Award-Winning TV Mixer: My Journey With SSL’s System T

[Editor’s Note: Kevin Duff is an award-winning live television sound supervisor and dubbing mixer with over 30 years of industry experience on some of the largest TV productions. Here he provides a first-hand account of using the Solid State Logic System T mixing console, a live-to-air broadcast audio production system that is entirely IP based, for mixing a series of live telecasts.]

In this article:

  1. The Journey Begins
  2. Opportunity Knocks
  3. Building “The Voice”
  4. The Audition Stage
  5. Show - You’re Working
  6. Pleasing Processes
  7. Sound Check
  8. Kit Car
  9. The MD’s Verdict
  10. Different Challenges - Pitch Battle
  11. The Power of Snapshot
  12. Operator’s Choice
  13. Broadcast Time
  14. Passchendaele Centenary
  15. Rehearsals
  16. Radios - Ga Ga
  17. Conclusion

The Journey Begins

“For me it's all about gain structure; if the gain structure through the bussing and outputs of a board is right, then it’s ticked a huge number of boxes.”

Some digital boards get it right and some get it wrong. It's a sweeping statement, I know, and I guess that many might think I am referring to dynamics or EQ or functionality, but I am referring to nothing more at this stage than the 'feel' of a console. Over the years I have used pretty much every flavor of board for broadcast work and some desks just feel right and others wrong.

Of course, there are many subjective aspects to “feel,” but I have thought about what I personally mean by that term, and I can say that for me it’s all about gain structure; if the gain structure through the bussing and outputs of a board is right, then it’s ticked a huge number of boxes. Gain structure, particularly in live broadcast audio mixing, is critical.

Many very expensive digital boards just get it so wrong. I spend so long trying to move the gain around to avoid horrid clipping points and over-saturation that I lose the focus on the mix. I often have to find ways to change my workflow just to cope with less-than-satisfactory gain structure.

Bear that in mind while I tell you about my journey with Solid State Logic's System T console.

Opportunity Knocks

“We managed to find a window in the schedule (about 4 days actually!) during which the truck I was working with at the time would allow me to rip out the desk we were using and install System T, so I could have a go on some real shows.”

Ben Milton is a very well respected monitor engineer who I am lucky to have on the UK series of "The Voice."  He is not prone to talking rubbish (well maybe occasionally), so when he started to bore me with his incessant chanting of the SSL mantra I thought I had better put down my copy of The Beano and listen.

Ben looks after the running of the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury, and for the last couple of years has used the SSL Live console as a front-end board for his workflow there, as the desk can sample rate convert on the fly so you can push anything into it and it will cope.

Also, he told me how amazed he was with the sound and that I should try one.

The demo SSL System T system inside the Zen Broadcast Mobile.

The demo SSL System T system inside the Zen Broadcast Mobile.

So, after an introduction to Tim Harrison at SSL’s UK headquarters we managed to find a window in the schedule (about four days) that would allow us to rip out the desk we were using on the Zen Broadcast production truck I was working with at the time and install a System T console. I wanted to have a go on some real shows. Me being me, those shows were to be two pretty demanding Saturday night live broadcasts and another huge live event, on consecutive weekends, with only a few days to learn the desk.

After installation, which included an IP audio network (using Audinate’s Dante AoIP technology) made up of a load of network switches with Cat6 cabling connecting everything together, we were ready and I started to build my desks for the shows. SSL was amazing at finding me kit to build a demo system, but could only source me 96 inputs of mic amps at such short notice. This meant I was working with a maxed-out input list for all of these shows.

Building “The Voice”

“I often think that a desk you can't find your own way around has probably been designed by too many engineers and not enough operators. In the case of System T, it’s bang on.”

My first build was “The Voice Kids UK” final (we had recently finished the adult version), which was a great place to start as I have been doing that show for six years. It’s a well-known beast, and the excellent band headed by David Tench is the most solid and consistent set of inputs you are likely to find. I spent maybe one or two days building that first show, as I had never used the desk before. Yet, without much help except the odd call to SSL Tech Support, I managed to pretty much do it all.

That was very reassuring. I often think that a desk where you can't find your own way around has probably been designed by too many engineers and not enough operators. In the case of System T, it’s bang on. 

For “The Voice Kids UK” finals mix, Duff set up his System T console to be a hybrid of a broadcast desk and a music desk.

For “The Voice Kids UK” finals mix, Duff set up his System T console to be a hybrid of a broadcast desk and a music desk.

The menu structures are very similar throughout the board so you don’t get confused logic. That is, if you can find your way through one, the next will be straightforward.

The Voice live finals see me doing just the music and guest acts, with Howard Nock doing presentation in another truck, but my build is still a hybrid of a broadcast desk and a music desk. It's 96 channels into six groups into two mains, but I also in-line all of the stage inputs to the multitrack and add a few group mixes to the multi as well for monitoring (clean stereo band and full mix etc.).

Needing to structure in this way meant that I had to give the routing a good workout as I use Input 2 returns to flip the multitrack for remix.  So, I needed to get quite involved with that side of the desk. Once I had the thing configured, including all the ins and outs for my usual outboard kit (UAD/Neve, Eventide, and Bricasti), it was time to fire up one of the old “Voice” band recordings and give it a whirl.

Now I am a bugger for lining up. I always spend ages on line-up as it flags up so many things, and—going back to gain structure—I often spend far too long trying to make digital boards do what I need. In this case I found the line up very easy, and I had settled very fast in terms of gain through my groups and main outs, which was great.

The Audition Stage

“The sound was simply stunning, and that is no exaggeration... The soundstage of a band I have recorded for 5 years had immediately changed.”

Andy Deacon from Zen Broadcast (the mobile production company I was working with) was running playback and record for me. He has spent hours listening to the rubbish I produce, as well as being a classical recording engineer himself, so between the two of us we have reasonable ears for most things.

The next 5 minutes were a bit of a shocker. I had panned the channels and grouped stuff, but there was no EQ or compression at this point. I work really hard at my record gains, so I knew the multitrack was gained nicely, and I just parked all the faders in the rough places I knew I did on other boards (although all pretty much zero, to be honest). Then we hit Play. Now I am not one for nonsense stories, but on hitting Play we both just stopped and looked at the Barefoot monitors in disbelief!

The sound was simply stunning, and that is no exaggeration. I mean, obviously things weren’t the right level, and the mix wasn’t together, but the soundstage of a band I have recorded for five years had immediately changed. Ben Milton had previously reported an almost 3D opening of the sound, and that is exactly what we heard. The detail was astonishing—and I hadn't done anything yet! The image widened, and the whole thing had a “mastered'” feel about it. We jumped to another number for comparison and the same thing happened. It just made me smile; and also made me want to get into the channels to see what else was possible.

Show - You’re Working

“Suddenly I had the power to design bespoke sections of the show without loading two sets of data - so the desk layout became a dream.”

The next day or so saw us begin to delve into the operational functions of the board. The demo board only had 32 faders on the top surface, plus a Master Tile, Chanel Tile, and large touchscreens, though the ability to lock and grab screens means I can I look at and adjust anything anywhere.

The desk does all the normal things you would expect in layering, but it has the most wonderful layer manager tool, which steps it up from my previous favorite board as it allows you to do so much more in terms of management with a drag and drop architecture that, once understood, makes it very fast to adapt rigs and layouts.

I had to give a little thought to my show layout as we weren't overrun with faders, but the beautiful thing here is that the snapshot recall brings the layers back! Now, I know that for all you live sound people this is boring, but for me it's a revelation! Suddenly I had the power to design bespoke sections of the show without loading two sets of data. So the desk layout became a dream.

I duplicated the faders I wanted to lock in place through the layers and then built the channel sets I needed around it so I had an elegant and powerful show designed in no time. Little did I know how much this would save me on the next show. (But more of that later.)

Pleasing Processes

“It gave me confidence to know the headroom was available to cope with unexpected challenges as they appeared.”

I then started to explore the EQ and dynamics. I use SSL plugins in post and I have also used the SSL C200 board, so I know and love them already. Channel priority positioning of EQ, dynamics, and inserts is very easy with a drag and drop list on the channel view, and once inserted I found them stunning. All the SSL sound is there as you would expect, but it’s now all controllable from a large touch screen GUI as well as small knob adjustments—if that's more your thing.

I mentioned earlier about desks designed with operators in mind, and once in the channel views I saw a great example of this with the copy/paste window. On the System T it's right where you need it and so easy to operate. Saving and recalling personal operator presets is a dream, and getting my band EQ and dynamics sorted took no time, as I could forget about clumsy menus and engineering and just mix. Due to its design, this desk just gets you to the mix faster.

The dynamics are ridiculous. The one time I thought “oh that sounds a bit harsh” on a channel I opened the comp' and found (due to my lack of talent) that I was thrashing the compressor to death and yet it just sounded '”a bit harsh.” Looking at what was going on I couldn't believe what I was hearing. The timbre of the input was still there somehow, and it gave me confidence to know the headroom was available to cope with unexpected challenges as they appeared.

Sound Check

“I have never used Dante before but I have to say I am a convert now, the desk shows very clearly what is and isn't online and I could see stage boxes pop up.”

Gain structure to my masters was bang on, and I got myself to a point on playback of old recordings that I was really happy with my band mix. The next stage would be to add the stage boxes and get ready for my first real sound check with the band. 

Duff used an existing Zen Broadcast OB Van to retrofit a System T console.

Duff used an existing Zen Broadcast OB Van to retrofit a System T console.

Sound check day is normally pretty calm as we all know each other so well, but I was a little unsure as, while the desk was sounding great, adding the whole front end can always throw up little things. I have never used Dante audio networking before but I have to say I am a convert now. The desk shows very clearly what is and isn’t online and I could see stage boxes pop up. The mic amps GUI is also as sensible as other menus. The only small issue I had was—again having a demo system—we had two flavors of stage box cards that worked slightly differently; on a new system, this wouldn’t be an issue. On some boxes I had to re-take ownership of head amps whereas on others I didn’t.

Due to some line list changes, I suddenly needed to add channels, and that was easy in the desk configuration page. You just go into edit mode, add the number of extra channels and (crucially) hit “Apply” (you only forget this once), and the desk just adds them in. The desk does perform a show file load at this point, but after checking, it turns out the reason is to clear out all the old cache information—which seems sensible and only takes 20 seconds, so is not a real issue.

Now, I even have my gains written down from previous shows as we use the same mics and splits. I know this all sounds anal, but we have a very set post production workflow and keeping it all the same means I get mixes up very very fast in Pro Tools by importing band session data into mixes, so consistent front end gain is key. I had dialed in my gains already so I was as ready to go as I normally am. And off we went… Kick, snare, hat etc. The worry here for me was speed, but I kept up even though I was a newbie to the board.

After sound checking the individual kit I asked for some rhythm and fills from the brilliant Ash Soan who drums on the “Voice.” And off he went.

Kit Car

“To give you an idea of just how different it was I would say that this desk is like going from a nice family saloon to a supercar…”

To explain to anybody who doesn't know, Soan is a very well-known and sort-after musician, and to record him over the years has not only been a pleasure and honor, but it has also taught me so much about drums and drummers. His playing is solid pocket, but add to that incredible subtlety and detail that is very easy to miss and—in the live environment—really easy to not capture well.  Mic positioning has been a constant struggle with shots and so on, and we did go through a phase of under-micing overheads and adding other mics in to try and get detail, but that approach didn’t work in the guys’ IEM mixes, etc.

So this time Soan played, and Andy and I had another moment! “My goodness, the detail that came through was once again stunning. The bottom end was rich and deep but I could still attack the energy point of the kick with the wonderful dynamics. That in itself would have been enough, but then the top end of the kit just soared. The cymbals and hi-hats were perfect, and all of a sudden that detail—that wasn't bad before—was exactly where I needed it to be. I felt like I could at last be constructive with the mics, rather than having to spend time getting rid of “nasties” that, EQ-wise, would then compromise detail.

From this point I was off. The band was up in no time and sounding really good. To give you an idea of just how different it was, I would say that this desk is like going from a nice family saloon to a supercar. And I am not joking. I remember Ben Milton telling me the look on the faces of one of his very well known bands when he used the Live version of the desk at Monitors for the first time. They all just said ‘What’s happened?!’, and that's exactly where I was with the System T.

The MD’s Verdict

“It was like a veil had been lifted and I had nothing to say. Everything was there and with superb clarity and separation.”

So, sound check was over and I checked in with our Musical Director David Tench, who runs a really tight ship and who again I have been so lucky to have worked with and leaned from on “The Voice.” He has the ears of a young bat, so I can’t get away with nuffink! And I like it exactly like that.

To explain, on the recorded rounds of the show I remix all 140 songs and they all go via a sign-off process with Tench. And because there are so many different styles of music, we work really hard on those mixes. On the live shows Tench will come in once I have set mixes and again I flip and we adjust. Now after this period of time working on the show and with this band I get quite close, but there are always a few points to adjust and make better, and we were at that point with this show. 

Duff works closely with “The Voice” musical director David Tench to get the mixes right. He called the sound quality of the System T board “outstanding.

Duff works closely with “The Voice” musical director David Tench to get the mixes right. He called the sound quality of the System T board “outstanding."

I explained to Tench about the new desk like an overexcited child after too many sweets, but I could tell he thought I was over-egging the pudding. Good is good, bad is bad, when it’s right we move on. Dave came into the truck where he has been many times and sat in his usual seat and off we went.

He looked confused. ”Play that again,” he said, looking more confused. Then he said, “Wow,” and I knew we were on a real winner. We must have run four or five songs with hardly any notes because everything was just in the right place.

The actual broadcast itself went very smoothly, and to round up this part of the journey I will leave you with some comments from Tench himself.

"When I first heard this desk I could hardly believe it,” he said. “I’m often skeptical about gear and its purported abilities, but this was a unique opportunity to listen critically because nothing had changed except the desk. Kevin and I have been working together on ‘The Voice’ and various other shows for years, and there's often a huge amount of elements for Kevin to balance. In the past sometimes detail was hard to discern and things got a bit muddied. This all changed with the SSL desk.

"It was like a veil had been lifted and I had nothing to say,” he continued. “Everything was there and with superb clarity and separation. Only one episode has aired using the desk (“The Voice Kids” final) and the difference in sound quality was outstanding. It sounded ace in the Zen Truck but even at home on various TV set ups everyone was impressed. Live music on British TV should be celebrated/promoted in all its guises, and products like this help us raise the bar.”

Tench finally added, “Please keep doing what you're doing. I endorse it fully.”

Different Challenges - Pitch Battle

“Desk design here was critical as I needed to find a way that I could make every combination available to me on the surface with total save and recall.”

Next we move onto a different job with new demands that would test another area of the desk to extreme.

With the first live broadcast out of the way, the truck was packed for the move north to Dock 10 studios at media city for the live final of a BBC show called “Pitch Battle.” This show is a choir competition, so I knew it was going to present me with new challenges due to the sheer number of people singing! 

The live final of UK choir competition, “Pitch Battle” proved to be a challenging and successful test of the System T snapshot and its snapshot masking technologies.

The live final of UK choir competition, “Pitch Battle” proved to be a challenging and successful test of the System T snapshot and its snapshot masking technologies.

I had over 60 hand mics to try and juggle live. In itself, that would be enough, but being a competition it meant that as we move through the show any combination of the various choirs might be put against each other, and until I was on air and voting happened we wouldn't know which. Add to that the complication that the radio mic spectrum was full, so we had to swap mics between choirs (i.e. not every singer had their own mic) and you start to get a sense of the challenge.

The System T’s desk design here was critical as I needed to find a way to make every combination available to me on the surface with total save and recall. After a few late nights post-rehearsal on the first show I realized I was a bit fader-compromised so SSL stepped up here, offering me a remote fader panel. The panel is excellent as it’s just a USB device—one cable, some mains power, and off you go. So, that gave me another 16 faders, which I really needed.

On the main desk I built myself bespoke layers of all the choirs on faders 1-16 and then duplicated that on faders 17-32. Sometimes choirs were bigger than 16 mics so that went into another layer, making it trickier, But, by essentially having everything on the left and right side of the board it meant whatever combination came up I could recall the required mics with choir A and choir B on opposite sides of my center section.

I was planning to recall the smaller choir that got through a stage in show and then isolate them from the snapshot before recalling the bigger choir onto the other side of the desk. Remember, I had to do this live on air so I was looking for the simplest solution I could find as it would be easy to get lost when under pressure.

The Power of Snapshot

“It's so funny that I had been apprehensive about using a new desk on such big shows, but a week in I realized that I would have really struggled to cope with this show on the normal desk.”

I have audience faders and reverb returns locked on some faders down through the layers, so that never changed for me, and I used the remote panel extensively for group faders, truck input and output faders, and basically all the other stuff. I also do a few 'everything in line list order' layers, which means that in mornings (when we always line check everything before we start) I can be very fast in checking mics—and as there were so many, this really helped. That is, rather than searching through snapshots with mics everywhere, I can just go to my line-check layers on fader Bank 3 and whip down the mics in line list order; in conjunction with monitors and front of house. 

“Pitch Battle” features a live band, which created a number of challenges that were solved with the console’s automation snapshots and Layer Manager feature.

“Pitch Battle” features a live band, which created a number of challenges that were solved with the console’s automation snapshots and Layer Manager feature.

This show also had a live band, but with just so much going on vocally I couldn't take that as well, so we used the second control room in the Zen Broadcast mobile OB van to sub-mix the band. That was sent to me as AES stems, so I still had some control if needed.

This show really got me into the automation snapshot world of the System T, and heavily into the console’s Layer Manager! As we moved through the week I was able to see where my plan worked and, crucially, where it didn't. The speed of moving and editing layers became a saving grace as I was copying and pasting faders from sound checks to other faders and moving layers all over the place. It’s so funny that I had been apprehensive about using a new desk on such big shows, but after a week I realized that I would have really struggled to cope with this show on the normal desk—and how lucky I was to have a desk with such powerful snapshot features.

With shows of this complexity, I always do I a “show file” save at end of every night, and then a “save-as” next morning with dates, so that I always have a step backwards if needed. I also do a main and safety snapshot (the Main file named in saved in capitals and the backup in lowercase), and with these large shows, you can imagine how many snaps I had kicking about. In order to keep things sensible I used the “Re-order” function a good deal, which is powerful and easy to understand, and I also saved my show files to an external stick every night—as a “belt-and-braces” sense of security.

Operator’s Choice

“I was often building scenes from previous snaps so flexibility of recall and save was vital for me here.”

It's worth mentioning here the brilliant assignable buttons that exist all over the center section of the System T desk. Essentially, they are programmable buttons that allow you to map many features to single button presses. I used this function a good deal with shortcuts to things like “all channels looking at gain pot”, “channel view”, “save snapshot,” “save show file”, “A/B switching”, and so on. These get you around the board faster than you ever could on other consoles before.

A series of multi-gesture touch screens on the System T allow users to save settings as Show files and snapshot automation.

A series of multi-gesture touch screens on the System T allow users to save settings as Show files and snapshot automation.

The A/B switching (for changing over to remix from multitrack) is a macro that needed programming and that is found in the Event Manger menu, where you program actions and then map them to events, such as a button press.

The snapshot mask is fully configurable for save and recall, and is pretty much what you would expect, with the ability to add or remove anything from the snapshot as required. This ability was hugely useful, as with not all choirs singing against each other in rehearsal (there simply wasn't time to run all the variable outcomes), it meant I was often building scenes from previous snaps so flexibility of recall and save was vital for me here. I have asked the guys and gals at SSL if it would be possible to map snapshots to the assignable buttons and they are looking into that for me.

Broadcast Time

“The forgiving compressors also meant I had to spend less time in the GUI and more time on the fader mix, which was where I needed to be.”

Redundancy is a huge issue for us in the live Broadcast world and the System T can have dual engines and dual switches run on the Dante network. Both engines are getting the information from the desk at all times, so when you switch, you hear nothing. In fact, you can sit and toggle it repeatedly and it’s seamless.

The show broadcast was crazily busy as you might expect, but the power of the desk got me through it smoothly—everything was heard except one line in one song, which I missed.

With so many songs and so many singers all doing a line here and there I was really happy with the result. The vocals were bright, clean and forward, and the EQ and Compressors worked a dream here - especially now I had settled. In fact, my generic settings—which I copied to 65 vocal mics at the start—got me a long way down the line with only minor changes needed for beat boxes and very odd voices. The forgiving compressors also meant I had to spend less time in the GUI and more time on the fader mix, which was where I needed to be.

The show was 90 minutes fully live, and I breathed a sigh of relief as we came off air. Having finished at around 9pm on show day it was time to de-rig the truck and pack up, as we needed to drive to London that night to turn around in one day before heading to Belgium for the last of the three jobs in this story.

This last job was going to be something special, as it was for BBC Events and we were off to join in ceremonies of commemoration and a live show—all to mark the centenary of Passchendaele, one of the muddiest and bloodiest battles of World War One. The job was at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium, where so many brave souls marched out from did not return. It was going to be a moving week, and definitely one of those jobs with added pressure to get right.

Passchendaele Centenary

“Like the last job there were many scenes in the show and I needed to program snapshots while keeping flexibility, so again desk design was key.”

I am very lucky to work for BBC events on shows such as this, and also “The Festival Of Remembrance” each year. Because many times you are hanging onto the back of an event rather than it being a TV-run show, you often get limited rehearsal and you have to grab what you can very fast. This is especially true where large military groups are playing/marching. With so many people involved you don’t want to be doing more than are absolutely required. 

During the “The Festival Of Remembrance” broadcast, each person in the show—whether speaking or singing—had  a headset mic and a backup lavalier microphone that needed to be managed, live. Here a warhorse image is projected onto Ypres cathedral during the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. Image: Darren Staples/Reuters.

During the “The Festival Of Remembrance” broadcast, each person in the show—whether speaking or singing—had a headset mic and a backup lavalier microphone that needed to be managed, live. Here a warhorse image is projected onto Ypres cathedral during the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. Image: Darren Staples/Reuters.

This event was huge, and a meeting of genres in that we had a live orchestra on one stage, plus performers reading, singing, and doing excerpts from plays and from West End shows such as War Horse and Wipers Times. The line list was again fully maxed out and, like the last job, the orchestra was sub-mixed into stems before hitting my board.

I knew I needed to hit the ground running here, so myself and Andy got the truck to Belgium a day before the crew and got some temporary power so we could at least start programming. Also like the last job there were many scenes in the show and I needed to program snapshots while keeping flexibility, so again desk design was key.

Each person in the show - whether speaking or singing - would have a headset mic and a backup lavalier mic. It was impossible to back up with cabled mics due to the sheer size of the venue and the number of actors and performers coming from everywhere. My choice was between using the A/B inputs on the channels to take the two mic options into each channel, or using individual inputs… Because of the multitrack return, and also because I wanted to be able to monitor the main and spare mics individually at all times, I decided on discrete inputs. This would prove vital down the line for reasons that will become clear soon.

Rehearsals

“Gain structure was again critical if I was to be able to get the right stuff to pop through when I needed it, and I found the group EQ and dynamics hugely useful here”

The biggest challenge with a show like this is that you rehearse out of order all week (due to people's availability normally), and then on the dress run you suddenly put it into show order and that's when problems can occur as the joins are always the pinch points. Re-ordering snaps is obviously vital, and as I have already mentioned that facility works well. By the middle of the week I had started learning the show and the tricky moments were becoming clear—multiple actors and singers and a fast script with no time for problems. This was going to be one of those shows where just getting the faders up and down in the right order would be enough, let alone worrying about the art. I also had a stage choir to do, and various singers, so rather than a traditional ceremonial event this was more a cross with a live entertainment show.

On board the Zen Broadcast truck during rehearsals. The System T uses Dante audio networking to access all sources.

On board the Zen Broadcast truck during rehearsals. The System T uses Dante audio networking to access all sources.

In addition, there was to be a projection onto the church in Ypres and we had to deal with audio playback from that, with FX sequences and moving words from WW1 veterans about the horrors they faced. My biggest concern here was clarity, as those moments were so vital to the piece. Often there would be orchestra, singing etc., along with the projection FX. Gain structure was again critical if I was to be able to get the right stuff to pop through when I needed it, and I found the group EQ and dynamics on the System T hugely useful here—allowing me to shift things around, dynamically.

I treated this as an entertainment show with my standard LE setup of eight audio groups into one main output. I use an old-school audience chain involving a few limiters and compressors, and I also use a collector group, which is essentially a group that has my processed stage mics and audience both hitting it. To do this you need to be able to route group to group, and the System T has no issue with that. This complex grouping chain makes it possible to sit the stage group and audience in a good place with no pumping effect, and the collector then smooths that combination of stage and audience mics before it hits the main mastering.

I was sending grams FX to the PA from my truck also with my gram-op adding war FX for a number of the show performances. The orchestra had to play to click for a few numbers in order to tie in with projection pictures, and again that click was generated from us, so I used a number of aux sends and direct outs to feed to my stage box for distribution. I also had to feed clicks into the main show scanners so the PA and Director could hear when we fired clicks to start the orchestra as the whole show was bar counted for camera shots.

At the other end of town at the Menin gate was another OB doing the service before our event, and we also had to tie up with them as the closing of our show featured a lone piper on Menin gate that I had to have on my board. A fiber system ran between us allowing us to pick up and send the required feeds.

Radios - Ga Ga

“Many colleagues of mine commented (unprompted) on how clean the audio sounded too, so it wasn't just me hearing the difference.”

So, it all sounds wonderful right? Alas, life isn't like that and all week we had radio mic issues. Various things caused this, but with so many people on headsets and personals it was a clustered RF plot before any physical failures on top. The dress run was like some horrid audio test where things just kept failing. I actually lost seven radio mics during the dress, but no one in production noticed, and here is why. Remember earlier when I talked about using individual mic inputs rather than the A/B inputs? Well, it saved me. For each part of the show I had a snapshot that bought up the faders I needed but I also brought up the back-up lavs for that section on the remote fader panel to my right (that’s the USB-connected extra fader section). Although it was off to my right, I had full access to main and spares and I could see fader meters.

The System T desk performed perfectly on both speech and music, and everyone at BBC were delighted with the end result.

The System T desk performed perfectly on both speech and music, and everyone at BBC were delighted with the end result.

Sod's Law says the mics would go on the most complicated sections of drama performance, and they did!  So, during very fast scripted pieces, I was trying to read my script and look ahead. I was also watching to see which mics were dying so that I could reach the remote fader bank to fade up the spares (I knew my boom op training all those years ago would be useful in multi-tasking one day). It’s a horror, rehearsing with it all in front of you and then having to start doing fader improve with one hand to work around equipment dying. Thankfully, my show design gave me that option and I was able to keep the show going, although it wasn't pretty.

After the dress run we also had a mountain of work to do on the projection audio, and that saw a near 18 -hour day, the day before the broadcast, as we tried to sort out multiple issues.

On show day we had some limited rehearsal but essentially we were waiting for the live transmission. I knew it was very likely that I would lose radio mics during the show, but I had no idea when it would happen. Russian roulette on air is never a good thing to be facing, but sometimes it happens. The first 30 minutes of the broadcast went well and after that golden five minutes when you settle everything in, the show continued on at a fast pace.

Just when I started to think we might be OK, things went wonky and in total I think I lost four radio mics during the broadcast. I nearly got through it, but I got caught between layers on a change and had a little spurious audio to air, which made me really cross, but given the circumstances it could have been so much worse.

The desk performed perfectly on both speech and music, and thankfully everyone at BBC were delighted with the end result. Many colleagues of mine commented (unprompted) on how clean the audio sounded too, so it wasn’t just me hearing the difference.

Exhausted, it was time to de-rig after a very long day and pack up the truck for the journey home.

Conclusion

“System T is by far the best sounding broadcast console I have ever mixed on... It's a game changer."

After three challenging productions, I feel like I properly put the System T through its paces. Not only were the shows live and very varied in content and style, but we were also done “on the road'” and not in a static install (studio) environment. I maxed the desk out on each show and pushed it very hard, so my conclusions are based on its performance during demanding situations.

The System TV console has a beautiful old-school analogue gain structure feel with magical dynamics and EQ.

The System TV console has a beautiful old-school analogue gain structure feel with magical dynamics and EQ.

So, in conclusion, I have this to say—and it’s not a thing I say lightly—System T is a game changer and by far the best sounding broadcast console I have ever mixed on.

Does it have room for functional improvement? Yes, just like every other broadcast board I have used (and I have used most of them). The point here is that, unlike so many other desks, I can say that from my experience you are very likely to get those changes implemented as the support for this product and desire to make it better are second to none. I got feedback immediately from SSL on queries, and suggestions were also taken seriously. There was a real “want” on the part of SSL to understand fully what I was doing operationally and how they could implement what I was suggesting.

This desk has a beautiful old-school analogue gain structure feel with magical dynamics and EQ, and a musical heritage that is still retained even though it’s designed for broadcast work.

SSL hasn't asked for these words, they are mine. And as someone who isn't prone to nonsense, I hope they might lead you to at least want to listen to what is possible with this wonderful desk.

Jump back to; The Journey Begins, Opportunity Knocks, Building “The Voice”, The Audition Stage, Show - You’re Working, Pleasing Processes, Sound Check, Kit Car, The MD’s Verdict, Different Challenges - Pitch Battle, The Power of Snapshot, Operator’s Choice, Broadcast Time, Passchendaele Centenary, Rehearsals, Radios - Ga Ga, Conclusion

About the Author: Kevin Duff is a multiple nominated and twice BAFTA craft award winner. As a sound supervisor and dubbing mixer he has travelled the world and runs his own company, Taking The Mix. He is currently starting the sixth season of “The Voice UK” and this year will again see him heading up such shows as “Royal Variety,” “Voice Adults and Kids,” “Festival of Remembrance”, as well as many music specials and events for all the main UK broadcasters.

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