Following a successful launch in September of last year, Sennheiser’s Digital 9000 wireless system made its stage debut at the Antwerp Sportpaleis on 15 November at the annual Night of the Proms event.
Combined with the use of wired systems, it was the biggest production to date with so many Sennheiser digital microphones – 59 channels worth in fact (100 in total with the analogue systems).
Three 9000 bundles came directly from the manufacturer to the venue – on stage, the new new systems were used by Jermaine Jackson, John Miles and presenter Carl Huybrechts. According to Christophe Van den Berghe, sales and marketing director at Sennheiser Pro Benelux, the system’s high-definition transmission without audio compression is a key advantage.
“Digital transmission results in less intermodulation. The combination of the 9000 series with smart antennas allows the use of fewer wireless frequencies, and spectrum efficiency is becoming an important issue,” he says, “especially for big productions like the Night of the Proms.”
Van den Berghe says the Night of the Proms concept is perfect to take the use of digital microphones to a new level – from pure classical music to ‘classics meets pop’. “We went to see sound engineer Patrick Demoustier [of EML/PRG] to see what could be done and what the possible challenges would be. We were happy that Patrick and the Proms organisers were open to the plan,” he says.
Over the past few years, the live music business has been gradually looking to digital technology for consoles, amplification and effects. “The only analogue element left was the microphone,” explains Van den Berghe. “Neumann were the first to launch digital wired microphones following the AES 42 standard; Sennheiser immediately followed with the MKH 8000 series. Neumann/Sennheiser digital microphones were first used in recording studios and with broadcasters – from there onwards, the way to classical concerts opened up. The big advantage of digital microphones is the wide dynamic range combined with a low signal/noise ratio.”
Planning for Night of the Proms took over two years. There were a several challenges to overcome because of the size of the production, the extremely tight load-in/load-out schedules and the requirement for rapid change-overs.
“Digital microphones bring you a lot of detailed control, a huge dynamic range and can save you a lot of A-D converters , but amplifying a big orchestra with digital microphones is not obvious,” says Demoustier. “We gradually introduced digital microphones in the Proms orchestra – after testing the system during the pre-Proms in Sweden, we talked to musicians and our sound engineers and decided to go for it in Antwerp.”
Demoustier says the use of the digital microphones was like taking two steps at a time. “We went from standard top-class analogue microphones to digital Neumann microphones and, as from today, to digital wireless microphones.”
In total, 65 digital wired Sennheiser and Neumann microphones were used on stage for the classical Proms orchestra (the only exception being the string section, using DPA). Some of them were quite specific: for the flautists, for instance, Sennheiser designed an adaptor for the digital headset consisting of a HSP4 headset, MZD 8000 digital module and the custom made connector element. “In many situations, the existing complete Neumann microphones would be too big as they would limit the musicians in their movements, and microphone stands were no option either,” explains an den Berghe.
“So we fabricated a specific clamp which, in combination with the split-off capsule and digital module, created the perfect balance for most instruments – we’re Sennheiser and we provide solutions for our clients.”
The brass horn section was equipped with Neumann KM 184 series cardioid microphones, oboes and bassoons were using digital KMD 185 microphones. “For the amplification of the harp, played by special guest Remy Van Kesteren, we used a Kortier Harp pickup system capturing the sound of each individual snare,” continues Demoustier.
“We used KMD 184 and 185 microphones for percussion, and Neumann digital TLM 103s for the electric band’s drumkit – the band’s guitar amplifiers were under the stage, each with two TLM 103 microphones.” In addition, the production also used 24 channels of Sennheiser 2000, 3000 and 5000 wireless microphones and 24 channels of the 2000 series wireless in-ear sets.
Providing adequate monitoring was another challenge: the existing personal monitoring sets were not equipped for digital microphones. The signal was channelled via a multicore to the monitor consoles (DiGiCo SD7 and D5) and then returned to the individual musicians. “We had our doubts about the delay times – these people have classically trained ears,” said Van den Berghe. “But by combining the musician’s signal and the console’s mix in the in-ear sets, this proved to be no obstacle.”
EML/PRG also assembled extra cables and ordered additional digital cards for the DiGiCo racks.
Story: Marc Maes www.sennheiser.be