Weekends With Adele: “Adele is very aware of the importance of sound quality”

Ten months after tearfully confessing “my show ain’t ready” just 24 hours before the opening night of her Las Vegas residency, Adele has been making up for lost time with a five-month series of Weekends With Adele shows at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace...

The reviews have been phenomenal – clearly postponing the show was worth the wait – giving diehard fans a chance to see the formidable vocalist up close and personal, dressed to the nines in a series of exquisite floor length black designer dresses (although she will gladly reveal her cheap socks from Amazon underneath). Her voice – sublime as always – effortlessly fills the 4,000+ capacity venue with her biggest hits, but it’s the personal touches that are also a draw for fans.

Between belting out emotional ballads, the 16-time Grammy Award winner pads out the show with her trademark self deprecating banter; she swears, cries, pauses the show for proposals, blasts merch into the crowd with a T-shirt gun, takes selfies, wanders into the crowd to talk to fans, and even moves people with “the worst f**king seats in the house” to sit right by the stage.

But when it comes to the vocals, she really delivers. With past residences being held by intimidating vocalists including Celine Dion and Mariah Carey, Adele had some big shoes to fill – and the sound, especially after the 10 month delay, had to be pristine.

“Adele is very aware of the importance of sound quality – it’s always been a high priority on her earlier tours,” nods Johnny Keirle, the production’s system engineer, who began touring with Adele in 2016. “We began the conversation about using L-Acoustics’ L-ISA early on with Adele and her management team.”

this production is a 40-truck stadium show being staged in a remarkably intimate theatre each weekend.

Although there had been some initial caution on the subject of budget, he recalls, a demo of the system in London followed by further discussions with production manager Paul English very quickly led to a decision that the immersive environment that L-ISA brings would add a valuable and unparalleled sense of intimacy to her performances.

“With tight load in and out times of only 72 hours, this production is quite literally a 40-truck stadium show being staged in a remarkably intimate 4,100-capacity theatre each weekend," reveals English. 

"But the size of the room is only part of the equation. L-ISA gives us the best quality sound for this show and perfectly helps foster Adele’s personal connection with her audiences.”

Supplied by Clair Global, Weekends With Adele’s L-ISA Scene system, which comprises the body of the mix and the focal point of the performance, features L-Acoustics K2 loudspeakers configured in seven arrays.

Kara – in two hangs – make up the Extension arrays and out-fills. KS28 subwoofers – in two columns – are hung directly behind the centre K2 array, and more ground-stacked subs are deployed in a distributed line across and underneath the downstage edge.

Compact 5XT spatial fills are distributed across and in front of the downstage edge, along with larger X8 that are deployed as out-fills. All are powered by LA12X amplified controllers, and the system is managed by an L-Acoustics P1 processor and L-ISA Processor II units. 

The signal is distributed over a Milan AVB network via a combination of L-Acoustics LS10 and Luminex AVB switches.

It’s Vegas, so it has to be more magnificent than the other shows, right?

Keirle and FOH engineer Dave Bracey quickly established a workflow for themselves: Keirle created a combination of automated and manual movements for each song in the processors, while Bracey concentrated on perfecting the mix of the vocals, band, and orchestra.

“Johnny and I collaborate through L-ISA in a very unique way – it’s not the typical relationship between a front-of-house and system engineer, and he’s not doing a typical system engineering role,” Bracey points out. 

“He has creative input into the show’s sound. We discussed how we should approach every song in the set, and he created a series of automated and manual snapshots that fit the song and the production. He takes my mix and places it into the Scene, creating an immersive template that I’m mixing into. It’s a very new way to approach a live music mix, and it’s thrilling.”

Keirle adds that the mixing and system engineering roles are distinct but integrated into the immersive L-ISA environment: “We haven’t worked in this kind of environment before, so we developed our methodology as we went along,” he says.

“It needs people dedicated to each role. I’m focused the entire time on the processing and positioning of the sound – taking 96 post-fader feeds from the FOH console and determining parameters like depth and width – while Dave is completely focused on the console and the mix, not worrying about the processing behind it. It’s a workflow we established during rehearsals, looking at how L-ISA befitted each individual song and building around that.”

The Quantum7 doesn’t put anything between her and the monitors. It’s about as transparent as it gets.

DiGiCo – in the form of two Quantum7 consoles (supplied by Brit Row/Clair Global), are also integral to ensuring a flawless show every night. “It’s Vegas, so it has to be more magnificent than the other shows, right?” smiles Bracey .“The Quantum7 lets me handle it all without a problem.”

“It’s so easy to create an elegant workflow on this console, which lets you concentrate fully on the mix,” he adds. 

“I make good use of the Mustard parallel compression I’m using on her vocal and the FET Compressor on the bass, for instance. The Spice Rack also has some very nice tools, such as the dynamic EQ that I apply to her vocal. 

"But what’s amazing is that anything I’m using is with a very light touch; if you were to look, for instance, at the channel EQ on the screen, you’d have to squint to see any deviation from flat. That’s how good the vocal chain in the console itself sounds.”

Bracey adds that the infinitely variable image the L-ISA technology loudspeaker system delivers across the stage means he can keep Adele’s voice very much in a place of its own in the soundstage, lessening the need for processing.

“I’ve barely mixed on anything other than DiGiCo since I first used a D5 in 2002, but the Quantum software is just wonderful,” he says. “But the new software takes it even further. I’m looking forward to diving in even deeper during this residency.”

Meanwhile, monitor engineer Joe Campbell, who has worked with Adele for 12 years, was also pleased to have the Quantum7 in front of him again. “I’ve been using the SD7 for years, and I went with the Quantum upgrade as soon as it came out,” he enthuses. “It’s just a natural progression.”

Campbell cites the console’s routing and work surface flexibility, but emphasises that it’s the Mustard processing that’s become particularly useful for him. 

“Especially the Mustard optical compressor, which I find I’m using all the time, on vocals especially,” he says. “This console allows me access to parallel compression on every input and output channel. What that can do for dynamics is amazing.”

L-ISA gives us the best quality sound for this show and perfectly helps foster Adele’s personal connection with her audiences.

While he’s using the Quantum7’s onboard processing, such as reverb and dynamic EQ, for virtually every channel, Campbell still brings his favourite outboard pieces (four Bricasti Design Model 7 stereo reverb processors) with him, for use on vocals and acoustic guitars.

“It’s easy to integrate external processors into the Quantum7, just like it’s easy to do almost anything on this console,” he says. “If someone on stage wants an extra mix and wants it now, I can do it. There is nothing else like the Quantum out there.”

Like Bracey, Campbell sings the praises of the Quantum7’s sonics: “I’ve got virtually no EQ on her vocal in the monitor mix for her IEMs,” he says. “She sounds fantastic, and the Quantum7 doesn’t put anything between her and the monitors. It’s about as transparent as it gets.”

Keirle is kept busy with plenty of engineering to manage at FOH: from Bracey’s DiGiCo Quantum7 house audio console, he has Optocore DD4MR-FX digital I/O and interface units as part of the optical control loop. Channels are sent from the console, via direct outs, to the DD4MRs, where they output as optical MADI.

The optical MADI is received by an RME MADI Bridge, which outputs MADI over BNC to both the primary and secondary L-ISA Processor II units. For output signal distribution from the processors to the amplified controllers, the LA12X take Milan AVB from a series of LS10 and Luminex GigaCore 26i and 14R AVB distributed network switches.

“AVB also feeds directly from each L-ISA Processor into my AVB V-LAN, and I have each L-ISA Processor outputting MADI into a second RME MADI Bridge as well,” Keirle explains. 

“This outputs optical MADI to various Ferrofish A32 converters. The RME MADI Bridge acts as an input matrix, and the Ferrofish A32s convert the chosen MADI stream to analogue, which feeds the analogue inputs of the LA12X amplified controllers.”

It’s a very new way to approach a live music mix, and it’s thrilling.

In terms of philosophy, Keirle and Bracey follow Adele’s dynamic cues, generally starting songs quietly – often with just a solo piano and voice – keeping the immersive soundstage relatively tapered and focused centre stage. The soundscape then widens and deepens as additional musicians and sounds are introduced and revealed.

“This is something we discussed early on: the key to making an immersive mix effective is using the technology sparingly and subtly,” Keirle explains. 

“You allow the audience to get accustomed to one level of it, then you increase the intensity, changing and broadening the image. Once the audience’s ears and eyes are settled, they’ll notice the slight changes you’re progressively making to the sound, moving her voice back into the instruments and then pulling it forward. Even small moves can make for a very emotional and effective contrast.”

Together, Keirle and Bracey form a model of a workflow that will likely become increasingly common in the live sound industry for immersive productions, particularly for high-profile events such as Weekends With Adele. At the same time, the initial novelty of immersive live sound will give way to it becoming a more customary way of working

“Once you’re comfortable with the technology, you find that it’s an easier way to mix music,” says Bracey. “It’s easier to place a vocal in with instrumentation instead of using EQ and dynamics to try to squeeze it in. In fact, with L-ISA, it’s easier to find a place for everything,” he smiles.

“Audio-wise, many things have changed in our quest to set a high standard in Vegas, but the most impressive leap forward is the sound of the string section,” concludes Bracey. 

“We have 24 strings that are hidden for the first few songs that they feature in, but their reveal is one of the first big audience gasp moments. Luckily for us the new Neumann MCM acoustic instrument mics were in production just in time for our rehearsals. The improvement in audio quality over our previous mic selection could not have been more noticeable. 

"The warmth and detail these mics delivered produced a very accurate and natural sound with very little effort from me! The mounting system for them is excellent, as testified by the positive attitude of the players attaching them to their instruments. This is usually a tricky subject, but with the MCM clamps we keep hearing… ‘Oooh I like these’."

Adele image credits: Stufish

Neumann’s CEO Ralf Oehl and FOH engineer Dave Bracey

Neumann’s CEO Ralf Oehl and FOH engineer Dave Bracey