Zen Broadcast Chooses SSL’s System T
After extensive on-air testing, leading recording and audio services provider Zen Broadcast has confirmed SSL’s System T as the new tool of choice for its refitted mobile unit. The truck will feature a 48-fader System T S500 console with two T80 Tempest Audio Engines for full redundancy, with a high-capacity Dante AoIP network and additional SSL network I/O to support external SDI, MADI, AES, and analog as required.
Zen Broadcast is a relatively new UK-based company, born of the considerable combined experience of Directors Andy Deacon and Terry Tew, and regularly delivers both live and recorded high-end programs for such clients as ITV, BBC and Sky, both nationally and internationally.
he Zen Broadcast mobile unit was designed to fulfill a market requirement for a facility that could turn up at a European broadcast studio or event with two separate mix areas, another recording and tape specific room with comms, and with full support for Dante AoIP networked audio as well as AES67, MADI, SDI, and SMPTE 2110. It was originally intended to be a space where various consoles could be moved in and out, depending on the requirements of the sound supervisor and the job at hand, ensuring it was equally adaptable to complex broadcast events, classical recording sessions, music festivals, and more.
“But it was while we were working on The Voice last year that a colleague, Ben Milton, suggested an SSL might fit nicely into the truck,” recalls Deacon, “That was mainly based on Ben’s very positive experiences with the SSL Live consoles at events like The Glastonbury Festival.”
Deacon managed to find time to test System T in the Zen Broadcast truck, though it was the busiest time of the year, with several very large live broadcasts booked in immediately afterwards. Initially, the truck was parked at SSL HQ in Oxford, England.
Says Deacon, “I know the truck’s rooms sound great, and we’ve had lots of different consoles in there from most manufacturers you can think of, but with the SSL plugged in everything changed. It brought everything to life.
“Right there, Terry and I discussed the idea of putting System T into the truck permanently. Even though it was originally designed to take any desk, it seemed ridiculous not to put a desk in that makes the final output sound so much better.”
Kevin Duff, twice BAFTA-award winning sound supervisor, dubbing mixer, and Zen regular, was present for those first tests: “The sound was simply stunning,” he says. “And that is no exaggeration. … The soundstage of a band I have recorded for for five years had immediately changed. … The detail was astonishing.”
In particular, the channel dynamics impressed from the beginning, he says. “It gave me confidence to know the headroom was available to cope with unexpected challenges as they appeared.”
Immediately after the Oxford tests, Duff agreed to try System T on The Voice Kids UK 2017 live final, the live final of Pitch Battle (popular UK choir competition), and finally the recent live Passchendaele centenary commemorations Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium — all complex productions requiring different solutions to many technical and creative challenges.
On Pitch Battle, Duff had to cope with over 60 handheld radio mics, many of which were swapped between choirs, and he had no idea until the actual show which choirs would be singing against each other.
“This show really got me into the automation snapshot world of System T, and heavily into the layer manager,” he recalls. “The speed of moving and editing layers became a saving grace here as I was copying and pasting faders from sound checks to other faders and moving layers all over the place> … It’s so funny that I had been apprehensive about using a new desk on such big shows, but a week in I realized that I would have really struggled to cope with this show on my previous desk.”
According to Deacon, System T fits in very nicely with Zen Broadcast and its own unique appeal: “It’s about flexibility and adaptability for the modern broadcast industry. We need to be able to accommodate the needs of all sound supervisors and events. Whilst I’d love to say it’s the truck that generates the work, this isn’t necessarily the case. It’s a facility we are extremely proud of but, ultimately revenue is generated by those sound supervisors and engineers that choose to employ us. Our job is to ensure we provide a first-class facility and staff that allow them to be creative and demonstrate their artistic skills; this is why we chose System T. Of course, it helps that Terry and I have nearly 50 years of combined experience in music recording and broadcast.
“In the same way, I think the flexibility and power of the console, and SSL support, will be key for our clients. Some of our bigger live broadcast events can run to over 400 inputs.”
With Zen’s input list growing daily, Deacon feels that the system’s native Dante support will be decisive in coping with future challenges. “We’ve also upgraded our Pro Tools systems with Dante interfaces. That’s a huge help because we can simply use the Dante network as a record and monitoring path rather than using up all of the MADI streams.
“The whole Dante AoIP thing felt quite daunting at first, but we all looked into it and realized it’s nowhere near as difficult you might think. Also, the networking infrastructure in the truck is ready; we put a whole bunch of Cisco switches and cabling in when we fitted it out … though something we thought might be needed in a year or two has turned out to be needed within a few months!”
The new System T will be installed in the Zen Broadcast Truck very soon and is expected to have its first big outing on a prestigious broadcast event in November.