Nearly twenty years ago I saw one of the first SADiE Digital Audio Workstations, which were just starting to make their mark as the first cost effective computer sound editor. I was so impressed with the concept that I immediately wanted one, even though I had no professional use for it whatsoever. Most of my work (particularly then) was in TV documentaries, with occasional forays into pop promos and TV drama, but I bought one anyway, having convinced myself that I would find uses for it over a period of years and that eventually it might pay for itself.
I kept my SADiE Classic going for many years, and did all sorts of little projects on it, until it really was getting a little old and dated, at which point I decided to move on. A short while later, I found myself at a residential weekend organised by the Institute of Broadcast Sound (highly recommended for sound types) and was shown a very early prototype of a portable SADiE. If I remember correctly, that prototype was a mere 8 track recorder, with no mic inputs, and was referred to as an LR8. Before it became a real product it was renamed the LR10, then the LR12, and finally the LRX, with X denoting any number of tracks up to 48. Again I wanted one straight away, but this time I knew exactly how I would use it at work and how it would earn its keep! As soon as the unit became available I bought one for myself, followed soon after by another for my company, Tacet Ltd, which hires out multitrack digital recorders. We now have two LRX2s with a large compliment of input and output slither cards, which gives us an incredible amount of flexibility.
The LRX2 is a small, solidly built, metal casing with a work surface on top for operator convenience and a flat panel behind the work surface that lends itself neatly to having a laptop plonked on it. The rear panel has a 12v IP socket, plus XLR male and female for TC connections, a USB socket to connect to the laptop, and a BNC connector for video syncs. There are also three proprietary ‘slither’ slots into which one can fit a variety of cards. There are a number of cards available, including analogue mic/line IP (16 channels), analogue line IP (16 channels), analogue line OP (16 channels), AES IP/OP (16 channels of IP and OP on one card), and my favourite (more later) a 56 channel MADI IP/OP card. By fitting different combinations of slither cards it is possible to configure the LRX in a huge variety of modes, ranging from a 16 channel analogue IP recorder, to a 64 channel hybrid digital and analogue recorder. This works particularly well for our hire company. Whenever a customer calls in to order an LRX, we always ask what they are using it for so that we can note down the IP/OP requirements in order to send out the right configuration. Changing the slither cards is the work of moments – two screws for each slither, and they simply slide out. It really is as simple as that. The LRX investigates what cards are fitted when it powers up, so it can generally work out what IPs and OPs are required, which is a great time saver.
The majority of our customers who require an LRX are working on projects where there is a need for a compact multitrack recorder with a relatively high track count. The LRX2 really is a very small piece of kit – think of a copy of Yellow Pages turned sideways, then opened up. The page nearest to you would be the work surface, with your laptop sitting on the page furthest away. In fact, we often send out kit where the IP and OP cable looms take up more space in the flightcase than the LRX!
Setting up the LRX is a doddle, and takes moments. I recently managed to arrive late at a charity gig where my business partner, Simon Clark, and I were to provide the PA and also to do a multitrack recording. I got stuck in traffic and arrived later than planned, just before the sound check. Unfortunately I was bringing the mixing desk and a load of mic stands, so we spent most of the rehearsal sorting out the PA. In the end I set my mind to the task of the multitrack recording about 10 minutes before the start of the gig. Knowing how easy it is to set up the LRX, especially when using the MADI inputs (just two x BNC cables), this didn’t worry me as much as it might have done. Suffice to say that the LRX was up and running some minutes before the gig started!
Coach Trip Case Study…
I have now been involved in a number of projects where the LRX has really come into its own. These include a recent job for Channel 4, recording the audio for a TV show called Coach Trip. Coach Trip is a bit like Big Brother, but on wheels. The idea of the ‘game’ is that eight couples start a journey around Europe on a coach, stopping off at various places and doing various activities. Every few days a couple gets voted off, and a new couple replace them. The winning couple is the one that stays on the coach the longest, thereby getting the longest ‘holiday’.
As the show’s sound recordists were busy on another job until a few days before the coach was due to leave the UK, I was called in to design and rig a system to record what was happening on board during the filming of the programme.
The 16 contestants, plus a tour guide, sit at the front of the coach, around four tables. Each contestant is mic’d up with a hardwired Sanken COS11 microphone, with the sound fed to a technical area at the back of the coach. Four remote head mini cameras are fitted into the coach, in order to film any combination of the 16 participants when the coach is travelling. Mixes to match the pictures are done on the fly, but it is certainly a wise move to have isolated (ISO) recordings of each person, in order to correct any problems in the mix.
There have been two previous series of Coach Trip, and for those the technical crew used the bank of VT recorders as a kind of virtual multitrack, recording four x ISO trax to each VTR. This allows about 20 trax to be recorded across the 5 x VTRs. However, for this series the producers decided to go with HD minicams, but the HD VTRs only allow two x analogue audio IPs each.
This left me with a problem because I had 17 or so mic feeds to record, plus some mixes (one for each table, plus a general mix or two of whatever the cameras were shooting). I looked at a number of alternative ways of recording all the tracks whilst in motion, before deciding that my original thought - to use a Yamaha LS9-32 desk and an LRX2 recorder, connected via MADI - was the way to go.
The neat thing about the MADI interface is that it comprises just two BNC leads, so it is very quick and easy to set up. Also, because it is so simple, there isn’t a lot that can go wrong. I spent two days rigging the coach, although the LRX2 was sorted in moments. The company that supplied the coach had built bulkheads and tables to our specifications in advance of our rigging, so the Yamaha desk and the SADiE looked as if they belonged in front of the pair of seats where our desk had been built. The sound recordist could sit there and look like a regular passenger on the coach, while having 32 faders in front to mix with.
A neat feature of the LS9 desk is that you can make a custom fader layer, so since we only had about 20 source microphones we built a fader layer that had faders to control both mix levels, and OP levels to various destinations. Because the mixer is digital, it is very easy to route IP channel ISO feeds, mixes, or sub mixes to the MADI OPs, and thus to the LRX.
Another feature of the LRX is that you can simultaneously set up a record drive destination, and a backup drive destination, which provides great peace of mind. One of the SADiE folks explained to me that if you see SADiE draw a waveform when in record, then it has recorded your audio. I have certainly found this to be the case. My experience of LRX2 recordings is that they have always been rock solid, which is reassuring. The coach drove around Europe for about five weeks, rattling and shaking all the kit that we had installed, which was a real challenge for the equipment. However, everything, including the LRX2, met that challenge more than adequately.
The LRX2 has opened up all sorts of possibilities for location recordists who need to do multitrack recordings. It is small, light, flexible, solid, and can be reconfigured in many different ways to cover a whole host of different jobs. It could be argued that there are too many facilities crammed into a small piece of kit, but that would miss the very point of the LRX2. It is absolutely tiny bearing in mind what it can do, and in many situations is probably the only piece of kit that could fit the bill. Would I swop my LRX2 for two of the competition? No way! In many scenarios it is already worth two or more of the competition, in half as much space. Why make life any more complicated?