DiGiCo SD7 Responds To Pop Singer Rihanna's SOS

DiGiCo Flagship console replaces maxed-out digital console used in tour rehearsals. As rehearsals commenced in southern California for Rihanna's fall concert dates - including a handful of arena shows in New Zealand, Australia and Manila - it became apparent after the first day that the console specified would not adequately handle the burgeoning monitor needs for the pop/R&B singer. Monitor engineer Scott C. Pike, who came onboard just in time for those rehearsals, decided to swap out the other consoles with the new DiGiCo SD7. Well-versed in the digital console selection available to him, Pike's key motive in choosing the SD7 was a need for a flexible console with a clear and wide sonic scope, and one with an analog feel and surface view.

"I came on this gig with very short notice," recalls Pike, whose monitor credits include stints with Springsteen, AC/DC, Rage Against The Machine, and others. "Another digital console was booked before I got to the rehearsals at Centerstaging in Burbank. But after the first day, we had already outgrown the outputs on it. At that point, I called [Group One's] Taidus Vallandi to discuss the possibilities of using an SD7. The next day, he brought a loaner console down and we set it up next to the other one, ran a second split, and started setting up the SD7. We only had a limited amount of time to do the entire setup, in part because I had to track down an SD7 for the tour, but also because I had to convince management to go for the change. My saving grace was that Taidus also brought a computer in to record the rehearsals on the SD7, and afterwards, I was able to go to his facility and dial in all the mixes from the multitrack recordings on his SD7. Fortunately, we were able to track down an SD7 in Australia through Tom Allen at Parradiddle Productions."

The tour kicked off in Auckland, New Zealand on October 25th, and with only two days of production rehearsals - and only one hour with the band for a soundcheck before Rihanna hit the stage - Pike was up and running quickly thanks to the prep work done in rehearsals.

"Scott was able to view everything he needed, and get to any mix or channel without searching for it amongst menus," Allen explained. "This was achieved with the flexibility the user has with building the channel banks and master banks to suit the dynamics of the show. The SD7 allows the user to access up to 52 faders at once. These can be channels, VCAs, groups, aux masters, and so on, and can be placed anywhere on the console. This was a huge plus for Scott when making a choice for a new console. The SD7 allowed Scott to view all aux masters on the surface at once, which means he could attend to and mix at the push of a button and use the console’s faders to drive aux mixes. A lot of manufacturers continue to build digital consoles that are menu driven, but as engineers move from analog to digital, the transition isn't seamless or easy. There is a huge learning curve for consoles that are menu- driven. Engineers want to be able to walk up to a great sounding digital board, grab gain, EQ, aux mixes, and faders as they would on an analog board. DiGiCo has continued to offer that familiar architecture in their products."

Although the tour monitor input requirements were fairly straightforward - totalling only about 50 including Rihanna, keys, guitar, bass, drums, Pro Tools tracks, and two background singers - the outputs were where Pike really needed flexibility. For the band members alone, the outputs amounted to 30 for 16 mixes (8 stereo mixes), including single stereo mixes for side fills, the Pro Tools, pyro and video guys, one for the backline guy, a thumper mix for the drummer, a sub-mix for one of the key players and a record mix for the band’s review.

One of the biggest challenges for Pike was dealing with individual requests for talk mics and in-ear monitor mixes from the band, while respecting and meeting the needs of the headliner. The SD7 was the only console Pike had worked with that could handle this requirement. "We have talk mic's on stage so the MD (the bass player) can talk to the players, the Pro Tools guy and myself - but under no circumstances does this talk mic go into Rihanna's mix. In my past experience, working under the same circumstances with other bands, it has always been a problem. If I am cued up to the main artist, I can easily miss requests from other band members. We were able to use solo bus two and latch all the talk mic's up in a very inventive way by doubling the patch to my solo 1 cue output and using the same for solo buss 2. So even if I had Rihanna's mix cued, the talk mic's would end up in my ears and not hers. I personally have never been able to do this with any other desk."

The other thing important to Pike was the ability to have all his channels show up on the console’s top layer, making it easy and quick for him to get around. “I guess I’m kind of old-school," Pike laughs, "but I'm used to having it all in front of me. With most of the other digital desks I have used, you have to select the output bank, select the input bank, and then select the input or output cues. With the SD7, it was no more than one or two steps to get to where I needed to be."

Hands-down, both Pike and Parradiddle's Allen were unanimous in their overwhelming raves for the SD7's sound. "I have been doing ears for a long time," explains Pike, "and the hardest thing is to take a very small set of drivers, stuff them in your ears, and expect to hear everything. The best words I can use to explain the SD7 (at least as it pertains to in-ears) is 'space' and 'width' of mix. The sound on many consoles can get very cluttered and the instruments become indistinguishable. Of all the desks I had at the Rihanna rehearsals, without the all-mighty buck as a factor, the SD7 sounded the best and had the widest and finest sound. Even kick drum mics that I had to EQ using the other desks, sounded better right out of the gate with no EQ at all on the SD7."

"The sonic quality of the SD7 in particular is outstanding," Allen adds. "The EQ curves are very responsive, the filters are powerful and deep and the dynamic range of the console is fantastic for large scale live-to-air where you're mixing up to 160 channels on some occasions. Whether you're listening to one channel or 200 channels on the console, the dynamic range will never interfere with your mix. This is what sets DiGiCo apart from other consoles. It's a product build for a wide range of applications. I've made investments on this product based on the fact I can apply this brand to any audio application and it will fit into the picture nicely. DiGiCo has also recently added 4-band dynamic EQ to every channel and every bus output, as well as multi-band compression to every channel and every bus output, and these sound great."

"DiGiCo has built a great reputation in the audio industry,"" Allen continues. "They are a manufacturer that has built a console with engineers, for engineers. I can rest assured that when I need to make a suggestion on the product, there are people who are listening to what we have to say, and that will be open to improvement suggestions. By adopting input from engineers, DiGiCo has continued to build great digital consoles."

"The word is spreading that the SD7 is a must-have," concurs Pike. "As a D5 fan for many years, these consoles sound great and are easy to use. You’re not distracted by the technology. I am hearing a buzz about the SD8 and can't wait to get my hands on one too!"

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