In the Rearview Mirror: Super Bowl XLV Sound

Super Bowl XLV drew television’s largest audience ever, with more than 111 million fans tuning in to watch and hear the contest. It was also one of the loudest Super Bowls to date, says Fox Sports Audio Consultant/Senior Mixer Fred Aldous. On a couple of occasions, there were announce-booth comments about the fan noise, which came mostly from Steelers fans trying to rattle the Packers’ offense.

“When the fans get that loud, it starts to sound like a record mastered from the 1950s or ’60s: no dynamic range, everything is at the max,” says Aldous, adding that the closed roof of Cowboys Stadium created a huge reflective area with lots of acoustic standing-waves space that challenged the clarity of the mix at times.

An Expanded Arsenal of Parabolas
But Aldous had some additional armaments in his inventory, in the form of additional parabolic microphones on the sidelines, two wired and six wireless, offering more opportunities for field placement. The fact that the parabolic operators could be seen in the shots more often than usual underscored both an increase in their numbers (international broadcasters had a couple of their own on the field as well) and their movement.

“There’s no doubt that it would have been easier with the roof open,” says Aldous, “but we did a good job, and having the extra parabolas helped a lot, especially since we don’t have the umpire microphone anymore.”

The umpire mic might be gone, but Fox listeners did get what Aldous calls “a little gift” in the form of an inadvertently open bodypack mic on referee Walt Anderson during a conference with Green Bay coaches on the sidelines.

“As soon as he heard it through the PA, he realized it was on, and he turned it off,” Aldous says. “I had it but was ready to be very cautious with it. You don’t get a little gift like that often.”

Mic to Transmitter Above
Another big help for that loss of an on-field mic was the Sennheiser ME 67 microphone connected to a Sennheiser SK250 transmitter housed in the CableCam flying overhead. “It’s self-powered so I don’t need a power supply, and the ME 67 gives me pretty good reach down onto the field,” Aldous notes.

The volume of the crowd effects becomes a strategy in itself. He purposely tries to create tension between the announcers and the crowd in the soundscape. “I definitely like to fight the announcers with a little extra effects in the surround,” he says. “It keeps their level of intensity up.”

Not so for field reporters, for whom Aldous tried to notch out a hole in the crowd effects so they could punch through.

The Weather Effect
Super Bowl XLV did have one distinguishing characteristic: it was cold. Snow on the ground at DFW airport is a rarity, and Aldous says that, while his location was sufficiently insulated, the trucks that were at the end of the tunnel might as well have been in a wind tunnel. “Fortunately, the ice thawed in time for tear-out.”

Halftime Glitches
The Super Bowl halftime show, which Fox Sports did not produce, didn’t fare quite as well. The Black Eyed Peas’ Fergie’s first vocal notes were lost to a closed mic channel. John Schirmer, who has worked the group’s front-of-house system tech audio several times in recent years, says the problems didn’t stop there: “It sounded as though the track wasn’t part of the broadcast mix, like it was being picked up from the ambience of the house.

“The Auto-Tune track was ridiculous,” he adds. “It’s tricky to try to get Auto-Tune to work well live, and, that night, it sounded like you were hearing more of the return of the Auto-Tune than of Will.I.Am’s voice. It overwhelmed everything.”

The problem is that entertainment-show producers and artists want the live event to be as perfect as the recordings, so as not to disappoint viewers. Hence the application of complex processing like Auto-Tune, but latency issues that come with it can further complicate the usual synch issues with broadcasts. The very predictability that television strives for might work against it when it comes to music.

That was all ancient history to Aldous, who was on his way Monday to Daytona,  FL, where Fox will broadcast and he will mix NASCAR’s opening race on Feb. 20.

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