Zen Broadcast Outfits OB Van With New SSL System T Console

Zen Broadcast, a remote audio services provider in the UK, has retrofitted one of its largest OB vans with a new System T mixing console from Solid State Logic (SSL) and found success after several major live TV broadcasts. The company was founded by production veterans Andy Deacon and Terry Tew, and the truck is used to mix live and recorded programs for clients such as ITV, BBC and Sky, both nationally and internationally.

The mobile rig now includes a SSL 48-fader System T S500 console with two T80 Tempest Audio Engines for full redundancy, with a high capacity Dante AoIP network and additional SSL Network I/O modules to support external SDI, MADI, AES, and analogue as required.

The Zen Broadcast mobile studio is designed with two separate mix areas, as well as a recording and tape room with comms. There’s also full onboard support for Dante AoIP networked audio as well as AES67, MADI, SDI, and SMPTE 2110. It was originally intended to be a space where various consoles could be moved in and out, depending on the requirements of the Sound Supervisor and the job at hand. This made it equally adaptable to complex broadcast events, classical recording sessions, and music festivals.

Deacon said that while the team was working on “The Voice UK” last year, it was suggested by mixer Ben Milton that an SSL console might fit nicely into the truck. Milton had used the System T console at The Glastonbury Festival and liked it very much.

The team tested several mixing consoles before settling on the System T for their mobile unit.

Live TV Mixer Kevin Duff at the System T console.

Live TV Mixer Kevin Duff at the System T console.

“Even though [the truck] was originally designed to take any desk, it seemed ridiculous not to put a desk in that makes the final output sound so much better,” Deacon said. “There will always be the option of taking it out and putting something else in if other Sound Supervisors request that, and even using something else in the ‘B’studio, but I think that once they try the System T, they will feel the same as us.”

Kevin Duff, a BAFTA-award winning Sound Supervisor, Dubbing Mixer, and Zen regular, was present for those first tests. “The sound was simply stunning,” he said. “And that is no exaggeration. The sound stage of a band I have recorded for 5 years had immediately changed. The detail was astonishing.”

In particular, Duff was impressed with the console’s channel dynamics and was instrumental in recommending System T to Zen Broadcast, by taking it on the road, successfully completing three large, multifaceted, live transmissions.

Duff agreed to try the System T console on “The Voice Kids UK 2017 “live final, the live final of “Pitch Battle” (a popular UK choir competition), and finally the recent live Passchendaele centenary commemorations Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium. These were all complex productions requiring different solutions to many technical and creative challenges.

On Pitch Battle, for example, Duff had to cope with over 60 handheld radio mics, many of which were swapped between choirs, and he had no idea until the actual show which choirs would be singing against each other.

For the Passchendaele event, the Zen Mobile unit went to Belgium to mix a complex three-hour live event. “This event was huge," said Duff. “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. 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!”

With Zen’s input list growing daily, Deacon feels that the System T’s native Dante support will be decisive in coping with future challenges. “We've also upgraded our Pro Tools systems with Dante interfaces. That's a huge help because we can simply use the Dante Network as a record and monitoring path rather than using up all of the MADI streams,” he said.

“The whole Dante AoIP thing felt quite daunting at first, but we all looked into it and realized it’s nowhere near as difficult you might think. Also, the networking infrastructure in the truck is ready—we put a whole bunch of Cisco switches and cabling in when we fitted it out. Though something we thought might be needed in a year or two has turned out to be needed within a few months!”

The new System T will soon be permanently installed in the Zen Broadcast truck and is expected to have its first big outing on a prestigious broadcast event in November.

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