It was 2009 when London-born Paloma Faith first broke into the UK music scene. Three hit singles and a platinum debut album is never a bad start to a pop star's career; and at the end of last year, Fall to Grace followed suit, also going platinum, peaking at number two in the UK Album Charts, and catapulting her to super-stardom in the process.
For her latest tour, everything audio was supplied by SSE Audio Group. FOH engineer Huw Richards is using an L-Acoustics KARA system for the first time, and it's proving particularly versatile, he reveals.
“We needed a flexible system that still packed a punch, as the venues on the tour are all so different,” he says. “I'm impressed by KARA - it's a very compact and lightweight system, and although we're pushing it to its limits here, because of the way we are able to configure it, it actually covers the room better than an [L-Acoustics] V-DOSC or K1 system would.”
Praise, indeed. Two hangs of 18 KARA along with three hung L-Acoustics SB18 subs per side were deployed, and power was via several racks of L-Acoustics LA8 amplifiers.
“The system has exceeded all my expectations,” Richards insists. “I haven't had to ground-stack it once as the hung sub is powerful enough; and in terms of rigging, the boxes are usually down before the drum kit after the show, which is amazing, really.”
System tech, SSE Audio's own Perttu Korteniemi, says two local crew is enough to hang any KARA system, because once propagated, it goes up (and comes down) very quickly. He also uses L-Acoustics' SoundVision software to make his room predictions.
“It's the only 3D prediction software out there, and it's excellent - though there's no wizard element to it, it's still a lot of maths,” he smiles. “It's all IP-based now, so the role of a tech is pretty much a full-time job; if you have the dimensions of the room and seriously good drawings, you can do a lot of prep work; I already had a room file for the Apollo, which gave me an advantage.” Console of choice at FOH was a DiGiCo SD10. A long-time fan of the manufacturer, Richards feels DiGiCo offers great value for money and excellent sound quality.
“Whatever the [DiGiCo] desk you're using, you still get pretty much what you'd get in the flagship SD7: great EQ, great preamps; it all stays the same quality, no matter the price,” he says. “I'm running 54 channels here on my SD10, and I love that I have 12 faders in each bay rather than eight, because it's fantastic for drums, as I can pack the whole kit into one bay, which is ideal.”
Richards is also impressed by the SD10's internal effects: he uses several reverbs for the drums and various delays for the vocals.
“There's a lot happening on stage so it's good to have all that processing available to send anywhere as and when you wish to. Miles [Hillyard, SSE Audio's senior project manager] also gave us some cool hardware to have a play around with, including the Waves PuigChild, which works beautifully on Paloma's vocal, as she has quite a peaky mid range,” Richards explains. “We have it on a setting that seems to work well for her; it just catches the peaks and holds them back and it fattens the vocal up nicely. I then use a TC Electronic 6000 for Paloma's reverbs, which is also a brilliant bit of kit.”
Audio travels via a digital path from the SD10 into two Lake processors (LM44 and LM260), which are located at FOH; then it goes into a Cisco switch, and then it's all fibre to stage left. From there, it breaks down to Cat5 to the stage Lakes (two additional LM44s), then it goes AES to the LA8 amplifiers.
“This means when the microphone hits the [DiGiCo] SD rack on stage, it doesn't go back to analogue until the speaker cables,” Korteniemi explains. “This method keeps everything simple: there's no setting up of gains and no hiss; it's all nice and clean, so when you open up the PA, there is no interference whatsoever.”
At monitor position, Saul Skoutarides worked from a Midas PRO 2, packed out at 53 channels. He provided individual in-ear monitor mixes to three dedicated backing vocalists and all band members; and Paloma's 'blinged out' gold Sennheiser SKM 5200 mk II was linked to Sennheiser's top-of-the-line 3732 receiver. The results, Skoutarides says, are phenomenal.
“The SKM 5200 sounds excellent, and because we're also using the dynamic  head, it doesn't use too much band, therefore it's far more stable than a condenser for this application,” he explains. “As it's the only radio mic we're using, I've brought in the 3732, which is also excellent. It has an AES output, so it sounds great if you want to keep it digital all the way, and it's in the NGB frequency range, which goes all the way from 606-790, so I can also use it as a scanner to scan my entire band every morning, because all my [11 x Sennheiser G3] in-ear systems fall into that band. It's just a great setup to work with.”
Although Paloma Faith may only stand at 5ft 3”, her stage presence transforms her into a fizzy, cheeky giant. A capacity crowd went home very satisfied that night, after witnessing a show that sounded as good as it looked, which, of course, is not surprising when you consider the quality of the team around her. www.digico.bizwww.l-acoustics.comwww.sennheiser.co.uk