The Turbosound Milan M12

A nice box, but flawed.

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The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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When I was adding onto my system last year, I chose Turbosound Milan as the product line for FOH. Since putting those boxes into service, my feelings have been mixed. The most mixed of those feelings have been reserved for the mid-highs I chose, designated as “M12” by the manufacturer.

I do like the compact nature of the package. Other powered 12s that I carry are similar in weight, but inefficient in their use of bulk. The Milans chew up less space, and yes, they have a monitor-angle on both sides. You can properly book-match a pair of the little darlings, which is something I appreciate.

I also like the overall fit and finish. Yes, they’re plastic boxes, but it’s the kind of plastic that can take some wear gracefully. The controls and connection points seem to be reasonably well-engineered, with slide switches that clearly indicate where they’re set. (Push-toggles are fine if they unambiguously show their state, but plenty of them don’t – so, kudos to Turbosound on this front.) I often work with other boxes that really are just fine…but feel “cheap” when it comes to XLR connectors and back-panel interaction. The Milans are a definite upgrade there.

M12s do seem to be tuned pleasingly at the factory, which is a big help for throw-n-go gigs where you have to make things work out tonally without a lot of prep time. Your mileage may vary, of course, especially since just about anything can be whipped into shape these days.

Also, let’s be honest: My anti-establishment nature has a special place for brands that are less common. Everybody knows JBL, Peavey, EV, Yamaha, and so on, but Turbosound is a loudspeaker marque that’s a little less trafficked in small-format circles. (Turbo’s big-boy boxes are more well known to the folks who work at that level.)

What do I not like? Well…

Milan M12s are a (tiny) bit expensive for what you get – both in money and weight. When JBL marked their Eon 612s down, they really threw the gauntlet at Turbo. Spend $50 less, get a box that has essentially the same performance, and save about 12 lbs.

…and Turbo, geeze, can we please have a real “thru” on the back? Sometimes I just want to chain two boxes together, and I don’t want to have to volume-match them by ear. Especially if I’ve forgotten to do so before the speakers are eight feet in the air already.

But that’s not the biggest thing.

What really put me off with the M12s was how they will audibly distort before they illuminate their clip indicators. It’s not a horribly nasty sound, but its “too obvious” and a little embarrassing. When somebody addresses the crowd at concert level, using a mic that has some low-mid dialed into it, there’s no reason that a loudspeaker of this type should suddenly give the impression of being underpowered. Sure, these units travel with the crowd that peaks under 130 dB SPL @ 1 meter, but so do my Eons and they don’t seem to misbehave when still running “in the green.” I was so unsettled by this quirk of the Turbos that I retired them to moderate-volume-only use – which they are great at, I should mention.

Someone might point out that the Turbosounds could simply dislike my gain structure. I often run powered loudspeakers with the input controls at full-throttle (when it’s practicable), because full-throttle is an easily repeatable setting. Also, I know I can get maximum SPL at around -20 dBFS on my console outputs. I can’t discount the possibility that the M12s fail to handle that kind of use gracefully at the input side, which means that my dislike is user-error. At the same time, though, I have to go back to my JBL Eons; They tolerate being run wide-open without any marked complaint, which is what I expect from a loudspeaker in this price-range.

Milan M12s are good, but they don’t seem to be good enough to spend “more money” on.


The Q2Q Problem

Instead of being arrogant…communicate!

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The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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Maybe you’ve seen this comic from Q2Q. In it, an unhelpful audio operator flatly refuses to increase a monitor send, and then condescendingly justifies himself by claiming that doing so will make the show sound bad.

To quote The West Wing: “This is why good people hate us.”

It’s been pointed out that Q2Q is a comic about theater, which has different norms for sound reinforcement than Rock And/ Or Roll. It’s been pointed out that the omnidirectional microphones commonly used in musical theater productions aren’t so great for “folding back” into monitor world, because they’re…you know…omni.

I know all that. It’s irrelevant.

What’s on display in the comic is crap behavior and poor attitude that should be unacceptable on any professional crew. Folks, if you are an audio human, your job is TO HELP PEOPLE PERFORM. It is not to get your own definition of the perfect mix at the expense of everyone else, whilst simultaneously acting like you’re the grand ruler of the universe.

If your defense for flatly refusing a change on deck because it will make your precious, FOH mix sound “bad,” I have some words for you: Cowboy the heck up. Work those channel EQs to find a decent compromise. Roll those high-passes up and create an acoustical crossover between the stage wash and the FOH PA. Bus your vocals together and insert an EQ there. Audio craftspersons are paid to deal with the difficulties involved in making as many people – sometimes with conflicting needs – as happy as possible. (Within limits, of course, but the more-monitor issue is 100% within those limits.)

Further, if you are physically unable to make a request happen, I can assure you that treating your performers with contempt for making the request is the wrong idea. Get your butt out from behind the console, and go talk to someone. Take 10 seconds to explain why there’s no more gain-before-feedback available to the system, or that you’re out of sends, or…whatever it is. It’s not their job to know all that stuff by heart – it’s yours.

…and yes, it is your job to be able to interface with the players and kindly educate them when necessary. In other words, you have to recognize them as human beings who are actually capable of understanding what’s going on. If, after doing so, you’re still getting ridiculous demands, you still have to be a professional about it.

After 22-ish years of doing this, I’ve learned many things. One of the most important things is that top-shelf production support is really not about having all the biggest toys, newest whiz-bangs, and being able to say that you’re a crack operator of [insert large-frame console here]. Those things help. They are sometimes necessary. But they matter very little without the basic elements that so many people alarmingly miss: Showing up on time. Doing what you said you would do. Caring about the show. Taking the performers seriously. Being pleasant. Treating people like actual people.

I’ve walked away from shows that I didn’t think went very well with people still being all smiles, not on the force of “mad mixing skillz,” but just being willing to give a thumbs-up and take a crack at whatever was asked for. So, be nice. And if someone asks you for more [something] in the monitors, at least try, please.


But WHY Can’t You Fix Acoustics With EQ?

EQ is meant for fixing a different set problems.

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The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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A distinct inevitability is that someone will be in a “tough room.” They will look at the vast array of equalization functionalities offered by modern, digital, sound-reinforcement tools, and they will say, “Why can’t I fix the space?”

Here’s the deal. A difficult room – that is, one with environmental attributes that make our job harder – is a time problem in the acoustical domain. EQ, on the other hand, is a tool for changing frequency magnitude in the electronic domain.

When it comes right down to it, bad acoustics is just shorthand for “A sound arrived at a listener multiple times, and it was unpleasant.” A noise was made, and part of its energy traveled directly to somebody’s ears. Some other part of its energy splattered off a wall, ceiling, or floor…or a combination of all of those, at least once, and then also arrived at somebody’s ears. Maybe a lot of the high-frequency information was absorbed, causing the combined result to be a muddy garble. Of course, all the transients getting smeared around didn’t help much, either. It gets even more fun when a sound is created, and bounces around, and some of it goes into a monitor system, and gets made again, and bounces around, and some of it goes to the FOH PA, and gets made AGAIN, and bounces around, and all of that gets back into the microphone, and so that sound gets generated again, except at a different level and frequency response, and…

How’s an EQ going to fix that? I mean, really fix it?

You might be able to dig out a hole in the system’s response that compensates for annoying frequency buildup. If the room causes a big, wide bump at 250 Hz, dialing that out of the PA in correct proportion will certainly help a bit. It’s a very reasonable thing to do, and we engage in such an exercise on a regular basis.

But all the EQ did was change the magnitude response of the PA. Sure, equalization uses time to precipitate frequency-dependent gain changes, but it doesn’t do a thing in relation to environmental time issues. The noise from the PA is still bouncing madly off of a myriad of surfaces. It’s still arriving at the listener multiple times. The transients are still smeared. The information in the electronic domain got turned into acoustical information (by necessity), and at that point, the EQ stopped having any direct influence at all.

You can’t use EQ to fix the problem. You can alleviate frequency-related effects of the acoustical nightmare you have on your hands, but an actual solution involves changing the behavior of the room. Your EQ is not inserted across the environment, nor can it be, so recognize what it can and can’t do.


What’s Next?

I don’t know, but we’re probably not going to blow the lid off of audio in general.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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I get extremely suspicious when somebody claims to have solved a fundamental problem in audio. Mostly, this is because all the basic gremlins have been thoroughly killed and dried. It’s also because sonic physics is a system of laws that tolerate zero BS. (When somebody claims that they have a breakthrough technology that sounds great by way of spraying sound like a leaky hose, I know they are full of something brown and stinky.)

Modern audio is what I would definitely call a mature technology. In mature technologies, the bedrock science of the technology’s behavior is very well understood. The apparent breakthroughs, then, come when another technology allows a top-shelf behavior to be made available to the masses, or when it creates an opportunity to make a theoretical idea a reality.

A great example is the two-way, fullrange loudspeaker. They’re better than they have ever been. Anyone who remembers wrestling Peavey SP2 TI boxes is almost tearfully grateful to have small, light, loud enclosures available for a rock-bottom price. Obviously, there have been advances. We’ve figured out how to make loudspeaker drivers more efficient and more reliable. Commercially viable neodymium magnets give us the same field strength for less mass. The constant-directivity horn (and its refined derivatives) have delivered improved pattern control.

These are important developments!

Yet, the unit, as an overall object, would be entirely recognizable to someone magically transported to us from three decades in the past. The rules are the same. You’ve got a cone driver in a box, and a compression driver mated to a horn. The cone driver has certain characteristics which the main box has to be built around. It’s not as though we’ve evolved to exotic, crystalline sound-emitters that work by magic.

The palpable improvements aren’t really to do with audio, in a direct sense. They have to do with miniaturization, computerization, and commoditization. An active loudspeaker in the 21st century is likely to sound better than a 1980s or 1990s unit, not because it’s a completely different technology, but because the manufacturer can design, test, tune, and package the product as a bundle of known (and very carefully controlled) quantities. When a manufacturer ships a passive loudspeaker, there’s a lot that they just can’t know – and can’t even do. Stuff everything into the enclosure, and the situation changes dramatically. You know exactly what the amplifier and the driver are going to do to each other. You know just exactly how much excursion that LF driver will endure, and you can limit the amplifier at exactly the point to get maximum performance without damage. You can use steeper crossover slopes to (maybe) cross that HF driver a little lower, improving linearity in the intelligibility zone. You can precisely line up the drivers in time. You can EQ the whole business within an inch of its life.

Again, that’s not because the basic idea got better. It’s because we can put high-speed computation and high-powered amplification in a small space, for (relatively) cheap. Everything I’ve described above has been possible to do for a long time. It’s just that it wasn’t feasible to package it for the masses. You either had to do it externally and expensively, shipping a large, complicated product package to an educated end user…or just let the customer do whatever, and hope for the best.

I can’t say that I have an angle on what the next big jump will be for audio. I’m even skeptical on whether there will be another major leap. I’m excited for more features to become more affordable, though, so I’ll keep looking for those gear catalogs to arrive in the mail.


The Lessons Of El Ridiculoso

Loudspeaker experiments are very educational.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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El Ridiculoso is an idea that’s been bumping around in my head – conceptualized in various morphologies – for years. With the help of the extravagantly cool Mario Caliguiri, who does custom woodworking out here in the high desert, the idea is now incarnated.

Inwoodnated.

Inwoodnated is a real word, because I made it up. All words are made up.

Anyway…

El Ridiculoso is a quad-amped monstrosity meant to go “pretty loud” (but not insanely loud) with 2300 watts of peak input creating about 131 dB of peak, 1 meter SPL. It is very definitely NOT meant to play down low. The conveniently-sized, sealed box for the 15″ driver starts rolling off somewhere around 75 Hz, and really, El Ridiculoso is supposed to be used with subwoofers carrying everything up to 100 Hz anyway. (Sealed boxes are easier to build, and generally pretty forgiving. You can “fudge” the internal volume a bit and still have the whole driver-and-box system work pretty well.)

A few days ago, I got to hook amplifiers up to the boxes and hear them make noise. I found the experience to be rather educational in a few areas.

If You Tune It By Ear You Will Probably Get It Wrong

I set up an X32 mixing console to act as a four-way crossover: You downmix two channels to the main bus, and then send the main bus to matrices 1-4. (The matrices have crossover filters available to them if you have the right firmware upgrade in place.) Because I wouldn’t be working with subwoofers for the test run, I started off by putting the 15’s high-pass at 75 Hz, with the low-pass at 400 Hz. The 12 handled 400 – 1600, the big horn did 1600 – 6400, and the smaller horn took everything above that.

And, of course, I started out by playing music and pushing the different bandpass levels around.

I ended up with an overall sound that was reasonably pleasing, but somewhat tubby (or resonant) at certain bass frequencies. I wondered if the 15’s box was booming for some reason – maybe it was acting like a drum?

In any case, I decided it was time to do some measuring for a real, honest-to-goodness magnitude line-up of the boxes. As I started running sweeps and making adjustments, one thing became VERY clear: Tuning the system by ear had sent me way off course. In some cases, 10+ dB off course. (!)

A Basic Bandpass Magnitude Alignment Fixes A Lot

When you’ve missed the mark as far as I had, information that should blend nicely with other information…doesn’t. You get things like overpowering bass notes, because the crucial midrange just isn’t there to balance it all out. I was actually pretty stunned at just how much better the stack sounded with all the boxes in basically the right place, volume-wise. The music I was playing suddenly started to have the tonal characteristics I’d grown used to from listening at home.

This was without any corrective EQ, which is what I worked on next.

Going through and getting a fine-detail equalization solution certainly changed things, but the difference was not nearly as pronounced as what had happened before. This surprised me as well. I had expected that applying the “make-em-really-flat” solution would result in a massive change in clarity, but really, we were most of the way there already.

Large Horns Make Large Noise

I discovered rather quickly that sitting with my head right up against the 2″ driver-exit horn was unpleasant. The amount of noise that thing can make is impressive. The matrix feed to that bandpass ended up being 12 dB down from everything else, and I still preferred being across the room. I’ve known for years – at an academic level – that 2″ exit compression drivers are used when you need to tear faces off, but this was the first time that I even got a whiff of what they’re really capable of.

Awesome But Impractical

Playing with El Ridiculoso is a great treat, but I can’t imagine getting three more built for regular gigs. For a start, they’re relatively complicated to set up, because all the bandpasses are in separate enclosures…and there are four bandpasses per speaker system. Big-boy loudspeakers might have three bandpasses, but they package them all into a single cabinet. Plus, you usually get one Speakon connector which you can use to mate all your power channels to all your drivers in one click. El Ridiculoso needs four separate connections to work.

Add to that the need for subwoofers in many cases, and now you’ve got a five-way system. Then you have to add all the amplifiers necessary, and all the crossovers/ system management, which results in a pretty hefty drive rack or two. Then you have to add all the speaker cable. You end up spending a lot of money, and a lot of weight, just to make the things work.

And, the only way to get them up in the air is scaffolding, or stacking them on a big pile of subs.

In the end, a compact, ultra-engineered box from a major manufacturer really has the advantage. El Ridiculoso sure does have a lot of “cool factor” as an exotic idea, but a good, solid, self-powered biamp unit will go just about as loud and require far less care and feeding to be day-to-day useful.

This doesn’t mean I’m sad about the experiment. I knew from the beginning that I wasn’t going to design a better mousetrap than every speaker manufacturer on the planet. What I wanted is what I got: A different implementation that I could use to get more hands-on understanding of how these things work.


The Pro-Audio Guide For People Who Know Nothing About Pro-Audio, Part 2

The series continues with a discussion on cable.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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From the article:

“The simplest and most robust connection possible is a single cable carrying analog electrical signals. Analog cabling is subject to many problems, of course, including noise induced by electromagnetic interference. However, its simplicity reduces the number of ways that an outright failure can occur, and the connection tends to degrade “gracefully.””


Read the whole thing for free by visiting Schwilly Family Musicians.


Not Everybody, Not All The Time

Care about everything you can, then be okay with everything else.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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A letter to myself and others:

You can’t please everybody all the time.

You can try, of course, and you should. Show production is a service industry that’s always been a service industry. It always will be. Getting the maximum number of people to be delighted with the show IS your job.

But 100% satisfaction for everybody is very difficult to get to. Somebody will always manage to sit in the seat where the PA coverage isn’t quite right. Somebody will inevitably wonder why you didn’t make Band A sound like Band B, even though Band A has made arrangement choices such that they CAN’T sound like Band B. You will never have enough subwoofer for “that one guy.” Someone is going to lecture you on how their preferred snare-drum sound is THE key to a rock mix.

There is nothing so good that someone, somewhere will not hate it. So says Pohl’s law, if the Intertubes are to be believed.

You’re going to have to make choices about what to prioritize. That’s part of sitting in any of the chairs involved in show control. By necessity, you will be making choices (many of them, at high speed) that have real – though usually ephemeral and ultimately benign – effects on the lives of a sizable number of people. You must therefore cultivate an assuredness, an appropriate level of confidence that you are doing the right thing. Beyond having a strong appreciation of personal and collective aesthetics, this confidence will be greatly bolstered by understanding the physics involved in this job. If you know what’s possible and what’s not, you will be less rattled when someone accuses you of not having done the right thing…when their right thing wasn’t a feasible thing anyway.

It’s right to take all concerns seriously, but not all concerns can be treated with the same level of seriousness. Start by making as many musicians as happy as you can. That’s your baseline. If you get the baseline done, and somebody else isn’t happy, consider if that person is writing the checks for the event. If so, working out a compromise will probably be in order. An extreme case might require that you just do as you’re told. After you get that squared away, you can start being concerned about other considerations brought to your attention. If you can take care of them without changing the happiness level of the check-writer or the players, go ahead.

If not, be polite, but don’t worry too much. Even big-dollar gigs can’t deploy enough gear to fix everything.

Do your best, have fun, and try to get as many other people to have at least as much fun as you’re having. Do maintain care for the outliers, but don’t agonize. It won’t get you anything, anyway.


It’s Not About The Gear – It’s About Receipts

Sure, it’s a cool toy – but can you make money on it?

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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If you want to hear great wisdom about the business of sound and music, you should seek out Tim McCulloch over at Pro Sound Web. Just recently he was advising another audio human to “get very real” with a band about demanding a certain console for a tour. Having gotten the strong whiff that the choice of mixing desk was basically one of vanity, Mr. McCulloch dropped the proverbial load of bricks: The gear you take on tour is – and should be categorized as – an expense. The merch and tickets you can sell are profit. (So, decide if you want to make a profit and then act accordingly.)

Of course, the application of this to band tour-o-nomics is self explanatory. With just a bit of imagination, though, you can see how this applies everywhere – especially to audio craftspersons who own equipment.

The gear you own is an expense. It’s always an expense. It’s an expense when you make a full or partial payment for purchase. It’s a debit if you’re making leasing payments. It’s a negative ledger entry every second of every day, because its value depreciates forever in an asymptotic slide towards $0. It’s also a constant drain because you are always paying to store, maintain, and replace it (even if you don’t see a bill directly).

The above is a big reason behind why Tim McCulloch will also tell you that “Excess capacity is infinitely expensive.”

Anyway.

Equipment does not represent profit. It’s a tool that can be used to generate profit, but if you want to imagine the audio business as an airplane, gear is a constant contributor to weight and drag. What you need to keep going is lift and propulsion – profit, that is. Receipts. Money coming in. As such, every purchase and upgrade plan has to answer one question: “How will this increase my receipts?”

The harsh truth is that, past a certain point, just being able to get louder probably won’t increase your receipts.

Past a certain point, being able to rattle peoples’ rib cages with bass probably won’t increase your receipts.

Past a certain point, “super-trick,” spendy mics probably won’t increase your receipts.

A nifty new console probably won’t increase your receipts (not by itself).

What many of us (including myself) have a longstanding struggle with understanding is that what we THINK is cool is not necessarily what gets us phone calls. Meeting the demands of the market is what gets the phone calls. For those of us with maverick-esque tendencies (like Yours “Anti Establishment Is Where It’s At” Truly), we have to take care. We have to balance our curiosity and experimental bent with still being functional where it counts.

We CAN be bold. In fact, I think we MUST be bold. We ought to dare to be different, but we can’t be reckless or vain. If we’re in a situation where our clientele encourages our unorthodoxy, we can let ‘er rip! If not, then we have to accept that going down some particular road might just be for our own enjoyment, and that we can’t bet our entire future on it.

By way of example, I can speak of my own career. I’m currently looking at what the next phase might be like. I have a whole host of notions about what upgrade and expansion paths that might entail. I’ve also gotten on the call list of a local audio provider that I really, really enjoy working with – and the provider in question is far, FAR better than I am at scaring up work. With that being the case, some of my pet-project ideas are going to need a hard look. In devising my upgrade path, it’s far smarter for me to talk to the other provider and find out what would dovetail nicely with their future roadmap, rather than to just do whatever I think might be interesting. Fitting in with them means a chance at more receipts. More receipts means I can do more of what I love. Doing more of what I love means that I might just have enough excess capital to do some weird experiments here and there.

I don’t say any of this to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm. I say this so that we can all be clear about our choices. There are times when we might declare, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” It’s just that we sometimes say that without realizing that we’ve said it, in terms of business decisions. If we’re going to buy tools to make money with, it’s a very good idea to figure out what tools will actually serve to make money.


Mentalism

“Subjective” problems are still problems that have to be taken seriously.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. However, I have known doctors – really good ones – and though they’ve never said this explicitly, I think they would be of the opinion that a problem in the mind IS a real problem. That is, if a patient is experiencing distress that is caused by the brain, then they are really experiencing distress. The key isn’t to tell the complainant that what’s happening to them is fake, because it clearly is not fake. Rather, if the problem truly is in the mind then the solution must be applied at the problem.

Which is in the mind.

This might not seem like something to do with audio, but you have heard that part of an audio-human’s job is psychology, right? It’s said jokingly, but it shouldn’t be. It’s true. Musical craftspersons of all types have been known to run into problems at a show that really do exist…just inside their own head.

Something just doesn’t seem right. A guitar tone feels “off.” The vocals aren’t sparking with the same magic. I liked that reverb yesterday, and now it’s awful. This DI box doesn’t work right with my instrument.

Especially for us science-oriented types, our response to this takes work. Because we’ve spent so long trying to cut through the vast piles of horse-doodie that pervade the industry, we get dismissive. “Nothing’s different, man. It’s just your imagination. Ignore it.” But they CAN’T ignore it. They’re experiencing it, or they’ve convinced themselves that they are, and that is plenty good enough for them.

This is why an understanding that audio is a service business is so important. This is why an attitude of cooperation ought to be cultivated. Some perceptual issues can’t be worked out by applying a tech-based change, but they can at least be alleviated. The salve that can be applied is a willingness to treat the mental malady as a true conundrum requiring attention. They want you to turn the knobs? Turn ’em! They want you to swap the cables? Swap ’em! They want you to drive the system into feedback (with an audience present) so that they can go after the ringing frequencies with their own EQ, and then drop the gain back to where you had it? Go for it! (This has actually happened to me, by the way.)

In the moment, taking a desired action matters greatly – even if that action is not likely to physically affect much of anything – because what you’re really applying the fix to is a person and not the PA. After all the dust has settled, THEN you can talk about whether or not the distress was objective or subjective. Rationality is a part of handling whatever bugbear there was, but rationality only works when people are calm. The important thing “in the now” is being on the same team…and proving it.

Refrain from lecturing in a crisis; The person experiencing the crisis can’t process what you’re saying.

I think I’ve proven many times on this site that I value an analytical approach. I put very little stock in “audio theater,” which is using techniques and buying gear that make you THINK a problem is getting fixed, rather than actually fixing something. I don’t advocate doing something damaging or insane just to make somebody else feel better; Sound people need to know what’s a flat-out bad idea. Diplomacy, though, is essential. When the show must go on, there’s little use in winning a technical argument. What’s needed is to get everybody to a place where they’re as happy as is physically and mentally possible.


Console Questions

A few simple queries can get you going on just about any console.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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Back when I was in school, we were introduced to “The Four Console Questions.” The idea behind the questions was that, if you walked up to a strange mixer, you could get answers to the questions and be able to get work done. Mixing desks come in many varieties, but there aren’t very many truly different ways to build them that make sense. In any case, all the basic concepts have to essentially stay the same. If a console can’t take some number “a” of audio inputs, and route those inputs to some number “o” of outputs, you don’t have a mixing console anyway.

With the growing commonality of digital mix systems, I feel that the essential “console questions” need some expansion and tweaking. As such, here’s my take on the material that was presented to me over a decade and a half (GEEZE!) ago.

1. Do I Know What I Want To Do?

You might say that this isn’t a console question at all, but in truth, it’s THE most important one. If you don’t know what you want to do with the console, then knowing a bunch of information about the console’s operation won’t help you one iota. The unfortunate reality is that many people try to engage in this whole exercise backwards; They don’t know what they want to accomplish, but they figure that learning the mixer’s whys and wherefores will help them figure it out.

Certainly, learning about a new feature that you haven’t had access to previously can lead you to new techniques. However, at a bedrock level, you have to have some preconceived notion of what you want to accomplish with the tool. Do you want to get a vocal into the FOH PA? Do you want to get three electric guitars, a kazoo, and a capybara playing Tibetan singing-bowls into 12 different monitor mixes?

You have to know your application.

2. How Do I Correctly Clock The Console?

For an analog console, the answer to this is always: “No clock is required.”

For a digital rig, though, it’s very important. I just recently befuddled myself for an agonizing minute with why a digital console wasn’t showing any input. Whoops! It was because I had set it to receive external clock from a master console a few weeks before, and hadn’t returned it to internal clocking now that it was on its own.

You need to know how to indicate to the console which clock source and sample rate is appropriate for the current situation.

3. How Do I Choose What Inputs Are Available To The Channels?

This is particularly important with consoles that support both on-board input and remote stageboxes. You will very likely have to pick and choose which of those options is available to an individual channel or group of channels. What you need to discover is how those selections are accomplished.

4. How Do I Connect A Particular Input To A Particular Channel?

You might think this was covered in the previous question, but it wasn’t. Your global input options aren’t the end of the story. Many consoles will let you do per-channel “soft-patching,” which is the connection of a certain available signal to a certain channel without having to change a physical connection. Whether on a remote stagebox or directly at the desk, input 1 may NOT necessarily be appearing on channel 1. You have to find out how those connections are chosen.

5. How Do I Insert Channel Processing?

In some situations, this means a physical insert connection that may be automatically enabled…or not. In other cases, this means the enabling and disabling of per-channel dynamics and/ or EQ, and maybe even other DSP processing available onboard in some way. You will need to know how that takes place, and with all the possible variations that might have to do with your particular application, it is CRITICAL that you know what you want to do.

6. How Do I Route A Channel To An Auxiliary, Mix Bus, Or The Main Bus?

Sometimes, this is dead-simple and “locked in.” You might have four auxiliaries and four submix buses implemented in hardware, such that they can only be auxiliary or mix buses, with the same knobs always pushing the same aux and a routing matrix with pan-based bus selection. On the other hand, you might have a pool of buses that can behave in various ways depending on global configuration, per-channel configuration, or both.

So, you’ll need to figure out what you’ve got, and how to connect a given channel to a given bus so that you get the results you want.

7. How Do I Insert Bus Processing?

This might be just like question 5, or wildly different. You will need to sort out which reality is currently in play.

8. How Do I Connect A Given Signal To A Physical Output?

Just because you have a signal running to a bus, there’s no guarantee that the bus is actually going to transfer signal to any other piece of equipment. Especially in the digital world, there may be another layer of patching to assign signals to either digital or analog outputs. Bus 1 might be on output 7, because six matrices might be connected to the first six outputs. Maybe output 16 is a pre-fader direct out from channel 4.

You’ll have to figure out where all that gets specified.


Obviously, there’s more to being a whiz at any particular console than eight basic questions. However, if you can get a given signal into the desk, through some processing, combined with other signals you want to combine, and then off to the next destination, you can at least make some real noise in the room.