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I Hate You… A Fiber to the Rescue Story

Posted by Bob Langlois on 2/26/15 10:57 AM

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Angry Face"I hate you!" Okay, let me clarify this right away. This was said to me by a very dear friend of mine in the heat of an audio battle during the first song of the night. To get some perspective, we’ll start at the beginning.

A while back I was working for an unnamed company when my good friend called and asked me to help him with an audio upgrade for his 24 box MILO system. I, of course, put the system in way back in the day. His digital drive was very outdated and he was getting very frustrated with his EQ. He felt he could no longer get anything to sound the way he wanted, no matter how hard he tried. Sometimes when new technology becomes available we really start to notice when older technology becomes obsolete. If we are paying attention, our ears tend to get educated after time. So, what back in the day was state-of-the-art might be today’s Edsel of audio.

Now, my friend runs a vintage MIDAS console and lives in the analog world although he is very digitally savvy. He just loves the sound of the old analog MIDAS preamps and, I must say, I totally agree with him. We both instinctively knew it was not the desk. I suggested we use a FiberPlex 8 channel analog to fiber drive with a new DSP that is mounted up in the catwalk not far from the arrays. This drive definitely needed to be digital because the run is about 800+ feet away. Now, because the desk is still analog, I figure why convert to some other format just to convert back? That makes no sense. Besides, analog over fiber works for me every time. So, my friend hires a company to put in the fiber backbone and they do a great job. I came in and checked everything out and had to start over completely from scratch. Which, of course, I would do anyway for obvious reasons when changing out DSP. Once I had the system to manufacturers' specs, we went back to the sound booth to make sure everything was routed properly. We made sure the output drive channels were properly assigned to each of the corresponding DSP inputs. Just as we were going to do a little more testing, my friend gets called away and there is absolutely no time for a sound check or even a line check before the evening’s performance. I voiced my concerns and was brushed away nicely and told it would be fine. I knew this was going to be an experience I was not likely to forget.

Showtime! As the first downbeat began, I saw massive confusion on my friend’s face. It was a little like an old George Jetson cartoon with George frantically pushing buttons and screaming to Jane “How do I stop this crazy thing?” I was definitely out of arm's reach so he couldn’t punch me and there was definitely nothing hanging around loose that he could throw at me. What I did see was his mouth forming the words. I hate you… Ouch, that hurt more than an airborne object.

Now, let’s remember one thing. This is not a digital desk and there is no such thing as “global” anything. My friend’s EQ settings were so extreme from the old system that it was all he could do to hit the EQ bypass on a few channels at a time. Yep, 128 channels to be exact.  Did I mention that this desk is so long that when I posted a picture of it on the internet, someone mentioned they thought they could see the curvature of the Earth? A skateboarder could get from one end of the desk to the other. Of course, as it turns out, he didn’t need EQ on most of the inputs anymore so he recovered almost immediately. The professional that he is, he realized this right away. The mix came beautifully back to life. The EQ he did use was so minimal that you could practically breathe on it to make a change. Yes, to this day it is still one of the most sensitive consoles to mix on.

Once again it’s fiber to the rescue. I had to leave to catch a plane before the performance was over and as I waived good-bye I saw his mouth form the words…thanks.

My absolute pleasure, my brother. See you down the road.

Next time let’s talk about replacing that old analog desk.

Topics: Audio, Fiber 101