R.E.M. ON TOUR WITH MIDAS XL8 & KLARK TEKNIK DN9696
Alternative rock icons R.E.M. are touring the world with two Midas XL8 consoles and the new Klark Teknik DN9696 high resolution hard disk recorder, provided by Rat Sound (Oxnard, CA). The tour follows the band’s critically acclaimed release “Accelerate”. The XL8s are manned by engineers Brett Eliason (FOH) and George Squiers (MON), who described some of the console’s groundbreaking features and how they are working out on the road.
“Brett and I are both longtime Midas users,” says George Squiers, “and both of us were waiting for something better in the digital realm. Having already ‘gone digital’ to mix and record Pearl Jam’s live show, Brett had been talking to Midas about their new digital system the last R.E.M. tour, but it was still in development. I personally wanted to get out of the digital desk I had been using. I knew the XL8 was ready, so the timing was right for this tour. I was looking for more than just the flexibility of digital; I wanted a great-sounding digital desk.”
To prepare for the R.E.M. tour, Squiers met with Matt Larson (Americas Sales Manager, Midas & Klark Teknik) and Jon Monson (Rat Sound) at Rat Sound to get a feel for the XL8: “It was immediately clear to me that the XL8 lived up to the Midas name. Sonically and ergonomically it’s all there. I called up Brett and said ‘We’ve got to do this.’ It’s the best-sounding digital console I’ve used, and it’s the most analog-feeling digital console I’ve used. The digital domain is amazing, and I jumped into it wholeheartedly, but at the same time I still want the analog sound and feel. I want to feel like I’m mixing on a console, not at the helm of the Enterprise. One thing I love about the digital domain is that it made it possible for a monitor guy like me to mix on faders. I can use faders for every one of my mixes now, instead of turning pots. It feels so much more organic. The area A&B simultaneous functionality is also great. We’re running both in-ears and wedges, and the XL8 will automatically drive to my cue in-ears when I solo an in-ear mix, and drive to my cue wedge when I solo a stage wedge. Add the sound quality to that flexibility, and you have the best of both worlds for a monitor engineer.”
Brett Eliason described how the XL8 is streamlining audio production for the tour while keeping the hands-on side of mixing a show intact: “I’ve been an XL4 fan for a long time, and that’s what I used on my last tour with R.E.M. We were full up on the last tour—that desk was packed. We also had some day-to-day issues with the 300-feet analog snake run, as you do. Knowing that we could cure all that with the XL8 was a key part of the decision process. I had considered staying analog for this tour, but there’s enough onstage instrument swapping and changes on the deck for the scene automations to be really handy. Having things muted when they’re not being used, cleanly, easily, and effectively was very appealing to me. And features like the VCAs (Variable Control Associations) and POP (population) Groups help keep things organized yet right at your fingertips—there’s no need to sift through pages to find what you’re looking for, at the risk of missing a cue. Up until now I haven’t been pleased with the sound quality of most of the digital desks I’ve used, and I’ve always loved the sound of Midas preamps and EQs. Finally having it all available in a digital package was very appealing. We decided to jump in headfirst and it’s been great. I love the sound of this console.”
“I agree,” Squiers adds, "the mic preamps sound great and the EQ's and dynamics work great! I also like that we don’t have to share a pre, as the DL431 splitting system has three per channel. The digital trim concept functions with other consoles, but it still scares the living daylights out of me, especially being an analog guy who likes to do things my way. I don’t want to be tied to someone else’s signal—I don’t think anyone does. So having such a great pre, and access to three of them, is great. The choice of compression on the dynamics is amazing and you can hear the difference even with the smallest adjustments. Likewise, the gates work, and they work well. The fact that the dynamics keep your settings while you switch between styles is really cool. You can hear the difference without having to reset. This gives you the chance to play with stuff, to really mix. The XL8’s EQ section sounds great; ‘warm and fuzzy’, as I like to put it. The whole console is warm and fuzzy—it’s an analog-sounding console.”
The Klark Teknik DN9331 Rapide moving-fader graphic EQ controller is another detail that brings hands-on user-friendliness to the digital realm: “The Rapide really helped when throwing a mix up to audition and compare various wedges for the tour when prepping at Rat,” Squiers adds. “Once again, it takes you back to the analog feel, though it’s a digital piece. It’s every bit a graphic EQ that you can reach and grab—another thing that was missing from the digital domain. There’s no digging involved and it’s all right at your fingertips. There’s my EQ… It’s a beautiful thing when you’re tailoring the sound.”
Renowned for his groundbreaking work mixing Pearl Jam’s “bootleg” live recordings, Eliason described how the new Klark Teknik DN9696 hard disk recorder is working out: “The DN9696 is integrated into the XL8 as an I/O option. It’s so simple to use. I can start the recording using the KVM switch on the XL8 work surface, without any of the usual concerns about outboard recording equipment. The fact that it’s a 24-bit/96k system is also extremely attractive. It blew my mind that some of the other systems I looked at weren’t 96k yet. That makes a really big difference in resolution, both in terms of live sound quality and recorded quality. The fact that the DN9696 mirrors to external hard drives during the show means the content is archived immediately; I don’t need to spend an hour backing stuff up the next day. We had a few days off after the second show, and I took my hard drive recordings back to my studio to see how they sounded and to make sure it was capturing correctly, etc. It seamlessly pulled into Pro Tools™, I pushed the faders up, and the recordings sounded excellent.
“The virtual sound-checking feature on the DN9696 is also really useful,” Eliason adds. “We tried it in rehearsals, and the ease by which it’s implemented is impressive (four Cat-5e cables). From a recording standpoint, the fact that you can pick from any point in the channel chain—be it post-EQ, post-dynamics, or right off the preamp—and then use it for a virtual sound check by clicking one button on the preference page to play back the recording makes it simple and very handy. I was able to use it to program the console during our pre-production rehearsals in Vancouver, which helped save time while getting the tour ready. After rehearsals when the band had left, I sat down at the console and in three milliseconds I was playing back the information they had given me earlier in the day.”
“The support we’ve received from the Midas team has been an essential element of the XL8’s success on this tour,” says Squiers. “As Midas guys we can quickly get to grips with the work surface, but the hands-on product support has expedited the learning curve in terms of getting the most out of the system.” Eliason adds, “In all my years of touring I have never seen a manufacturer care so much about a tour—Tour Production have also commented on this. The XL8 really is the whole package. It’s also a lot of fun to use, and most importantly, the shows are stable and the sound is gorgeous.”
Bill Rahmy, R.E.M. Production Manager, offered a few closing words: “R.E.M. deserves the XL8s. The band is at the top of their game, they run deep, and the engineers both run deep as well. The XL8 is a unique-sounding console that matches that collective depth.”
Additional Crew: Lee Vaught, crew chief/system tech; Peter Baigent, stage tech; Greg Mayler, sound tech; Matt Fox, loudspeaker tech
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Klark Teknik was founded in 1974 and in the years immediately following, their innovative approach to design and development allowed them to introduce some truly groundbreaking designs. Klark Teknik was responsible for one of the world’s first digital delay and digital reverb units, however it was their concepts for equalisation devices that really changed the world of professional audio resulting in the DN370 and the famous DN360. Today Klark Teknik continues to bring innovation in design and dedication to engineering and sonic quality in both the analogue and digital realm of signal processing, with the Square ONE and Show Command ranges updating the brand.
Midas live performance mixing consoles have been used by the world's most demanding sound engineers, performers and rental companies for three decades. The company strives to raise the standards of sonic quality through its programme of continual research and development, implementing new control functionality and user-friendly desk operation to anticipate and accommodate the ever-evolving needs of audio professionals who specify Midas consoles for their major tours, festivals, international events, broadcast projects and prestigious fixed installations.