The New System

Those of you that follow me on Twitter may have heard that we finally have approval to update our FOH/Monitor system. I’ve been talking about bits and pieces of it over the last few months, so I thought I’d write up the entire plan. If this doesn’t get too long, I’ll get into the why. But first, let me run through what we’ll be replacing.

The Old System

We currently have a Yamaha PM-5D RH EX at FOH and an M7-CL 48 at monitor world. Most of our musicians are on wedges, EAW SM-12s driven through three KT 9848 processors feeding QSC amps. It’s all good stuff, the problem it, it’s all pretty complicated and spread out. To do even a simple event with one or two monitor mixes, we need two operators. And since FOH is in the balcony and monitor world up on a deck over the stage left wing, it’s a lot of running up and down. Though the 5D is a good desk, it’s not volunteer-friendly, nor is it particularly fast to work on. And when paired with the DSP-5D, doing any kind of pre-configuration is tricky at best.

The New System

The new system will be based around a Digico SD-8, fed by a DigiRack on stage with 48 mic pres, 8 analog and 8 AES outputs. I chose the DigiRack over the less-expensive MADIRack because the MADIRack is limited to 48x24. The DigiRack will do 56x56, and once in a while we need a little extra I/O. Monitors will be converted to RSS M-48 personal mixers for the band; vocals will stay on wedges mixed from the SD-8 for now. I had been planning on using Avioms, as Digico makes a card for the DigiRack. However, when I saw RSS was coming out with the S-MADI Bridge, I immediately switched. The MADI Bridge will enable me to feed 40 channels right from the DigiRack into the monitor system, and set up 16 stereo groups for the musicians.

FOH will be moved down to the main floor (finally!), which will make mixing monitors a lot easier. We’ll have several Mac Mini’s at FOH running various control software; one for the Digico remote, one for the RSS monitor remote and one running LAMA for real-time FFT and SPL monitoring. I like Mac Minis for this task, even if I need Windows (which the SD-8 and RSS snake do) because they’re small, cheap, we have a bunch and quite frankly, they run Windows better than most PCs. Plus, I can put them on a rack shelf, side by side, saving valuable desk space. I’m planning on buying an iPad for use as a remote surface, simply RDP’ing into each of the computers at FOH. Since the SD-8 is already based on a touch screen interface, the iPad will be a perfect match.

One key component of the new system will be the multi-track recording rig. A 17” MacBook Pro (chosen because unlike the recent 15” models, the 17s have ExpressCard 34 slots) will be connected to the SD-8 with a RME Madiface. We’ll record tracks into Reaper and be able to play them back as a virtual soundcheck. Since the SD-8 is based around MADI, this is a very easy solution for virtual soundcheck.

Another thing we’ll do that will be a lot of fun is install Synergy on each of the Mac Minis and the MBP. That will allow us to use a single keyboard and trackball to control all four computers. I’m planning on building a “monitor bridge” that will locate a line of lcd screens above the SD-8, and we’ll just mouse from one screen to the next. From a user’s perspective, they won’t even need to know they’re running separate computers at all.

Timeline

My initial plan was to install the SD-8 first and use it just as FOH, then move it to the floor, then install the M-48s. This kind of got blown up based on the timelines required by the buyers of the current system. As it stands now, will need to mix monitors (for the whole band) from FOH for a few weeks before we get the M-48s in. And because the S-MADI Bridge won’t be available until November, we’re going to need some type of interim solution.

Next weekend (Independence Day, ironically) will be the last day for the PM-5D as it needs to be in Minneapolis by July 9. Either our new SD-8 or a loaner will arrive on July 7. It won't move downstairs until the beginning of August, as we'll wait for VBS to wrap up. By mid-August, we'll be switching to the M-48s.

We’ll also be doing a lot of re-cabling. Right now, we have what seems like miles of 48+ channel copper snakes running all over the place. Almost all of them will be pulled out and replaced with a few 75-Ohm MADI cables. We’ll also be changing our drive lines to the system processors to AES, so the sound will stay digital from the AD at the pre all the way to the output to the amps.

To say I’m excited about this would be an understatement. And while it’s true, I would really like a new PA to go along with the new audio chain, we have no way to pay for that right now. By selling our existing system, I’ve almost completely paid for the new one, and we’ll have a system that’s a lot easier to use, and significantly more powerful. I suspect we’ll hit a few bumps in the road, like all remodeling projects, but once we’re done and have all the new processes worked out, it should make our lives a lot easier.