Tag Archives: Gear

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.


Hitting The Far Seats

A few solutions to the “even coverage” problem, as it relates to distance.

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 article, like the one before it, isn’t really “small venue” in nature. However, I think it’s good to spend time on audio concepts which small-venue folk might still run across. I’m certainly not “big-time,” but I still do the occasional show that involves more people and space. I (like you) really don’t need to get engaged with a detailed discussion regarding an enormous system that I probably won’t ever get my hands on, but the fundamentals of covering the people sitting in the back are still valuable tools.

This article is also very much a follow up to the piece linked above. Via that lens, you can view it as a discussion of what the viable options are for solving the difficulties I ran into.

So…

The way that you get “throw” to the farthest audience members is dependent upon the overall PA deployment strategy you’re using. Deployment strategies are dependent upon the gear in question being appropriate for that strategy, of course; You can’t choose to deploy a bunch of point-source boxes as a line-array and have it work out very well. (Some have tried. Some have thought it was okay. I don’t feel comfortable recommending it.)

Option 1: Single Arrival, “Point Source” Flavor

You can build a tall stack or hang an array with built-in, non-changeable angles, but both cases use the same idea: Any given audience member should really only hear one box (per side) at a time. Getting the kind of directivity necessary for that to be strictly true is quite a challenge at lower frequencies, so the ideal tends to not be reached. Nevertheless, this method remains viable.

I’ve termed this deployment flavor as “single arrival” because all sound essentially originates at the same distance from any given audience member. In other words, all the PA loudspeakers for each “side” are clustered as closely as is practical. The boxes meant to be heard up close are run at a significantly lower level than the boxes meant to cover the far-field. A person standing 50 feet from the stage might be hearing a loudspeaker making 120 dB SPL at 3 feet, whereas the patrons sitting 150 feet away would be hearing a different box – possibly stacked atop the first speaker – making 130 dB SPL at 3 feet. As such, the close-range listener is getting about 96 dB SPL, and the far-field audience member also hears a show at roughly 96 dB SPL.

This solution is relatively simple in some respects, though it requires the capability of “zone” tuning, as well as loudspeakers capable of high-output and high directivity. (You don’t want the up-close audience to get cooked by the loudspeaker that’s making a ton of noise for the long-distance people.)

Option 2: Single Arrival, Line-Array Flavor

As in the point source flavor, you have one array deployed “per side,” with each individual box as close to the other boxes as is achievable. The difference is that an honest-to-goodness line-array is meant to work by the audible combination of multiple loudspeakers. At very close distances, it may be possible to only truly hear a small part of the line, and this does help in keeping the nearby listeners from having their faces ripped off. However, the overall idea is to create a radiation pattern that resembles a section of a cylinder. (Perfect achievement of such a pattern isn’t really feasible.) This is in contrast to point-source systems, where the pattern tends towards a section of a sphere.

As is the case in many areas of life, everything comes down to surface area. A sphere’s surface area is 4*pi*radius^2, whereas the lateral surface area of a cylinder is 2*pi*radius*height. The perceived intensity of sound is the audible radiation spread across the surface area of the radiation geometry. More surface area means less intensity.

To keep the calculations manageable, I’ll have to simplify from sections of shapes to entire shapes. Even so, some comparisons can be made: At a distance of 150 feet, the sound power radiating in a spherical pattern is spread over a surface area of 282,743 square feet. For a 10-foot high cylinder, the surface area is 9424 square feet.

For the sphere, 4 watts of sound power (NOT electrical power!) means that a listener at the 150 foot radius gets a show that’s about 71 dB. For the cylinder, the listener at 100 feet should be getting about 86 dB. At the close-range distance of 50 feet, the cylindrical radiation pattern results in a sound level of 91 dB, whereas a spherical pattern gets 81 dB.

Putting aside for the moment that I’m assuming ideal and mathematically easy conditions, the line-array has a clear advantage in terms of consistency (level difference in the near and far fields) without a lot of work at tuning individual boxes. At the same time, it might not be quite as easily customizable as some point-source configurations, and a real line-source capable of rock-n-roll volume involves a good number of relatively expensive elements. Plus, a real line has to be flown, and with generous trim height as well.

Option 3: Multiple Arrival, Any Flavor

This is otherwise known as “delays.” At some convenient point away from the main PA system, a supplementary PA is set. The signal to that supplementary PA is made to be late, such that the far system aligns pleasingly with the sound from the main system. The hope is that most people will overwhelmingly hear one system over the other.

The point with this solution is to run everything more quietly and more evenly by making sure that no audience member is truly in the deep distance. If each PA only has to cover a distance of 75 feet, then an SPL of 90 dB at that distance requires 118 dB at 3 feet.

The upside to this approach is that the systems don’t have to individually be as powerful, nor do they strictly need to have high-directivity (although it’s quite helpful in keeping the two PA systems separate for the listeners behind the delays). The downside is that it requires more space and more rigging – whether actual rigging or just loudspeakers raised on poles, stacks, or platforms. Additionally, you have to deal with more signal and/ or power runs, possibly in difficult or high-traffic areas. It also requires careful tuning of the delay time to work properly, and even then, being behind or to the side of the delays causes the solution to be invalid. In such a condition where both systems are quite audible, the coherence of the reproduced audio suffers tremendously.


If I end up trying the Gallivan show again, I think I’ll go with delays. I don’t have the logistical resources to handle big, high-output point-source boxes or a real array. I can, on the other hand, find a way to boxes up on sticks with delay applied. I can’t say that I’m happy about the potential coherence issues, but everything in audio is a compromise in some way.


How Could 10 Watts Be Too Loud?

We think audiences want volume, but I’m not sure that’s really true.

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.

I’m not just hammering on players here. The context for this is very much “pro-sound.”

I used to have this regular gig that I loved dearly. Fats Grill is now a hole in the ground, but just a couple of years ago we had live-music every weekend. The PA in the downstairs venue was anything but huge, and yet it was very, very adequate for the space. The mid-highs were mated to an amplifier capable of putting 1000-watt peaks into each box. That works out to a theoretical 127 dB SPL peak for each enclosure – if only at close range (1 meter).

If you were in the middle of the room, you were about 4 meters (or 13-ish feet) away. We’ll say that makes for a practical peak of 115 dB SPL per mid-high, although the room being tightly enclosed would make the real number around 118. Put the two boxes together, and you had a system that could deliver a 121 dB peak in the midrange, plus whatever the subs could do.

Now then.

In pro-audio terms, a 121 dB peak isn’t considered “really loud.” It’s especially not considered loud when you realize that the continuous level, or what humans hear readily, was about 10 dB below that.

But here’s the thing: My experience suggests to me strongly that most folks don’t really want their live-music as loud as “music people” might think. Even for those that love their Rock and/ or Roll, 111 dB continuous can be considered bombardment. This is especially true for the 100 Hz – 15 kHz range. (Subwoofer material is far more easily tolerated, generally speaking.)

At Fats, I very regularly had the system limited so that the top boxes hit a brick wall at their amplifier’s -10 dB point. That’s a peak output of 111 dB in the middle of the audience area, with only about 101 dB of continuous level. That still felt loud for some people. It felt loud for me at times. I wore my earplugs religiously.

To be fair, the PA wasn’t the only thing making noise in the room. The monitor rig and the band’s instrumentation could easily give the total acoustical output a shove that got you into the upper reaches of the 100 dB decade. But even so, you have to realize that 101 dB of continuous system output at room-center resulted from only about 10 watts of continuous input. Remember that I said the limiter for FOH stopped the peaks at 10 dB down. So, that 1000-peak-watt amp was now really only 100 watts maximum, with the continuous power available being 10 dB down from that.

What I’m NOT saying here is that we should all downsize our audio rigs to run on hamster wheels. Headroom (holistic headroom, that is) continues to be a very good idea. There are situations where very large peak-to-continuous ratios have to be handled. What I am saying on balance, though, is that dumping a ton of resources into system capacity that’s actually excess isn’t something I can advise. I just can’t escape this ever-building perception that what a good number of live-music audiences really want are balanced mixes which stay well under an A-weighted level of 100 dB SPL continuous. Add the subwoofer information and you might get to 100 dB or more on another weighting, but that’s a different story.

(And, of course, we have to do what we have to do. Keeping up with a band that’s running hot is a necessity. There were plenty of Fats gigs where I started opening the limiters a little. There was one night where I had to adjust my threshold up to the point where the main amp would show clipping – and then drive hard into that limiting point.)

But there are plenty of gigs that aren’t a slugging match. In those cases, 10 watts of continuous input power might be all that’s actually used. Maybe even less than that. Ten watts can be “too loud” sometimes. I’ve gotten complained at during acoustic shows that people could easily talk over, for goodness sake. I did a few nights at a place with a very nice install that you could barely use in any meaningful way; You would just start pushing some clarity past the monitor wash, and somebody would comment that the music was too loud.

A lot of us aspire to “the big rig,” and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that on the surface. I simply urge caution. A huge system can be hard to get people to pay for, requires a lot of logistical work, and may be a tremendous amount of excess capacity that never gets leveraged.


The Number The Knob’s Pointing Toward Doesn’t Matter

A “Schwilly” article on how too loud is too loud, no matter what number the amp is set to.

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.

“If the amplifier doesn’t sound good until most people think it’s too loud to sound good, then the amplifier doesn’t actually sound good.”


Read the whole thing here!


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.


Up In The Air

A good rigger is an important person.

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 one of those topics that’s a little outside of a small-venue context.

But it’s still good to talk about.

I recently had the opportunity to work on a “big-rig” show. What I mean by that is we had six JBL SRX subwoofers deployed, along with two hangs (four boxes each) of JBL VRX. For some folks, that’s not a huge system, but for me it’s pretty darn large. Going in, I was excited to be on the crew for the event – and also a bit apprehensive. I had never before had any “hands-on” experience with rigging and flying a PA system.

As it turned out, my anxiety was misplaced. When you finally get up close and personal with a box like VRX, you realize that the box-to-box flyware is really easy to understand and operate. Constant-curvature arrays are hard to get wrong in and of themselves. You would basically have to actively attempt to screw up the hang in order to run into a problem. The boxes have a built-in angle, so you don’t have to think about much other than lining a couple of ’em up, flipping the connection flanges into place, and inserting the fly pins.

Another reason my anxiety was misplaced was twofold:

1) We had a good rigger on hand.

2) Everybody implicitly agreed that the rigger was the “lead dog.”

What I mean by point two is that I consider there to be exactly one proper attitude towards an honest-to-goodness, card-carrying rigger. That attitude is that you listen to the rigger, and do EXACTLY as the rigger tells you.

I don’t think I can stress that enough.

An actual rigger is somebody who can safely hang very heavy things above people’s heads, and has the maturity to do it the right way (with no tolerance for shortcuts or other horse-dip). They realize that getting a hang wrong may be a very efficient way to end people’s lives. They distinguish between “reasonably safe” and “truly safe,” and will not allow anyone to settle for the former.

As such, their word is law.

I DO think that safe rigging is within the mental capacity of the average human. However, I also think that there are numerous particulars of equipment and technique which are not immediately intuitive or obvious. I think it’s easy for an un-educated person to hang things the wrong way without realizing it. That’s why, when a rigger shows up in a situation where everybody else is NOT a rigger, the rigger immediately becomes the person in charge. Somebody else may be making executive decisions on what’s wanted for a hang, but the human with the most experience at actually flying things makes the final call on what can be done and how.

(If you ever get into a situation that appears to be the opposite of that, I think you should be concerned.)

Like I said, the case on this show was that everybody was listening to the rigger.

And that meant that everything got up in the air safely, stayed up in the air safely, and came down safely after everything was done.


Entering Flatland

I encourage live-audio humans to spend lots of time listening to studio monitors.

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.

Do you work in live-audio? Are you new to the field? An old hand? Somewhere in between?

I want to encourage you to do something.

I want you to get yourself a pair of basically decent studio monitors. They shouldn’t be huge, or expensive. They just have to be basically flat in terms of their magnitude response. Do NOT add a subwoofer. You don’t need LF drivers bigger than 8″ – anything advertised to play down to about 40 Hz or 50 Hz is probably fine.

I want you to run them as “flat” as possible. I want you to do as much listening with them as possible. Play your favorite music through them. Watch YouTube videos with them passing the audio. When you play computer games, let the monitors make all the noises.

I want you to get used to how they sound.

Oh, and try to tune your car stereo to sound like your studio monitors. If you can only do so coarsely, still do so.

Why?

Because I think it’s very helpful to “calibrate” yourself to un-hyped audio.

A real problem in live music is the tendency to try to make everything “super enhanced.” It’s the idea that loud, deep bass and razor-sharp HF information are the keys to good sound. There’s a problem, though. The extreme ends of the audible spectrum actually aren’t that helpful in concert audio. They are nice to have available, of course. The very best systems can reproduce all (or almost all) of the audible range at high volume, with very low distortion. The issue is over-emphasis. The sacrifice of the absolutely critical midrange – where almost all the musical information actually lives – on the altar of being impressive for 10 seconds.

I’m convinced that part of what drives a tendency to dial up “hyped” audio in a live situation is audio humans listening to similar tonalities when they’re off-duty. They build a recreational system that produces booming bass and slashing treble, yank the midrange down, and get used to that as being “right.” Then, when they’re louderizing noises for a real band in a real room, they try to get the same effect at large scale. This eats power at an incredible rate (especially the low-end), and greatly reduces the ability of the different musical parts to take their appointed place in the mix. If everything gets homogenized into a collection of crispy thuds, the chance of distinctly hearing everything drops like a bag of rocks tied to an even bigger rock that’s been thrown off a cliff made of other rocks.

But it does sound cool!

At first.

A few minutes in, especially at high volume, and the coolness gives way to fatigue.

In my mind, it’s a far better approach to try to get the midrange, or about 100 Hz to 5 kHz, really worked out as well as possible first. Then, you can start thinking about where you are with the four octaves on the top and bottom, and what’s appropriate to do there.

In my opinion, “natural” is actually much more impressive than “impressive,” especially when you don’t have massive reserves of output available. Getting a handle on what’s truly natural is much easier when that kind of sonic experience is what you’ve trained yourself to think of as normal and correct.

So get yourself some studio monitors, and make them your new reference point for what everything is supposed to sound like. I can’t guarantee that it will make you better at mixing bands, but I think there’s a real chance of it.


Unmasking

More and cooler audio toys can fix some things, which causes the things that can’t be fixed to stand out.

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.

From the article:

“There’s a myth about sound-reinforcement gear which can be voiced in many different ways, but usually boils down to this: “This problem will get better when we’re on a big stage, with lots of monitors and a big FOH system for the audience to listen to, all with enough power to melt somebody’s face off.”

You know what I’m going to say, of course. The above is not true.”


Read the whole thing, for free, at Schwilly Family Musicians.


The Unterminated Line

If nothing’s connected and there’s still a lot of noise, you might want to call the repair shop.

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.

“I thought we fixed the noise on the drum-brain inputs?” I mused aloud, as one of the channels in question hummed like hymenoptera in flight. I had come in to help with another rehearsal for the band called SALT, and I was perplexed. We had previously chased down a bit of noise that was due to a ground loop; Getting everything connected to a common earthing conductor seemed to have helped.

Yet here we were, channel two stubbornly buzzing away.

Another change to the power distribution scheme didn’t help.

Then, I disconnected the cables from the drum-brain. Suddenly – the noise continued, unchanged. Curious. I pulled the connections at the mixer side. Abruptly, nothing happened. Or rather, the noise continued to happen. Oh, dear.


When chasing unwanted noise, disconnecting things is one of your most powerful tools. As you move along a signal chain, you can break the connection at successive places. When you open the circuit and the noise stops, you know that the supplier of your spurious signal is upstream of the break.

Disconnecting the cable to the mixer input should have resulted in relative silence. An unterminated line, that is, an input that is NOT connected to upstream electronics, should be very quiet in this day and age. If something unexplained is driving a console input hard enough to show up on an input meter, yanking out the patch should yield a big drop in the visible and audible level. When that didn’t happen, logic dictated an uncomfortable reality:

1) The problem was still audible, and sounded the same.

3) The input meter was unchanged, continuing to show electrical activity.

4) Muting the input stopped the noise.

5) The problem was, therefore, post the signal cable and pre the channel mute.

In a digital console, this strongly indicates that something to do with the analog input has suffered some sort of failure. Maybe the jack’s internals weren’t quite up to spec. Maybe a solder joint was just good enough to make it through Quality Control, but then let go after some time passed.

In any case, we didn’t have a problem we could fix directly. Luckily, we had some spare channels at the other end of the input count, so we moved the drum-brain connections there. The result was a pair of inputs that were free of the annoying hum, which was nice.

But if you looked at the meter for channel two, there it still was: A surprisingly large amount of input on an unterminated line.