February 16, 2016 · Santa Clara, Calif. – Marking a half-century of America’s singularly most important sporting event, Super Bowl 50 did not disappoint in delivering electrifying performances during both pre-game and halftime programming. With a viewership of 111.9 million – the third highest in history – this year’s Super Bowl saw energetic performances from Beyoncé, Bruno Mars and Lady Gaga – all performing on Sennheiser wireless microphone systems.
Setting the stage for the Super Bowl’s memorable ‘golden anniversary’, Lady Gaga delivered a soulful, classy rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner during the pre-game segment, crooning into a Sennheiser SKM 5200 handheld transmitter coupled with an MD 5235 dynamic microphone capsule. Accompanied by just a solo piano, her performance was marked by her incredible dynamic range and subtle use of cadence – captivating the emotions of millions of viewers around the world in clear and pristine audio.
“The MD 5235 capsule works with her voice really well and I don’t have to get in the way of what she’s doing,” says Jim Corbin, monitoring engineer for Lady Gaga. “One of the things I love most about this capsule is that it picks up dynamics really well, both in the lower and higher registers. This is also true with proximity – if she is up close on the mic or farther away, it sounds very similar and I don’t have to change settings. In terms of reliability, I wouldn’t want to use another wireless product for an event like this.”
Super Bowl 50 goes ‘Uptown’ with Sennheiser
Following an ultra-physical, first half match up between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers, the halftime show featured headliner Coldplay, who was soon joined onstage by veteran stadium performers Bruno Mars and Beyoncé. Mars’ set began with “Uptown Funk” – featuring collaborator Mark Ronson on the decks and a troupe of dexterous dancers adding an impressive dimension of visual energy aside a captivating vocal performance by Mars – who sang through a custom Sennheiser headmic solution.
“Bruno is probably the most involved artist I’ve worked with as far as the sonics are concerned,” says Toby Francis, who handled FOH mixing duties for Bruno Mars during Super Bowl 50. “One of the things I love about the MD 5235 capsule is that it performs better than any other mic when the artist goes out in front of the P.A.. And these days, there is usually some element in the staging that puts the artist in front of the speakers. The MD 5235 has a tight pattern and good rejection to handle this – it also sounds more ‘hi-fi’ than most other dynamic microphones.”
Pristine digital audio in the court of the “Queen Bey”
The intensity of the 12-minute halftime show increased further as Mars was joined onstage by Beyoncé, accompanied by her own legion of physically nimble, leather-clad dancers. Beyoncé unleashed her most recent single “Formation” – while delivering a command performance through a Sennheiser Digital 9000 wireless system with a customized gold SKM 9000 handheld transmitter and MD 9235 dynamic microphone capsule. Mars rejoined Beyoncé for the new track as the two embarked on a ‘dance off’ – Mars switched over from the headmic to his tried and true Sennheiser SKM 5200 handheld transmitter and MD 5235 capsule combination.
“For a long time, Beyoncé was on Sennheiser’s 5000 wireless series. But when we finished the 2014 tour, we had a chance to upgrade to the Digital 9000 system. Since then, we’ve never looked back – there is really no other choice,” says Stephen Curtin, FOH engineer for Beyoncé. “The thing that we appreciate most is its sound,” he elaborates. “Before the Digital 9000, everything would be going through some companding and compression – so you’d be losing a bit of your frequency bandwidth. Since Beyonce is such a dynamic singer, we can now represent this entire bandwidth more accurately.”
“With the Digital 9000, it was just another great sonic experience,” added James Berry, Beyoncé’s monitor engineer. “Steve [Curtin], the broadcast mixer, myself and of course Beyoncé were all extremely pleased – the unit delivered great sound and a solid RF performance.” Berry says that Sennheiser was at their side to help support the event for the duration: “They sent out two Digital 9000 units – one that had to be loaded in for rehearsals, and another unit that was loaded in for the halftime show. Everything went perfectly.”
Beyoncé leveraged her successful halftime show performance to announce her Formation Tour, a 40-date affair that will kick off on April 27th and which will rely on the Sennheiser Digital 9000 system to deliver authentic audio.
Sennheiser: setting the stage for flawless RF
RF engineer James Stoffo says that Super Bowl 50 was “probably the most difficult RF environment of any of the 17 Super Bowls I’ve ever done.” He attributes this to both the proximity to Silicon Valley, the proliferation of white-space devices and an increasingly congested UHF spectrum. “Sennheiser equipment has always been the most meticulously engineered wireless microphones on the market, so having a quality product out there for an event like this calms my nerves,” he says. “Since it is a digital system, the signal is much more tolerant to interference – this is not the case with other wireless systems, which will typically pick up background RF noise on overcast days. The Digital 9000 is a solid piece of machinery and an example of where we have faith in the quality of Sennheiser products.”
As Stephen Curtin comments, the success of an event of this scale depends on a tightly knit team of professionals, including Valencia-Calif.-based ATK Audiotek — which once again provided audio integration services for this year’s Super Bowl: “I trust all the guys that are involved — from ATK to all the independent engineers that are there. It is a huge trust factor among a lot of people, like Pat Baltzell, a sound designer and FOH mixer who has been doing this for almost two decades. The stakes are really high, but the people involved are at the top of their game and there is a lot of trust there. And obviously the equipment side is covered with Sennheiser.”
“Sennheiser is proud to have played an integral role in such a milestone event,” concludes Byron Gaither, Artist Relations, Sennheiser. “For Super Bowl 50, our artist relations team worked tirelessly to ensure that Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Bruno Mars had the best equipment available to deliver a premium sound experience for all the fans in attendance, as well as viewers at home. We are especially pleased at the performance of our flagship Digital 9000 system, which continues to be used at high-profile events around the world.”