Sonnet’s Thunderbolt 2-to-PCIe Expansion Card Systems Enabled 96K Recording for Grateful Dead

Sonnet Technologies’ Echo Express III-R and xMac Pro Server rackmount expansion systems played a key role in the 96K recording workflow adopted by Music Mix Mobile (M3) and used for the Grateful Dead’s recently concluded “Fare Thee Well” concert tour.

M3 deployed the Sonnet solutions on its Eclipse mobile production vehicle to provide redundant Thunderbolt 2 connectivity and PCIe card expansion for recording the five-concert tour.

Marking the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead's founding, the "Fare Thee Well" mini-tour included two dates at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, before arriving in Chicago for the final three concerts, played to sold-out crowds at Soldier Field on July 3, 4, and 5.

M3 provided recording and broadcast services for the tour, which had more than 400,000 cable and satellite viewers. A broader audience watched the shows at theater simulcasts and online through live streaming services.

"Our biggest challenge for the Dead 50 tour was their requirement that we track each show at a 96K sample rate — which puts a whole new set of hardware demands on the truck. To make it happen, we needed to rely on Thunderbolt technology and expansion systems that would take up a minimal amount of space," said Joel Singer, co-founder and general manager at M3.

"We've had enough experience with Sonnet's Thunderbolt expansion chassis to know that they're absolutely reliable and rugged. Plus, they're some of the quietest expansion systems we've ever worked with — a critical requirement in the cramped recording environment onboard the truck.”

Sonnet systems are certified and qualified by AvidBlackmagic and other key technology providers. The system provides a scalable means of extending and streaming M3's on-location audio recording workflows.

For the recording, M3 extended two six-core Mac Pro cylinder computers by connecting each, via its Thunderbolt 2 ports, to an Echo Express III-R Thunderbolt 2-to-PCIe card expansion chassis housing three Avid Pro Tools | HDX DSP I/O cards.

Each Pro Tools | HDX card was attached to a MADI I/O device that enabled M3 to record 192 stage inputs at 96K. This master recording configuration was duplicated to provide a safety backup, and a third recorder system utilized a MacBook Pro and an Echo Express III-R in a similar Pro Tools | HDX configuration to record 128 channels in 96K.

For video recording, another MacBook Pro was connected to an Echo Express SE I Thunderbolt 2-to-PCIe card expansion system housing a Blackmagic DeckLink Extreme HD PCIe recording card, which output Apple ProRes 442 LT files for playback by the M3 post production team.

An additional Mac Pro cylinder housed in a Sonnet xMac Pro Server was extended via Thunderbolt 2 to three Pro Tools | HDX cards and three MADI I/O devices. Sonnet's RackMac mini 1U enclosure housed two Apple Mac Mini computers to provide backup in the event of any computer failure within the recording workflow. 

Sonnet equipment in the M3 truck.

Sonnet equipment in the M3 truck.

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