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New studios fill Benelux order books

With a host of developments at public broadcaster VRT and 11 new studios for newly-combined radio stations NRJ (pictured) and Radio Nostalgie, it’s a busy time for the Benelux pro-audio industry, writes Marc Maes.

With a host of developments at public broadcaster VRT and 11 new studios for newly-combined radio stations NRJ (pictured) and Radio Nostalgie, it’s a busy time for the Benelux pro-audio industry, writes Marc Maes.

Dutch language public radio VRT recently opened two new production studios in Brussels, to be used for voice tracking, promotional spots and (unplugged) music sessions. The pair, which previously served as on-air studios, have been completely stripped down to their wooden acoustic panels, allowing engineers to rebuild the rooms from scratch, with new cabling, furniture and acoustic lining. Both studios, each comprising a control room and a live room (built as a box-in-a-box), were also adapted on the technical side.

Wim Moortgat, manager, radio operations, opted for a Nuendo-based production platform. “Alongside Waves, we use a full range of plug-ins because they make the difference in tone and colour when it comes to producing spots – the two studios will be serving all of VRT’s radio-channels, and distinct sound imaging is crucial,” explained Moortgat. “That’s why we want to get the tone of the microphone, Neumann or Brauner, as clean as possible into the Nuendo 5 by means of a Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5012 microphone preamplifier. Each step in between could lead to a deterioration of the original sound, because we implement some processing on the voice tracks – a solid basis is essential.”

The control rooms are equipped with Midas Venice 320 analogue desks, offering the option to record unplugged music sessions for broadcast use. Moortgat says he opted for analogue desks (with TC2000, TCD-Two and Distressor) because bands that come in to play usually don’t have very much time. “With the analogue configuration we can start recording within 15 minutes, a digital set-up would take more time,” he explains.

Both control rooms are equipped with Genelec 8250 monitor speakers.

Apex, which acted as integrator on the project, had to work to a tight schedule. “Every studio had to be installed within two weeks,” said Rik Hoerée, technical director of Apex. “Because of this short period, we needed to have a strict and transparent follow-up of both the internal Apex engineers and the VRT project team. The project management software that we are using is easily accessible by everyone involved, allowing them to follow the current status of the project or to add new issues.”
Apex also took on the renewal of VRT Radio 2 East Flanders’ two on-air studios and four editing rooms in Ghent.

Bart Lamberigts, project leader at VRT’s technology department, was responsible for this project. “We took the opportunity to start from zero in Ghent, the complete first floor was stripped to the concrete. For all of the cabling, we specified shielded Cat6. That enabled us to integrate all technologies onto the same structured cabling. The use of the DHD 52/MX family was the first implementation of a recent VRT tender for a frame agreement for on-air consoles,” he says.

At the heart of the new studios are two DHD 52/MX DSP cores, serving one on-air studio and two editing cells each. A DHD MADI router combines these two cores with an extra DHD MADI breakout for external signals, allowing the availability of every signal throughout the six studios.

The whole configuration runs through just a control layer, there is not a single PC inside the studios. This control layer ensures the continuous audio flow to the antenna, even during local mains power breakdown. All servers and DSP cores are installed in the technical room where a constant power is guaranteed. Every display, keyboard or mouse is connected through KVM units.

“Banning PCs from the studios is not only a matter of less noise, it is also a matter of less heat. And less heat leads to less aircon, which in turn leads to more space (and again less noise),” explains Lamberigts.

For ergonomic reasons the studio table had to be adjustable in height. “Apex provided the solution with custom-made in-house-designed furniture, allowing users to adjust the presentation positioning from seated to standing” adds Jeroen Sierjacobs, marketing manager with Apex.

“Ergonomics and ease of operation were the key elements of our design in Ghent. This whole operation by VRT’s technology department is meant to enable all of Ghent’s creative staff to work in complete self-operational mode,” concludes Lamberigts.

Meanwhile, in Brussels, the official inauguration of the new combined Radio Nostalgie and NRJ headquarters took place in October. Both radio stations have NRJ France as a common shareholder so the idea to team up was no surprise – in the new building, the complete back-office of the two stations (finance, human resource, administration, marketing, web design and technical facilities) was brought into a ‘groupement d’intérêt économique’ (economic interest grouping) serving both stations.

Apart from the fact that NRJ and Nostalgie were located at different addresses, they also both had different studio configurations, with Nostalgie driving a DHD RM4200 console and NRJ being controlled by an Audio Arts 70 desk, with Zenon Media as the only common element in both studios.

French company SAVE Diffusion was assigned as systems integrator to build a total of 11 new studios at the new HQ: two double studios for each station; two production studios with a voice booth serving both; three editing studios; and a main live studio with a capacity of 50 catering for unplugged concerts and debates.

“The idea was to have four studios with a similar technical layout,” explains François Van Reybroek, sound engineer and project manager in the new NRJ/Nostalgie constellation. “That’s why we opted for a completely new configuration, based on Axia consoles and network. We were seduced by the Axia equipment with NRJ Radio in Paris and the fact that in other studios in major French cities, Axia was a great solution for rapid changes and full interconnection between studios.”

The fully digital configuration of NRJ and Nostalgie comprises four of the latest Axia Elements consoles, used for on-air, broadcast assistance, voice track recording and production of audio sequences – a fifth console will be catering for the common live room. An updated version of the Zenon Media Send 3 + CartWall playout system acts as a content engine – Van Reybroek is also currently testing different types of monitors for the studios. Telos talkshow hybrid systems were installed pending the release of the new Telos VX for full integration on the VoIP network of the building.

“The big advantage is that we have invested in a joint landscape for two radio stations,” continues Van Reybroek. “This includes up-to-date equipment, all studios connected to each other for efficient transfer of data and content, and a joint maintenance and technical crew, and yet the two stations remain fully independent.”

Van Reybroek stresses the importance of establishing communication between all of the studios, with the Axia network as crucial element: between the consoles and system for both Zenon Media automation and Axia management of the studios, especially the broadcast studios.