By #haveearswilltravel (Antonio Luna)
In February I got word of a product that was going to be very useful for my gig. It was a black box that was going to allow me to record up to 128 tracks of audio from my console at 48k and 64 tracks at 96k. I have been wanting to buy a recording rig for some time as virtual soundcheck was very interesting and useful as a monitor engineer but the monetary requirements to get all the gear was cost prohibitive. Now a solution has come who’s only requirement is that you have a black box and laptop to be able to capture and playback audio on your console and it retails for $1700.
Fast forward to November. I got a phone call that DiGiGrid MGB was ready to ship and I was going to be one of the first people to receive one. This was exciting as there was a buzz about it and not even our sound provider was able to get them. DiGiGrid MGB<http://www.digigrid.net/portfolio/mgb/> was one of 2 devices. This device is the BNC MADI version. There is also DiGiGrid MGO whcih uses optical cable to connect to the stage rack. A few days after the phone call a box came in the mail. Inside was 4 25ft BNC to BNC MADI cables and a black box containing DiGiGrid MGB.
The packaging is great as DiGiGrid is surrounded by non-compressable foam. This is important to me as I travel a lot. Sometimes Digigrid travels with me in my carry on luggage, sometimes its in a workbox and sometimes its in my checked luggage. It’s a comfort to know that its well protected no matter where it happens to be taking a ride to the next gig. The box also contained a 6ft Ethernet cable and a universal DC power wall wart style PSU that had a world plug adapter set. Not only could I use any commonly used wall voltage from 110 to 240v anywhere in the world I also had the correct plugs to use in any country as well. The wall wart PSU also had a threaded rotating collar on the end that would secure the plug to the DiGiGrid. The little things go a long way and loosing power to a pulled plug is something you will not have to worry about.
Now that I had DiGiGrid MGB I needed to modify my laptop a bit to make it suitable for recording. It was suggested that you record from an SSD drive that is in your computer. I already owned an 2012 Macbook Pro version 8,1 so all I would need would be a bit more RAM and replace my optical drive with an SSD. I found all the components I needed at Other World Computing. I bought a 6G 240gb SSD and a chasis to mount it where the optical drive used to be and I maxed out my RAM from 2gb to 16gb. I also installed all current operating Apple software for my machine. Im terrible at updating stuff. If my machine is working I don’t update it. It took me about an hour to install all the components into my machine and about another 30 minutes to update all operating software on my machine. It was pretty easy to do. OWC sends good instructions as to what wires to pull and which screws to remove.
Once the hardware was installed it was time to do the software. DiGiGrid requires the SoundGrid Driver to operate and it comes in 2 flavors. Mac and Windows. It also requires you to have a Waves account in order to download it, I opened a new Waves account and downloaded the appropriate software. Once I had my laptop talking to DiGiGrid it was time to get some recording software. I bought Reaper. For $60 I got a piece of software that allowed me to use my new hardware to its fullest extent. If you are thinking that Reaper<http://www.reaper.fm/> is a cheap piece of software you are sadly mistaken. Reaper is very powerful and for $60 it’s a bargain. At this point I had a system that was ready to connect to a desk.
As chance would have it our tour needed to solve some problems. We were on the last leg and it was a big one. 22 flights in 5 weeks that would take us to 17 cities in the Middle East, Japan, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. We record all our shows and part of our spec is a Pro Tools rig at FOH to archive. The local provider was unable to get a record rig for FOH for 1 shows so DiGiGrid was going to get its first workout.
I lucked out. I was able to fit my DiGiCo SD10 console, 56ch SD stage rack, RF rack and associated cable onto the single air freight pallet we had to ship our artists 7’ grand piano and associated backline with us. This provided us the opportunity to use DiGiGrid and my laptop as the record rig for the show. Our trial run was going to be in Dubai. Upon arrival at the gig the first thing I did was connect DiGiGrid to the SD rack. 96khz recording is only available from the stage rack MADI outputs. Do not connect the MADI inputs to the rack as it will not pass audio because the rack will default to MADI if you are using Opticore to connect to your surface. Once the proper connections were made I opened up Reaper and started creating a template from which I could quickly start new sessions from my laptop.
Both the Digico and Reaper software has a matrix patchbay so you can determine what channels in the signal path you want routed to specific Soundgrid Channels. This function allowed me to pick up only the channels I wanted enabling me to pick up the entire show and leave channels like talkback mics behind. Because I was recording at 96k I was limited to 60 channels. DiGiGrid uses up 4 channels for comms between the console, DiGiGrid and the stagerack. These channels are 29-32. When setting up which channels you need, assign Soundgrid Ch 33 for your record Ch 29 and so on. I created the template, named it, then saved it as a template in Reaper. Then I used the Save As function to store it as a new file and chose the destination of audio files as the SSD on my laptop.
The show went on without a hitch and I set up the Performance Meter in Reaper to evaluate the performance of the laptop. I was impressed. Total CPU usage for a machine that was 2 years old was 22% max! It was recording at a speed of 15MB/sec. The size of the file for the 54 inputs I used was just under 100Gb of info. That meant that I could safely record 2 shows on my machine before having to move them to storage. I am now using 1TB Thunderbolt drive for storage. This give me roughly 9 shows per drive. As drives get filled up new drives will go in for storage. The total cost for getting my record rig set up was $2400 and that included Reaper and the upgrades to my laptop.
I will let you know in advance that OWC does not recommend my particular version of Macbook Pro because of a bottleneck in thruput using the optical drive as the home for the SSD. Newer versions of Macbook Pro do not have this same restriction. You are also not limited to use of one DiGiGrid. If you have more than one rack and wish to record at 96Khz you can use a second DiGiGrid to get higher track counts. Using DiGiGrid SWI, a certified SoundGrid 5-port 1GB Ethernet switch will allow you to connect 2 devices to your DAW! (Per Waves, this device is not quite ready for release and Tony got an advance peek at it. There are two switches Waves recommends which can be found HERE.
The ablitily to record using DiGiGrid is simply amazing. Its integration with my console was seamless. DiGiGrid is not just for DiGiCo users either. Any console with a MADI connection can use this device to record. Yamaha and Avid consoles can also reap the benefits of this recording package. And if you are thinking that that is all you can do with it well im going to blow your mind. DiGiGrid can be used as an interface to use your laptop as a Waves server using the Waves Multirack Driver and DiGiGrid MGB. In this configuration DigiGrid MGBMGO can be used as an interface to use your MacPC , MultiRack SoundGrid software and SoundGrid DSP server to run all your favourite Waves V9 plug-ins in very low-latency, 64 racks with each rack using up to 8 plug-ins. Alongside the recording and playback capabilities.
I have yet to use this function but im going to on my next run in Asia which begins in February with a new artist. I am going to go out on a limb and say that its going to be as easy as it was to set it up as a recorder. Special thanks goes out to Matt Larson at Group One Ltd. for keeping me in the loop to new developments. They have been very helpful with this project. Thanks Matt! You can see more of what I do, where I go and who I work with on facebook at #haveearswilltravel and on Instagram under the same name. See you out there on the road!