Vox Media Broadens Tool Inventory With Focusrite

Vox Media has been using Focusrite interfaces ever since relocating to its new headquarters in Manhattan’s Financial District, subsequently adding more units from the RedNet range of Dante-networked audio converters and interfaces as the company’s production system has been scaled up. Most recently, reports Miles Ewell, Vox Media’s Director of Production Technology, the company expanded its inventory of Focusrite interfaces to allow talent to work from their homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

When the work-from-home mandate went into effect earlier this year, says Ewell, he immediately ordered two-dozen Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB audio interfaces from Manhattan-based dealer B&H and assembled a flypack for each of the company’s podcast voice talent.

“We sent out a Shure SM58 microphone, a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 and a pair of Sony MDR headphones,” he says. The company also partnered with SquadCast, a Chrome-based web solution, which enables audio from each of up to four conference participants to be recorded locally to their respective machines then uploaded to the cloud for editing by Vox producers.

Ewell, who oversees technical production infrastructure design, installation, and maintenance across all Vox Media offices, has also brought Focusrite products into his Brooklyn home.

“My first introduction to Focusrite was the RedNet series,” he continues. “Through my work at Vox Media I fell in love with Focusrite Pro and I have slowly been able to integrate these products into my home studio, where I do beat-making, composition and sound design. So now I’m a consumer-, prosumer- and professional-level fan.”

Ewell began working for Vox Media when the company had offices at Manhattan’s Bryant Park. “I helped with the studio systems and also ran sound for the live streaming shows, like The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani, which was probably the biggest show that we were doing at the time. I was recording and mixing podcasts and doing some composition as well,” he says.

When Vox relocated to the former Goldman Sachs building on Broad Street, he says, “I was a part of the team working with system integrator Diversified on the audio system.” From the get-go, one analog and two digital Dante-enabled Focusrite RedNet units — to which two AES interfaces have since been added — supported audio embedding and interfacing for the company’s live video, live tape and podcast recording infrastructure at the location.

“I love them because I never have to mess with them,” says Ewell of the installed RedNet devices. “They’re so stable and have just been rock solid. And I love how simple the RedNet Control software is and how it’s laid out. So my first really positive experience with Focusrite was the RedNet line, and with the sound quality and the build quality, I was sold.”

There are now also Focusrite RedNet AM2 stereo audio monitoring units available throughout Vox’s multi-city production facilities, which encompass 15 studios, five control rooms, and three equipment rental shops. “We use the AM2 for the podcast team out on the floor. For example, in our podcast studios in Washington, DC, we have one at a desk pod for the Today, Explained daily news show team,” he says. “The producer or whoever’s sitting at the desk can listen live to what’s being tracked in the studio. We’ve deployed it in New York, too. We have a show called Recode Reset, and whenever the executive producer wants to check in on the studio, they just plug their headphones in and listen.”

Although Ewell started out studying education at Champlain College in Vermont, music and electronics had been his passion since second grade, and he soon switched gears, and careers. After moving to New York City in 2015, he picked up engineering work at megaclub Verboten in Williamsburg then at House of Yes in Bushwick before landing at Vox Media. “I had a lot to learn when I first moved here,” he acknowledges. “A home studio is a home studio. A live broadcast infrastructure is a different beast, but I love it. I read books and watch tutorials, and I buy gear just so I can have it at home and learn it, and mess it up and fix it.”

At his home studio, which he shares with his wife, who is a music supervisor and a jazz singer, Ewell has a Focusrite Red 4Pre 58-In / 64-Out Thunderbolt 2 and Pro Tools | HD compatible audio interface that acts as the hub of a music production setup that includes two DAWs, a tape machine and a variety of analog synths, keyboards and sound modules. “I’m writing all the time,” says Ewell. His interest in dance and electronic music has expanded to also include VR/AR experiences and immersive sound installations. “I do a lot of my work in Ableton Live and some mixing in Pro Tools | HD, and have a PC and a Mac Mini, so I needed an interface that could support both. I also wanted an interface that was Dante compatible. The Red 4Pre was just the solution.” He also has a RedNet AM2 interface for headphones, he says.

Now, he says, with its ability to quickly switch between DAWs and to control I/O routing in the RedNet Control 2 software, “The Red 4Pre is the brain of the whole operation. I don’t have a patchbay because I just don’t really need one. I can sit down and just play or write and record to my real-to-reel then bounce it into the DAW in two seconds. It sounds amazing. And it’s scalable, so I could bring it to my installation work, for playback or tracking.”

Ewell, who reports that he is constantly pushing himself and learning new technologies, can also use his setup to expand his knowledge, he says. “I have a network switch for Dante and right now I’m learning about networking. I’m going to set up a Dante VLAN and experiment with sending Dante around my house.”

Using the Red 4Pre and Dante, he can even record outside of his apartment, he says. “If I want to record something in the parking lot next to my apartment, I can run a CAT 6 POE cable out the window and record live right into my DAW. I just love the scalability. And access to scalability and flexibility also enables me to have new ideas about sound installation work.” With Focusrite’s RedNet system, says Ewell, “I can do anything.”