An estimated 100m viewers and per-minute advertising costs upwards of US$10m, make Super Bowl the largest American television event of the year. With its mix of sports, entertainment and pageantry, audio for the event falls to ATK Audiotek and Dante-network enabled RedNet gear from Focusrite Pro to manage the complexities of the game and the entertainment extravaganza of a live stadium concert during half time.

For 2020’s Super Bowl LIV in the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, two large-scale sound systems were in use – a flown house system and ATK’s field cart system. In addition, ATK provided and operated the substantial backbone of routing equipment and input/output interfaces to patch all the systems together, and allow audio to flow from inputs to mix positions, to amplifiers and speakers, and also to external partners such as broadcast and recording trucks. ‘That’s where having Dante and RedNet comes in to play,’ says ATK’s Kirk Powell, who led audio production for the event.

ATK’s Kirk PowellOnce the structure of the system was determined, the preconfigured system was passed over to designer and FOH mixer for the entertainment aspects of the event, Alex Guessard, who worked on it in a 50ft-by-50ft space in the ATK shop in California. ‘First, we reset the devices and put the new configuration in them,’ he says. ‘In the shop, you can verify the patch is working by just running a 10ft cable. It’s so much easier than having to walk to the catwalk and back down again, just to check a cable or connection.’

Once the whole stadium worth of equipment was configured and operational in one place, the deployment process was as simple as positioning the racks and connecting the fibre or network cables. While requiring a methodical approach for such a complex system, updating firmware, naming channels and making subscriptions on RedNet devices is a straightforward task, thanks to Dante Controller and RedNet Control.

ATK racks were positioned in nearly every corner of the stadium. Columns of input and output interfaces, amplifiers and network switches activate all over the stadium. In each position, RedNet units perform various operations. Nodes at grass-level, at each corner of the field, comprise RedNet MP8R, RedNet A16R and RedNet D16R units.

Also within the ATK remit is sharing audio with the various broadcast trucks and mobile production facilities on site. Powell and Guessard have devised a standardised way of interfacing with all of these external partners via RedNet D64R 64x64 Dante to Madi interfaces. Each partner can be responsible for the clocking of their respective digital audio. ‘The RedNet D64Rs are really good because they allow us to create different island,’ Guessard explains.

Alex GuessardEach island (or truck) supplied a word clock via BNC to the RedNet D64R responsible for transporting their respective Madi signals where onboard sample-rate conversion allowed the Madi channels to be transported at the desired sample rate.

Possibly the most important human aspect to the audio system was the role of Patchmaster, handled for Super Bowl LIV by Luis Montes from a nook in the underbelly of the Hard Rock Stadium. As the central hub of ATK’s network, every home run from each nodes’ network switches came to Montes’ patching world via an overhead bundle of cables as wide as a water main. He uses a RedNet AM2 two-channel D/A converter with line-level connections and a headphone output to audibly monitor signals on the network for source verification and QC.

‘It’s a very adrenaline-filled show,’ says Guessard, ‘From the moment the half time whistle is blown we have six minutes to deploy and connect everything – the stage gets set up, the speaker carts get wheeled on, and all the artists have to be set up on the stage. It’s the same for lighting, and the same for video.’

After the 12-minute performance – this year featuring Jennifer Lopez, Shakira and surprise guests Bad Bunny and J Balvin – another commercial break covered the stage strike and, as Powell says, ‘the stadium has to look like nothing happened’.

‘There’s no way we could do what we do today without a networked system,’ Guessard reflects. ‘With the channel counts that we have and the mass distribution, it’s not feasible.’

Clean audio

Cedar DNS 8 LiveA Cedar Audio DNS 8 Live dialogue noise suppressor was used to ensure the intelligibility of the live feed from the referee’s microphones and the podium mic, processing the audio in real time.

‘The DNS 8 Live is of paramount importance to me for cleaning up audio,’ say ATK engineer Jack Bowling. ‘At ATK, we’ve been using Cedar noise suppressors for many years. We started with the DNS1000 and then the DNS1500, but the DNS 8 Live is the next evolution of this for us. At the Super Bowl, we use two referee microphones, EQ them, and then pass the audio through the DNS 8 Live, which allows me to get the best sound quality possible.

‘I also use the DNS 8 Live for press conferences, PA, and many other types of event,’ he adds. ‘For example, when you provide the sound for a conference in a concrete room, it sounds like you are in a cave even after EQ to avoid feedback. Cedar fixes that - it’s the most effective tool that I have used for this application at any of my events’

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