Having headlined ten world tours to more than 10 million fans throughout his career, the bar was raised high when it came to the choice of PA system for the artist. Brad Divens, already a seasoned JBL VTX user, fielded JBL’s flagship line array system for five arena shows in the UK and Ireland. All the shows were a complete success, due to careful preparation by SSE Audio Group, led by Hire Project Manager Dan Bennett and System Engineer Nick Lythgoe, with support from Stuart Strachan, Application Engineer at HARMAN UK distributor Sound Technology Ltd and Ed Jackson, Senior Application Engineer, HARMAN EMEA.
The tour is a Sound Image account in the USA, and thanks to the collaboration between Sound Image and SSE through the formation of United Audio Companies in 2015, both companies are able to service their clients on both sides of the Atlantic with each other’s support.
The system for the tour comprised main left/right hangs of 16 VTX-V25-II-CS. Alongside these were nine VTX-S28 subwoofers flown on each flank, while the side hangs consisted of 14 VTX-V25-II-CS for the larger O2 and Manchester Arenas (reduced to eight box side hangs in the smaller Genting, Hydro and 3 Arenas).
Photo above: JBL VTX V25-II-CS and VTX-S28 rigged at O2 Arena London
JBL’s VerTec VT4886 sub-compact line array cabinets were used as front fills with three, two-high stacks per side on a riser, just off the lip of the stage.
Twenty-four boxes of JBL’s new flagship line array, VTX A12, completed the system in the two largest venues of the tour, Manchester Arena and London’s O2. Three arrays of eight boxes each served as delay hangs.
Photo above: JBL VTX-A12 delay hangs at the Manchester Arena
The bottom end reinforcement was completed by 18 VTX G28s, ground stacked as nine stacks of two in a delayed horizontal arc across the front of the stage.
Strachan, said, “Originally we thought that having a delayed horizontal arc might not be possible, due to the requirement to place a stack of subs underneath the catwalk directly in front of the performer lift, which was needed for access; this would have reduced the subs to a simpler and less controllable left/right configuration.
“Thankfully Andres [Restrepo], Enrique Iglesias’ Production Manager, gives high priority to audio considerations and allowed us to put the sub stack where we wanted it. It was a real pleasure to work with a production manager who would actively encourage us every day to use as much PA as possible.”
The system was powered by Crown I-Tech 12000HD amplifiers using the on-board BSS Omnidrive HD processing, controlled by JBL’s proprietary Performance Manager control and monitoring software. The A12 delays were powered by three Crown VRack 4x3500HD.
Photo above: [L-R] SSE's Nick Lythgoe, Sound Technology's Stuart Strachan and FOH engineer Brad Divens
Reviewing the PA, Divens says, “VTX gives me clarity, punch, a sweet stereo image and a very smooth top end.” Recalling his introduction to VTX, he remembers, “We had a show in Antalya, Turkey in 2016 and the system was a huge VTX rig. I started running music through it and was instantly blown away by the detail and clarity. I sat there that day and listened to several tracks from Pink Floyd’s The Wall … very warm and fuzzy, pure audio bliss. Mixing the show on it later that night I knew that this would be the PA for me to take out on tour.”
Fast forward to the weeks leading up to this Autumn’s tour, and Stuart Strachan and Ed Jackson had visited SSE to give training to Nick Lythgoe and the rest of the touring crew (PA techs Dave Ryan, Glen Little, Adam Walker and Kevo Moran).
SSE account manager Dan Bennett recalls, “‘The SSE techs needed a refresh on JBL’s LAC3 [Line Array Calculator] and Performance Manager software and an introduction to the new A12 which they haven’t had much experience with. We were very grateful for the support.”
At the same time the Crown I-Tech HD amplifiers were programmed to ensure the system worked smoothly with the SSE Drivestation, a custom-built rack which acts as a front end for the system engineer.
Lythgoe himself said, “Once I had my head round the LAC3 software I found it very easy to use and predict how the system would behave in each room. I found it particularly useful in conjunction with the JBL Array Link iOS/Android app which gave us access to the necessary flying data on our smartphones. We found the rigging really straightforward, and by the end of the run we had it down to a fine art. It is certainly very intuitive.”
He noted the VTX’s “clarity and crispness in the mid/high area, which worked really well with the very dynamic pop show that is Enrique.”
Photo above: SSE crew flying the JBL VTX system at London's O2 Arena
System design models for all five venues were calculated by Strachan using a combination of LAC3 (in order to set array heights and angles for vertical coverage) and AFMG EASE (in order to produce 3D models of the venues to take into account side hangs and delay hangs and ensure complete coverage). These were rubber-stamped by Lythgoe, who has done countless shows in these venues using other systems. Strachan and Lythgoe then met on the morning of every show to make any necessary adjustments, before tuning the system together in the afternoon.
The tuning process used a combination of Performance Manager, Lake LM44s and Rational Acoustics Smaart v8. “This meant not only that we were able to ensure even coverage throughout the venues, but also that we were able to achieve Brad’s desired tonal balance prior to him beginning soundcheck,” noted Strachan.
“Brad’s approach is to keep his mix set the same from show to show, and to have the system engineers make adjustments to the PA in every venue until the desired sound is achieved. Having experienced such high standards with Sound Image in the States, it was vital to ensure that the system was perfect every time Brad walked up to it.”
In fact Brad Divens says that VTX simply performs flawlessly night after night. “No matter what type of arena I was mixing in, the power and clarity was all there, 100%. It all has to do with the detail and imaging—I can hear every single element of my mix.”
Photo above: Full JBL VTX system flown at Glasgow's SSE Hydro
Summarising, Nick Lythgoe said, “As the Enrique Iglesias production team are very exacting and expect the whole tour to be as slick as possible, thanks to the time the time we spent preparing this in advance we were able to deliver and exceed their expectations.”
As for Brad Divens, he says he now hopes to spec the new VTX A12 as his main system before the end of the year. “I got to mix on it at Harman‘s facility in Northridge last year and I was completely blown away. I also attended a demo at the Staples Center in LA. I went to the very back of the arena and all the way to the top section—and the vocal sounded like it was right in front of me and not 300 ft away.”