Sennheiser Digital 6000 Shines At Rihanna’s Super Bowl Halftime Show

Published: 2023-02-23

Rihanna delivered the second-most watched halftime show at Super Bowl LVII. She even exceeded the average viewership of the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs football match by 5 million, according to data from Fox. Sennheiser’s Digital 6000 wireless microphone system helped drive this highly anticipated performance. It also featured a custom chrome SKM 6000 transmitter with an MD 9235 dynamic cardioid microphone capsule.

Addressing the Challenges

According to the company, the choice to go with the Sennheiser wireless system seemed like a minor detail; however, the sonic integrity of the performance hung in the balance. This is because the State Farm Arena in the greater Phoenix area is technically one of the most challenging environments for coordinating wireless frequencies.

The team also had to coordinate over 2000 frequencies over the Super Bowl weekend as dozens of simultaneous events took place in the area. These included the 2023 NFL Honors Awards, various VIP events, outdoor concerts and more. Moreover, the ever-shrinking spectrum available for wireless-microphone operators also presented an issue. Thus, the audio engineers and frequency coordinators had their work cut out for them.

Joe Ciaudelli headshot“Phoenix is a challenging city because it is the only one that officially does not have a vacant UHF TV channel. They are all allocated for broadcast, so there is very little spectrum available for wireless mics,” says Joe Ciaudelli, director of spectrum & innovation, Sennheiser.

He continues, “To make matters more complicated, although it is an indoor stadium with a retractable roof, the State Farm Arena does not provide much shielding from outside RF signals. [This makes] it vulnerable to interference.” Ciaudelli is an industry veteran and international expert on spectrum and wireless-system operations.

The location and circumstances thus upped the already high-stakes of the Super Bowl halftime show for the audio professionals. “Thanks to their resourcefulness and diligent planning, the audio engineers and NFL frequency coordinators were able to combat the harsh RF environment this year. [Here, they leveraged] Special Temporary Authorizations (STA) via the FCC, along with some other workarounds,” recounts Ciaudelli.

Careful Planning and Execution

An STA gives licensed wireless microphone operators temporary access to frequency bands not permitted for wireless mics. The engineers also leveraged channels occupied by low power or distant TV stations. Additionally, they used clever placement of directional antennas to further attenuate these unwanted TV signals, before being picked up by the wireless microphone receivers. Without this planning and resourcefulness, the entire Super Bowl broadcast, including Rihanna’s performance, would have been at risk of audio dropouts and interference. This could have resulted in a massive potential faux pas for her long-awaited showing.

Beyond safeguarding the wireless signal via the STA and directional antennas; the audio team had to carefully select the wireless-microphone system for Rihanna. They needed to ensure her vocals sounded as remarkable as her previous live performances. Moreover, they also had to combat the tough RF environment and establish a reliable wireless connection. Thus, Sennheiser’s MD 9235 microphone capsule offered sparkle on her vocals. Meanwhile, the Digital 6000 did the rest.

Also Read: Shure Marvels Again at Super Bowl LVII

Ensuring Success

Ciaudelli shares, “Not only is the Digital 6000 with the MD 9235 capsule a great sounding microphone; but, it also has such good intermodulation suppression and a clean RF signal. This is one tool that would work in an environment where all others might fail. It is a marvel of engineering from both the RF and audio standpoints. I am not surprised that it was used by the star.”

He continues, “This year’s Super Bowl highlights the challenges of a lack of suitable available spectrum for wireless mics. [This] has led STAs to be a tiresome staple at almost all professional sporting events today. Even though it is called a Special Temporary Authorization, it is becoming so routinely used that they might as well start calling them Standard Temporary Authorizations.” In his opinion, professional sporting events will become more multifaceted and the wireless audio and video channel counts will increase. As a result, the challenges of the spectrum crunch will only get more difficult to navigate for professionals.

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