Iowa PBS, the state’s public broadcasting network, recently completed the integration of three new Solid State Logic System T S300 Dante AoIP-native audio mixing platforms at its headquarters in Johnston, a suburb 10 miles north of the centre of Des Moines. A 48-fader S300 has been installed in Control Room 3, which is connected to a studio theatre seating up to 300 people, while Control Room 1 and the network’s mobile broadcast truck each now feature a 32-fader S300. The three S300 control surfaces are each combined with a TE2 Tempest Engine supporting 256 processing paths and have been integrated with various local and shared SuperAnalogueTM Network I/O interfaces and stageboxes.

David Feingold, Senior Audio Engineer/Production Technician Senior at the award-winning network, explains that the new integration is the first step toward a wider Dante AoIP implementation at the facility. “This is the first time we’ve used Dante. We only have two other pieces of gear — outboard recorders — that use Dante right now, but we can expand, which is really nice.”    

There are other digital consoles on the market, he continues, “But System T has Dante integrated, so you don’t ever have to go out to the Dante Controller to route things. I really enjoy how quick it is to route things directly from the console. That’s all Dante, so that was a big draw.” Plus, he says, “The sound quality of the System T is exactly what I would expect from SSL.” 

System T: combining ergonomics and superior sound quality 

Feingold, a 17-year veteran with Iowa PBS, is familiar with SSL’s sound quality. The three new System T S300s have replaced three SSL C100 HD digital desks that the network had been using for about 16 years, ever since the transition to HDTV transmission in the United States. “The C100s had served the network well,” he says, but Iowa PBS was ready to take advantage of the latest technology integrated into the System T platform. “SSL makes great sounding consoles and they’re very durable. SSL stand behind their consoles, too, and always provides good service support. We’d had a C100 HD in our mobile truck since 2008 and had no issues with it at all. But it was just time to move up to the System T.”   

System T’s operational ergonomics are certainly a step up for the network’s audio operators compared to the more traditional knobs and switches of the older C100 worksurface, he comments: “System T is a much simpler tactile experience than the C100; I really like the touchscreen interfaces.” But there are also familiar features within System T that allow the engineers to go on using their established workflows. For example, Feingold says, “Right out of the gate, I’m using the compressors just like I did before.” 

The new System T consoles also have a lot more features built into them, Feingold says. “The de-esser is a huge thing for me. You used to be able to sidechain a de-esser in the C100 but now it’s built into every channel in the System T — and it works great. The Automixer is another huge thing for our roundtable shows that we do. I use it subtly, not as a mixer, but more as a ducker. The way that System T integrates with Pro Tools through the HUI control is very cool, as well,” he says. System T’s advanced DAW control enables operators to not only make level changes using the console faders but also adjust plug-in parameters. 

Fully networked for seamless connectivity

Control Rooms One and Three are networked together through Dante. “They are two different systems, but they share the same I/O throughout the whole building, which makes us versatile. Plus, we can share all the same sources,” Feingold says.  

Between them, the S300-48 in Control Room 3 and the S300-32 in Control Room 1 are networked to SB 32.24, SB 16.12 and SB i16 SuperAnalogue™ mic/line Stageboxes. There are also two Network I/O D64 interfaces, which accommodate 32 AES I/O pairs; an A32, which interfaces 32 line level feeds to and from the Dante network; an A16.D16, interfacing 16 analogue plus 16 AES3 digital lines with Dante; and a Network I/O SDI embedder/de-embedder. The S300-48 uses a local Network I/O MADI Bridge to interface with Control Room 3’s Avid Pro Tools recorder. As for the Iowa PBS mobile unit, it carries SB 32.24 and SB 16.12 Stageboxes to introduce lines over Dante into the truck’s S300-32 console. Each console includes a TE2 Tempest Engine with processing for 256 fully-processed audio paths. This could be expanded up to 800 paths through temporary or perpetual software licence upgrades, reducing capital expenditure whilst ensuring it can cater for any additional requirements in the future.

Overall, Iowa PBS generates a wide variety of programming, from sports, arts and entertainment to agriculture and politics, including the caucuses each election cycle, not to mention regular pledge drives. Control Room 3’s S300-48 drives the audio for two weekly shows, including an agri-business program, Market to Market. “Sometimes we take that show, and a show called Iowa Press, on the road. We also do a big music show, Studio 3 LIVE,” Feingold reports, which features local, regional and national artists. “We’ve also had different outside shows, such as PBS NewsHour, come in and produce stuff in the studio. So we are able to accommodate them, too.”

All six production technicians at the station handle everything from video editing to audio mixing. Feingold took the lead on building showfiles for the Control Room 3 console for its regular shows. “Then we just build new showfiles for new shows,” he says. The remote truck handles a wider assortment of productions, but it does cover certain sports regularly, so showfiles have been built for those and other frequent events, he says: “You can refer back to those, so you’re never starting from scratch.”

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