On the last leg of Ellie Goulding’s recent tour of Europe, next coming to North America, the sound team upgraded the keyboard and playback rigs with technology from Ferrofish and RME, which are both distributed by Synthax.
Specifically, Will Sanderson, the tour’s MIDI, playback and keyboards technician, decided to deploy the new Ferrofish A32 AD/DA converter for the show’s keyboard and playback rig and the RME MADIface XT 394-Channel, 192 kHz USB 3.0 audio interface.
“The aim was to design a system that would handle keyboard sounds, electronic drum sounds, playback, plus autocue and timecode while enabling the musical director and the musicians to have free reign with their sound design and full control of it during the show from on stage,” Sanderson explains. “I knew the system would need to sound great and be robust, yet remain flexible enough to handle any changes or developments as the campaign progressed. With so many elements of the show connected to this rig, it could not be the weak link.”
Sanderson continues, “I’m very lucky that Ellie Goulding’s musical director, Joe Clegg, and the musicians in the band are all very open to embracing new technology. Together, we’ve designed a rig that allows us to explore both the creative and technical possibilities. I needed to select hardware that would not compromise the band’s workflow and give them the performance they needed while also providing the quality, reliability, and flexibility that I require to function efficiently on the road.
“To address these requirements, the RME and Ferrofish combination was a natural choice. The gear neatly handles all of our keyboard sounds, electronic drum sounds and playback, as well as autocue and timecode. In the end, we selected four RME MADIface XT units, the RME MADI Router, DirectOut EXBOX.BLDS MADI switchers (for auto-switching redundancy) and the Ferrofish A32.”
Sanderson provides specifics on the application of the Ferrofish A32. “The sound quality of this converter is fantastic and it couldn’t be easier to operate,” he reports. “We were one of the first people to get hold of it and we didn’t have a lot of time for extensive testing. As it turns out, it really was a case of unboxing it, bolting it into the rack, and turning it on. Straight out of the box, it worked exactly as you’d expect it to. The Ferrofish A32 is a very well thought out and intuitive piece of equipment. And while I’m certain we’re only using it for a fraction of its capabilities, for our requirements, it couldn’t be better.”
“With other artists I’ve worked for,” he adds. “I had a lot of success using RME products, so I knew the gear would work well. We needed equipment that was going to be robust, not compromise on sound or build quality, and give us the flexibility we required. The gear needed to be scalable up and down for different touring requirements.”
Sanderson also clarified why he and his team chose to go with the RME MADIface XT over the smaller RME MADIface USB, which was also considered. “Because this setup was never going to be a carry-on fly rig, compact size was less important. A key reason for choosing the XT is the unit’s visual display, which makes operation easier and speeds up problem diagnosis.
“Another important consideration is that I have the option to run them from the thunderbolt port via an adapter. This way, I can free up the USB architecture within the computer should it need to focus solely on MIDI.”
Sanderson reports that using MADI provides him extra flexibility and more sophisticated channel routing options. “We were quite ambitious with what we wanted to achieve regarding channel routing,” he notes, “and it was these products that enabled us to commit to a design without having to feel constricted by hardware specifications.”
He also points out the importance of having redundancy options in a live playback rig. The team uses two duplicate playback and keyboard rigs, ensuring that, if a fault were to occur during a show, the backup rigs would immediately take over, resulting in no audio dropouts. “
There are two sides to this system,” he says. “There’s a keyboard rig and a playback rig that also provides all of our electronic drum sounds and timecode, which gets sent out to FOH, as well as the Lighting and Video departments. Both sides to the rig have redundant back-up systems, but I also wanted the flexibility to be able to run the keyboard rig from the playback rig if necessary. The extra security provided by this system breeds confidence in the setup—for everyone involved.”
The rig is positioned offstage, though it is remotely controlled by the band on stage. The musicians are in total control of the show. There are five keyboards and two sample pads, plus nine drum triggers on the drum kit—all of which communicate directly with this system via MIDI. “I’m basically just monitoring the rig during the show, though I can make adjustments on the fly as required,” he says.