everybody – Adam, Shakira, Usher, Blake, Carson – has their own plug-in chain in MultiRack. They’ve all got a WNS, the Cedar-style Waves Noise Suppressor plug-in, on their mics. I can hear the room coming back and I just adjust it until it’s clean.” He adds, “Carson’s also got a C6 multiband compressor; it’s de-essing and de-thumping him when he really gets on the mic.”

Fletcher continues, “I’m using the multiband compressor on all the vocals – I love it. You can get rid of a myriad of problems with that plug-in and get a great vocal sound with little or no EQ. I also use a hall reverb and a plate reverb for vocals, depending on the song, and a room reverb for drums. I round that out with a couple of delays for vocals – all DiGiCo inboard effects.”

The routing and busing flexibility of the SD7 makes it ideally suited to broadcast applications like this, as Fletcher relates: “I’m using about 20 groups to get stuff to the matrix which enables me to create a mix-minus to any speaker – very important for TV. I also have 10 or so auxes working for effects sends, feeds to subs and vocal monitors for the coaches.”

The powerful functionality of the SD7 additionally enables Fletcher to focus his attention on relatively few controls during the dynamically changing show, despite the large numbers of inputs and outputs that he must manage. “I use the control groups to mix the show, which I have down to four faders: performance, host, coaches and artist,” he elaborates. “I use a single snapshot for each song, which I put in show order in the snapshot list and load using a macro. I also have macros set up for updating a snapshot, saving the file, calibrating my outputs to 0 dB, switching my Waves plug-ins in and out of the audio chain, and for turning on and off certain speakers around the stage.”

With the four judges sitting relatively close to the audience with open lavalier microphones, plus the host and the contestant on stage with handheld mics, Fletcher also utilizes the Waves Dugan Automixer plug-in to reduce unwanted noise in the vocal channels. “On this show, I’m using eight channels of the Waves Dugan plug-in,” he says. That includes the judges, host, and contestant, plus two spares for guests. “It’s all done through the SD7’s buses, so I can send anything to the Dugan; it’s very flexible.”

DiGiCo and Fortyeight.tv win at the European Elections
The elections to the European Parliament in mid-May inevitably attracted a huge amount of news coverage from across the continent. Much of the attention was focused on the European Parliament building in Brussels, where a pair of DiGiCo SD10 consoles kept the world’s media up to date.

The European Parliament itself commissions all of its broadcast facilities, these are then used to relay feeds to broadcasters; in this case the many who were covering the elections.

“The Parliament’s sound engineer, Oliver Martin, wanted the same team for the audio systems who worked on the last election, in 1999,” says Laurent Fortier, CEO of PA company Fortyeight.tv. “In ’99, we worked with Patrick Vancauwenbergh who designed the PA system. Naturally, we continued to work together.

“We talked to DB Video, the Parliament’s AV systems integrator, about which mixing consoles to use. DiGiCo consoles are already used at the Parliament and are also used by DB Video for other projects, so it was logical for everyone concerned to carry on with them for the elections.”

He continues, “The sonic quality of the desk is naturally very important. For the broadcast feeds it’s vital to have one of the best brands on the market. Another hugely positive factor was the ability to use Optocore – which is amazing – with DiGiCo desks. Its ability to take multiple signals without any issues makes it ideal for us.”

A pair of DiGiCo SD10s were set up in the chamber of the European Parliament building, one to mix Front of House sound for a PA system set up for political debates being staged in the chamber, the other to manage the broadcast feeds.

“There are a number of sets within the Parliament that are used for interviews and other broadcast requirements. Each one provided a feed to the broadcast console. Together with outputs from the FOH desk, these were mixed and supplied to all the broadcasters who needed them,” says Laurent.

The two SD10s were complemented by a trio of SD-Racks. An interface connected to the SD10s’ MADI ports also provided AES/EBU I/O.

“Despite the fact that the broadcast console was full on the input side, the setup was straightforward, thanks to the SD10’s ease of use and offline preparation. We started at 3pm and were finished by 5pm,” says Laurent. “The customer didn’t know beforehand if we were going to use headset, tie or desk microphones, so we had to make some adjustments, but the user-friendliness and quick access of the SD10 meant I could give them the right set up in plenty of time.”

During the event, the system was overseen by Fortyeight TV’s Francois Wilmet. Given the rapidly changing nature of live election broadcasting, everything was mixed live.

“We had no idea beforehand who would be being interviewed and how the political discussions would pan out, so everything had to be mixed live,” Laurent continues. “The SD10s handled it perfectly.

“We have been using DiGiCo consoles for six years at fortyeight.tv and the quality of the products is what keeps us working with them. Every year we have more possibilities; with this kind of product you can do a job this year and in three years do a bigger job because the desk is more powerful, thanks to the software updates.”