Grammy Award-winning pop-rockers Train have been laying tracks across the continental United States and Canada this summer and fall with their San Francisco 2012 tour. The band pulled out all the stops, rolling through material both old and new, including songs from their latest studio album, California 37. Because of the tour's beefed-up band and increased input list, engineers Rob Thomas and Robert Greene opted for a pair of SD10 systems at FOH and monitors (provided by Delicate Productions and Hi-Tech Audio), to simplify the production and the technology requirements.
"Rob Greene and I have used many different platforms working together with Train over the years," Thomas explains, "but for this tour, it got a little more involved. Train is typically a three-piece band, but with this tour there are eight musicians onstage and we needed at least 52 inputs/outputs for the band and the accompaniments, including bass, guitar, vocals and background singers, in-ear mixes and stage monitors. We wanted the best-sounding console and one that was most configurable, and that's how we came up with the SD10s. Having two of the DiGiCo's out there was the best option for the tour, allowing us to pick each other's brains about functionality and also streamline the technology. This is the first time that I've toured with a DiGiCo product, although I've used and am familiar with the D1 and D5 Series. In my time with the SD10 at FOH, I found that it truly sounds great; it's one of the best-sounding digital consoles that I've been able to get my hands on. Choosing DiGiCo was one of the easiest decisions we had to make early on."
"Going into this tour back in early 2012 we knew that we were going to move up above the 48-channel level," adds Greene. "We had a chance to check out both the SD10 and SD7 and they were both impressive. The SD10 had everything that Rob and I needed so we decided to save the band a little dough and take out the SD10." [Pictured at right: System Tech Philip Reynolds and FOH Engineer Rob Thomas]
The FOH system uses the DiGiCo SD Rack loaded with 56 inputs, 16 analog outs, and eight AES. "We are using both AES and analog to drive the PA via a Martin Merlin processor ," clarifies Systems Tech Philip Reynolds. "The system is run in AES to the Martin Merlin 4 in 10 out matrix. From there, the rig is analog throughout. We have a very cool setup with the headliner independent of the support act settings. We use a separate group output off the console to drive three more inputs on the Merlin, also using AES. I am also using both the SD Rack and FOH outputs to feed hearing assist, video recording/ monitor, back of house audio as well… all controlled off the matrix on the desk."
Thomas says he's done some slick routing at FOH thanks to the flexibility of the DiGiCo interface. "The compact surface of the SD10—taken from the SD7 approach where any fader can be configured the way I want—allows me to take a musical approach vs. a typical console layout and was a plus. Unlike other consoles, you can minimize your layers, and the SD10 gives us flexible, multiple layers to choose from, so I tend to use less because of how I'm able to lay the console out just on the first layer. What would normally take me three to four layers on the console, I can now do in one, maybe two, because the desk is able to be laid out in almost any configuration of inputs, outputs, etc. I'm not doing anything too crazy; just some fun routing and grouping stuff. We created a Systems/Playback layer that had a few input channels—iPod, pink noise, the input from the support desk—so that any announcements between bands and system tuning is all in one layer.
"I also throw in some dynamics as in the compressed vs. the noncompressed group, which is no trade secret, and I've had such awesome results because of using that dynamic section on a wet/dry situation. Everything else on the desk I use simply straight up, it sounds that good. I don't really need to do a lot to it. As soon as you plug into the desk you'll hear a difference, from the preamps to the outputs, and that's the icing on the cake. I love the compression, too. The multiband compression and the dynamic EQ are the best tools on the console. The dynamic section of the console is tops. It's part of that DiGiCo sound that I just love and that's one of the reasons I went after the console in the first place."
Initially, he was making use of the Waves SoundGrid bundle but for simplicity's sake, found that he was able to get everything he needed within the desk. "I've actually forgone the Waves plug-ins and am using all the delays, reverbs and time-based effects on the SD10 itself. The only outboard situation that I take the desk into is a Crane Song HEDD 192 digital signal processor/harmonic sweetener. I take a Subgroup of all of the band and run it through that and it adds a little sparkle to it. I then run it back to the desk and rejoin it with my vocal groups."
As far as outputs, Thomas says that changes daily. "For our PA situation, I typically use two Left/Right outs these days and then matrix out through either a Lake-type system or the new Martin MLA system feeding left, right sub, front fills, side hangs, delays, lawn and hearing assists. On any given day, we can go from four to 16 sometimes, plus an additional three outputs for our Rational Acoustics Smaart 7 system where we were able to monitor left, right and any input or output off the second solo bus. Being able to see and hear without having to change and manage levels was great. We used one for the nearfield monitors, and the second for the Smaart."
For recording and virtual soundcheck, Thomas is among the first wave of engineers making use of DiGiCo's new UB MADI 24-bit/48-channel USB 2.0 interface to get a MADI stream in and out of his MacBook Pro. "I'm using it every night and it's worked flawlessly," he says. "I love it. We are at more than 48 channels but I've taken the primary inputs, track for track, to a MacBook Pro to a LaCie 4TB Thunderbolt hard drive and I record 48 tracks every night. I also use the ‘Listen to Copied Audio' function for the Virtual Soundcheck mode, so I can play back the previous night's show right back to the desk, channel for channel, 1-48. Also, the UB MADI is not DiGiCo proprietary, so the interface will work with any MADI-ready console, which is so cool. Initially we were set up to run with Pro Tools, but we found that if you have Pro Tools Native, it only allows you to go up to 32 channels with the standard PT system, and that was a real bummer. Not taking anything away from Pro Tools or the users of Pro Tools, it's a great editing system for tracking, but for what we're doing it's not. We went and bought a $60 Reaper program that's absolutely phenomenal. It's flawless and allows me to listen back to my MADI rack. It sounds really good, too."
"I love the dual solo busses and being able to route a solo to either buss or both," he says. "It's very important as a monitor engineer not to have a click-track blasting through your cue wedge. I can also cue up someone's in-ear mix and wedge mix at the same time. Almost everyone in the band uses Sennheiser in-ears, but my lead singer and guitar player rely heavily on wedges and sidefills. On the first day of rehearsals we decided to run the console at 96kHz. Overall, the console's sonic quality is superb. It's got the closest sound to an analog console and sounds better than most of the leading brands of digital consoles.
"I also like the ability to move inputs and outputs to wherever you want on the SD10. I have all the outputs that I need to listen to most often on the first bank so I don't have to just move banks around too much. Speed is so important. I'm also digging the snapshots on this console. This is the first time I've used snapshots for a show. I've always been afraid to use them because it's easy to get lost in them, but I found them easy to understand and they give you a lot of control."
With the summer/fall leg of the tour coming to a close at the end of September and European dates on the horizon in 2013, Thomas and Greene have been happy with the flexibility the console has offered and will continue to rely on the console's flexibility to support the show's diverse structure.
"We've tried to keep the audience involved with kids coming onstage to sing, etc." explains Thomas. "There's a kind of Vegas show theme to our shows in that there's always something going at any given time onstage. Using the small footprint of the SD10, which is a condensed screen surface, and having the ability to lay out the console where you need it and for what you need most to be on top and in your hands was key. I went to DiGiCo initially because it sounds the best. And having the ability to have what you need, where you need, when you need it is obviously of the utmost importance with any console. The ergonomics of the SD10 makes it tops. I've seen and experienced it all, and having this DiGiCo in my hands every day makes my job easier. And with the tour heading overseas, in fly-date situations, we don't get to carry our backline, so DiGiCo has now been added to that fly spec of our rider. We're hoping that everyone will jump on the SD10 format to the extent that we request one from Alabama to Asia. That's what we're looking to help do: get it out there and into people's hands and let them know that this is a very serious product. And the SD10 fits into a lot of regional sound company budgets. It's a hard-working, great-sounding desk that's very powerful, and I think it's going to be one of those consoles that is a staple of the regional and major sound companies. It's affordable and everyone needs one in their inventory."