Photo: Sound Image Productions’ new XTA MX36 (lower right) housed in a rack below a DiGiCo SD11 at Oxbow RiverStage’s FOH mix position
To every problem there is—or should be—an elegant solution. Napa, California’s Oxbow RiverStage represents one such solution, while the XTA MX36 is another, and it’s only fitting that they would come together thanks to Hayward-based sound reinforcement provider Sound Image Productions, a division of Sound Image.
For more than a century, the city of Napa has had a dilemma. Home to some of the world’s best wineries and nestled into some of the most beautiful landscapes that the Golden State can offer, the river that feeds all of that tends to flood. Often.
A few years ago, the United States Army Corps of Engineers rerouted the river and put in a series of floodgates that direct the water away from downtown into an area that just happens to make a great natural amphitheater called the Oxbow.
At this point, the story turns to several organizations: the family behind the world-renowned Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City, their Napa Valley licensee—the owners of the Blue Note Napa, which is located in the historic Napa Valley Opera House—Another Planet Entertainment and Sound Image Productions, led by General Manager George Edwards. Together, they put a state-of-the art stage into the space, and during the summer, when it never floods, they host shows there, with talent booked by the aforementioned Outside Lands and Treasure Island music festival promoter, Another Planet Entertainment.
“The guys from Blue Note Napa, with whom I have a long-term relationship, came to me and said, ‘George, what do you think about investing in the stage?’ I went to Scott Humphreys, the owner of Applied Electronics, because he and I are partners in Sound Image Productions. He’s my lighting and staging partner. And we built a 60-foot-wide by 60-foot-deep by 45-foot-tall, 45,000 pound roof stage and barricade system. We installed a huge EAW Anya rig, because it’s right in the middle of downtown and the venue faces the most affluent neighborhood in Napa Valley, and we got a multi-year contract to do these shows.”
But the beauty of the surroundings and the coolness of the venue can’t get past the fact that the area is not huge. With promoters wanting the maximum number of people in the seats, the space for gear is limited. “Our front of house area is only 16 by 16, so we have to put all the consoles, including lighting and system tech in that square. We needed a solution for feeding the PA from these artists’ consoles that was not another console.”
Designed to offer a solution to the longstanding problem of routing multiple mixing console outputs to a system processor and/or loudspeaker system, the XTA MX36 can potentially accommodate as many as nine consoles via 36 inputs across Analog, AES and Dante networks. Inputs are arranged in sets of four to support standard left, right, front-fill and sub feeds from each individual console. All AES inputs have sample-rate conversion, and there is one set of four outputs, available simultaneously across Analog, AES and Dante networks, with word clock output sync available on AES. Just as importantly, it only takes up two rack spaces and doesn’t require a laptop to run it.
“When we put this together in a such a small footprint, we knew we had to be able to have a switching system that would do everything we needed it to do in next to zero space. We saw this ad for the MX36, so I got in touch with Matt Larson [vice president of professional audio at Group One Ltd., XTA’s US distributor] who, at the time, explained that this product wasn’t really out yet. He sent us a prototype unit, which we demoed pre-season, and we told him, ‘We have to have this unit.’
“Matt called XTA, the manufacturer in the UK, and they whipped us up a unit a week before we opened the season. We used it on every single show interfacing all of the guests’ consoles, using it as our playback device, so we didn’t have to use it production console. Using it as our emcee preamp, we eliminated the production console altogether.”
He uses a few “affectionate” terms that can’t be repeated here to describe the MX36, and then reels it back in. “You can come in Dante, you can come in analog, you can come in AES, and it comes all out either flavor, and it switches from 48k to 96k—whatever you want. And it has no need for a GUI. You can do everything from the front panel, which is brilliant.”
The XTA MX36 takes inputs from multiple artist consoles per show and feeds left, right, front-fill, subs, out-fills, a VIP area and assisted listening. In addition to the quad channel sets for the consoles, there is a fully featured, high quality mono mic preamp for announcements and a stereo line input for background music, both with filtering options.
“The MX36 is an incredible piece of gear that makes the complex task of combining and switching consoles a breeze. The ability to combine and switch multiple desks in any format (Dante, AES, or Analog) without having to dig into any complex configurations is beautiful. In a world of wildly complex technical equipment, I really appreciate the simplicity of this device. I was able to pull this out of the box, put it into a rack in minutes, and had a seamless solution for any situation where multiple consoles are needed.
“At Oxbow, we used the device to switch between tour consoles and our production rig for emcees and playback while utilizing the SRCs in the switcher to keep the Anya rig solidly locked at 96k. It also played nicely in a rack with our Lake LM44s that we used for system tuning and Focusrite Rednet D16R that we used as a Dante onramp for the PA.
“I couldn’t be happier with the MX36, and I make sure to have it in any rack where I may need multiple consoles or separate playback sources.” Or, as Edwards puts it: “It’s the greatest thing since sliced *&^%ing bread!”