RAVENNA at ONL – a world premiere!

The impressive Pierre Mauroy stadium just outside Lille in northern France hosted a world premiere on 17th July; not a football match this time, but a spectacular concert by the Orchestre Nationale de Lille (ONL) to celebrate their 40th anniversary. A full RAVENNA digital networking setup accompanied the ONL’s 100 musicians and a 200-strong choir who performed in front of an audience of over 16,000 people. 

“What we achieved here today has never before been implemented in its entirety in a live situation,” said Lawo’s Hervé de Caro. “It’s a roadmap for the future of networking in general and for live sound in particular. Thanks to the driving force of the ONL, in particular technical director Stéphane Evrard and digital audio specialist Fred Blanc-Garin, and the extraordinary collaboration between the main parties concerned – Lawo, Sennheiser and Neumann – we took a huge step forward in the implementation of digital audio techniques in a live sound environment. Thank you all and I’m proud to have been a part of it!”

So where did this story begin, and where do we go from here?

As Fred Blanc-Garin relates, it goes back to the renovation of the Nouveau Siècle congress centre in Lille, the home of the ONL. The all-new symphony hall opened in 2013. As part of the transformation of the congress hall into one of the premier concert halls in France, the ONL also renewed all of their audio equipment to create a “digital studio”, making the ONL one of only two orchestras in the world to benefit from such an installation. The equipment selected for the installation includes a 32-channel Lawo mc256 console, Neumann KH 310 monitors for 5.1 surround sound monitoring, 56 Neumann digital microphones, six Neumann DMI-8 8-channel digital microphone interfaces now equipped with RAVENNA cards and a Pyramix DAW from Merging Technologies.


“Initially we were running everything over AES, which worked fine but required a lot of cumbersome cabling compared to a RAVENNA installation which just uses CAT5 cables and a basic network switch. As a result, it’s therefore much easier to distribute the DMIs around the stage if necessary, which is almost impossible with an AES setup. Also, sample rate conversion and external clocking was still necessary as part of the workflow,” explained Fred. “However, RAVENNA presented us with a very interesting alternative – no more SRC, thus full resolution of the signal from the mic to the console, phase-accurate synchronisation via AES-11, so no external word clock required, ultra-low latency, high channel count, much easier cabling AND the possibility to transport the control data from the microphones which can then be accessed directly from the console… the list is long! In short, it looked like the perfect solution for the ONL who require the highest possible quality audio transmission, firstly for recording and broadcast purposes, but also for large-scale live shows like the anniversary concert.”

“Our new Lawo desk was already RAVENNA-enabled, as was the Pyramix – we just needed to get the DMIs to speak RAVENNA and we had the beginnings of a solution!” 


And so began the process of a long collaboration between Sennheiser/Neumann, Lawo and the ONL in order to make the dream a reality. “We said right from the very beginning that our deadline would be the 40th anniversary concert at the Stade Pierre Mauroy – everything had to be operational for then!” recalled Blanc-Garin. “It was such a special concert for us in so many ways. The venue itself presented its own challenges – the ONL had never before performed in such a huge space, so getting the sound right was crucial. We could have taken the easy option by sticking to the audio transport solutions we were already familiar with (namely AES), but we were determined to make the full RAVENNA audio network work, and there could be no better test than this.”

The setup for the concert in Pierre Mauroy stadium was a gargantuan task. The ONL team essentially set up their digital studio within the stadium but had to supplement it with extra equipment. In total there were two Lawo mc256 consoles: the first at FoH operated by experienced engineer and ONL veteran, Francois Gabert, who was also managing monitors from FoH, and the second console from Paris-based live audio recording specialists, Yasta, in a separate room for audio capture for recording and broadcast. The recording console was set up and operated by Delphine Hannotin from INA.

There were a total of 78 digital microphones on stage, which meant that ten DMI interfaces were required. Once collected by the DMIs, the microphone signals were packed into RAVENNA multicast streams and sent to a network switch where the streams were automatically duplicated. One set of streams was received by the FoH console and the second went to the broadcast console, and then on again to the Pyramix DAW.


“It was a lot of work as this was the first time we’d ever implemented a setup this big and for a live event,” said Blanc-Garin. “We expected to have teething problems because you always do with complex technical installations where you’re coming across everything for the first time. Fortunately the teams we had on hand from Lawo and Neumann did an absolutely sterling job – I take my hat off to all of them and can’t thank them enough for all their support. On the night, everything worked perfectly and we all had huge smiles on our faces, from the technical crew to the musicians and of course the audience.”

“It’s been the most incredible learning experience for us all, and as far as I’m concerned, what we achieved here with this concert is the groundwork for the future. Yes, there are improvements to be made on all sides, but it will happen – the concert was an end in itself, but this is just the beginning of the digital networking revolution that is called RAVENNA! The potential for this technology is huge, and that’s why we’ve invested in it – no other networking technology can offer the same levels of performance and scalability. We made a part of that future into the present with the concert, and I’m looking forward to the rest of what the future has to bring!”