Last week, as part of BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge sessions, UK R&B star Leona Lewis became the first artist to broadcast live using an entirely digital chain - from the microphone at the venue to the DAB listeners’ loudspeakers, writes Dave Robinson.
At 10.15am on Monday 23rd May 2011, BBC Radio 1 broadcast a special live-to-air performance by the former X Factor winner, performing a cover of Labrynth’s Let the Sun Shine and an amalgamation of her own Better In Time and Rihanna’s Man Down, with two very different backing bands. This ‘Live Lounge’ broadcast from London’s Hackney Empire, hosted by the station’s Trevor Nelson, helped launch Hackney Weekend 2012, where Leona and Plan B, both from the area, will play at a huge free music event to celebrate the London 2012 Olympics.
This unique, one-off performance, utilised 24 Neumann digital microphones – a mix of seven TLM 103Ds, four KMS 105Ds and 13 KM 184Ds. The digital microphone set up was augmented with a few analogue evolution models, comprising two e904s, an e905, an e901 and two classic MD421s.
The Neumann digital microphones were fed straight into a DiGiCo SD Rack, via a bespoke 48-channel patchable AES multicore system and associated AES microphone cables, supplied by VDC Trading. The SD Rack contained eight AES 42 input modules, effectively eliminating the need for an external converter and achieving an all-digital signal path from the back of the microphone capsules straight to broadcast. Control was via a DiGiCo SD9 digital mixing console which, in turn, fed an XTA DP448 for system control using standard AES left and right, direct to a pair of K-array KR400s.
Dave Wooster (pictured) and Alan March, sound reinforcement specialist and business development specialist respectively for Sennheiser UK, were on hand throughout, with Wooster mixing the performance for both monitors and FOH from the SD9 and supplying the BBC with their live sound feed with a direct MADI split from the SD rack.
“The whole production was geared around producing the best sound for the live broadcast, whilst providing the audience of invited guests with the best possible coverage without interfering with the broadcast sound,” explains Wooster. “Also, for the first time, the majority of the stage was mic’d with a selection of Neumann’s new digital microphones, providing a digital path from the back of the capsules through to the system processors feeding the K-array KR400 system in the auditorium, which Sennheiser UK also supplied.
“The clarity of the signal coming from the digital Neumann microphones was simply stunning. A complete lack of any form of low-level system noise resulted in perfect reproduction,” states Wooster.
Alan March continues: “We fully expect our investment in the SD Rack AES42 input cards to pay off. We are now in a position to demonstrate to anyone who wants to listen, the benefits of a digital mic set up in a live environment. The input cards eliminate the need for a separate external converter and the results were clearly audible – or more accurately, not!! Complete silence coming down the mic cable and the absence of any low-level noise that can be introduced at an analogue mic pre-amp stage makes a huge difference. Everybody involved was really impressed by the total cleanliness of the audio.”
Hackney Empire is a traditional UK theatre, with a ground floor and three balconies. The audience was spread across the ground floor and the first balcony. A pair of KR400s were placed either side of the stage on the floor of the auditorium to provide complete coverage.
“We created a very basic mix on the SD9 for the FOH system, as the main focus of this show was for the live radio broadcast, but the KR400s really made the most of the feed they received,” continues Wooster.
He continues: “The definition in both areas was nothing short of amazing, with the performance of Let The Sun Shine, with piano and strings – the only two instruments being played – full of body and dynamics, allowing Leona’s vocal to sit perfectly in the mix and demonstrating the true capabilities of the K-array system.”
You can watch the performance and hear the results at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/sessions/2011-05-23_leonalewis#p00h3vzc