Tag Archives: Bang For The Buck

Retort Report

Responses, and responses to those responses.

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.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

Right after I posted my last article, somebody (that somebody being Jason Knoell of H2Audio) decided to REALLY kick the hornets’ nest and share the link in Stagehand Humor. Of course, I could not help myself: I had to read through the commentary and experience the reactions. The general themes, as well as some particular thoughts make for some excellent, extended discussion of the “Analog VS Digital” topic.

Please note that I’m not identifying individual users here. I don’t feel that it’s necessary, as this site’s main purpose isn’t to host community discussion anyway. (Such discussion is welcome and encouraged, but I don’t host the software to run it.) If you really want to know who said what, the discussion thread is here.

Also, I am 100% aware that I’m not going to change anyone’s opinion. That doesn’t bother me in the least. I’m writing this out so that people who haven’t yet formed their opinion can examine some viewpoints and decide whether or not they think I have a valid take on things.

I will try not to be too snarky, but I can’t make iron-clad promises.

Here we go.

“Have fun when your digital board crashes its operating system and you don’t have the flash drive on the truck.”

People say things like this as though analog consoles have never failed at terrible moments. Big, heavy, hot, expensive, rackmounted power supplies have been known to quit – sometimes spectacularly. Ribbon cables can get unseated. Channel modules can fail with very loud, showstopping results.

Hardware isn’t eternal, no matter its design principle. So…have fun when your analog console has the equivalent of a crash and you can’t fix it with anything as simple and convenient as a flash drive, plus you mightn’t have any spares (especially because analog is big, heavy, and expensive). Me? I effectively have two spare consoles that I carry with me, and the rig still costs less and weighs less than an analog counterpart.

“Say what you will but I can punch, spit, spill a drink, and blow smoke for 16 hours a day on a Mackie 1604 and still have a reliable board!”

An analog console MAY have an advantage in that damage to one section of the unit may not prevent the rest of the device from working. There may also be a period of time where component degradation due to repeated abuse isn’t immediately audible. “Integrated” digital setups tend to either work 100% or cease operating. That difference in failure behavior isn’t enough for me to take a technological leap backwards, however.

And being reasonably nice to a piece of equipment (rather than abusing it) is not as hard as some people might think. Be nice to your digital gear and it will last, as long as there aren’t any manufacturing flaws. Analog follows exactly the same rules, by the way.

“Forgot to address harmonic distortion, saturation of tone, or any acknowledgement of different consoles and their own signature coloration of tonality.”

I didn’t, actually, but I also didn’t go into much detail. I didn’t dig deep because I see running after that kind of thing as a giant waste of limited money and time. I’m not saying that it isn’t nifty when it’s there, if it’s working in your favor. The problem that I have is that the necessary premium to get it is vastly out of proportion to its utility. A console that’s just automatically magic with bass guitars and snare drums is a cool thing. A console that forgives being run hot, potentially in a way that’s even helpful at times, is also pretty rad.

I still maintain, though, that “baked in” signal coloration is basically a design limitation that happens to be fun. I personally prefer a console designed to be flat and clinical, where coloration of all kinds (possibly including distortion, if you’re into that) can be added with explicit intention by the individual operator. If I find I’m missing some sort of magical boost in the low mids – something that very rarely happens, but even so – I can always dial it up with the parametric across my main outputs.

And know EXACTLY what just happened.

You may not prefer that. You may be able to bear the direct and indirect premiums necessary to have an analog signal path that imparts a desired flavor to inputs automatically. That’s great! Don’t let me or anyone else get you down. All I’m saying is that gear which fits your workflow and not mine does not necessarily represent an inherent improvement in technology.

“Guy’s never heard an early 70s concert in a real theater with a real band.”

While I’ve never heard an early 70’s concert in a real theater, I HAVE heard real bands both in and out of various venues that I also consider pretty real.

And I wonder if it’s just possible that the sound of a great band, in a beautiful acoustical environment, playing to an appreciative audience, might represent sonic and experiential factors that are orders upon orders of magnitude more important than any inherent tonality imparted (or not) by the mix rig?

“Bad thing is you spent 20 grand on a console and by the time you were done figuring out all the routing and fx it was obsolete. That’s my biggest problem with digital.”

No, digital consoles are not obsolete the minute you get them. A new model may be waiting in the wings because development cycles are so fast anymore, but it’s not like the console that just got delivered won’t mix bands anymore, or is fatally flawed.

If you want to talk about a long-term ecosystem of support, spares, rental-stock, and add-ons, I can see where you’re coming from – but in all cases, that kind of thing only comes about for the mix rigs that have gotten picked as favorites by the industry at large. Consoles are like pop-stars and rock bands. We remember those that stood the test of time, and conveniently forget that lots of analog and digital offerings didn’t manage to spark, and thus never generated that kind of sustaining ecosystem.

By way of example, I have a pair of Tascam DM24 consoles that sound just fine, and work just fine. I mixed on them for years. They never had the following that the Yamaha 01V series had, though, so I was basically on my own in terms of support and ancillaries. They were “obsolete” even when I got them, in the sense that Yamaha had handily passed them by. So what? They were still powerful tools.

“When analogue peaks, you get “warmth” or natural distortion. When digital peaks, you get clipping and digital breakup.”

Both events being described are an overload. Both are distortion/ clipping. The phenomena on display are not fundamentally different, though the specific tonalities of the events do differ.

My question is: Driving your console’s main bus into clipping isn’t a best practice. Why are you doing it so much that the console’s ability to forgive your gain structure is a main factor in your purchasing decisions?

“Small venues can’t afford digital that doesn’t have latency issues.”

I once built a digital mix system that had a roundtrip latency of about 9 ms, as I recall. That’s really not the best situation…but I used that system for years at Fats, and nobody every complained about it. Mostly, they raved about how great the shows there sounded, both on and off the deck.

My new, non-homebrew rig has a stated latency of about 1 ms. Nobody’s complaining about that either. Latency is a convenient audio boogeyman that gets blamed for all kinds of problems that seem vague or unexplained. It really isn’t as huge a factor as it’s made out to be, and it certainly does not account for all the ills that some folks love to attribute to digital.

“We had a mid level digital board that when pushed just broke up and sounded terrible. We had to boost the processing on the amplifiers and run the mixer as low as possible.
It sounds like the guy writing this article is new to sound and maybe has not used pro equipment!”

If you’re “pushing” any console, analog or digital, in order to drive the PA to full power, your system gain structure is wrong. It’s especially wrong if you’re pushing the console into clip. On the dBFS scale, the region around -20 is the equivalent of “nominal” level on an analog console.

Digital systems, as a rule, do sound horrible when clipped. So, don’t clip them. It’s really not hard to get yourself into the mindset.

I know this stuff because I’m NOT new to audio. I know this stuff because I’ve had hands-on time with consoles that cost everywhere from $50 – tens upon tens of thousands when they were new. I’ve never been bothered by the sound of any of them. I’ve never had a religious experience because of the sound of any of them either. It’s because I’ve used real equipment on real shows (gigs that play to a couple-hundred patrons are VERY real, by the way), and have had to make real purchasing decisions with real money – that is, my own money – that I’ve come to my conclusions.

A case in point is a story that I’ve told several times, in several forms. My schooling was when I had my major, hands-on experience with spendy, large-frame analog desks. Next to the big, premiere, “A Room” was the new “D Room” with a pair of Tascam digital consoles. The two Tascams together were about $6000. The A Room SSL was the high-rent behemoth. Material in both rooms sounded plenty nice. The consoles in the D Room, though, did nearly everything that the SSL could do. They did it more easily, and faster, and for maybe 10% of the cost (if the percentage was even that high).

In real life, convenience, features, and affordability are vastly more important to a console than “It seems to sound super nice under certain circumstances which may not really be the direct result of its technology base.”

“I could make a very good mix on the analogue board in a large venue where not as much fine tuning and adjustment is necessary as you’re not battling stage spill and close proximity to PA as much…The analogue does sound warmer, the mix sounded slightly fuller and for just an acoustic act or a simple band I can still make a mix sound awesome!

Once again – the factors being described here as making a huge difference have nothing to do with the console’s technology base. They are environmental and circumstantial, which hold vastly more sway over the sound of the show.

Also: If you didn’t do exactly the same mix, at exactly the same SPL, of exactly the same band, in exactly the same room, with exactly the same audience, you can’t seriously claim that the analog console was the primary reason it sounded “better.”

“Simple fact– you cannot digitize EVERY bit of sound.”

Simple fact: Yes, you can, and we have been for a long time. Even 44.1 kHz systems reliably capture the entire audible spectrum, and 24-bit converters have dynamic range that (to my knowledge) continues to outperform the analog input stages they are necessarily mated to.

“But it’s better to teach in analog, it requires you actually to listen not just look at a screen.”

Consoles had labeling and useful meters, and signal analysis devices did exist before digital audio was “a thing.” Besides, “listening only” can trick you. Combining your ears and your eyes – and making sure they agree – is a powerful tool for doing better work as an audio human.

“Sacrificing quality for convenience is all it is. If analog is so bad, why are there so many Midas consoles on the road still? Hell, Bonnie Raitt was out with a Gamble console. She sounded better then any digital board could get her to sound.”

No, actually, it’s choosing to have quality, convenience, and features at a great price-point over getting quirks at high expense.

And I’m not saying that analog is bad. I’m saying that it’s not better. There’s a difference.

There are a billion Midas desks on the road because they ARE good consoles. They are consoles that people know how to use, and associate with good sound. I never said they weren’t. I’m also saying that the cost of obtaining, maintaining, and transporting them is hard to justify – unless you’re a touring company or rental house, of course, and everybody who calls you wants one.

And I will close by saying that Bonnie Raitt is a master performer with a killer group of musicians at her side. That matters far more than the console ever could, and I don’t see any way to practically back up the (“handwaved” at best) assertion that her performances would sound any less than brilliant through a digital desk.

No, Analog Isn’t Better

Analog gear does look cool, though.

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.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

Although the fight isn’t nearly so pitched as it once was, some folks might still ask: “Is analog better than digital?”

Analog audio gear does indeed have one major advantage over its number-crunching counterparts. Especially with the right lighting, it often looks a lot cooler on Instagram. Other than that, I’ll take digital over analog any day of the week, and twice on Sunday.

Everyone’s got their own opinion, of course, and I can respect that. I believe that I can back mine up pretty convincingly.

“Back in the day,” you could make a case that analog sounded better. I maintain that this was because both analog and digital grunged up signals to about the same degree, but that digital grunge is generally perceived as being less pleasing. We’re in the 21st Century now, though, and those problems were fixed a good while back. Today’s digital is clear, hyper-accurate, and pristine, even with all manner of gain-changes piled on and low-level signals being passed. Along with that, digital gear is compact, lightweight, flexible, cheap, and feature rich.

Analog, on the other hand, is large, heavy, inflexible, expensive, and feature-limited. It also does not sound “better.”

What do I mean?

Let’s take the example of a modern, digital console, like an X32 Core. Such a console is the ultimate expression of digital’s strengths:

First of all, the setup is tiny. With six rack-spaces handy, you can have 32 X 16 I/O, plus a separate console for FOH and monitor world. Of course, the system has no control surface, so you’ll need a laptop or tablet to act as a “steering wheel.” Even so, the whole shebang could fit in the trunk of a small car. A similar analog setup would necessitate a good-sized SUV, truck, or van for transport.

This also factors into the lightweight aspect. I don’t know exactly how much the above system weighs, but I know it’s a LOT less than two, 32 input analog boards. Even with no other accoutrements, the old-school solution will put you into the 80-pound range at a minimum. Add in a traditional multicore and stagebox splitters, and…well…it’s a lot to carry.

The flexibility argument comes next. Although everything has a design limit, gear that runs on code can have updates applied easily. As long as any new functionality falls within what the hardware and basic software platform can manage, that new functionality can be added – through a simple software update – for as long as the manufacturer cares to work on the system. Front-end control is just as malleable, if not more. If it turns out that the software portion of the interface could do things better, an update gets written and that’s that. Equipment that operates on physical circuits either has no path for similar changes, or if it does, accomplishing the changes is a task that’s profoundly difficult in comparison.

Cost and feature-set dovetail into one another. At the very bare minimum, you can purchase the mixers for a dual-console analog system for about $2800. That’s not too bad in the grand scheme of things, until you realize that a similar investment in the digital world can also get you the stagebox and snake. Also, the digital system will have tons of processing muscle that the analog setup won’t be able to touch. Twelve monitor mixes, fully-configurable channel-per-channel dynamics, four-band parametric EQ, a sweepable filter, EQ and dynamics on every output, plus eight additional processing units? Good luck finding that in an integrated analog package. Such a thing doesn’t even exist as far as I know, and anything even remotely comparable won’t be found for less than tens of thousands of dollars.

So, what about my last point? That analog doesn’t actually sound better?

It doesn’t. No, really. It may sound different. You may like that it sounds different. I can’t argue with personal taste. The reality, though, is that the different sound (especially “warmth” or “fatness” or “depth”) is the product of the gear not passing a clean signal. Maybe the circuitry imparts a nice, low-frequency bump somewhere. Maybe it rolls off in the highs. Maybe there’s just a touch of even-harmonic distortion that creeps in at your preferred gain structure. That’s nifty, but in any objective sense it’s either a circuit that’s inflexibly pre-equalized or is forgiving when being run hard. That may be what some people want, but it’s not what I want, and I’m not going to label it as “better” when a pleasing result is precipitated by a design limitation. (Or only appears when the gain is set just-so.)

Analog isn’t dead, and it isn’t going to die. Our digital systems require well-designed analog stages on the input and output sides to function in real life. At the same time, there are good reasons to make as much of the signal chain digital as is possible. Digital sounds great, and holds too many practical advantages for it to lose out in an objective comparison.

A Proven Methodology For Winning At Thermonuclear War

You may know the answer already, but you might prefer not to admit it to yourself.

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.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

The cultural apex that was the 1980s taught us the answer to this one. The only winning move in Global Thermonuclear War is not to play. Sadly, in the world of audio and music, people play Global Thermonuclear War all the time.

What I mean by this is quite simple: People will throw vast amounts of money and time at all manner of problems and conflicts, hoping to solve them through technological means. This is, of course, encouraged by the equipment manufacturing and vending industry, which makes quite a bit of scratch on the premise that “there is something you can buy to fix this.”

And, you know, they are actually right. They are right in the sense that pretty much any sonic issue you can imagine is fixable if you have unlimited resources. I’ve said this to people on multiple occasions myself. “We can absolutely fix this.” Of course, I then follow up with: “How much time and money do ya got?” I can absolutely, positively, make your giant echo-chamber of a gym sound like a control room in Abbey Road studios. That is totally possible. I’ll need a starting budget of $100,000 for acoustical treatment and install labor, plus six weeks to get the task accomplished.

Oh, you were thinking of going down to that place that’s a “center” of guitars and plonking $200 down on some doodads? Yeah, that’s not really going to do it for you…

Recently, I was discussing a particularly difficult situation with a fellow, local-music human. A venue is constantly in trouble with its in-building neighbors for being too loud. The stage has been torn open and deadened. The absolute minimum necessary signal is run through the PA. Drumkits are not miced at all. Are the neighbors still pissed? Yup. What’s pissing them off? The drums of course. So, the inevitable question was asked – does the place need to get a drumshield, or a ton of acoustical foam for the walls?

Well, neither of those things is likely to work. I have a very strong hunch that the drumshield would help a little, by reducing some of the sound traveling through the air to the walls and ceiling. Even so, the shield won’t do anything at all to stop mechanical transmission from the stage to the building structure (which is what I think is the real killer), nor will it provide what I imagine the disgruntled co-tenants actually want: A 20 – 30 dB drop in level. By the same token, a big spend on in-room treatment will make the venue’s space dead, but won’t do squat when it comes to stopping the walls from moving due to low-frequency material and physical impact.

Isn’t there a technological fix? Of course there is! The establishment can close for a couple of months while everything is ripped out, and a soundproof chamber is built inside the existing shell. The ceiling and walls could be completely decoupled, and the floor could be floated. The whole shebang would be built of cinderblock filled with concrete. At last, the other folks would have peace and quiet, even if someone threw a death-metal show into the mix.

Possible? Yes. Plausible for any reasonable investment? Not a snowball’s chance.

As such, my answer to the query was, “Don’t book rock bands in there anymore.” The fight isn’t worth fighting, because more and more time and money is being thrown at a conundrum that isn’t getting solved. Irritated neighbors don’t award points for effort. The goings-on is a slugging match, a contest of wills between groups that want fundamentally different and incompatible things. To give the other guys what they want while getting the music side what it wants just isn’t practical in real life. Live-music can still happen in that space, but it needs to start out quiet instead of being turned into quiet “ex post facto.”

As such, the way to win the game is to stop playing. Gordian knots aren’t untied – they are cut.

The Great, Quantitative, Live-Mic Shootout

A tool to help figure out what (inexpensive) mic to buy.

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.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

See that link up there in the header?

It takes you to The Great, Quantitative, Live-Mic Shootout, just like this link does. (Courtesy of the Department of Redundancy Department.)

And that’s a big deal, because I’ve been thinking and dreaming about doing that very research project for the past four years. Yup! The Small Venue Survivalist is four years old now. Thanks to my Patreon supporters, past and present, for helping to make this idea a reality.

I invite you to go over and take a look.

The Grand Experiment

A plan for an objective comparison of the SM58 to various other “live sound” microphones.

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.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

Purpose And Explanation

Ever since The Small Venue Survivalist became a reality, I have wanted to do a big experiment. I’ve been itching to round up a bunch of microphones that can be purchased for either below, or slightly above the price point of the SM58, and then to objectively compare them to an SM58. (The Shure SM58 continues to be an industry standard microphone that is recognized and accepted everywhere as a sound-reinforcement tool.)

The key word above is “objectively.” Finding subjective microphone comparisons isn’t too hard. Sweetwater just put together (in 2017) a massive studio-mic shootout, and it was subjective. That is, the measurement data is audio files that you must listen to. This isn’t a bad thing, and it makes sense for studio mics – what matters most is how the mic sounds to you. Listening tests are everywhere, and they have their place.

In live audio, though, the mic’s sound is only one factor amongst many important variables. Further, these variables can be quantified. Resistance to mechanically-induced noise can be expressed as a decibel number. So can resistance to wind noise. So can feedback rejection. Knowing how different transducers stack up to one another is critical for making good purchasing decisions, and yet this kind of quantitative information just doesn’t seem to be available.

So, it seems that some attempt at compiling such measurements might be helpful.

Planned Experimental Procedure

Measure Proximity Effect

1) Generate a 100Hz tone through a loudspeaker at a repeatable SPL.

2) Place the microphone such that it is pointed directly at the center of the driver producing the tone. The front of the grill should be 6 inches from the loudspeaker baffle.

3) Establish an input level from the microphone, and note the value.

4) Without changing the orientation of the microphone relative to the driver, move the microphone to a point where the front of the grill is 1 inch from the loudspeaker baffle.

5) Note the difference in the input level, relative to the level obtained in step 3.

Assumptions: Microphones with greater resistance to proximity effect will exhibit a smaller level differential. Greater proximity effect resistance is considered desirable.

Establish “Equivalent Gain” For Further Testing

1) Place a monitor loudspeaker on the floor, and position the microphone on a tripod stand. The stand leg nearest the monitor should be at a repeatable distance, at least 1 foot from the monitor enclosure.

2) Set the height of the microphone stand to a repeatable position that would be appropriate for an average-height performer.

3) Changing the height of the microphone as little as possible, point the microphone directly at the center of the monitor.

4) Generate pink-noise through the monitor at a repeatable SPL.

5) Using a meter capable of RMS averaging, establish a -40 dBFS RMS input level.

Measure Mechanical Noise Susceptibility

1) Set the microphone such that it is parallel to the floor.

2) Directly above the point where the microphone grill meets the body, hold a solid, semi-rigid object (like an eraser, or small rubber ball) at a repeatable distance at least 1 inch over the mic.

3) Allow the object to fall and strike the microphone.

4) Note the peak input level created by the strike.

Assumptions: Microphones with greater resistance to mechanically induced noise will exhibit a lower input level. Greater resistance to mechanically induced noise is considered desirable.

Measure Wind Noise Susceptibility

1) Position the microphone on the stand such that it is parallel to the floor.

2) Place a small fan (or other source of airflow which has repeatable windspeed and air displacement volume) 6 inches from the mic’s grill.

3) Activate the fan for 10 seconds. Note the peak input level created.

Assumptions: Microphones with greater resistance to wind noise will exhibit a lower input level. Greater resistance to wind noise is considered desirable.

Measure Feedback Resistance

1) Set the microphone in a working position. For cardioid mics, the rear of the microphone should be pointed directly at the monitor. For supercardioid and hypercardioid mics, the the microphone should be parallel with the floor.

2a) SM58 ONLY: Set a send level to the monitor that is just below noticeable ringing/ feedback.

2b) Use the send level determined in 2a to create loop-gain for the microphone.

3) Set a delay of 1000ms to the monitor.

4) Begin a recording of the mic’s output.

5) Generate a 500ms burst of pink-noise through the monitor. Allow the delayed feedback loop to sound several times.

6) Stop the recording, and make note of the peak level of the first repeat of the loop.

Assumptions: Microphones with greater feedback resistance will exhibit a lower input level on the first repeat. Greater feedback resistance is considered desirable.

Measure Cupping Resistance

1) Mute the send from the microphone to the monitor.

2) Obtain a frequency magnitude measurement of the microphone in the working position, using the monitor as the test audio source.

3) Place a hand around as much of the mic’s windscreen as is possible.

4) Re-run the frequency magnitude measurement.

5) On the “cupped” measurement, note the difference between the highest response peak, and that frequency’s level on the normal measurement.

Assumptions: Microphones with greater cupping resistance will exhibit a smaller level differential between the highest peak of the cupped response and that frequency’s magnitude on the normal trace. Greater cupping resistance is considered desirable.

Actually, Your Equipment Is Probably Fine

Working as a team is more important than most anything.

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.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

This is from another article that I wrote for Schwilly Family Musicians: “What they had failed to do was to play as a team, and that made their perfectly adequate gear SEEM like a problem area.”

Read the whole thing for free, here.

Console Envy

When it comes to sound quality, any console capable of doing the show will probably be fine.

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.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

The Video

The Summary

Which console sounds best? The one with the features you need. If an inexpensive mixer has all the necessary features for your shows, spending more doesn’t have much of a point.

Baskets, Bees, and Flies

Quality generally beats quantity.

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.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

Sometimes, more IS more. It doesn’t matter how nice your mic cables are if you don’t have enough of them. If the show absolutely requires 24 channels, and you have a console with 16 really amazing channels…well, you’re still short by eight.

Yet, there are still plenty of instances where “a handful of bees is better than a basket of flies” (as Moroccans might say).

For instance, some folks are really hung up on the idea that a “main” PA speaker should be built around a 15″-diameter low-frequency driver. The idea is that bigger is better, but that’s not always so. Given a choice, I’ll take a good box built around a 12″ cone over a mediocre offering constructed around a 15. A well-designed 12 can be kinder to the vocals, because the cone driver is better at “playing” higher and covering the range that a small horn-driver can’t quite reach down into. Sure, the 12 probably won’t go as low, but if you want to be “loud” below 100 Hz you’re going to want subwoofers anyway. (For the record, I would never turn my nose up at a perfectly decent box that used a 15 or two.)

Also talking about speakers, there are people who believe a PA with more boxes is superior to a rig with fewer. The problem is that you have to take deployment into account. If you already have the necessary horizontal and vertical coverage happening, more boxes just act to cause more interference problems. The system looks cool because it’s bigger, and it gets louder because there are more boxes, but it doesn’t actually sound better. It might even sound terrible with all that comb-filtering going on. Coverage is sort of like what The Mad Hatter said to Alice: “When you get to the end, stop.”

This applies to bands too, especially when it comes to vocalists. One really brilliant singer with one mic is almost always light-years better than a whole group of vocalists of questionable quality. Beyond the basic aesthetics, not-so-hot singers tend to require a lot more gain to be heard (because they usually haven’t developed much vocal power), and that can easily lead to a system being run on the knife-edge of feedback all night.

…and speaking of people, how about crew-members? Any day of the week, and twice on Sunday, I’ll gladly take one knowledgeable, pleasant, and punctual helper over 15 punters who are late, surly, and have no idea what’s going on.

Tossing more and more junk at a problem rarely fixes the problem. You might eventually smother your issue or manage to distract from it, but the bugbear is still sitting beneath the pile. Applying a sufficient fix, on the other hand, works very reliably. There are times when you need “more.” There’s no getting around that. However, it’s important to avoid using “more” as a substitute for having what will actually do the job effectively.

Single-Ended Measurement

I really prefer it over minutes on-end of loud pink-noise.

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.

single-ended-measurementWant to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

Today, I helped teach a live-sound class at Broadview Entertainment Arts University. We put a stage together, ran power, and set both Front Of House (FOH) and monitor-world loudspeakers. To cap-off the day, I decided to show the students a bit about measuring and tuning the boxes that we had just finished squaring away.

The software we used was Room EQ Wizard.

The more I use “REW,” the more I like the way it works. Its particular mode of operation isn’t exactly industry-standard, but I do have a tendency to ignore the trends when they aren’t really helpful or interesting to me. Rather than continually blasting pink-noise (statistically uncorrelated audio signals with equal energy per octave from 20 Hz to 20 kHz) into a room for several minutes while you tweak your EQ, Room EQ Wizard plays a predetermined sine-sweep. It then shows you a graph, you make your tweaks based on the graph, you re-measure, and iterate as many times as needed.

I prefer this workflow for more than one reason.

Single Ended Measurements Are Harder To Screw Up

The industry-standard method for measuring and tuning loudspeakers is that of the dual-FFT. If you’ve used or heard of SysTune or SMAART, among others, those are dual-FFT systems. You run an essentially arbitrary signal through your rig, with that signal not necessarily being “known” ahead of time. That signal has to be captured at two points:

1) Before it enters the signal chain you actually want to test.

2) After it exits the signal chain in question.

And, of course, you have to compensate for any propagation delay between those two points. Otherwise, your measurement will get contaminated with statistical “noise,” and become harder to read in a useful way – especially if phase matters to you. Averaging does help with this, to be fair, and I do average my “REW” curves to make them easier to parse. Anybody who has taken and examined a measurement trace in a real room knows that unsmoothed results look pretty terrifying.

In any event, dual-FFT measurements tend to be more difficult to set up and run effectively. On top of how easy it is to screw up ANY measurement, whether by measuring the wrong thing, forgetting an upstream EQ, or putting the mic in a terrible spot, you have the added hassles of getting your two measurement points routed and delay-compensated.

Over the years, dual-FFT packages have gotten much better at guiding users through the process, internally looping back the reference signal, and automatically picking compensation delay times. Even so, automating a complicated process doesn’t make the process less complicated. It just shields you from the complexity for as long as the automation can help you. (I’m not bagging on SMAART and SysTune here. They’re good bits of software that plenty of folks use successfully. I’m just pointing some things out.)

Single Ended, “Sweep” Measurements Can Be Quieter (And Less Annoying)

Another issue with measurements involving broadband signals is that they have greater susceptibility to in-room noise. As a whole, the noise may be quite loud. However, any given frequency can’t be running very “hot,” as the entire signal has to make it cleanly through the signal path. As such, noise in the room easily contaminates the test at the frequencies contained within that noise, unless you run the test signal loudly enough. With a single-ended, sine-sweep measurement, the instant that the measurement tone is at a certain frequency, the entire system output is dedicated to that frequency alone. As such, if you have in-room noise of 50 dB SPL at 1 kHz, running your measurement signal at 70 dB SPL should completely blow past the noise – while remaining comfortable to hear. With broadband noise, the measurement signal in the same situation might have to be 90 dB SPL.

Please note that single-ended measurements of broadband signals DO exist, and they have similar problems with noise as compared to broadband-noise, dual-FFT solutions.

The other nice thing about “sweep” measurements is that everybody gets a break from the noise. For 10 seconds or so, a rising tone sounds through the system, and then it stops. This is a stark contrast to minutes of “KSSSSSHHHHHH” that otherwise have to be endured.

Quality, Single Ended Measurement Software Can Be Cheaper

A person could conceivably design and build single-ended measurement software, and then sell it for a large amount of money. A person could also create dual-FFT software and give it away for free (Visual Analyzer is a good example).

However, on average, it seems that when it comes time to bring “easy to use” and “affordable” together, single-ended is where you’ll have to look. I really like Visual Analyzer, but you really, really have to know what you’re doing to use it effectively. SMAART and SysTune are user-friendly while also being incredibly powerful, but cost $700 – $1000 to acquire.

Room EQ Wizard is friendly (at least to me), and free. It’s hard to beat free when it’s also good.

I want to be careful to say (again) that I’m not trying to get people away from the highly-developed and widely accepted toolsets available in dual-FFT measurement packages. What I’m trying to say is that “dual-FFT with broadband noise in pseudo-realtime” isn’t the only way to measure and tune a sound system. There are other options that are easier to get into, and you can always step up later.

How To Buy A Microphone For Live Performance

A guest-post for Schwilly Family Musicians

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.


From the article: “At the same time, though, a LOT of mics that are great for recording are a giant ball of trouble for live audio. Sure, they sound perfect when you’re in a vocal booth with headphones on, but that’s at least one whole universe removed from the brutal world of concert sound. They’re too fragile, too finicky, too heavy, their pickup patterns are too wide, and you can’t get close enough to them to leverage your vocal power.”

The whole thing is available for free, so go ahead and take a gander.