I solve this problem by bringing in a QSC DSP-4 digital processor, which I insert and use to set a 9-millisecond delay on the front loudspeakers.
When using a house system to supplement the stage volume, instead of overpowering it, delaying the mains to arrive in time with the band is the way to go, at least in my view.
It helps the PA “disappear” and leaves the impression that the band is making all the noise.
I also set a 21-millisecond delay on the rear loudspeakers. With each of them a different distance from the front, I choose a delay time that splits the difference.
The downside of this is minimal because the improvement is quite dramatic, a huge benefit, and no one notices that the rear fills arrive a few milliseconds apart.
The 2-input by 2-output DSP-4 works out great – there aren’t all that many compact DSP units that can be controlled with a laptop available at a reasonable price point on the used gear market. I also like that it’s small enough to fit in my briefcase and uses standard XLR inputs and outputs. (In fact, I like it so much that I own two.)
A QSC DSP-4 buried is handy for augmenting the capabilities of the system, and it can be addressed with Signal Manager software, shown here in “Mucky Duck configuration”. (click to enlarge)
My most recent trip to the Mucky Duck was to support a performance by Max Stalling, a native Texan with a unique musical style that rolls from two-stepping dance numbers to Spanish-guitar-heavy folk music (à la Marty Robbins), with a few waltzes mixed in.
Max sings and plays the acoustic guitar, and is backed by a three-piece rhythm section comprised of Jason Steinsultz on upright bass, Jeff Howe on drums, and Bryce Clark on lead guitar, switching between mandolin, steel string and gut string acoustics, and electric guitar. Both Jason and Bryce sing harmony, and steel guitar player Hank
Early also sat in for this show, I used the band’s own Shure Beta 58s microphones for vocals, a house-supplied AKG D112 on kick, and Shure SM57s on electric guitar and steel. The upright bass and three acoustics all had band-supplied Radial Tonebone preamps and ran direct.
Just one of my AKG 451e condensers was used for drum overhead, to capture the kit as a whole. Jeff (the drummer) switches between sticks, brushes and even sometimes wrapped mallets. I will heavily compress the overhead (remember, the acoustic drum sound is still dominant in the room) so that the details on the brushes and mallets are not lost. Having at least one drum mic also lets me add reverb to this very dry room.
Max is very particular about his monitor mix. Some engineers take this as being a “prima donna” but I’ve found it to be exactly the opposite. He knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to ask. He can’t state specific frequencies, so there’s a bit of interpretation needed to get his mix the way he wants it, but once he’s comfortable, that’s pretty much that.
The tone that Max wants out from his monitor is not exactly what you want at front of house. He likes things a little dark with plenty of low mids for both his vocal and guitar. Two of the XLR wyes allowed me to split his vocal and acoustic channels so that I was able to give him exactly the tone he wanted in the monitor by using the channel strip EQ. Then I had use of the 15-band graphic for his mix to tame the little bit of feedback that tried to creep in.