As Winter X Games Grow, So Does the Sound
As Winter X Games celebrates its 15th year in Aspen, with live coverage on ESPN and ABC, more than 200 world-class action-sports athletes are competing for medals and prize money on Buttermilk Mountain, and that generates plenty of sound. And more sound comes from the growing entertainment card, with musical performances by internationally celebrated acts — Nas, 21 Pilots, Kygo, DeadMau5 — on the X Games Music main stage.
But the big noise is still up the mountain. A1 Florian Brown reports that the events are split between two NEP production units, each housing a Calrec Apollo console: EN1, where Steve Kaura is mixing Big Air, SuperPipe, and Slopestyle events; and EN2, where Shawn Peacock mixes X Course, SnoCross, and Moto Freestyle.
“We are deploying 75 Sennheiser 416s, 18 816s, 40 ECM 77 lavs, eight Audio-Technica AT8015s, and some Shure VP88s and Sennheiser MD46s for crowds and ambience,” Brown enumerates. “Our philosophy is still to try and deliver the best discrete 5.1 mix we can.
“The challenges remain the same: snow and cold, plus the vertical travel up the mountain,” he continues. “We have employed BSI to provide RF support to help us reach the places [where] cable isn’t practical. We have [RF] receive sites all over the mountain, even at the X Course start, where we never had coverage before. BSI is also helping us transport the GoPro audio and video for the intimate and unique look and sound that you find only at X Games.
“The fine folks at NEP have made some of our challenges easier,” Brown continues. “Specifically, Nick Romano with NEP, the X Games project manager, has been incredibly helpful getting us the right technology with the best efficiency to get the job done.”
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Brown credits Romano for the choice of the remote trucks for the show as well as the 576-in/650-out router deployed. Altogether, seven Hydras for field microphones and six Andiamo MADI systems are used for comms.
“Because the truck’s router is so big,” Brown explains, “we are able to integrate our Technical Operations Center into the EN1 router, basically creating a master control, which manages the event productions on the mountain PA shows, our ESPN3 show constantly streaming on our ESPN app, and our OTA broadcasts on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2. Nick is constantly on the lookout for technology and equipment that is specifically helpful for the unique conditions at X Games. We couldn’t do it without him.”
In a massive deployment of communications, more than 350 individual mics are located around the venues to capture effects and ambience sounds and are interconnected through a variety of transport mediums, such as Andiamo MADI and Calrec Hydra.
“Our worldwide distribution will encompass a multitude of isolated audio channels to augment our domestic and international broadcasts,” explains ESPN Operations Producer Jon Winders. “Our communications system will tie in all vendor mobile units and specialty systems within the Aspen compound to our broadcast headquarters in Bristol and to our global, international clients.”
He adds that ESPN is deploying a trunked repeater system using 14 repeaters and that 95 radio channels are supporting all the groups onsite. More than 1,200 radios plus chargers are used, along with 800 speaker mics.
Jason Dachman contributed to this report.