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Major Tom reaps full benefit from Optocore Festival Boxes Comms, racks and consoles on single fibre distribution on Sheeran Mathematics tour

Photo credits Ralph Larmann

With bases in the US and UK, rental company Major Tom has continued to work its flexible Optocore Festival Boxes to full capacity in high profile deployments during 2023, none more so than on Ed Sheeran’s extensive Mathematics world tour.

The company first invested in the Festival Box point-to-point converter (with 12 SFP modules) back in July 2021. They recognised the advantages of being able to tunnel any audio protocol, as well as video and data, over a single fibre … providing huge time, cost and space efficiencies in multi-act scenarios.

According to Major Tom project manager, Richard Wonnacott,

“We have found [Festival Box] to be incredibly useful. In fact it has become the solution to almost every problem we encounter connecting one set of equipment to another, some distance away.”

Richard Wonnacott

“The key benefits are the flexibility it provides to deal with whatever is thrown at us … not only in a festival situation, with multiple visiting consoles, but also the ability to run comms.”

Which is precisely how Ed Sheeran’s system tech, Adam Wells, has been deploying it on the latest Mathematics world tour.

“Festival Box is the backbone of every show we do,” exclaimed Wells. “It’s fundamental to the point where I couldn’t do a show without it.”

Photo credits Ralph Larmann

As a freelance engineer, who has worked for Major Tom for eight years, he was aware of the presence of this Optocore device in their inventory. “I knew it would be absolutely perfect for this tour,” he said. “What you plug in is what you get out the other end. It is very intuitive and super easy to use.” The move to deploy it also received the blessing of production director, Chris Marsh.

The original idea had simply been to use it with the tour’s two support band consoles. “But the demands of our digital loop got bigger and bigger, “ he said. “There were a number of devices, various SD Mini racks at each of the band positions, a DiGiCo Orange Box picking up MADI, a fully loaded SD rack under the stage for all the RF and another SD MINI at FOH, plus a Quantum 7 [console] with two engines. 

“It became obvious that despite the size of the digital loop this wouldn’t affect Festival Box at all, and we still have multiple options for connections for support bands.” In addition, by dividing the Box into two logical halves they could achieve full redundancy with A / B connections to every device. 

“It means we can run one snake for the entire show and two support bands plus everything else around it — although it’s with comms that it has really saved the day.”

The use of DiGiCo’s DMI-OPTO card gave production HMA connection and OpticalCon availability, with CAT5 connections for their AVB protocol (in this instance) at either end of the multicore. “We also run our comms network, which is an IP-based Clear-Com Helixnet and Freespeak, through Festival Box, as well as the switches that also distribute the comms IP network.

“One thing unique about our show which to my knowledge has not been done before,” continues the system tech, “is the ability to use the passive fibre ports on Festival Box for comms antennas. These are specific wavelengths, essentially giving you more fibre connections. We are using those to distribute Freespeak fibre transceivers under the stage.

“It was an idea I had because we needed a solution to distribute the four Freespeak transceivers, and we had run out of options with copper. We ended picking up a 1310 nm multimode SPF at either end. It works like a dream and is absolutely rock solid.”

Finally Adam Wells says that aside from Festival Box, Major Tom have enjoyed a good experience with other Optocore devices. “For instance, on the last Ed tour we used the X6R’s and multiple different units to distribute the fibre network, convert to AES and distribute to our Meyer Sound Galaxy processors.”

As the latest tour concludes, Wells reflects, “There have been no issues whatsoever with Festival Box, how they have dealt with life on the road.”

Photo credits Ralph Larmann

Footnote: While all this was taking place a second Festival Box was being deployed by Major Tom on the ‘Summer Series’ shows, which ran for a fortnight in July in the courtyard at London’s Somerset House. Explained Richard Wonnactt, “The challenge on this site is that the multicore is run in a trench around the edge of the courtyard before the rest of the load it, and then is covered with concession stalls for the duration of the event, making it impossible for any visiting acts to install their own multicores. Also, the entire route is 150m long, which rules out any RJ45 runs, for which we had many requests.

“It was clear at this point that the only solution was for a Festival Box. It was configured to allow for 6 x RJ45, 2 x OptiCON and 2 x HMA and every one of those ports was used at some point over the two weeks. All worked flawlessly.”

Adam Wells

Photos credits Ralph Larmann 2023