March 09, 2009, by Jeff MacKay
Launching in late fall 2008 and currently continuing in Europe, Metallica’s World Magnetic world concert tour (in support of the album of the same name) features the band’s long-preferred in-the-round live performance configuration, with more than 200 loudspeakers flown for each arena show.
For more than 20 years, two mainstays on the audio crew have allowed the group to continue to pursue the development of its touring system: Front of House Engineer “Big Mick” Hughes and Monitor Engineer Paul Owen. Sound reinforcement equipment is supplied by Taylor, MI-based Thunder Audio, of which Owen is also Vice President.
“When we finished the last tour, we had the system as best as we could make it,” stated Owen. “Starting out this time, we knew we were going to use Meyer Sound MILO (line arrays) again, so we had Meyer come out and look at the system, working with us to create a system in the round.”
Meyer Sound’s Thomas Mundorf assisted the duo with his self-named TM Array – a new method of flying subwoofers. Pressure was high leading up to the TM Array’s first deployment, but Metallica’s enthusiasm about the resulting sound quality and the artists’ insistence to use the configuration on tour proved that Mundorf’s design was solid, and made the efforts worthwhile.
“We’ve done this show for years with all configurations of PA,” said Owen, “and this is the most even SPL we’ve ever been able to achieve. We’re sold on Mundorf’s design and the 700-HP subwoofers.”
“We’d never had even sub coverage in the round, ever,” adds Hughes. “It’s just the nature of the beast. But the fact that the TM Array puts bass absolutely everywhere is a first for in the round. It’s just fantastic.” (Read more from Thomas Mundorf on TM Array design principles here.)
The main system consists of 8 equally spaced line arrays, each containing 12 Meyer Sound MILO and 4 Meyer Sound MICA self-powered line array loudspeakers. The centrally flown array of subwoofers contains four hangs of 10 Meyer Sound 700-HP loudspeakers.
“We’re pretty excited to get this whole system to work,” said Owen. “We tried this new subwoofer configuration on a couple of European promotional shows with unbelievable results. We’ve never been able to generate as much low frequency at high SPL equally placed throughout the whole arena with any other system we’ve used.”
Owen mixes monitors on a Midas XL4, which he prefers over digital consoles because of the sheer volume of mixes he’s responsible for, which includes 24 Meyer Sound MJF212A stage monitors surrounding the stage, and Sennheiser IEM packs for each of the four band members: James Hetfield (vocals/guitar), Kirk Hammett (guitar), Robert Trujillo (bass) and Lars Ulrich (drums).
“All of our in-ears are from Sennheiser’s 3000 Series, which they don’t make anymore,” added Owen. “I managed to get the last three beltpacks!”
It takes a lot of cabling to support more than 200 flown loudspeakers, so the sound team lightened the requirement by choosing to go with a fiber optic network, with the Fiberplex LightViper system configured as a “drive snake” to provide AES/EBU digital audio signal distribution.
Four Apogee AD-16X (analog to digital) converters feed digital signal to the LightViper system, with four Apogee DA-16X (digital to analog) converters posted before the line arrays as the last component in the chain. The eight Apogee units provide 64 channels of I/O.
“When designing this system we had a criteria set forth for achieving the highest quality in uncompromised audio,” states Thomas Hejnicki, Project Manager for Thunder Audio. “Based upon reputation and experience, we needed to look no further than Apogee for our AD/DA solution. In fact, we tried. With Apogee as our reference; we found no acceptable alternative.”
The fiber system greatly reduced the amount of weight to be transported between gigs, with what was estimated to be 2,000 pounds of copper cable being replaced with 15 pounds of fiber optic cable. It’s also a considerably smaller truck pack.
“I’ve never heard of anyone having a fiber optic cable break, but of course on the second gig, we had one chopped by a security barrier accident,” laughed Big Mick.
System drive is provided by a Meyer Sound Galileo loudspeaker management system with five Galileo 616 processors. The RMS remote monitoring system feeds extensive real-time loudspeaker status and performance data directly to the operator.
A Meyer Sound SIM 3 audio analyzer is used to optimize, calibrate and monitor the performance of the system.
At front of house, Big Mick opted to go digital, selecting a Midas XL8 mixing console. Having worked with Midas on the development of the product, he’s obviously familiar with its benefits and has used it since the product’s debut.
“When we had the cable accident, fortunately with the XL8 we’ve got the X and Y redundant network. We lost the Y network,” he explained, adding that the XL8 has the option of using CAT 5 as a further backup.
Big Mick has been employing Audio-Technica microphones for years, with a variety used on this tour, including ATM350 cardioid clip-on mics for toms and overheads, AE2500 dual-element cardioid instrument mics for guitar cabinets, and wired and wireless versions of AE5400 cardioid condenser handheld mics for vocals.
Additionally, an ATM650 hypercardioid dynamic instrument mic is used on snare and dual AT4050 multi-pattern condenser mics in stereo configuration are on guitar cabinets.
As the tour continued through North America in January, in what was one of the worst kept secrets on the tour, Paul Owen would retire from the road after 22 long years of service. Rumors had been flying that he wouldn’t be completing the tour, and it was a matter of finding an appropriate replacement.
Online reports describe the band bringing Owen on stage for a send-off at their January 13 Detroit, MI show. A fitting tribute - congratulations, Mr. Owen.