Effortless Transparency - Paul Lane from ESPN on their ISA 430 MkIIs

14 Nov 2012
ESPN 430 mkiiI am the Senior Sound Engineer at ESPN in the UK and I manage a busy audio department of 3 studios which are operational up to twice a day (effectively giving us 6 studios). Most of our work is track-laying, mixing and recording voice-overs for programs and promos for our 3 ESPN channels (ESPN Live, ESPN America and ESPN Classic) throughout EMEA. Our Live channel hosts Barclays Premier Football, the FA Cup, AVIVA Premiership Rugby, the Scottish Premier League, UFC, Seria A, Bundesliga, the UEFA Europa League, World Rally and Darts to name a few. Our America channel shows all-American sports including the NFL, MLB and NHL to name just a few 3 letter acronyms, and Classic shows all those nostalgic moments in sporting history that cannot be found anywhere else.
I recently designed and built 2 new London-based audio suites for ESPN with help from some of the best sound specialists in the country (Whitemark for acoustic design,  Absolute CAD for wiring, AKA for bespoke desk design and Scrub HHB, the ProTools specialists, who helped configure the systems). We run ProTools 10 HD with the 24 channel D Command ES desks, a vast array of plug-ins including the Post bundle from Sony Oxford Sonnox, Waves Platinum, Audioease and Nugen's loudness monitoring, and PMC Speakers and Neumann U87 Mics.
When I began designing the audio suites I needed to start from the bottom up. Starting with our creative departments and their specific workflows in mind I had to make sure that not only did they have well acoustically designed rooms with all the necessary equipment with which to work, but also to equip my sound designers with the necessary tools to draw inspiration and create  promos and programs that are well designed and mixed.
One of the main and most important parts of any promo or program is the voice. Capturing the perfect voice recording is paramount. Opting for Neumann U87 microphones and PMC speakers was a relatively easy decision, but it was finding the right preamp for the job that was the tricky part. Quite simply I was looking for a non-compromising mic pre which delivers complete transparency. My pre would rarely be used for anything except to capture a voice with minimum processing.
Originally a massive fan of the discontinued Focusrite Red 7, I decided to test the Focusrite ISA430 MkII for those reasons, but being a big fan of Neve equipment (the 430MkII is based on designs by Rupert Neve), this intrigued me all the more. Having recorded hundreds of artists throughout a broad spectrum of frequencies the 430 MkII does not disappoint – my recordings sound incredibly transparent – it’s like my artist is sitting right next to me. The ISA430s give me the confidence that I am achieving the best possible recording.
There are two main situations that I use the 430s within. With my single voice analogue recordings I simply adjust the input gain, add a very small amount of compression to provide some control and set my output levels – it’s a simple as that. Any further processing I tend to do using ProTools in post production. I also use multiple ISA 430s to record commentators. In this situation I add slightly more compression to provide more control over the commentator and co/commentators and often add some EQ to balance the lip mics. Even though there are 80 front panel controls, once you are familiar with operating the unit I find them very quick and simple to use during sound checks. The units respond very well, are remarkably flexible and give easy to see visual feedback.
Both ways, whether in post production or live the 430MkII gives me exactly what I am looking for – effortless transparency.