Bundles of joy: How Waves is making waves in the world of sports broadcasting audio

The pressure is on. With more mics, more inputs and more output formats to deliver than ever before, sound engineers have a lot to keep across. The good news is that console manufacturers are picking up the slack with assistive mixing tools, and there are a tonne of hardware options to help with everything from upmixing to controlling reverb.

The bad news is that not all mixing environments provide the same equipment and hardware can be a pain to lug around from job to job. Although better known for their use in music production, audio plugins can tick a number of these boxes, and following a soft launch at NAB in April, Waves’ SuperRack LiveBox is aiming to be the one to tick them.

A dedicated 2U hardware server which can run multiple VST audio plugins, a Dante-enabled version of the unit started shipping this month and was quickly followed by the announcement of a MADI version which supports 128 channels.

Both aim to give broadcast sound engineers access to a number of audio plugins designed to meet the needs of audio mixers, and no-one understands those needs better than Noam Raz. As a touring engineer he spent many years as a Waves customer and is now general manager of Waves’ live division.

Real time processing

“The company is made up of three parts,” Raz says. “Its studio and post production division is what most of the audio industry is familiar with, while our consumer division is where we deploy algorithms with clients like Dell in consumer electronics.

“The live division is the business unit that deals with everything that involves real time processing in live environments like broadcast, and it is also responsible for hardware development in manufacturing.”

The launch of its SuperRack LiveBox is a big step in growing that division, but Waves is no stranger to live broadcast and already has two well-regarded software bundles designed for broadcast customers. Its Broadcast and Production bundle features 32 audio plugins, while its Broadcast and Surround Suite boasts loudness meters, two different noise suppressors and three DTS Neural plugins, alongside a variety of other plugins. It is no surprise that the company has been working with technology partners like Calrec and Lawo in the broadcast market for many years.

Dave Letson, Calrec

Making Waves

“Calrec sells around 50 Waves I/O cards every year and most Calrec console in trucks in the US have a Waves system,” says Dave Letson, VP of Sales at UK manufacturer Calrec Audio. “A lot of broadcasters use Waves for additional processing across inserts, like graphic EQ, pink/noise generators, and noise reduction, and its DTS neural plugins are used on most ESPN trucks.

“The Calrec Argo console even allows the touch screen above any fader panel to be interfaced to any PC, and operators are using this to control Waves plugins directly from the control surface. The operator can switch between the Argo UI or Waves at the touch of a button and even permanently display the Waves screen in a corner of the Argo meter screen.”

Integration with console manufacturers has historically relied on Waves’ Soundgrid protocol, but the SuperRack LiveBox moves away from proprietary connectivity with both Dante and MADI options. It also complies with the Virtual Studio Technology (VST) protocol, a format created by Steinberg in the 1990s that is accepted by most Digital Audio Workstation (DAWs), and which gives broadcasters access to a range of plugins way beyond Waves’ own products.

But for service-critical broadcast applications, there is a much more practical benefit.

“Commonly, VST plugins are run on a PC, but Waves’ proposal is to run plugins on a dedicated unit that we manufacture,” says Raz. “We have been working in live sound for more than 15 years and the mechanical design of this unit is based on all that knowledge. It allows us to maximise efficiency by coding the SuperRack application specifically for that hardware and chipset. It means that integration is more stable, and it means we can keep latency to a minimum.

“Running more DSP plugins is always a trade off with latency, but the SuperRack LiveBox can deliver a round trip from input to output as low as 2ms, which also accounts for the inherent latency of the Dante protocol.”

It has also enabled the company to further develop its technology agreements with industry partners, according to Lawo’s Senior Product Manager, Audio Infrastructure Christian Struck: “With Waves’ LiveBox and Lawo mc² audio consoles, users enjoy the result of Lawo’s commitment to taking our excellent partnership with Waves to the next level. Audio engineers can look forward to unbridled artistic license thanks to the ability to choose from an unlimited pool of effects.”

The integration between Waves and Lawo streamlines the mixing process, with effects plugins hosted on the SuperRack LiveBox controllable directly from a Lawo console, complete with snapshot-specific saves and recalls.

“This ability to run plugins across various platforms is driving our expansion in live broadcast,” says Raz. “There are a number of unique problems that this technology helps us solve, such as removing noise from dialogue in real time by training our Neural Networks to distinguish between the two.”

Pushing Faders is a new podcast from Chris Eckford, which focuses on the broadcast audio community

Cranking the engines

Noise suppression is a good example but adopting VST plugins can provide solutions for many everyday broadcast challenges. Although plugins might not be appropriate for every job, freelance sound supervisors like Chris Eckford can definitely see the benefits.

“I have definitely used Waves plugins before,” says Eckford. “I used plugins on the British Superbikes last year to beef up the track FX as the combination of an older console and a variety of different microphone brands meant that the FX of the bikes was very hit and miss. I ran a chain of EQs, compressor and an aural exciter to make it more consistent and also added a noise suppressor to cure the raised noise floor.”

Eckford is not alone. Matthew Gilbert has been a sound supervisor for more than 25 years and has been finding creative ways to solve live mixing challenges for almost as long.

“Around 2010 I started using a BSS Soundweb in a 2U flight case with XLR to Bantum Jack flails to use as an automixer, but around 2015 most OB companies had upgraded their older digital desks with newer ones that had a built in automix solution,” he says.

“For several years I used the internal desk automixer with a Cedar DNS2 noise suppressor when it was required, but more recently I had a contract on an older desk and started looking for a better automix solution than digging out the BSS. I bought an RME Digiface Dante, the Waves SuperRack software and a bunch of plugins including the Dan Dugan automixer and the Waves WNS Noise Suppressor.

“It achieved a very smooth automix of around 20 mics, and the studio group noise suppressed at a latency of around 3ms; and all with kit I can carry in my laptop bag. The portability is a massive bonus and has meant taking it abroad in foreign facilities trucks is a breeze. I like to use two noise suppression plugins in series as onsite studio environments are rarely ideal and mostly hard flat reflective surfaces; I use the WNS first that can be dialled into specific frequencies and an NS1 Noise Suppressor to clean up the noise left between words.

“It also gives me the scope to have a bit of fun. I like to have a reverb handy with an aux send routed into it and the return on a separate fader, so when Jamie Carragher and Micah Richards start singing along with the fans, I can add a little reverb to help them along!”

Adding redundancy

However, while latency is negligible, there is one issue with plugins which can be a blocker for some broadcast clients: “It just wouldn’t be appropriate to use kit where there is no full redundancy,” says Eckford.

This was another contributing factor in the design of the SuperRack LiveBox, which includes both mechanical and power supply redundancy. With a focus on both real-time processing and redundancy, Raz is hoping that it will continue to develop Waves’ growth in live broadcast, but he admits there is one more element that has contributed to its growth.

“In general, it is the acceptance of digital processing has allowed us to develop these solutions,” he says. “What you can run in terms of DSP in a single unit is significant; dozens of processors, multiple surround channels, numerous noise suppressors. It’s like having a truck full of gear.”

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