Wimberley, TX (February 20th, 2018) – FOH Engineer Simon Thomas began his live sound career in theatre at 16. 34 years later, he’s worked with many major artists including Gary Numan, Echo and the Bunnymen, Moby, Tracy Chapman, Kylie Minogue, Jessie J, and Sam Smith – and 2017 saw him out with Ariana Grande.
His FOH rig with Grande was inherited from the tour’s previous engineer, Toby Francis, and was Thomas’ first experience with Rupert Neve Designs equipment, including a 5059 Satellite summing mixer, a Shelford Channel for lead vocals, and a Portico II Master Buss Processor on the 2-buss.
Thomas’ DiGiCo SD7 console sent 7 groups into the 5059, including drums, band/tracks, backing vocals and lead vocals. On combining analog summing with the digital realm, Thomas says, "In very simple terms, the analog thing brings the mix forward, brings it out of the box – rather than making it feel stuck in the box, where it lacks impact."
The Shelford Channel was used on Grande’s vocals. "It’s good to have a piece of equipment at hand that you can just grab rather than digging into the digital domain. The EQ was pretty sensitive, and I didn’t have to do much to resolve a problem – a couple of clicks and you could deal with any top-end nonsense going on in the PA." Thomas also reports that the unit’s diode bridge compressor worked quite well as a finishing tool. "I would’ve never thought to have used that idea in the first place, but in saying that, it worked!"
Thomas had first heard about the Master Buss Processor when out on tour with Sam Smith, but couldn’t get his hands on one at the time. "It’s my new favorite buss compressor – it just brings depth, brings out the snare drum – it brings things forward. It’s one of those bits of kit that I wish had been around for years."
Thomas used both Red and Blue Silk settings on the Master Buss Processor depending on the show, but found Silk Blue adept at taming overly bright PA systems. "When ratios are lower, I used the Blue function to tweak it a little bit. But when I was using higher ratios, I used Silk Red to bring some of the air back into it."
Asked to comment on why there is so much analog front-end seen in today’s predominantly digital touring world: "I don’t think analog is going to go away," Thomas says. "People tried to do that, and realized it doesn’t actually work like that. What we’re starting to be able to achieve now is almost that ‘studio sound’ in the live environment. Every industry needs to reinvent itself, and that’s progress – but at the end of the day, people still have analog ears."