Compelling Vocal Quality: Assembling A Compact Road Package For Take 6

Inside the sound for "the baddest vocal cats on the planet"

By Kevin McPherson November 15, 2013

Take 6 performing on the current tour with mixing done via a Roland Systems Group M-200i.

Over the course of 25 years, Take 6 has garnered more than its share of awards, including a whopping 10 Grammys, while earning the respect and praise of musical icons ranging from Stevie Wonder to Brian Wilson. Legendary producer Quincy Jones famously referred to the 6-member a cappella group as “the baddest vocal cats on the planet.”

Despite the longevity and accolades, Alvin Chea, Khristian Dentley, Joey Kibble, Mark Kibble, Claude V. McKnight III and David Thomas are still hard at it, recently taking their swinging, harmony-rich sound on the road for a world tour.

When I spoke with the group’s mix engineer and production manager, Tony Huerta, he was in Mackay, Australia, waiting to depart on a journey to the Molde International Jazz Festival in Norway – a 40-plus-hour trip with stops in Brisbane, Bangkok, Istanbul and Oslo along the way.

Denver-based Huerta has seen the world over and again in his seven years with Take 6, but he’s never covered as much of it in such a short span of time. He likes to travel light when it comes to audio production; that said, because the current tour is celebrating the group’s 25th anniversary, he’s hauling more gear than usual.

Typically, local providers have supplied wireless microphone systems and the console (he handles both front of house and monitor mixes), but this time out he’s carrying a Roland M-200i digital console and a 48-track Roland R-1000 digital recorder/player, as well as Shure ULX-D digital wireless systems and Shure PSM900 personal monitoring systems.

Engineer Tony Huerta pre-show with the Roland M-200i.

The M-200i is the first console with enough capability to meet the group’s needs that isn’t cost-prohibitive to carry, weighing in at about 20 pounds. “I was doing research for another client who wanted a smaller-format mixer and the M-200i came up,” he notes. “I checked it out at the 2013 NAMM show, and Roland let us use the console for a show while we were there. It had everything that we needed in terms of outputs, and we found that the preamps sound great.”

The 24-input by 12-output M-200i (which also includes an AES/EBU stereo digital output) can be controlled with or without an iPad loaded with the console’s remote app. Huerta actually uses two iPads – one for the console and another that lets the group tweak its in-ear mixes on stage, wirelessly linked to the console via a dedicated WiFi dongle.

Methods Of Capture
A Take 6 concert presents a blend of singing and “vocal drums,” with occasional piano accompaniment. Chea’s bass vocal is always captured with a Shure Beta 58 capsule, and these capsules are also the choice on songs when Dentley and the Kibble brothers are providing vocal drums. In straight-up singing applications, however, they change to transmitters outfitted with Shure KSM9H condenser capsules. “The KSM9H elements sound better for singing, but the 58s handle the low end of the bass voice and vocal drums more effectively,” Huerta explains.

On piano, typically a Steinway Model D grand specified by the band, the choice is two Shure Beta 181/C cardioid small-diaphragm, side-address condensers, one on the right side of the bridge to cover the low strings and the second between the support and bridge on the upper end of the instrument.

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