{jcomments on}Xac Brown While The Zac Brown Band and Lady Antebellum delivered ‘magical’ performances to TV viewers around the world, Sennheiser’s Digital 9000 wireless system brought a 'new era' in digital wireless to the Annual CMA Awards.

The show presented a daunting RF environment: ‘We had 200 frequencies – a formidable number in any environment, especially when everything is in UHF,’ says James Stoffo, the event’s RF coordinator...

The solution? ‘We ended up using several Sennheiser Digital 9000 channels in performances by both Lady Antebellum and The Zac Brown Band and it performed flawlessly,’ Stoffo reveals.

Zac BrownHeld at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, it was the event’s 47th outing. In addition to The Zac Brown Band and Lady Antebellum, the awards featured Taylor Swift and Jennifer Nettles, who used Sennheiser SKM 5200-II handheld transmitters coupled with MD 5235 microphone capsules. In addition, Miranda Lambert (winner of ‘Female Vocalist of the Year’) and Blake Shelton (winner of ‘Album of the Year’ and ‘Male Vocalist of the Year’) used Sennheiser SKM 2000 transmitters with MD 935-1 capsules, while Kenny Rogers used a Sennheiser SKM 5200-II transmitter in combination with a Neumann KK 105-S capsule. Show hosts used SKM 5200-II handhelds with KK 105-S capsules throughout the programme.

Stoffo has been involved in the wireless aspects of top awards shows, sporting events and large corporate events for more than 30 years, and is concerned about the increasing congestion of the RF landscape. He sees digital systems such as Digital 9000 as a fundamental solution moving forward.

‘It is becoming almost impossible to organise and coordinate a large production, especially in awards shows that are approaching 200 frequencies,’ he says. ‘I’ve done a lot of testing with digital wireless systems and have found that they are much more tolerant to interference than analogue systems. Also, with Digital 9000 we don’t have to worry about intermodulation – or the mixing and blending of signals. We can therefore pack more signals into the same amount of spectrum.’

In addition to the reliability and spectrum efficiencies gained, Stoffo reports a dramatic increase in audio quality when using the Digital 9000 system: ‘You can absolutely hear the difference,’ he confirms. ‘For one thing, there is no noise floor like you have on FM-based systems.’

In the hands of the stars

Music mixer for the CMA Awards, John Harris was well placed to assess the Sennheiser SKM 9000 transmitter/MD 9235 capsule used by The Zac Brown Band on vocals: ‘Zac is a very strong vocal act and, with the Digital 9000 system, I had great separation and tone from all the singers,’ he says. ‘The new SKM 9000 digital transmitter was really great for rock vocals.’

Sennheiser Digital 9000During Lady Antebellum’s performance, lead singer Hillary Scott ventured beyond the stage out into the audience – where RF coverage can be tricky since the primary antenna coverage is on the stage.

‘We never had a hitch Stoffo says. ‘The RF levels on the Digital 9000 system remained pegged the entire time and I didn’t have to sweat it.’

Stoffo had requested a Digital 9000 for testing, but found himself using it at the CMA Awards production only days: ‘I had no issues whatsoever, and in fact was more confident using Digital 9000 than older analogue systems,’ he says.

‘With Digital 9000, you don’t just have battery bar indicators, you are actually shown the remaining time you have left,’ he continues. ‘When you are juggling 40 microphones, changing batteries and handling other responsibilities, this is huge. Once you get into show mode, one of the biggest maintenance issues for the RF tech is simply changing batteries throughout the show. Being able to see exactly how much time you have is priceless.’

As a high-energy show featuring more than 20 musical acts and a constant flow of introductions, nominations and award announcements that anchor the progression of the show, voiceover announcements are critically important. ‘Our microphone has to cut through loud music, heavy applause and crowd cheering without having to be ridiculously loud,’ says Audio Producer. Tom Davis.

CMA Awards

Davis and his team used three Neumann TLM 49 large-diaphragm condenser microphones for voice – two at the awards, and one for advance work at his SeisMic Sound facility in Nashville. Since space is often at a premium in the makeshift voiceover booths constructed on site, there is often very little room for processors and other gear: ‘You can plug the TLM 49 into just about anything and it sounds fantastic,’ Davis says. ‘It has so much presence for the spoken word and cuts through everything. This has been my mic of choice on this show for several years now, and it is really sexy to look at.’

At an internationally televised show with 22 acts in just three hours, expectations are high for all personnel involved in the production. Sennheiser was on hand to provide support for the show, including rehearsals and tear-down.

‘I couldn’t have done it without Sennheiser,’ says Stoffo, ‘Tim Moore [Sennheiser Artist Relations] came in and was on-call as if he was part of our crew. Overall, the support I got from Sennheiser was top-shelf.’

Tom Davis agrees: ‘Our relationship with Sennheiser has always been very comfortable and professional and they are always willing to step up and help. This time we got to get a close-up view of one of their great new products, the Digital 9000. What a great experience that was.’

Sennheiser Global Relations also played a key role in facilitating equipment and support for the performance, which also included dozens of wired and wireless microphones used throughout the CMA Awards.

‘Our flagship Digital 9000 system is designed to deliver uncompromising audio with maximum RF flexibility for today’s challenging RF environments,’ says Kristy Jo Winkler, Global Relations Manager, Americas. ‘When James Stoffo, one of the industry’s foremost RF consultants, said he would use it on the show, we were especially delighted. Refining technology and partnering with audio professionals to help make the event a seamless experience for engineers and artists is our priority.’

See also:

More: www.sennheiser.com

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