ZZ Top pulled off their very first La Grange Fest in late October, pairing the timeless Tejas boogie kings with Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd and country singer Jamey Johnson. Set just outside Austin in Bee Cave, the fest—and subsequent live broadcast on Sirius XM radio—was accomplished using DiGiCo’s SD8 at the hands of the band’s engineer, Jamie "Jamo" Rephann. Both Jamo and monitor engineer Jake Mann have been using SD8s (Mann on an SD8-24) for several years on the band’s tours with production partner Clair Brothers.
The SD8 was in place when Jamo inherited the gig from engineer buddy Toby Francis. “He’d been raving about the DiGiCo's and I just decided to go with it,” Jamo recalled. “I had been previously using a Venue Profile for AFI and The Mars Volta, but after hearing the difference between the Avid and DiGiCo, I was sold on the SD8, and don't want to use anything else from now on.”
“The DiGiCo sound is the best I’ve heard on a digital desk of any make or model, and I’ve used all of them from the Yamaha MC7 to the Midas XL8,” said Jamo. “Side-by-side, the SD8 smokes them both. I didn't touch anything but a Midas XL 4 for like 10 years, and am a huge Midas fan... but they don't hold a candle to the DiGiCo’s. The real difference came after mixing on a Venue Profile for 2 years (with a Big Ben as an external word clock). I ran some CD's and was amazed at the sonic quality I was hearing. Everything was in the 160-500Hz area and the ‘air’ from 8-12k was back, almost like a great analog desk! I couldn't believe my ears and was already kicking myself for not trying this desk earlier. It has the quality of a smooth analog sounding desk and I couldn't be happier.”
The console’s I/O section and onboard features have proved versatile for handling the various house systems the 3-piece encounters from gig to gig. “I’m using a total of 38 inputs for ZZ Top, not including the 4 audience mics. I also have as many as 8 outputs a night to drive a variety of house systems—L, R, Sub, Center, Outfill, Delays, Smart, and SMPT for video that we run through my desk to lighting,” said Jamo. “I really love the delays on the output section, available on every output, and EQ and compression if you want it. But I have to tell you, I cannot live without using the multiband compressors on a few things because of the DiGiCo sound. They’re super-transparent and really do a wonderful job with everything I use them on. I use the multibands on both channels of vocals, kick and snare channel inserts, bass group, synth bass and guitar group. Also, the regular comps and gates sound great as well. They’re very smooth and warm-sounding with no "pumping" as it were. Additionally, I do some channel splitting and panning things on the guitars. I have 3 guitar channels that I make stereo and pan all the way. I’m also using my control groups to do most of my mixing as well as the normal subbing out of kick, snare, bass, vocals, guitars, and et cetera. Then I’ll use the compressors on the subgroups if needed… it kind of melds things together, if you will, a bit better in my opinion.”
With space often an issue in venues and on festival dates, the SD8’s compact footprint has paid off. “It’s really come in handy so many times when space was an issue,” said Jamo. “I just use the desk and an easy tilt so I roll up with nothing other than a Smart tablet and my desk. It has really helped me get in and out at many festivals with a minimum of space and hassle.”
The band is recorded on every gig, which serves several functions, including virtual soundchecking. “Monitor engineer and resident SD8 guru Jake Mann multitracks each show using an RME MADIface card into a MacBook Pro using Logic,” explained Jamo. “And since the band does not soundcheck at all, virtual soundcheck is KEY to my show every day.”
At the LaGrange Festival, working in tandem with the Sirius and Skynyrd’s audio crews only reinforced Jamo’s love of the DiGiCo desk. “As usual, the console preformed amazing with no issues at all. I do love the uses of delay times on the outputs as I delayed the FOH mix to radio and added Sirius’ 2 audience mics. There was an additional Profile at FOH for Skynyrd and even with the external word clock the SD8 just smoked it. I hear their engineer is now going to try the DiGiCo after hearing our show, which just destroyed his profile sonic-wise and left it sounding limp and weak! There was none of the low-mids or shimmering highs with the Profile. He ran a mic through my desk and was stunned just at the vast improvement to his voice compared to the Avid... ‘Nuff said. Not to mention, the Sirius radio guys said that it was the best sounding live performance to air over Sirius.”
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