Major Tom puts Optocore Festival Boxes through their paces

Communications, racks, and consoles all exist on a single fibre distribution network, powered by Major Tom-deployed Optocore Festival Boxes on Ed Sheeran’s +–=÷x (Mathematics) Tour.

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 +–=÷x (Mathematics) 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 time, cost, and space efficiencies in multi-act scenarios. Major Tom Project Manager, Richard Wonnacott commented: “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. 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 our communications.”

Which is precisely how Ed Sheeran’s System Technician, Adam Wells, has been deploying it on the singer-songwriter’s latest 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.”

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 commented. “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. “However, the demands of our digital loop got bigger and bigger,” he said. “There were several 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. “This means we can run one snake for the entire show and two support bands plus everything else around it – although it’s with communications that it has really saved the day,” Wells commented.

The use of a DiGiCo DMI-OPTO card provided the 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 communications network, which is an IP-based Clear-Com Helixnet and Freespeak, through Festival Box, as well as the switches that also distribute the communications IP network. One thing unique about our show which to my knowledge has not been done before is the ability to use the passive fibre ports on Festival Box for communications antennas,” he explained.

“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 up picking up a 1310 nm multimode SFP at either end. It works like a dream and is rock solid.”

Aside from Festival Box, Major Tom has 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,” Wells concluded. “There have been no issues whatsoever with Festival Box, how they have dealt with life on the road.”

Photos: Ralph Larmann and Optocore