We chat to Pete Cowasji of The Sound Hounds about working on some of the UK’s biggest Reality TV series, relying on RME gear, and his new rig based around the RME DMC-842.
Pete Cowasji is a sound supervisor and founding member of The Sound Hounds, a collective of sound recordists working across some of the UK’s most popular reality TV series. From shows like BBC’s Top Gear to MTV’s popular Geordie Shore and Ex on the Beach, Pete and his team have provided location recording equipment for some of the biggest names in British TV.
Working on large TV productions comes with its own unique set of problems, so we sat down with Pete to find out about the extensive RME kit list he’s acquired during his career – including his recently added 4 x RME DMC-842s – and how RME continues to help make life easier for him and the team on set.
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About Pete and The Sound Hounds
“I started off working on shows like Top Gear and Dirty Sanchez back in the day” Pete tells us, “and later I went on to work on Reality TV shows like Geordie Shore and Ex on the Beach”.
After finding a group of people that he could rely on, Pete started The Sound Hounds, providing infrastructure and freelance recordists on large-scale fixed-rig camera shows.
Based in London but working across the UK and further afield, the Sound Hounds use state-of-the-art sound recording equipment for their work. Amongst the list of gear that Pete and his team rely on for many projects are a multitude of RME devices.
“RME has its stamp all over my audio infrastructure – any time I’ve needed anything,
RME seem to have already invented it”
Pete’s relationship with RME goes all the back to his early days in the industry, working on hit BBC motoring show Top Gear. The QuadMic became an indespensible part of his in-car sound rig and since then, his collection of RME has been constantly growing. From mic preamps like the Octamic II to the routing capabilities of the MADI Router, Pete’s location recording gear is packed full of RME.
“When you listen to the product, they sound exceptional” Pete remarks when asked about his RME preamp collection. It’s not just the sound that has made Pete such a fan of the brand. When working on some of the biggest programmes in Reality TV, Pete uses RME because of its reliability and usability.
Having worked in the industry for 20 years, Pete is well versed in the issues faced whilst working on set. But seeing “the Air Force blue” of the RME front panel amongst his gear, he knows his work is in safe hands.
“It’s comforting to know that I’ve got RME products there” Pete remarks. “I’ve never had a problem with RME products that hasn’t turned out to be a user error rather than a manufacturer error.”
“We work all over the world in humid conditions, cold conditions, hot conditions. It survives under all of them. It’s a real trooper of a brand. When I get an RME product, I don’t worry about it. I know that part is going to be a strong link in our chain.”
“I’m happy that I’ve got many RME products, but I’m loyal because they just work, not because they’re RME.”
“If there’s one thing I like to do, it’s finding really elegant solutions to complex problems.”
One complex problem that Pete and his team kept encountering was signal issues when having to run large amounts of cabling on set. Over long distances, analogue cabling falls victim to degradation, which is a complex issue when filming in some of the large houses used in Reality TV. These analogue cable runs are also far more susceptible to interference, a problem encountered when other parts of the production crew are thrown into the mix.
“The shows that we make take hundreds of metres in cable length. When you’re using analogue cables, the longer the cable, the more degradation of sound you’ve got and the more susceptible it is to interference.”
“Another problem we’ve always had is that we go and mic everything up perfectly, then a camera and lighting person comes along, plonks a massive light down and puts their cables all over ours, and everything buzzes. So anything that can keep it consistent – so that we know when we’re done, we’re done – that’s a good thing for us.”
MADI eradicates this problem across the entire infrastructure. Transporting up to 64 tracks, as well as operating at sample rates of 96 kHz and beyond, MADI can work over distances that well exceed traditional analogue cabling.
“With MADI we can put many miles of cabling down without any effect on sound. It’s lighter, it’s easier and still robust. Carrying 64 tracks, it works perfectly for us.”
Utilising MADI doesn’t just cut down on cables however, it also makes transporting entire rigs a far simpler task. Having worked across the globe on shows like MTV’s Ex on the Beach, Pete is used to the prospect of shipping out large amounts of gear, but MADI has made this somewhat easier.
“On the scale of the jobs we do, trying to keep it as light as possible is a major advantage. We’re doing jobs all over the world, it’s a lot easier to pack up and export.”
Having relied on MADI to remove problems that analogue cabling can cause on set, Pete continued to search for ways to further improve their recording setup. That’s when a post on a Facebook forum started Pete on his journey towards digital microphones.
“I’m always trying to push the analogue to digital conversion further up the chain” Pete starts, recalling a post that detailed use of AES42 microphones on a feature film. “One of the key things is that they’ve pushed the conversion as far as it can go.”
Aside from taking away electro-magnetic interference, the selling point for digital microphones was the wider dynamic range and signal-to-noise ratio they offer.
“One area where lots of stuff happens in is the beds” Pete laughs. “We mic the bed heads and someone might be having a conversation that turns into a massive row. We needed a microphone that meant we could set a gain level so that everything from a whisper to a scream can be boosted or reduced in post.”
Once he had settled on Neumann digital microphones, the next part of the journey was finding devices that would allow the amount of I/O required on the most demanding jobs.
“The problem is most mixers we use only have one or two channels that can drive AES42 microphones. We work with up to 48 microphones and I wanted that capability. There was only one company making a multi-channel AES42 preamp. Luckily it was the company that I have grown to love using – RME and the DMC-842.”
Offering eight digital microphone preamps as well as acting as a power supply and controller for AES42 microphones, the DMC-842 is just the device that Pete had been looking for. His location rig now features four DMC-842 units, offering capacity for up to 32 digital microphones. Combined with the Neumann digital microphones, Pete’s rig can now pin-point the analogue to digital conversion to the microphone stage. This setup means that fault-finding has become a much easier task.
“When we first started, we had all kinds of buzzes” Pete comments when recalling his previous setup. “You never knew whether it was between the mic and the preamp, or the preamp and the router, or even the router and recorder. Now, we know exactly where the conversion is.”
This nearly all-digital signal chain is helping to cut their problems at source, meaning that once their infrastructure is in place, they don’t have to spend time troubleshooting potential issues, saving precious time on set.
What’s more, when combined with the RME I64 MADI card, the DMC-842 can slide seamlessly into Pete’s existing MADI infrastructure. His four DMC-842s can be daisy chained with automatic delay compensation, meaning that all his microphone channels can be sent from device to device with an absolute minimum of cabling.
Having first used the QuadMic on Top Gear nearly twenty years ago, Pete is no stranger to the quality preamps developed by RME. When Reality TV became part of Pete’s regular work, the OctaMic II was added to his sound arsenal, offering eight microphone preamp channels in a single 1U box. With five units in his setup, he had access to 40 microphone channels to use on set from a single rack case.
The OctaMic XTC soon replaced these units, unlocking the capability of MADI as well as free routing to any output and remote control through MIDI-over-MADI. With a range of digital I/O and digitally controlled preamps, the OctaMic XTC represented the next generation of RME preamps.
RME continue to design their range of microphone preamps with future-proofing in mind, an idea that is evident in their latest offering, the 12Mic.
Featuring no-compromise, studio-quality conversion from its 12 microphone and line level inputs, the 12Mic has been designed as a device for the next decade and beyond. As RME’s first AVB-ready preamp, it represents a step into the world of audio networking alongside the rest of RME’s recently released AVB range.
Like many of RME’s other products, the 12Mic has been designed with flexibility at its core. Amongst the I/O packed into its 1U frame are ADAT outputs, MADI in both coaxial and optical (via optional SFP module) and redundant Gigabit Ethernet for audio networking.
The 12Mic has taken user control to the next level too, offering a brand new interface that is simple and intuitive, allowing even complex tasks to be handled quickly and simply from the front panel. RME’s latest remote functionality also allows for control of the 12Mic – including gains, levels and routings – via any web browser when connected to an AVB network. Routing of any incoming signal to any output is possible from anywhere on a connected network, even over Wi-Fi, making tasks like phantom power switching or monitoring any signal possible from anywhere within the network.
On any of the jobs Pete and his team find themselves on, monitoring is vital. Not only that, but it is sometimes necessary to have a monitoring system that anyone would be able to use.
“Everyone from executive producers to runners sometimes need to listen to what we’re doing” explains Pete. Needing a solution that was both easy to use and offered portability, Pete found that “there are few better products than an iPad with TotalMix through a MADIface Pro”.
With access to all 64 channels of a MADI stream, and in an interface that is entirely bus-powered, this compact setup is easy to move from job to job whilst offering capabilites far beyond its size. RME’s TotalMix app for iPad provides touchscreen control over all inputs and outputs, along with additional options such as hiding individual channels and creating user profiles with different levels of access.
“What I’ve found is that the younger generation instinctively know how to use TotalMix [on an iPad] better than I could, and they actually teach me a few things!”
“when we need Synthax to help, they step up to the plate”
“We do large scale sound installations, multi-track, many microphones. And when you do that, every now and again you’re probably going to need some advice from your product’s distributor. I’ve found Synthax a really friendly, helpful company to rely on. This keeps my stress level low as well as my colleagues!”
Our thanks to Pete Cowasji and everyone at The Sound Hounds.
To find out more about Pete’s work, visit www.thesoundhounds.co.uk.
To see the full range of professional audio solutions offered by RME Audio, click here.
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