NEW YORK — Patrick Hutchinson, production manager/FOH engineer for the Philadelphia-based Disco Biscuits, switched to DiGiCo SD8s for the electronica-jam band’s FOH and monitoring requirements after a demo was arranged by Eric Satre of Colorado-based Dowlen Sound. “I did a show with the band at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in May,” Satre said, “and Pat said they were unhappy with their current setup and were looking to go in a new direction. Pat’s pretty specific about what he wants, so I arranged an SD8 demo for them in New York and they were very happy with it.
“I bought two consoles for them that very day,” Satre continues. “Since then, every time I talk to him—which isn’t very often because he’s a pretty self-contained unit—he’s got nothing but good things to say, and thinks it’s one of the best sounding digital consoles he’s ever heard. It does sonically sound far better than any other digital desk out there.”
“For the past two years we have toured with digital consoles at both FOH and monitors,” Hutchinson said. “Granted, both of these consoles sounded good, but when we compared the consoles to the SD8, the sonic enhancement was profoundly noticeable—not to mention, that the band is playing better now that they can hear all of the subtle frequencies that they were missing before.
“I have worked on many digital desks and each of them has some sort of digital signature that is sonically apparent,” Hutchinson continued. “The SD8, on the other hand has a digital signature, which is sonically transparent. In my opinion, it is the closest analog sounding digital console available on the market today.”
At FOH, the band is currently running 43 channels, (18 channels from the drums, 3 channels from the bass, 2 channels from the guitar, 12 channels from keys, and 5 channels of vocals, as well as a couple audience/room mics for recording and a few auxiliary backup channels.
The SD8’s output flexibility proved beneficial for the band’s ever-changing touring requirements.
“Each venue that we have played at on this tour has had its own set of challenges,” Hutchinson said. “Some venues have front fills while others have front fills, center fills, in fills, out fills, and don’t forget the balcony fills. Some nights I will use AES and some nights I will use the analog outputs. As you can tell, each night there is a different setup for FOH outputs. But, for the most part, I have a stereo left and right, an auxiliary setup for sub output, a stereo/mono front fill matrix and a stereo recording matrix. The SD8 handles any room challenge presented.”
Having EQ and dynamics on all channels is one of Hutchinson’s favorite onboard benefits, but the main feature that he uses on a daily basis is the “listen to recorded audio” feature.
“On some occasions the band does not want to soundcheck and when they don’t, it’s very easy for me to load up a previous soundcheck and play it back on all the channels as if the band were onstage,” Hutchinson said. “This allows me ample time to EQ the room and figure out any room or PA oddities before they arise.”
The consoles’ small size, portability and onboard features have proven beneficial, not just in the physical space-saving aspect, but as a timesaving one, as well.
“At FOH, I used to roll out a console with a FOH rack and maybe a drive rack or recording rack. With the SD8, all I roll out to FOH now is just the console. Not only has the FOH footprint decreased but, as an added benefit, the truck pack has also decreased. It has also helped solve a couple of other things. For example, time is money, and when I can set up and break down FOH within 5 minutes, that leaves extra time for me to handle other situations in my role as production manager. Also, load-ins and outs have become more efficient by having to handle less road cases.”
For engineer Bryan Holroyd, onboard with the band for the last three years, monitor world has stayed essentially the same, in terms of the footprint, although the SD8 has allowed him to lose the analog split and share the head pre’s.
“The biggest difference I’ve noticed has been in recognizing some of the nuances of the other gear we are using inline,” he said. “We’re hearing more subtleties in our keyboards and the drums are a bit crisper. The extended range in the high-end has allowed for a finer tuning of various inputs, cutting down on extraneous information in the monitor sends that our in-ear transmitters have some difficulty in reproducing... it’s a step up in the console marketplace, but it provides enough of a boost in transparency that I could easily put it up against some of the large market digitals.”
Having more inputs and flexibility at monitor world was also a bonus for Holroyd, who is handling 56 from stage, with another dozen or so coming from the MADI interface.
“I’m using some 15 stereo sends for everything from the band to onstage crew, effects sends and some artist-controlled boost channels. We also use 4 mono sends for 2 wedges, a TB mix to FOH, and a thumper for our drummer. I’ve found the range on the high and low passes is very useful, as is the side-chain frequency in the gates. The band loves to play close together and having such a tight stage has made gate control an ongoing battle. Using the MADI interface allowed us to set up, in a compact package, a series of aux sends, inserts and direct outs to be processed in Logic and then returned into the console at various points. Each musician has the ability to control via MIDI certain aspects of their personal mixes, and all that processing is done in the computer. I’m also using MIDI control within the console to give me direct access to certain channel functions and talkback controls.”
Holroyd says recording is an option at monitor world, and could be implemented with a simple click. “At the moment, though, the MADI interface is being used for insert loops and some extra mixing. I run my cue through Logic via inserts and add some talkback channels before returning it to the console so I can hear band chatter even if I’m soloing a single input.”
Hutchinson, in any case, has been taking advantage of the console’s recording capabilities at FOH, capturing nightly performances for future use on special CD/DVD projects, in addition to being made available for download at livedownloads.com. His Apple MacBook Pro, running v10.5.8, connects to an RME Express MADIface converter to record to an external hard disk using Cubase 5.
“Each day, I capture the full input list during soundcheck and during the show I capture my groups, FX, matrixes, mains and audience mics,” he said. He also credited DiGiCo for supporting its product. “It has been first-class all the way. If any problems arise I can usually have one of the techs contact me within 15 minutes.”
For more information, please visit www.dowlensound.com and www.digico.org.