Wireless Frequency Coordination with Axient Digital at CMA Fest
CMA Music Fest is Nashville's annual country music fan festival, with free stages and special events spread throughout the mecca that is lower Broadway. Each evening as the sun goes down, the festival presents a major concert event in Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans.
With half a dozen or more acts across four summer nights, wireless frequency coordination for the Nissan Stadium events is a challenge. Handling that challenge was a team led by Jason Glass, president of Clean Wireless Audio in Cross Plains, TN. Juggling microphone and instrument systems alongside in-ear monitors and intercoms, Glass was responsible for keeping hundreds of channels clean and available each day.
To assist in this daunting task, Shure Artist Relations Manager Ryan Smith offered Glass the opportunity to try the new Axient® Digital wireless microphone system. Having read about the new system and already a big fan of Shure UHF-R® and Axient® analog systems, Glass quickly agreed to give the new system a try.
Pre-Show Gear Testing
During rehearsals and set-up, Glass tested the four-channel system to make certain it would meet the demands of the show. After a successful listening test, Glass jumped into the networking aspect. He was pleased to find that he could monitor and control the system through Wireless Workbench® software, just like his other Shure systems.
The key final test was RF reliability to ensure that the system would integrate seamlessly with the production's distributed antenna system. The custom system Glass designed is fairly complex, using three zones to cover any likely needs, including the main stage area, the north tunnel beneath the stadium, and the remainder of the football field.
"I had my assistant walk the stadium with two Axient Digital transmitters—a handheld and a bodypack. He also had two UHF-Rs with him so I could compare the range and performance," Glass explains. "Even at the farthest point in the stadium, well beyond where we would consider having any performers, with his hand wrapped firmly around the antenna, the Axient Digital wouldn't drop out. So I had no problem adding it to our system for the shows."
Showtime for Axient Digital
While most artists use their normal equipment rigs at these high-profile shows, the production team found several uses for the four channels of Axient Digital at their disposal. Co-host Kelsea Ballerini used an AD2 handheld with KSM9 element all four days. Axient Digital was also used for performances of the national anthem by Brooke Eden (SM58 handheld) and Restless Heart (three BETA 58A® handhelds). It was also used in performances by Old Dominion and Shure Artist Brett Young. The results were uniformly flawless RF with outstanding sound quality.
"The audio performance of this system was a revelation," reports Glass. "I know what these mics sound like through UHF-R and the analog Axient system, which are both outstanding. But Axient Digital is on another level. Sonically, it was flawless—absolutely identical to the sound of the cabled mics."
Glass had plenty of praise for the operational design of Axient Digital as well. He found that the new Shure Channel Quality meter made the critical job of monitoring system performance much easier. Channel quality metering combines RF strength, signal-to-noise, and other factors into a five-segment meter indicating overall signal quality in real time.
"Typically, you watch your A and B diversity meters fluctuating to see what's happening. The Channel Quality meters on Axient Digital show you the reliability of the signal as a whole," he explains. "Like when we did the extreme RF test at maximum distance, the audio sounded fine, but I could see that the quality meter went down one bump. That basically told me, 'the signal's not perfect, but you're still OK.' It takes the guesswork out of watching the meters and wondering if it's going to drop out now. Very easy to read, and it seems to be accurate."
The Benefits of Quadversity™
Another new feature that intrigues Glass is the new Quadversity antenna option, which allows four antenna inputs into a single receiver. This delivers more complete stage coverage, or extension of coverage over greater distances and multiple zones.
"As an RF designer and tech nerd, I'm really excited about Quadversity," says Glass. "Having four antenna inputs right on the receiver is brilliant. It's going help me achieve wide coverage areas without a lot of extra specialized hardware. I can't wait to start playing with it."
Overall, Glass had high praise for the system. "Axient Digital really takes RF to another level. For me, it's nice to know we can have some awesome American engineering like this," he says. "I love having four channels in a 1-RU receiver, and how easy it was to set up with my network. More importantly, it worked perfectly right out of the box in a very difficult situation. Every part of the system is beautifully designed and constructed, and it made my job easier. I couldn't ask for anything more."