Ruby Diamond Concert Hall is a historic auditorium that was first built in 1911 and serves as the primary performance venue for Florida State University in Tallahassee. With a capacity of about 1,200 seats, the state-of-the-art facility supports a wide variety of university and community performances and events. I recently spoke with F.S.U.’s Specialist in the Arts, Mike Shapiro, about upgrading the historic hall with a new Avid VENUE | S6L system.
DH: Tell me about what challenges you were facing before you acquired the S6L. What was the process by which you decided on the new desk?
MS: The F.S.U. College of Music completed a major renovation of our concert hall about six years ago and the console we had at the time was limited for the productions we were doing. Eventually, we’d need something more robust and rider friendly. We were looking for something that had deeper capabilities and something that could handle the larger more demanding productions. Our musical events range from classical to rock to jazz to opera. With such diverse productions it was crucial to find something that was more flexible and had adaptability to produce whatever show was booked for that particular day.
We started looking around for a desk that could fill that void. I went to InfoComm 2015 in Orlando and was looking at several consoles. Avid had just announced the new S6L line so I had to check it out. While I was comparing the different consoles, the search kept leading back to the new S6L. The desk was in a beta type state and the Avid team was still working hard on it but you could tell it was going to be a great addition to the Venue line.
Another deciding factor was a seamless integration with our [Pro Tools] HD rig. We use a lot of Dante devices from Focusrite’s RedNet line and it was paramount that the new console fit in to our current infrastructure. Plus, we really wanted to boost the sample rate to 96KHz. The S6L was exactly what we were looking for. I don’t want to say we got lucky because I trust Avid products. We ended up purchasing an S6L 32-D with the E6L-192 engine in the summer of 2016. We also upgraded the E6L with (2) AVB cards, a MADI card and expanded the Stage 64’s I/O.
DH: How was the transition to the S6L?
MS: On the installation side, it was painless due to the great information provided by Ryan John and Rick Wallace from Avid. We ran fiber because we were just a bit over the distance on our Cat6 runs due to the conduit path and needed to avoid a “hop”. This phase also went smoothly thanks to Dan Coscarella at Camplex and our talented on-campus networking and facilities departments. We installed 12 strands of multi-purpose SingleMode fiber and a nice fiber patch bay for routing flexibility since our console can be placed in a few locations depending on the type of show we are doing. We have a booth mix location for classical performances; for ballet or comedy/dialog type shows and a house mix position as well. I wired up the R&R cases and racks for the S6L, E6L and Stage 64, installed the option cards and additional I/O, bought some tactical fiber cables, plugged it in, everything just popped right up wonderfully. It’s been a great experience.
It was an effortless transition from our previous console to the S6L. I really love it and it’s a joy to work on. We have a lot of guest engineers come in and none of them have had any problems either. Anything you need to do, it’s right there. You don’t have to hunt around or go through several menus, everything you need while setting up or mixing a show is within a couple of touches. If it’s something deeper, you can still get to it easily because it’s a very modular system.
I remember Robert Scovill talking about “Mental Friction” pertaining to bus configuration and available I/O, he nailed it because there is no math involved. It’s all there, all of the time. That logic really resonated with me and made a ton of sense.
Going from what we had and the desks we’ve rented for bigger shows where our last console couldn’t keep up—it was night and day. Just grabbing a [Shure] 58 and running through the new mic pres and convertors for the first time, it was crystal clear. This is a huge upgrade for us. The onboard processing is amazing and I find myself using a lot less EQ and plug-ins. Find the right mic for the source, put it in the right spot and off you go. The S6L is a great desk. It sounds amazing.
Touring engineers come in and say, “Oh, I’ve read about this. I’ve seen pictures or videos, my buddy used one etc.” Everyone’s worked on a Profile or SC48, so they pick it up really quickly thanks to the comfortable Venue software. A few touches on the CKM’s and CTM’s and things start clicking so they can quickly find their workflow of choice. For the shows where the engineers bring in a [VENUE] show file, it loads up perfectly which is another major bonus.
The one hiccup I’ve encountered with show files involve Waves plug-ins, but that is the only thing we’ve had to sort out as we aren’t currently using [Waves] Multitrack. I am really excited about the onboard Waves integration in the future but we do have the included Avid Pro Series plug-ins as well as the McDSP, Sonnox and Brainworx Live bundles, so if there is a [Waves] C6 or something on an input or bus, we can load up a similar processor and work around it quickly.
DH: Had you had much experience with the older VENUE consoles before?
MS: Yeah! I think everybody’s probably touched one. I’ve never personally owned one, and we didn’t own one here at our venue, but we would rent them often to meet rider requirements. For the past 10 years or so if you went to a show or were working one, you’d see ’em. You see them everywhere—still do, honestly. It is still an industry standard.
DH: What kinds of acts and events do you support at Ruby Diamond Concert Hall?
MS: Our College of Music orchestras, wind ensembles, bands, choirs, opera, world music and jazz programs perform in the hall year round as well as national touring acts. The University performing arts series brings in guests such as Yo-Yo Ma, Tony Bennett, Jazz at Lincoln Center (with Wynton Marsalis) and Smokey Robinson. We also host a lot of non-musical events such as dance productions, graduation ceremonies, guest lecturers, film screenings and various student organization functions.
Ruby Diamond also serves as the main performing arts venue for community organizations that do not fit in the Civic Center, amphitheaters or smaller clubs. We’re a medium-size, 1,200 seat performance hall, so anything in that audience size, comes here.
DH: You mentioned that you already had a Pro Tools HD rig for recording. Are you still using this rig or have you moved over to using S6L’s onboard AVB recording capabilities?
MS: We have actually been using both. We use our [Pro Tools] HD rig for our orchestral concerts since we incorporate external mic pres and convertors in our tracking room for our Decca Tree, outriggers and surround mics. We also use section and spot mics that come through the console and are used for reinforcement in the house. The inputs that pass through the console are sent to the HD rig via Dante and all sources are then combined in Pro Tools. With the MADI card installed in the E6L, we can do 32 channels at 96kHz to and from the desk and also use 32 channels from our other outboard mic pres in the tracking room.
When we livestream or do cable broadcasts we send a mix to our video suite that includes time code via a Sync HD in case post-production work is required. We also send signal back down to the S6L for press feeds, assisted listening devices or multi outs for anyone that needs them. The S6L’s matrix mixer has helped us solve a ton of issues with people wanting specific types of feeds, especially last minute requests. We have never had the type of flexibility we have now.
We mainly use the onboard AVB for recording shows that do not require the flown orchestra mics, external mic pres or time code. This allows us to multitrack and archive live performances quickly and easily. The beauty of the S6L, Dante and the onboard AVB is we can send and receive any signal to any source and also provide redundant recording capabilities depending on the scenario.
DH: What are you using to mix monitors?
MS: If the show is simple and requires only a few wedge mixes, we will run monitors from front of house. If there are several mixes, IEM’s or we have touring engineers, that’s when we go into the rental world. There’s a great local production company (Production Support Group) that we’ll rent desks from depending on the rider specs. P.S.G. has a great staff and are really fun to work with.
In the future, I would love to see us purchase an additional S6L, maybe a 24D, to sit backstage and to also use in our other venues when not required in the main hall. I’m really excited about the way Avid has implemented I/O sharing. That would add another level of flexibility to our infrastructure and allow us to bypass our bulky splitter and fan-out’s etc. making a smaller, cleaner footprint off stage. We still have our old FOH console, so in a pinch, we can always wheel that thing out and use it if the rider permits.
DH: Do you archive all performances—what all do you use the desk for besides mixing the performances?
MS: The College of Music archives the final mixes in our music library. I also back up the complete session files in two separate archives. I haven’t used the console for anything beyond live performances to this point, but I can see definite advantages of remixing through it. Also, the virtual sound check is something I plan on utilizing in the very near future to hone mixes.
The S6L and Venue software is super flexible. That was what we were looking for and it’s handled all of the punches we’ve thrown so far. It has thoroughly exceeded our expectations with more features still to come. Avid really knocked it out of the park with the S6L, and I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface.