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DirectOut Revolutionises Touring Playback

Wigwam Hire has been a leading supplier of sound systems and equipment for touring and dry hire for over 30 years. Alex Hadjigeorgiou, Technical Specialist at Wigwam Hire, explains how one small box has made a difference to the weight and cost of touring in the last couple of years.

Traditionally when using playback on a tour you were limited to 24 channels of playback. The 24 channels from a Tascam or Fostex fed a relay changeover switcher controlled by the presence or not of tone. More recently it became the Radial SW8 stackable eight channel auto-switcher.
But over time 24 tracks were not enough for playback and the analogue way of doing things became unworkable as a result of the amount of sync required and the sheer size of the systems.
Moving to MADI-based systems meant the track count could be increased while reducing the physical size and weight and improving the ability to respond to changes and emergencies. However, there was no obvious way to switch MADI streams without compromise.
One of Wigwam's customers, Des Ward of Audiotech Services, thought of an idea to seamlessly switch from one MADI stream to another. DirectOut was already thinking along the same lines and the EXBOX.BLDS (Buffer Loop Detection System) was born after a short period of intensive code writing at DirectOut and, for speed, delivered in their EXBOX.64 format converter box just in time for The Steps Reunion Tour.
The Lord of the Dance Tour asked us to cut the size and weight of their playback system by half a tonne and the EXBOX.BLDS was the lynchpin that made this possible, allowing us to reduce 24U to 10U. We have two Mac minis with RME cards to produce MADI, a video switch and any MIDI we need to run plus the EXBOX.BLDS. We use QLab, the software application for live show control. With QLab tracks are edited instantly as opposed to the two hours it used to take in the old analogue days.
Since its debut as a fix-it box, DirectOut has developed the EXBOX.BLDS into a fully-fledged product with push buttons and GPIs to manually control playback changeover and LEDs and GPOs to confirm MADI and changeover status. It constantly monitors the BLDS channel on the primary input and when there's a lock-up or output buffer loop, EXBOX.BLDS automatically switches the MADI output to the second input. The changeover is within two samples and no one is any the wiser.
EXBOX.BLDS was part of a huge playback system for Massive Attack v Adam Curtis and it’s been an essential bit of kit for the Edinburgh Tattoo, One Direction World Tour, JLS tours, Westlife Farewell Tour and many others. In my view EXBOX.BLDS is the Rosetta Stone in the evolution of MADI based playback systems

Alex is pictured with Gary Kenyon on the left, FOH and Head of Sound Lord of the Dance: "The little box which finally got us away from analogue." And in the centre Oliver Twiby, Playback Operator Massive Attack: "Extremely simple and clever little box."

DirectOut Technologies MADI equipment is distributed in the UK by Aspen Media.

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