After three months in North America, Metallica’s Death Magnetic tour has rolled into Europe with front of house engineer Big Mick Hughes at the helm of his Midas XL8 live performance system, creating what he describes as “the best sound it’s been, ever. The XL8 has been absolutely flawless, it hasn’t missed a beat once.”
It’s been 18 months since Mick first took the XL8 out on European summer dates with Metallica. “You use analog for so long you get used to its constraints and work within that frame, because it’s so hard to step out of,” he says. “But with digital you are only restricted by your imagination, and guess what, the ball’s back in my court now. There are endless possibilities using the XL8, and I’ve been getting new plots every day.”
On a lengthy tour it’s vital to expect the unexpected, and Mick particularly appreciates the XL8’s ability to cope with changes and additions to the show.
“We’re up to about 80 channels, which has swelled as the tour has progressed, and while we’d be on a stretch console by now, it’s effortless with the XL8,” he says. “If the band want to add something to a song I don’t have to worry that I’ve got no holes left to plug it into, we just keep adding channels willy nilly! If we have a guest appearance we just configure a few new channels on the XL8.
And we also have all the onboard gates, compressors and dynamics we could possibly need. The XL8 gate is spectacular, with as fast an attack as you could ever want. As for EQing, I use a lot of sub groups which give me either six band parametric or 31 band graphic EQ on everything, and using the Klark Teknik Rapide as a remote control for the GEQs gives me instant access to them.”
Not only that but Midas has written some of Mick’s favorite effects into software upgrades so he won’t even need the tried, trusted and no-longer-available effects units he’s been relying on to recreate esoteric studio effects.
As for the sound, Mick says he’s never heard Metallica this way before. “The intelligibility you get with this console is phenomenal. The guitar sound is the best it’s been all the way, there’s such great intelligibility in the mid and high mid frequencies that you can actually hear individual strings on the guitars. Everybody tells me it’s the best it’s ever sounded, but for me it’s taken some getting used to; I’ve had to learn about what’s available, which is endless. We all strive for the perfect sound and there used to be somewhere to draw the line; the equipment would only let you go so far. But for engineers there’s no time out any more!”
Mick’s also got his hands on the smaller Midas PRO6 live audio system, as the band will be traveling back to the US for a one-off Guitar Hero party where the venue is too small for an XL8. “I tried transferring the entire show across at the Midas HQ, and the PRO6 recalled all my settings immediately, all the way up to 56 channels,” he says. “Everything was there, even the EQ that I’d applied across the sub groups so I don’t have to start building up sounds from scratch. All we needed to do was reduce the channels to 56 to fit on the PRO6, copying and pasting stuff from higher up, and everything we needed came back.
“The whole experience has been a massive learning curve for me. I think you really have to understand what’s going on with sound now, because if you don’t you’re missing a huge part of what’s happening. Sure you have to learn new stuff, but it’s a much nicer journey because you feel you can achieve something. I’m sure we’re just at the start of a new evolution.”