LONDON, JULY 18, 2013 — While mixing the Pet Shop Boys’ current Electric world tour, the band’s longtime sound engineers, Holger Schwark (FOH) and Seamus Fenton (monitors), needed to transfer signals and keep the sound within the digital domain. In order to do so, the duo have been relying on a multicore system from Optocore, the leading provider of scalable, high-bandwidth, low-latency fiber-optic networks for the transmission of audio, video and data in a variety of markets, including pro AV, live and fixed installations and broadcast.
The Optocore system (aided by experienced Capital Sound system technician Al Woods) plays a vital role in the tour and recently ensured the delivery of a dynamic set, including the 80’s hits Always On My Mind and West End Girls, during the synth-pop band’s performance at London’s O2 Arena. Handling the tour’s production is Capital Sound, which is utilizing a Nexo STM PA line array to provide the audio.
Schwark, a longtime Optocore user, has been relying on two Optocore DD4ME MADI converters in his compact FOH side rack for years, with a third DD4ME at the monitor desk. For the Electric tour, Schwark and Fenton chose the compact DiGiCo SD10-24 consoles and a DiGiCo SD-Rack at the monitor desk. While these consoles come equipped with an optical loop interface, the duo decided instead to run Optocore as an independent network in order to keep the entire workflow digital. Having the Optocore system in place gave the team greater flexibility to patch signals between their “playback world,” the SD-Rack, the two mixing desks, a MADI-equipped Mac Mini at FOH and FX units at FOH, along with an additional independent MADI output for occasional multichannel recording.
The selection process began during a previous tour in 2009, when the duo’s DiGiCo SD8 consoles did not have optical connections. “Since we use MADI-enabled multichannel playback equipment on stage, I did not want to rely on copper connections, so I was looking for a reliable, redundant fiber system that would also guarantee that the digital clocks on stage and FOH stayed in perfect sync at all times,” says Schwark. “Once we started using Optocore DD4MEs, it quickly became obvious how much extra flexibility they gave us in patching communication mics across or sending FOH special effects back to monitors, without needing an XLR return core," he says.
Meanwhile, for his work with the monitors, Fenton has been running two fibers out of his Optocore system that are linked to FOH and merge two MADI streams. The DiGiCo SD-Rack, which provides inputs for mics, as well as live keyboards, is connected to the monitor console via BNC MADI cables, with full control over gains, etc., from the monitor desk. A second MADI output on the SD-Rack feeds one of the DD4ME inputs, to be picked up by FOH and the recording output. "We decided early on that gain control from FOH is not required,” says Fenton, “We only have a few mics anyway and rarely change their gains.”
The multitrack playback, which contains an essential part of Pet Shop Boys' music, originates in a redundant pair of MADI-equipped computers near the monitor desk that have been combined using a DirectOut EXBOX.BLDS switchover unit, which feeds the other DD4ME input on stage.
The first output of that DD4ME goes into the monitor desk, carrying the multitrack playback, comms mics and some effects from FOH, while the second output is reserved for recording.
The DD4ME was designed to offer digital I/O compatibility with a range of devices, such as digital consoles with coaxial BNC MADI I/Os. The huge amount of channels exchanged by a single DD4ME makes it a highly cost-effective interface, with two MADI input and two MADI output ports allowing the transmission of up to 128 input and 128 output digital audio channels per device.
At the FOH end of the two fiber cables, fitted with standard expanded beam connectors, the two DD4ME devices have a total of four MADI I/Os — two connected to the MADI ports of the FOH desk, offering a theoretical maximum of 112 channels each way between the console and the Optocore network. The third DD4ME MADI I/O is taken by a Mac Mini with DiGiCo’s UB MADI interface, featuring tasks like system alignment tools, analyzers, live plugin processing and recording for virtual sound checks, while the final MADI I/O connects to a TC6000 reverb, with a DirectOut EXBOX.AES converter in line.
“Optocore is our entire backbone,” says Schwark. “It allows me to patch everything through the network. I connect both of the consoles’ ports to the network, as well as my peripherals, and can now use the desk's built-in tricks for virtual soundchecks for, say, 40 recorded channels, while still connecting to my reverb engines and analyzer software on the higher-numbered channels. It works beautifully well and makes the best use of the existing I/O on the back of the desk, without adding a bulky local I/O rack.
“From the first day, what I loved about this system was its reliability, and the fact that it has 'Link 1' and 'Link 2' LEDs for the fiber connections, so I can see if communication with the stage end is established. This means that we don't have to do extensive line checks anymore, which is great in festival situations where we don't use our own cables, but rather festival-provided DiGiCo-style fibers. Plug it in, wait until the other end has plugged in by occasionally checking the Link LEDs, check if the shout mic works … line check done!"
Fenton agrees, praising the Optocore system. “It is a phenomenally flexible tool,” he says. “It just always works!”
Based in Munich, Germany, Optocore is the world market leading provider of scalable, high-bandwidth, low–latency fiber-optic networks for the transmission of audio, video and data. For 19 years, Optocore has been continuously innovating and setting new standards with regards to digital network technology. Optocore builds and develops synchronous optical fiber and CAT5 based network solutions for broadcast professionals, fixed installations and live event applications. Utilizing leading-edge technology and high-quality components Optocore guarantees durability and therefore long-term market and customer satisfaction. Due to the open system architecture, Optocore’s platform offers other manufacturers the option to transfer conventional standard audio, video and data formats used in the pro audio industry, via a fiber and CAT5 network. Technical expertise, QoS and an extensive support structure are guaranteed to all customers, together with the highest level of quality controls. For more information, visit www.optocore.com.