Celebrating over 40 years of top-flight cultural and community programming including symphony music and theater productions, the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts is situated in the heart of the downtown Milwaukee theatre district. Uihlein Hall, with a seating capacity of 2,305, is the largest of the Marcus Center theaters, and is home to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Milwaukee Ballet Company, Florentine Opera Company, the Marcus Center Broadway Series, and the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra. Seating is continental (no center aisle) with three balconies and a side loge. A recent revamp of the audio system, saw the PAC swapping out an aging analog console with a DiGiCo SD8. Professional Audio Designs of Milwaukee were instrumental in the install process.

Through a rigorous two year process to find a suitable console, house sound engineer Tim Kraetsch put a variety of digital consoles through technical paces, investigating each console’s features in a live situation, which enabled him to see how fast he could adapt to each console under the gun and to see what, if any, drawbacks there were. After trying out different manufacturers consoles—including a DiGiCo SD11 at the annual Summerfest music event in Milwaukee as part of the audio production crew for the last two years—he recommended the SD8 to George Batayias, the venue’s technical director. After the sound quality, which Kraetsch says is “the best of the three major console manufacturers,” he loved the console’s features and ease of use. Additionally, they opted for an SDRack (56 input/8 output) operating at 96kHz, which will allow them to eventually upgrade to fiber optics down the road. He’s also intrigued by the DiGiCo UB MADI interface which allows for recording with a simple selection of a button on the large 15” touch screen and looks forward to using it for archiving shows, for virtual sound checks and also for training of other staff and guest engineers.

“Because this was considered to be a major capital expenditure,” Kraetsch explains, “money for the console had to be budgeted 5 years out. We knew we wanted to upgrade to a digital console, and because of the timeframe, we also knew we had the luxury to take our time in looking at all the options that were happening within the console sector of the industry. Because of that, we could see the innovation and directions that the consoles were headed to, and make the best choice for our situation.  One of the biggest challenges we faced was how to use the existing infrastructure of the system so that we wouldn’t incur any additional expenses in the install. Thanks to the 8 local mic/line outputs on the back of the console, we were able to accomplish that. In fact, we were able to actually physically do the complete install in about an hour! Not bad when you see how powerful this system is.”

The DiGiCo interfaces with a distributed speaker system comprised of an EAW 850/650 main speaker system augmented with EAW JF260, JF 80, JF 60, and Tannoy delay speakers—all of which are powered by Crest Amplifiers. The console is also connected to an older Crest amp EAW distributed speaker system.

Since the completion of the install, the SD8 has been used on productions ranging from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Pops Concerts, The Florentine Opera, and the Milwaukee Ballet’s Production of Dracula, managing a typical 24-32 inputs and 2-6 outputs. For Kraetsch, one of the most useful features in tackling these productions has been the ease with which he can patch inputs into any configuration needed to aid in mixing the final product, along with all the standard features available on each channel. “I love the 4-band parametric and Dynamic EQ feature that only DiGiCo offers. The fact that each channel has two dynamic sections that allow the Dynamic 1 to be a Compressor, Multi-Band Compressor or a De-Esser, and Dynamics 2 to be a Gate, Ducker or a second frequency-conscious Compress allows us to add an artistic approach to our mix. The fact that you have two insert points on each input channel is also fantastic.”

Although the console has only been in place for a short while, the upgraded sound system has elicited comments from the public, from performers and from the internal production staff.  “It’s amazing how much feedback we’ve already had,” laughs Kraetsch, “particularly from the public.  The sonic quality of the SD8 is amazing. Most digital consoles that are currently in use have a tendency to sound ‘crunchy;’ the DiGiCo sounds clean and airy and is definitely one of the best sounding consoles out of the box—without the use of any plug-ins or extra processing.
Even people who don’t comment on such things have taken notice. I’m excited now that the SD8 is situated to be able to dig in and learn the depth that this console has to offer to our productions and audiences.”