Despite heat, moisture, and athletic challenges, robust wireless performance prevails
Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas – May 2009… When it comes to capturing location sound for some of television’s most challenging projects, Audio Supervisor & Sound Designer Mike Abbott knows how to get the job done. Abbott, who has worked as a staff engineer for the FOX and CBS networks, mixed audio for last year’s Presidential Debates, and was the Audio Coordinator for this year’s Grammy® Awards, recently faced a new set of issues on the forthcoming TV show The Superstars. On location in the Bahamas, Abbott faced heat, humidity, plenty of water (more on that in a moment), and athletic competition in order to capture the show’s audio. With no shortage of demanding conditions to keep things interesting, Abbott relied on his finely-honed skills and his arsenal of Lectrosonics wireless gear to make it all happen.
The Superstars is best described as a reworked version of the 70’s ABC Show Battle of the Network Stars. Produced by Juma Entertainment for ABC TV, the show features a variety of competitions among teams of popular television performers and encompasses swimming, biking, and climbing as part of the activities.
In preparation for the project, Abbott assembled a sizeable list of Lectrosonics equipment. His wireless arsenal included numerous transmitters, including twenty-two MM400a water-resistant miniature beltpack transmitters, six UH400a plug-on transmitters, four SM Series super-miniature beltpack transmitters, eight UM400a beltpack transmitters (with eight MC40 cables), plus four UT handheld transmitters equipped with the VMC cardioid capsules. On the receiving end, Abbott’s setup included five Lectrosonics Venue Series receiver mainframes, each fully stocked (six modules per receiver system) with the company’s VRT receiver modules plus two extras for backup (32 total), twelve UCR411a compact receivers, along with an SR Series dual-channel slot mount ENG receiver. For communication among the production crew, the equipment included nine T2 multi-frequency IFB beltpack transmitters and twenty-two R1a synthesized UHF beltpack IFB receivers. All equipment except for the IFB units employs Lectrosonics’ highly regarded Digital Hybrid Wireless® technology.
Abbott commented on the considerations that prompted this specific combination of Lectrosonics equipment. “My choice for RF transceivers was based on past experiences I’ve had on other shows of this type and the success I experienced using Lectrosonics,” said Abbott. “The 16 contestants competed in approximately 18 different events. The climate was extremely humid and some events required the RF mics to be totally immersed in the ocean to capture the audio of the competitions. The overall design and build quality of the transmitters—including the attention to the housing size and the waterproofing via the gaskets that are used —played a significant role in my decision. Similarly, the design of the Venue receiver racks was another important factor. The ability to place 6 receiver modules into a 1RU rackspace system creates a very space efficient setup, which was extremely helpful considering that everything had to be shipped to the job site.”
Lectrosonics Digital Hybrid Wireless technology, which uses a proprietary algorithm to encode 24-bit digital audio information with no compression and low distortion into an analog format that can be transmitted in a robust manner over an analog FM wireless link, was another important consideration for this project. The technology delivers much higher dynamic range—free from sonic artifacts— than wireless systems using a compandor are able to offer.
“The Lectrosonics equipment exhibits excellent frequency response,” explained Abbott. Equally important, the R1a beltpack IFB receivers allow for multiple transmitter sends for my clients, which enables them to monitor my program in addition to the number of ENG mixes going to the ENG cameras. These features are extremely useful.”
Before turning his attention toward upcoming projects, Abbott offered some closing thoughts on Lectrosonics’ customer service, product reliability, and its impact on The Superstars. I’ve known Lectrosonics’ Matt Robertson and Karl Winkler for years,” Abbott said, “and I know that when I need assistance, I’ll get it ASAP. That’s especially important when you’re doing projects outside the US. With 15 days of shooting, these were extremely oppressive conditions for any electronic equipment. Through it all, I didn’t experience a single failure.”
For additional information about Michael Abbott, contact him at michaelsound(at)earthlink(dot)net.
Well respected within the film, broadcast, and theater technical communities since 1971, Lectrosonics wireless microphone systems and audio processing products are used daily in mission-critical applications by audio engineers familiar with the company's dedication to quality, customer service, and innovation. Lectrosonics is a US manufacturer based in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.