Huntington Beach, California, September 9, 2011 – At this year’s US Open of Surfing, a nine-day broadcast event in which the top surfers in the world compete for a $100,000 top prize, digital Sennheiser MKH microphones were on hand to capture every sonic detail of the excitement – which also included a BMX riding and skating competition.
The annual US Open of Surfing is attended by over 500,000 people and held on a beach that stretches over 300 yards. For this year’s broadcast, Hollywood-based Coffey Sound deployed Sennheiser’s latest MKH shotgun microphones: the MKH 8060 and MKH 8070, equipped with MZD 8000 digital output modules. The digital microphones not only provided improved clarity and detail of the audio, but also provided an important element of weather resistance required to take on a cruel outdoor environment fraught with wind, moisture and salty air.
Capturing the Complex Sounds of the Surf
The nine-day event focused on three primary broadcast locations: the surf venue, the BMX riding venue and the skateboarding bowl. Gary Vahling, who is also the rental manager at Coffey Sound, served as the A1 broadcast mixer at the surf venue, and handled sound design for each of the other broadcast locations. As the A1 for the surf event, one of Vahling’s primary challenges was to capture the excitement of the audience as well as the authentic sounds of the ocean. To achieve this, he used two Sennheiser MKH 8070 shotgun microphones, along with Sennheiser MZD 8000 digital output modules, which were fed into a Neumann DMI 2 AES42 interface.
“I wanted to use Sennheiser’s digital microphones because of the amazing technology advances they bring – the sound quality is simply outstanding,” commented Vahling. “The ocean sound is very complex – there is a wispyness, a lot of foam and a lot of bubbles. We really want to capture all this and make it translate for the viewer so they feel like they are there – whether they are watching on television or over the Internet.”
The MKH 8070s were placed in a spaced pair arrangement, approximately 25 feet apart from one another and about 150 feet from the water where the microphone platform and rack equipment were situated. In addition to the pair of MKH 8070 digital microphones, Vahling also used two Sennheiser MKH 70s as spot mics on the crowd, and two Sennheiser SKM 5200 handheld transmitters – which were used for sideline reports with the surfers. The broadcast truck was situated about 300 yards from the surfing venue, and connected via fiber optic cable.
Vahling says that the performance of the MKH 8070s was nothing short of stellar: “With the Sennheiser digital microphones, you are reproducing exactly what the microphone is hearing, with no loss. Typically with analog mics, you get hiss as you move the faders higher, but with the MKH 8070s, the signal-to-noise ratio and dynamic range is identical whether the fader is low or high. This helps me achieve a much more detailed sound since there is virtually no noise or hiss to contend with, regardless of where my levels are.”
Capturing the Sounds and Scrapes of Skateboarding and BMX Riding
In addition to using the MKH 8070 in the surfing venue, Vahling specified two Sennheiser MKH 8060 digital shotgun microphones to capture ambient sounds and effects in the skating bowl. Vahling used these mics in combination with the Neumann DMI 2 portable interface, which made for a fast and convenient – yet extremely high quality – set up. Each of the MKH 8060s – which are short shotgun mics used to pick up sounds at a closer distance than the longer MKH 8070s – were placed approximately 50 feet apart. “For the skateboarding, I had the mics a bit closer to the action. The MKH 8060s provided a really clean skateboard sound in the bowl and I could really pick up the reflection of the hard surfaces,” says Vahling.
For the BMX riding, which also featured reflective, bowl-shaped surfaces, Vahling used a Neumann KMR 81 D digital shotgun microphone, again in combination with the Neumann DMI 2 portable interface. This set up – which nearly mirrored that of the skate set up – enabled him to get close to the action and pick up ambient sounds of the ramp, and every nuance of sounds emanated by the bike wheels, chains and tires.
Neumann and Sennheiser – Presenting a new level of quality and control
For Vahling, who has been using Sennheiser and Neumann broadcast microphones for over 20 years, the use of digital microphones has helped bring the quality of his broadcasting to a new plateau. “With these microphones, you hear every little thing and the difference in audio quality is substantial. Using the Neumann DMI 2 interfaces, I also appreciate the ability to tweak and remotely control microphone settings. This brings an entirely new element of control when you are broadcasting at that level.”
“As an A1 mix engineer, I am responsible for the sound going over the program, wherever it may feed,” Vahling continues. “The goal is to mix for HD quality, at the level of the Olympics or the Super Bowl. I want to make sound great no matter what technology device or platform the audience is on, and Sennheiser and Neumann digital microphones help me achieve this.”