For more than 30 years, FOH engineer Steve Colby has ensured a world class acoustical experience with the Boston Pops, not only for the estimated one million people who take in the live shows each year, but also for the musicians who perform a demanding program and schedule.
“The biggest challenge over the years has been to keep up with increasing audience expectations for the sound of an amplified orchestra,” Colby notes. “With the progress of digital delivery to everyone across the board, audiences expect a very high quality and natural sound to an orchestra regardless of the acoustics of the room (arenas, outdoors, etc.) Fortunately the technology of sound reinforcement has continued to improve.”
Pops events often include guest musicians who expect their work will marry well with the orchestra, with James Taylor, Bono, Jewel, Trisha Yearwood and Ricky Skaggs among his favorite guest performers.
Colby was an early adopter of the PZ-DI which was developed by Radial Engineering as an orchestral instrument DI. “It is particularly difficult to get a convincing blend of sound between an acoustic orchestra and amplified soloists,” he explains, “but the PZ-DI is so clean and free of artifacts that the job becomes very straightforward. We dropped the PZ-DI in line to give a good listen on several of our tried and true arrangements and the result was terrific. The PZ-DI presented a dramatic sonic improvement to the pickup of acoustic guitar and bass.”
Colby’s choice also pleased Pops guitarist Jon Finn, who notes, “I’ve been playing guitar with Boston Pops since 1997. Most of the time, my job has been to bring a pop/rock/jazz sensibility to the orchestra. It’s been a challenge to learn the best ways to blend acoustic guitars (while using piezo pickups) with an orchestra. One night Steve (Colby) brought in the Radial PZ-DI and right away we noticed an enormous difference in transparency, delicacy and detail in the acoustic guitar tone. It’s been our ‘go to’ box ever since.”