Mixing a Concert with a Sound Devices Scorpio

In this post I tell the story how it came that I bought myself a Behringer X32 as a “replacement” for my Sound Devices Scorpio. Ok, not really a replacement. I am totally happy with my Scorpio. Maybe more of an addition …

And here the story goes: some days ago, a colleague via a friend of mine asked me, if I had “two or three microphones”. – “Sure. What for?”, I replied. My friend could not tell. So I got in touch with the colleague who turned out to be an aspiring musician having agreed to playing a gig in a location nearby. Some questions later it surfaced, that the location nearby was a bar with “only basic sound equipment”. “In that case, a good idea to bring a mic.”, I thought. But maybe an even better idea was, to check out the bar, which turned out to have virtually no equipment except for some speakers (and a Mackie mixer no-one could operate). And besides that, we found out that neither the musicians nor the bar tender would have a sound technician who would set up the whole stuff. I roughly told them, what I would think, that they needed for playing the gig and finished my beer. End of story, I thought …

But as no good deed gets unpunished I found myself in the situation of having become *the* sound technician the band was in need for. Splendid. The only problem being, I virtually had no gear for live mixing and my Neumann Voice-Over condenser microphones were probably not the first choice for playing live in a small crowded place, where “accoustic treatment” was a foreign word. Of cource, I had a mixer. It is from Sound Devices and could easily handle the track count of the small band consisting of three members. But is Sound Devices really the go-for gear when mixing live concerts? Another question to myself left unanswered was: can live mixing be so different from recording voice-over work in a studio? Something I would have to find out.

So I checked with the requirements of the band and agreed to be there the next day to set everything up. As a preparation, I came up with a small wiring plan which largely looked like this:

  1. Keys L / Keys R via TS from Line-Out to Scorpio as Line-In to Ch01/Ch02
  2. Shure BETA 58 A for Vocals to Scorpio as Mic to Ch03
  3. Shure SM 58 A for Drums (just recording) to Scorpio as Mic to Ch04
    (Drums probably needed no amplification as the room was so small, but I placed a microphone next to it for the purpose of recording it.)
  4. Bass from amplifier Line-Out to Scorpio as Line-In to Ch05

On that very day: arriving at the scene on time I quickly found myself with a large beer, but without a band. “Ok, not my gig'”, I thought. On the other, having them showing up at the very last moment *could* raise the stress level on both sides, if I had to explain them, they would have to play “unplugged”, because of lack of time. But wait – no band starts playing at the announced time! So no stress doing the cabling and sound check in front of the audience, right? Eventually, the band manifested itself into the venue and we could start.

So easy, so good. However, inside the bar there were some “challenges” with the area where the musicians would perform (noticed, how I avoided using the word “stage”?). They were supposed to play directly in front of a large mirror mounted on a drywall in front of the toilets. Curtains to the rescue! But only *after* we would have moved a couple of tables and other stuff. A carpet being available with almost the size needed, trying to guarantee for a virtually echo-proof environment, completed the picture. Stage ready. And then the speakers … the main speakers were mounted directly where the musicicans were playing. “Oh great, we can use these speakers at the same time as monitors, so no separate monitors needed”, I thought, being an optimistic sound technician. (Sneak preview: after I connected them to the X1/X2 output of the Scorpio, and setting up the vocal microphone, at the start I constantly got feedback from the main speakers, as they were mounted *behind* the singer.) Following some *careful* hyper-cardiod Shure BETA 58 A mic placement, I therefore resorted to my trusty Sennheiser G4 wireless IEM with some Voice Technologies VT-600 headsets, and configured a separate bus without drums to get the mix to the to the band, as a separate monitor was really not a possibility here. A third speaker was placed next to the bar, maybe 10-12m into the room, giving me the opportunity to make use of my output delay option (around 2.92ms/m it is, right?) on the Scorpio’s X3 TA3F output.

After connecting all the instruments, I persuaded the band, that I would *really* appreciate, if they could do some sound check *together* instead of only playing *individually*. Good that I constantly upgraded the firmware of my Scorpio, so I could not only smooth out things a bit with an EQ, but also do some good on bass and drums with a compressor (starting with firmware version v7.0). Ready to play? Not really, as the bass guy revealed being the proud owner of a guitar, he intended to play on a song during the gig. As easy as updating my configuration, and placing the guitar on Ch06 and into the mix. Problem solved. Except we could not find a line out on the guitar amp. “Not my amp”, the bass guy explained. Strange enough, there really seemed to be none, except for some unlabelled “aux send”. After the actual connection was made, I was happy to be able to get rid of some hum and making use of my NoiseAssist plugin to attenuate some strange noise out of the amp.

Eventually, all seemed well *and* we were on time, meaning: sound was ok, Scorpio armed for recording, Remote Audio headset ready, and a fresh beer to cool down the heat. Let’s roll! What I did not calculate into the equation: no band starts on time. So grabbing another beer was the next logical step, and waiting …

In the end, it played out all surprisingly well. The band played two gigs, with the second gig being much better, than the first one. And interestingly, not only much better, but also much faster and *louder*, having me to readjust all the gain settings. Part of my new life as a live sound technician. And then for the teardown: armed with a beer offered by the bartender, I quickly put my stuff into boxes, gave some microphone technique advisory and was off to go. And this is, where the idea about buying a Behringer X32 or some other mixer comes into play.

Why would that be? I really have a bad feeling lending out my Scorpio for a future event to some band or a technician at some venue (even with insurance). Having to double-check everything on return does not feel that great either. Conclusion: I should have some gear that is not so delicate and most importantly sufficiently cheap, that an accident not only not breaks anyone’s heart, but also not the bank.

So I collected the requirements I would like to see in such a setup:

  • Minimum amount of cables required (yes, that’s fuzzy)
  • Least amount of setup and configuration needed (yep, also fuzzy)
  • Front of House must be separate from Stage
  • Personal mix should be adjustable by the artist
  • All configuration settings must be savable/restorable
  • The gear must be controllable via configuration app and/or external control surface
  • Dante for interop with other audio gear
  • Minimum of 16 channels (extendable to 32 channels)
  • Optional Hi-Z / DI inputs
  • Rack transportable
  • Less than 5k CHF (including cables)

Note ahead: I am in no way affiliated nor financially supported by any brand nor do I get any financial benefit from talking about any of the gear. In addition, every item I mention here I bought my with own money.

After some research I found that Behringer offers something that closely matched the requirements. So in the end, I opted for the following gear:

  • Behringer X32 Rack as the front of house digital mixer (with a single Ultranet port and 2 AES50 ports)
  • Behringer X-Dante extension card (swapping out the pre-shipped USB extension card)
  • Behringer X-touch control surface
  • Zoom H6 Handy Recorder to be able to record up to 6 tracks from the mixer (this device I just already happened to have, and had no use for it, so I decided to give it a “new life”)
  • Adam Hall power conditioner 230V@10A with 8 outputs
  • charger with 4 USB 3.0 ports
  • 8 port Netgear GS108PP-100EUS PoE+ switch
  • TP-Link nano router for providing IP addresses to the control surface, X32 remote port and Dante card and the optional PC for the remote app
  • 2U drawer for cables and other stuff
  • all this packed into a 8U case

For the stage part I opted for the following components:

  • Behringer SD16 stage box with 16 pre-amped (with 2 Hi-Z) inputs and 8 line outputs and with an additional 4 Ultranet ports with power distribution. Plus, the stage box has 2 AES50 ports, with port A being connected to port A of the X32 Rack via a 50m Cat5e cable drum with locking RJ45 connectors
  • 4 Behringer P-16M personal mixer connected via Ultranet to the SD16 (with no additional power cord needed), which give each artist the possibility to mix up to 16 tracks into their own mix, as channels 01-16 on the SD16 (mapped to channels 17-33 on the X32) are routed to the Ultranet channels 01-16
  • 4 Behringer B105D monitor speakers with 50W which can be connected to the P16-M via 2 TS 1/4″ in case you do not want to use the headphone output of the P16-M (also 1/4″)
  • Adam Hall power conditioner 230V@10A with 8 outputs
  • charger with 4 USB 3.0 ports
  • 1U shelf for holding the 4 P16-M mixers
  • 2U drawer for cables and other stuff
  • all this packed into a 6U case

After playing around with the X32 a little bit and coming from the Sound Devices 8-series world, I really had to “readjust” my understanding on how flexible the mixer effectively was and how it could be configured. But one thing really impressed me: how easy the overall configuration of the digital links actually was. Really plug’n’play. This also hold true for the Ultranet connections. Once I found the place in the X32, I configured the channels for Ultranet and I instantly got signal on the channels of the P16-M! Configuring the effects, I found somehow counter-intuitive: routing the signal over an FX bus, instead of just activating the desired effect on the channel itself was not something I had expected. Also the compressor on an actual channel seemed to replicate its settings over to the other inputs as well. But maybe, I have not yet figured out, how this is supposed to work. So be prepared, to read more about it in a later post.

A strange thing I experienced with the X-touch was, that every time I start up the control surface, I have to press the “Scan” encoder knob to actually connect to the X32 mixer. No automatic reconnect.

And this is the end of the story how it came I got myself an X32 mixer in addition to my highly appreciated Scorpio …

Published by Ronald Rink

I am a senior auditor and consultant at d-fens for business processes and information systems.

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