Wednesday, April 02, 2014

In The Studio: Techniques For Double Tracking Guitars

Creating a wide stereo spread based on the unique nuances in timing and dynamics...
This article is provided by Audio Geek Zine.

Double tracking is a very common recording/production technique for almost any genre of music.

When it comes to rhythm guitars, this technique is almost a standard method of recording with single tracking used only for solos.

It’s also a technique that is often confusing for beginners. Double tracking simply means recording the same part twice and panning each to opposite sides.

The guitarist plays a section of the song perfectly, then repeats it as closely as possible on a second track. This creates a wide stereo spread based on the unique nuances in timing and dynamics of each performance.

It isn’t the same as recording in stereo, using two microphones, a chorus effect, or duplicating and delaying one side. Some of these techniques are ways of “faking” or producing “automatic” double tracking, but they’re simply no substitute for an expertly performed double track. There must be two separate performances for the effect to work.

How To Double Track Guitars

1) Record mono rhythm guitar, with either a microphone on a real amp or virtual amp. This track would be panned center.

2) When a good take is achieved, and any punch ins are finished, go through the recorded track and tighten up any timing issues.

Here’s how it sounds with the first guitar along with drums. The guitar is in the middle. LISTEN  (Warning - heavy metal!)

3) After editing, pan this guitar (and any extra mics for this performance) to the left.

4) That was perfect, now play it again! Make a new track and pan it right.

5) Repeat steps 1 and 2 using the same guitar, pickup selection, amp, mic and any other variables unchanged. Making a change will increase the stereo width but will often result in an unbalanced tone.

Here’s the same part with the doubled guitars. LISTEN

This repeats for each section of the song and if there are multiple guitar parts written or two guitarists in the band, usually each will be double tracked.

If there are two guitarists in the band, there could be some confusion. Guitarist 1 plays all his parts twice, guitarist 2 plays all his parts twice.

In a simple song this would mean four tracks for the rhythm guitars. Often this gets up to 12 or 16 tracks pretty quickly. Guitar solos are usually right up the middle or “stereoized” with other techniques to make them pop out.

Be careful playing the doubled part; if it’s too far off from the original it will make a unwanted ping-ponging effect especially in headphones.

Quad tracking is exactly the same, but you record each part four times. Each take has to be perfectly in sync or it just sounds like a terrible mess.

Poor Alternatives
So why can’t we just duplicate and delay/shift the recording a little for the same effect? Well, simply because it sounds like crap.

This is what happens when you copy the original mono recording, delay the copy by 20 ms and pan each hard left and right. LISTEN

Similarly, why not use a stereo chorus? LISTEN

It still sounds really bad compared to double tracking. I’m not saying don’t ever use chorus, just don’t use as an alternative to the big wide powerful double track sound.

Jon Tidey is a Producer/Engineer who runs his own studio, EPIC Sounds, and enjoys writing about audio on his blog AudioGeekZine.com.


Posted by Keith Clark on 04/02 at 02:49 PM
RecordingFeatureBlogStudy HallDigital Audio WorkstationsEngineerMixerProcessorStudioPermalink

Church Sound: Setting Input Gain Structure

The keys to an often underrated aspect of proper operation of a system...
This article is provided by ChurchTechArts.

Gain structure is one of those very important, yet highly underrated topics in audio. It’s not nearly as glamorous as EQ, plug-ins or parallel compression, but if your gain structure is whack, no amount of EQ, plug-ins or compression will fix it.

Here I’m going to focus primarily on input channel gain structure (overall system gain structure is another article entirely, but I’ll mention it briefly). The impetus for this article came from a simple question: Is it better to hit the preamps hard then turn down at the main output, or run the mains up around unity and dial back input gain to get the SPL you want out of the system?

As a general rule (there is an exception, which I’ll detail in a minute), I would argue the former is the correct (or at least better) method, and here’s why. Most preamps sound best when you hit them pretty hard (at least up to the point of clipping, which is too hard). By running preamps hard—and by hard I mean around -6 dB full-scale on a digital board, or within 6 dB of clipping on an analog board—you are maximizing signal-to-noise ratio.

And for some reason, they just sound better. Keep in mind, that’s a general rule, your mileage may vary. Now, it’s quite possible that if you dial the input gains up so that all of the preamps are running high, the overall system level will be too high. 

That’s when you would lower your main level to compensate. This method will keep the signal to noise ratio high throughout the mixing chain, and will attenuate the signal at the last possible moment.

Before we get to setting up the gain structure, let me lay out my goals in for the process.

First, I want to maximize S/N ratio, and use up as many of the bits in the analog to digital (A/D) conversion process that I can. Keeping the input level high meets both goals.

Second, I like to mix with my faders around unity. Mixing with faders at unity is another key ingredient to good mixing. The fader resolution is highest right around unity, so it’s easy to make small adjustments.

If you try to mix with your faders at -20, a slight change in fader position might yield a 3-5 dB change rather than the 1-2 dB you actually desire.

Finally, I want to be sending a very solid signal out of the mixer to the processors for the same reasons (only in reverse) as the first point. That’s why proper system gain structure is important.

Next, how I would approach the process.

Gain Setting In A Digital World
For each input channel, I would have the musician play their at their loudest level.

I then dial up the input gain until I’m within about 8-12 dB of full scale (minus 8-12 dB on the meters). I like to leave a little room for the musician to play louder when the lights go up (they always do).

Many digital boards also have a trim (or attenuation) control in addition to the input gain. I use my trim to dial the level back to where it should be in the mix with my faders at unity.

Because I’ve gained my entire system properly, my main fader is sitting at unity as well, and all is right with the world. As I’m using VCAs to manage groups of faders (drums, guitars, keys, background vocals, etc.) and those live at unity as well, at least to start.

All of this ensures that my signal-to-noise ratio is optimized at the A/D stage (just after the mic preamp), and my starting point for my mix is faders at unity.

Now, if you don’t have a digital trim control on your board, there’s a decision to make. You won’t likely be able to run the mic preamps hard without having too much signal at some point, so it’s necessary to dial the level back somewhere.

Digital gain.

Of course, you can always turn the fader down, but then you lose fader resolution. A better alternative would be to use a VCA to keep the fader at unity, though that can get tricky.

Take a drum kit for example: If you optimize the gain on the kick, snare and hat, chances are, the hat will be way too loud in the mix. But more than likely, you’re using a single VCA for the entire drum kit. So now what?

Well, you could break the drums up into zones and use one VCA for each—kick and snare, toms, hi-hat and overheads might work. That way you can pull back the faders at the VCA level (a VCA is really an electronic remote control of the faders), and maintain fader resolution. A similar trick can be done with groups if you have them.

If VCAs are running, break my rule and set the input gain up so that the fader remains around unity for a proper mix. Audio is a lot about compromise, and in this case I’ll give up absolute input S/N to run my faders at unity. I’ve found that to be the wiser trade.

Gain Setting In An Analog World
Really, the process is much the same, though you are much less likely to have a trim control after the gain control.

In that case, the same rules apply as a digital board without a trim knob. You still want to have good input level coming into the channel (for the most part), then turn it down as needed later in the mixing stage.

You also want to keep your faders running around unity. Make the trades where you have to. In either the digital or analog world, what you don’t want to do is underdrive the mic preamps and have to add a lot of gain down the road.

Sure, you can push a fader up for a guitar solo, but you don’t want to regularly run input faders at +8, groups at +10 and main at +5 because the input gain is set too low.

Exception To The Rule
Now, all of this assumes you’re running on a professional grade mixer that has a mix structure designed with proper headroom.

If you’re using an inexpensive mixer, chances are you’ll run out of headroom in the mix bus very quickly. Setting input gains on these mixers the way you should, when all those hot signals hit the mix bus, is not going to be pretty.

Analog gain

The buses quickly saturate and lose all sense of dynamics. In that case, really keep an eye on overall output level and run input gains down accordingly.

This isn’t a dig on cheap mixers—they fulfill a need but you can only expect so much for what you pay for them—it’s just reality.

That’s a quick guide to setting up your gain for an input channel.

As I mentioned earlier, if you go through this whole process only to find that your overall SPL in the house system is either way too loud or way too soft, you have some work to do at the system processor or amplifier level.

But that’s another article entirely…

Mike Sessler is the technical director at Coast Hills Community Church in Aliso Viejo, CA. He has been involved in live production for over 25 years and is the author of the blog Church Tech Arts.


Posted by Keith Clark on 04/02 at 01:32 PM
Church SoundFeatureBlogStudy HallAnalogConsolesDigitalEngineerMixerProcessorSound ReinforcementTechnicianPermalink

Two SSL Duality Consoles Power The Creative Flow At Tape Studios

Two cnsoles are critical to the sonic success at new Edinburgh recording/mixing facility

Two Solid State Logic Duality SE consoles power the creative flow for Tape Studios in Edinburgh, UK, a facility described by alternative record producer/mixer Stephen A. Watkins as “built to boldly go where no studio has gone before.”

The new two-story recording/mixing facility offers an equipment list and acoustics that match top facilities around the world while being able to deliver the creative experience without excessive cost. The Duality consoles are critical to the sonic success.

“We wanted to put together a studio that was completely over-the-top to match my personal recording/mixing style,” says Watkins. “The setup features an all-guns-blazing, maxed out patchbay handling a multitude of ‘who’s who’ analogue outboard gear. Duality was the perfect choice for Tape Studios because it brings all the elements we use together, while still addressing a DAW workflow. Even when I push them to the limits, which I very often do, the consoles sound incredible.”

Officially opened in February 2014, Watkins and partner, Fiona Mcnab, found an old Victorian whiskey bond building and converted it to a world-class facility with design help from Munro Acoustics. Tape Studios was conceived to provide a no-holds-barred creative environment to support a wide range of clients, including the hot new Scottish band BooHooHoo.

“We wanted to build a studio that was filled with the technology everyone dreams about, and that included the two Duality consoles,” Watkins adds. “I had this sound in my head and I knew how to make it. There is absolutely nowhere in the country that could provide the kind of facility at which I could make the records I wanted to make the way I imagined them.

“A genuine forte of mine is blending a little chaos into the banality of today’s beige multi-track recordings,” he continues. “I thrive on dynamic range manipulation by patching in multiple compressors instead of just one. I love envelope tickling and things that surge toward you from deep within the noise floor. A little Scottish swing, if you will, instead of safe boring everyman grid life. Duality provides the sonic foundation that supports my creative efforts.”

The ground floor of Tape Studios houses Studio 1 with the 48-channel Duality driving a Studer A80 24-track analog machine and a Cubase/SSL Alpha-Link rig. Studio 2 features a 96-channel Duality in a unique, custom built “L” shaped configuration. Everything in the facility is connected together so the resources of Studio 2, for example, can be used for tracking in Studio 1. Duality also offers a “wow” factor for clients coming through the doors.

“Our studio is quite new, but the reaction by the creative community thus far has been nothing short of fantastic,” Watkins explains. “Every single time anybody walks into any room at Tape and sees Duality, nothing more needs to be said. When we first started working, Duality became invisible very quickly, delivering exactly the benchmark sound we needed.

“When I began doing my thing, Duality was absolutely HQ. The line amps pushed hard into the channel dynamics post EQ is just heaven. Plus Duality plugs into the wall direct on only a couple of IEC cables. No machine room. No extra cooling. Duality is a no brainer – end of story. So we bought two.”



Solid State Logic


Posted by Keith Clark on 04/02 at 09:08 AM

Monday, March 31, 2014

Church Sound: Worship Leaders On Important Traits Of Sound Operators

Mix skills and system knowledge can be undermined without two other key factors...

According to worship leaders, what are the most important aspects of being a church sound operator?

I’ve been doing an informal survey on this topic, asking worship leaders for their views. 

The answers have been surprising, at least to me. For example, to this point not one of them has mentioned that a sound operator should have musical talent. Nor have they brought up the value of having a critical ear when it comes to music.

Maybe it’s my own biases, but I thought these factors would at least rate a mention.

Here’s another one that hasn’t come up: knowing how to properly operate the equipment and system.

Perhaps the worship leaders I’ve surveyed are assuming that a sound person should already have these skills, and therefore haven’t mentioned them.

Further answers I’ve received in the survey—although they’re not at the top of the list—include the ability to mix well, keep volume under control, and function as “an extension of the worship team.”

Regardless, the number one answer I’ve received? Attentiveness. As in paying attention, or focus.

Number two? Attitude. As in always having a good one.

Now the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak, because it seems—to me—that both attentiveness and attitude should be givens.

If you’re helping with ministry (providing sound in this case), bringing a good attitude should be a no-brainer, and because in some ways the sound operator can “silence” the word of God being preached, you’d better be paying attention!

Yet consider these anecdotes…

One worship leader told me the story of a volunteer sound operator who’s been serving for 18 years, and is a great guy, easy to work with. However, this fellow has a consistent flaw: a soloist can walk out of the choir, go to center stage, stand behind the mic for several seconds, and still, the mic isn’t turned up until the third or fourth word of the solo. That’s definitely an attentiveness problem…

Another leader told me that one of his sound operators is so gruff that the worship team dare not ask him for anything. The result is that on any given Sunday, there might be no vocals in the monitors, or a mic is not provided for a performer, and so on—and yet no one speaks up because they’re afraid of getting their heads bitten off. Talk about an attitude problem…

These two stories reveal even further problems. In the first case, the sound operator should be asked—kindly—if he might not better serve by volunteering his time elsewhere, In the second case, someone with such a nasty disposition should be asked—kindly—to modify his behavior, and if that doesn’t work, he should be asked—kindly—to step down.
Let me sum it up this way. If you’re at a concert and the mix is pleasing, and there’s no feedback or missed cues, you’d likely think (and would be right) that it’s a successful event, at least from a sound reinforcement point of view. But if you’re at a concert and the mix is pleasing, but there are occasional squeals of feedback and some dropped cues, you’d likely be at least somewhat disappointed.

The moral of the story: sound operators should be able to mix musically and operate their equipment/systems competently, but these worship leaders make a very persuasive point: it all can be negated by lack of proper attention and bringing the right attitude to the gig.

Gary Zandstra is a professional AV systems integrator with Parkway Electric and has been involved with sound at churches for more than 30 years.

Posted by Keith Clark on 03/31 at 02:21 PM
Church SoundFeatureBlogStudy HallEngineerMixerSound ReinforcementTechnicianPermalink

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Real World Gear: Large-Format Digital Consoles

Bigger and more capable than ever -- a look at recent design trends and the latest models...

While smaller digital consoles have been getting the lion’s share of attention of late, there’s still a lot going on when it comes to larger models.

In the past month or so alone, Yamaha, Soundcraft and Midas have introduced new larger consoles. Solid State Logic (SSL), long noted for its studio consoles, also recently entered the market with the appropriately named “Live” large-format desk.

Many mix engineers still rely on larger consoles both for reasons of necessity and personal preference. Bigger is indeed usually better when it comes to increased channel counts, capabilities and feature sets, while some users simply prefer to mix on a more expansive surface.

It’s also important to note that “large” is a relative term, particularly when comparing modern digital models to their analog ancestors. For example, the Yamaha CL5 provides 72 mono and 8 stereo channels in a unit less than four feet wide by slightly more than two feet deep, with weight under 75 pounds, and furthered by the tremendous functionality of the digital platform as well as the elimination of a multitude of associated outboard equipment by including gates, compressors, graphics and effects.

Models vary in terms of onboard I/O, while all work with a wide array of stage boxes and racks that deliver a tremendous amount of connectivity while accommodating a growing stable of option cards that expand routing, networking and processing capabilities even further. These outboard boxes and racks can also be distributed to where they’re best suited to meet the needs of a particular production.

An example of this flexibility is found in the Allen & Heath iLive, which puts the DSP and audio in the MixRack, opening up a wide range of control and networking possibilities. An iLive system can be assembled to serve anything from a high-end touring rig controlled by modular surfaces that look and feel much like conventional mixing consoles right through to a compact setup with just a MixRack controlled via a laptop or tablet.

Significant upgrades also come from the software realm, where the simple upload of a new software version can bring new capabilities to existing hardware. For example, Soundcraft recently released version 4.8 software that upgrades the busing system on Vi2, 4 and 6 models for monitoring applications. It allows all 32 mix buses on the consoles to work in stereo mode when required, without stealing any other buses, fostering use for in-ear mixes.

Further, R Remote from Yamaha, a new Windows-based stand-alone app, enables remote control of R Series Rio3224-D, Rio1608-D, and Ri8-D rack unit head amplifiers directly from a computer. And, a live recording system can be created with just R Series I/O racks and a computer running Nuendo Live or similar DAW software.

Note that we’ve been focusing on specific facets and features of digital consoles over the past several months, and will be continuing that approach. This time, we’re instead presenting an overview of each model. Enjoy our Real World Gear Photo Gallery Tour of large-format digital consoles.

Posted by Keith Clark on 03/27 at 10:26 AM
Live SoundFeatureBlogProductSlideshowConsolesDigitalInterconnectMixerProcessorSoftwareSound ReinforcementPermalink

Church Sound: Mixing Like A Pro, Part 7—The Mix Pyramid

Setting priorities for the elements within a music mix...
This article is provided by CCI Solutions.

We’ve spent the previous six articles looking at the various knobs and functions of the typical audio console, trying to de-mystify what often looks like a scary piece of equipment.

I know when many new volunteers see an audio console, they get intimidated. Let’s face it: we’re all intimidated by the unknown.

Now that we’ve covered the functionality and elements of the average console, it’s time to transition our conversation into the actual mix itself.

How Do I Build A Mix?
I’m often asked about building a mix. It seems like such a simple question, but it often has a more complicated answer, as the answer is “it depends.”

It depends on what the band is trying to sound like. It depends on what the lead instrument is. It depends on what final sound the worship leader is trying to get. It does not depend on what kind of musical style I like. The answers to these “it depends” questions will come from your leadership (more on that in a future article).

The basic principle I use to create a good mix is explained below. Once you know what kind of sound to shoot for, you can apply this principle to build the sound your team is after.

Mix Pyramid
Think of your mix as a pyramid. When you come across a true wonder, especially something as big and tall as a pyramid, what’s the first thing you do? Look up!

At the top of the pyramid are the parts you always see. It’s the lead part of the pyramid, typically the first thing you see as you approach it from a distance. It’s also the narrowest part of the pyramid.

As you go down the pyramid it gets bigger and bigger, but it also gets less and less defined. You start to lose the tight definition of the pyramid and see more of the entire shape as a whole.

At the bottom of the pyramid there are critical components, essentially those things that hold the pyramid up and give it its base. You don’t always see the absolute base of the pyramid though, as it may be under the sand.

Applying The Theory
What does this have to do with sound? Well, in a worship mix I believe the top of the pyramid is always the lead vocal. It should always be the first thing you hear, just as the top of the pyramid is the first thing you see as you come near. Work your way down just a little bit and usually you’ll “see” the lead instrument, kick and snare. These need to be well defined in the mix as they carry the tempo and melody of the song.

Now we start getting into the mid section of the pyramid, where we start adding more size and maybe start losing just a little individual definition. The bass guitar, background vocals and the secondary lead instrument usually fit in this range. You’re still going to hear them individually, but when everything is grooving well you may not hear each as clearly defined as the stuff at the top.

As you approach the base of your mix pyramid, you get to a place where you can’t really hear each item all the time individually, but they make up the critical base that holds up the rest of the mix pyramid. Often, these are things like a keyboard pad, orchestration, a choir and 3rd and/or 4th guitars. These items are all just as critical as the top of the pyramid, but their size and depth provide more of a base and a big picture sound rather than individually recognizable instruments.

Keeping The Main Thing The Main Thing
Most every musician and singer wants to be heard. It makes sense and it’s not wrong. In the overall mix of a band though, certain instruments and singers will need to take priority in clarity. Some pieces will always need to be clearly heard while others will make up the critical base that holds it all up.

After all, a pyramid that only has a top won’t be very big, and a pyramid with only a big bottom will have no point. It all needs to work together, each part filling it’s role and place in the pyramid in order to create a wonder of beauty.

Building the Mix
When sound check is done and it’s time to build my mix, I look at my mix pyramid for each song (yes, it may change per song) and begin building from the top down. For my church, it often looks like this:

                                                        Lead Vocal

                                                Kick, Snare, Acoustic

                                          Background Vocals, Electric, Bass

                          Toms, Cymbals, Saxophone, Piano, Violin, Keyboards

What do you notice about this list? Did you see how it even looks like a pyramid? And the more inputs you have, the bigger your pyramid gets.

Ultimately though, if you want your pyramid to have shape and definition, and if your worship mix is to have a point, some items must be at the top. In the next article, we’ll discuss how to determine your mix pyramid and who really is the architect of your pyramid.


Duke DeJong has more than 12 years of experience as a technical artist, trainer and collaborator for ministries. CCI Solutions is a leading source for AV and lighting equipment, also providing system design and contracting as well as acoustic consulting. Find out more here.


Posted by Keith Clark on 03/27 at 05:51 AM
Church SoundFeatureBlogStudy HallConsolesEngineerMixerSignalSound ReinforcementPermalink

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

MVP: The Many Useful Applications Of “Utility” Mixers

From saving the show to providing additional options to enhance a presentation, and much more...

It’s always a good idea to have a spare mixer on hand at every show. Years ago I learned this valuable lesson first hand while freelancing as an A1 for an A/V company. Let’s take a trip in the wayback machine…

We were setting up the sound system for a large general session at a corporate show when I discovered that the house console would not power up. It turned out that the rack housing the power supplies for the console had rolled off the dock and landed hard on its side, disabling both units.

While the production manager frantically made phone calls trying to locate replacement power supplies or another console, I discovered a small mixer in a breakout room that was not being used. We placed this 4 mono/4 stereo input unit on top of the house console and commenced getting the system up and running.

Right away, the CEO wanted to rehearse his speech, so I plugged in the podium microphone and his lavalier. Just then, a guy from “Video World” called me on the comm and asked for a feed so he could test his recorders. With two aux sends available on the mixer, I grabbed an XLR-to-TRS adapter and supplied his feed.

So far, so good…

A Simple Plan

Less than a half-hour to doors open, it looked like we were going to need to go with what we had – the production manager was striking out on a substitution. The A2 and I took stock of what we had and quickly devised a plan.

With no group or matrix outputs, the PA would run in mono, with the left output dedicated to the main loudspeakers and the right output feeding the delay stacks. Left for LOCAL and right for REMOTE – to this day, it’s still my approach on shows when I have limited outputs.

One of the aux sends would remain as the video recording feed, and the other would supply the backstage monitor system feed. The mixer’s mono output would feed the board “safety” recording. Input-wise we would still have two podium mics, but only one could be plugged into the mixer (channel one).

The clearly marked cable for the backup podium mic would be sitting next to the mixer, ready to go in case of trouble. Mic channels two and three would handle wireless lavaliers for presenters, and channel four could take care of the announcer’s mic. 

We reduced the number of audience Q&A (question and answer) mics down to just a pair, and using XLR-to-TRS transformers, we would plug these two mics into the mono inputs on two stereo channels. The last two stereo channels would be occupied with the audio tracks from the video playback units. The CD player for walk-in music would be patched into the mixer’s RCA inputs.

With our plan in place and then transformed to actual reality, we were ready for the show. And fortunately, it all went according to plan (pardon the pun). That little mixer sitting on the dead console did its job, and it also taught me the value of bringing along a backup to every gig.

Reliable Tool

For every gig, I usually carry at least one unit that I call a “utility mixer,” and sometimes bring along an additional 6-channel powered mixer.

Fortunately, I’ve not suffered dead console syndrome since that corporate gig, but I’ve come to rely on my utility mixer in a variety of valuable ways.

Sub-mixing. I can’t count the times I needed more inputs, usually because a band showed up and was larger than what was advanced – or more common, the band was never advanced. Typical uses include sub-mixing toms on a drum set, percussion instruments, keyboards, or a horn section.

In addition to sub-mixing musical instruments, at corporate gigs I’ve grouped panel and audience Q&A mics in a sub-mixer.

Announcer Station. Utility mixers work well for an announcer station. It gives announcers a “cough button” (a.k.a., mute switch) and provides them with a good headphone amplifier. I also feed the program from the main console into the mixer so announcers can mix in the program audio to their headphones.

Press Mult. While most small mixers don’t provide a ton of outputs, they can still be valuable as a press mult in a pinch. The left, right and mono outputs can provide mic or line level outputs – and by using a few 1/4-inch-to-XLR adapters – the aux outputs, control room outputs and even the direct channel output can feed a signal to a camera.

Phantom Power Supply. I’ve had to work with in-house A/V gear on a few occasions where I wanted to change out the dynamic handheld mic they provided on the podium (usually placed in a gooseneck that won’t support the microphone’s weight) to a regular podium gooseneck condenser.

Sometimes, the house mixer either doesn’t provide phantom power, or I don’t have access to the mixer to engage the phantom power. A utility mixer can be used to provide the necessary phantom to the condenser mic, and gives you a bit of EQ to boot.

Mic Splitter. Several times I’ve been asked by presenters to provide a feed to a small recorder so they can record their presentation for later review and/or archival purposes. If I’m using the facility’s provided system, outputs are sometimes limited.

A small mixer inserted between the podium mic and the house console provides an output for the recording unit, as well as some EQ dedicated just to the recording.

Distribution Amp. Supplying a distributed system at a large casino property for a fireworks show, we quickly realized that there were some reliability and quality with some of the signal being run wirelessly to some of the remote loudspeakers.

So we ran cable to them; in fact, more than 1,000 feet of cable. A utility mixer placed centrally at the remote location provided a quick tap for those loudspeakers, and it also acted as the distribution amplifier, splitting and boosting the signal to additional locations.

Effects. It’s not uncommon to get a request to provide a mic for a singer at a small corporate meeting. This may be for an a-cappella rendition of the national anthem, or just a certain song accompanied by a track.

When I provide my small speech rig, I also have the capability to use some reverb on the singer, but when I’m freelancing, I can’t always count on having an effects unit available. Many utility mixers have built-in effects, including some really nice reverbs, and can be patched into the system for this purpose. 

Adapter. While I carry a lot of adapters to hook up almost “anything to anything” at a gig, sometimes there’s a connector I don’t have in the bag.

For example, one time we needed to plug in an additional computer, and all that I had on hand was a 1/8-inch TRS-to-dual RCA adapter. A small mixer sporting a stereo pair of RCA inputs came to the rescue and acted as the adapter, interfacing the computer into the PA system.

Direct Input (DI). More than a few times I’ve been on corporate gigs where musicians show up to perform and there’s a need to get an instrument (usually a guitar) into the house PA. If DI boxes are in short supply, it’s time to deploy a utility mixer.

Backline Amp. Similar to above, on several occasions I’ve used a small mixer with a powered loudspeaker as an onstage instrument amplifier. (Or, a powered mixer with a passive loudspeaker.) While the combination does not make a good bass rig, it does fine in a pinch for a keyboard rig or acoustic guitar.

Crossover. Once while working a small festival, the crossover decided to cease operation. The system was a simple 2-way rig with passive mains over subwoofers. We decided to run the mains full range, and use a utility mixer’s EQ section to roll off the highs to the subs and act as a simple low-pass filter.

Confidence Monitor. Sometimes it’s nice to have a visual reference for an important feed being sent to a remote location. Patch the signal through a utility mixer so that during the show, you can easily glance over and see the meters on the mixer to make sure it’s working OK (or not).

Utility (yoo-til-i-tee), noun: The state or quality of being useful; usefulness. (Dictionary.com) Small mixers fit that definition to a “T” in duties ranging from saving the show to providing additional options to enhance our presentation.

They’re also quite useful in making our lives on the job easier, turning “uh oh” into “no problem” while requiring little in terms of time, effort and money to have on hand, ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Craig Leerman is senior contributing editor for Live Sound International and ProSoundWeb, and is the owner of Tech Works, a production company based in Las Vegas.

Posted by Keith Clark on 03/25 at 05:29 PM
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In The Studio: Don’t Record Acoustic Guitars Direct

There’s just no way around it -- in one person's opinion, at least, it will always and forever sound fake...
Article provided by Home Studio Corner.

I listen to a lot of recordings, and one mistake that I find very often in a beginner’s recording is that they don’t record acoustic guitars with microphones.

Now, this is certainly my opinion, but I feel that acoustic guitar was meant to be recorded with a microphone. The direct sound of an acoustic guitar just never sounds good to me.

I am an acoustic guitar player, so I’m certainly biased, and there are certainly situations where it makes sense to go direct for an effect. However, when I record acoustic guitars, I always, always, ALWAYS use a microphone.

What are a couple of reasons why I don’t record acoustic guitar direct? I’ll give you two and a tip:

1. It sounds fake.
There’s just no way around it. Even if you have a very good pickup system that costs you hundreds of dollars, it’s still going to sound like a direct acoustic guitar. There’s just no way around it. It will always and forever sound fake.

Now, that’s not necessarily wrong, but for me, when I hear that in a mix, I immediately can listen to nothing else but that direct acoustic guitar sound. It just bothers me and I don’t like it.

2. A real guitar with a microphone will always sound better.
You may think that you don’t have a good enough microphone or a good enough preamp or a good enough guitar to justify recording it with a microphone, but I can almost guarantee that if you just try and spend some time using a microphone on that guitar, you’ll find a certain combination of mic placement and microphone choice to make it sound amazing.

And if not amazing, you can at least make it sound better than the direct signal.

Tip: Try a dynamic microphone.
A lot of people tell me that the reason they don’t record their guitar with a microphone is because their studio is noisy or it’s not acoustically treated, or there’s a lot of extra noise in the house or outside that keeps them from recording with a nice condenser microphone.

Condenser microphones are great, but they are sensitive and they tend to hear everything.

Using a dynamic microphone might be your solution. Dynamic mics don’t have nearly the detail of a condenser and they can pick up just the sound that you want without picking up a lot of extra noise.

They tend to be a bit darker, and they’re not as bright as a condenser, but I would still take a dynamic mic on an acoustic guitar over the direct sound.

Joe Gilder is a Nashville-based engineer, musician, and producer who also provides training and advice at the Home Studio Corner.Note that Joe also offers highly effective training courses, including Understanding Compression and Understanding EQ.


Posted by Keith Clark on 03/25 at 05:18 PM
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Positive Grid Launches Final Touch Complete Mastering System For iPad

Final Touch combines seven powerful mastering processors into one integrated app. It offers a balanced, polished and professional sound that exhibit the overshoot response of classic analog hardware.

Positive Grid proudly announces the release of Final Touch - Complete Mastering System for iPad, a professional mastering suite that combines nuanced techniques of mastering with Positive Grid’s expertise on mobile design, offering mastering control, precision and flexibility.

“Final Touch allows musicians, producers and engineers to master audio recording with the industry’s standards: maximizer, pre and post equalizer, multiband dynamics, stereo imaging, reverb and dithering controls are all just one finger tap away”, says Positive Grid Marketing Manager Jaime Ruchman.

“And now they will be able to continue their mastering sessions literally anywhere, with the same sound quality as a top notch professional mastering studio, enhancing productivity to its maximum.”

Final Touch combines seven essential mastering tools into one integrated system, the Pre and Post linear phase EQ modules consist of eight independent bands, each providing a choice of five different types of parametric filters: Hi-Pass, Low-Shelf, Peak, Hi-Shelf and Low-Pass.

The Dynamics module offers a highly flexible stereo/mid-side multiband compressor/limiter. The Stereo Imaging module adjusts the width of your mix, corrects L/R channel imbalances and checks mono compatibility.

The Reverb module offers flattering room, hall and plate algorithms to sweeten overly dry mixes, providing continuously variable controls for independently adjusting Pre-Delay, Decay Time, Early Reflections and Room Size. The Maximizer module limits peaks and raises the average level of your mix, thereby increasing loudness. Comprehensive dither and noise-shaping options are also provided in this module.

Once your master is perfectly dialed, a couple taps are all it takes to share it via email, Dropbox, iTunes and SoundCloud.

“A great mastering app,” says Rafa Sardina, 12-time GRAMMY award winning producer and engineer, whose credits include Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson, Beyonce, and more.

“Solid, accurate and accessible,” adds German Villacorta, mastering engineer and owner of Dynamic Wave Studios, whose credits include Ozzy Osbourne, The Rolling Stones, Rage Against The Machine, and more.

“Finally the professional mastering app for iPad I have been waiting for! With a clear and intuitive interface, streamlined workflow, powerful effects, and full cloud support this app makes professional mobile mastering a reality!” explains Andrea Pejrolo, Assistant Chair of the Production Department at Berklee College of Music.

“I’m really digging the open top end of the EQ section and how the Maximizer is glueing this mix together. This is a flexible, very cool audio app for modern musicians on the go,” concludes Enrique Gonzalez Muller, GRAMMY award winning producer and engineer, whose credits include Nine Inch Nails, Dave Matthews Band, Tina Turner, and more.

Final Touch retails for $19.99 and is immediately available for download at the iTunes App Store. Designed for iOS7, the app requires an iPad 2 or newer to operate.

Positive Grid

Posted by Julie Clark on 03/25 at 04:17 PM

Monday, March 24, 2014

SSL Adds Firehouse Productions To Live Console Dealer Network

Continues building U.S. dealer network to support new console

Solid State Logic is continuing to build its U.S. dealer network to support its new Live console with the appointment of Firehouse Productions of Red Hook, NY.

A 2014 TEC Award winner for its support of Peter Gabriel’s Back to Front tour, Firehouse provides sound reinforcement and complete sound systems for every aspect of live production, including high-profile television performances.

“We are excited to become a dealer for the new SSL Live console and to add it to our rental inventory,” says Bryan Olson, owner/president of Firehouse Productions. “Where excellence and quality are concerned, we are sure this console is a powerful option.”

“Firehouse Productions is a well-respected leader in live audio,” says Jay Easley, SSL vice president of Live consoles in the Americas. “Having them as part of the SSL Live network was very important to us. We are delighted to be partnered with Bryan and his top-notch team at Firehouse.”

Solid State Logic Live
Firehouse Productions

Posted by Keith Clark on 03/24 at 05:24 PM
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Saturday, March 22, 2014

In The Studio: An Interview With Elliot Scheiner

A legend explains his approach to mixing and shares insight on some of his projects...
This article is provided by Bobby Owsinski.

Here’s an excerpt of an interview with Elliot Scheiner from The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook.

Elliot has long been recognized as one of the finest engineers working today and has a shelf full of industry awards (five Grammys, four Surround Music Awards, Surround Pioneer Award, TEC Awards Hall Of Fame and too many total award nominations to count) from his work with The Eagles, Beck, Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, Sting, John Fogerty, Van Morrison, Toto, Queen, Faith Hill, Lenny Kravitz, Natalie Cole, Doobie Brothers, Aerosmith, Phil Collins, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand and many, many others to prove it.

He’s also one of the nicest guys in the business.

In this interview, Elliot talks not only about his approach to mixing but about some of his projects as well.
Bobby Owskinski: Do you have a philosophy about mixing?

Elliot Scheiner: I’ve always believed that if someone has recorded all this information, then they want it to be heard, so my philosophy is to be able to hear everything that was recorded. 

It’s not about burying everything in there and getting a wall of sound. I’ve never been into that whole concept. It was more about whatever part was played, if it was the subtleties of a drummer playing off beats on the snare drum next to the backbeat, obviously he wants that heard. So I always want to make sure that everything that’s in that record gets heard.

If you were able to accomplish hearing every single instrument in the mix, that was a huge achievement. Granted, maybe there wasn’t as much information when I started as there is now. I myself have come across files that have been a hundred and some odd tracks, so it’s not as easy to do that today. 

I have to admit that the way some people record things today is a bit peculiar. All of a sudden you’ll be dealing with 7 or 8 different mics on the same instrument. Like, for example, an acoustic guitar will all of a sudden have 7 different viewpoints of where this guitar’s being recorded. 

It’s mind boggling that you have to go and make a determination and listen to every single channel to decide which one you want to use. And if you pick the wrong ones they come back at you and say, “Oh, we had a different combination” or “It doesn’t sound quite right to us”, but they don’t tell you what they did! So granted, it is a little more difficult to deal with those issues today, but I still take the same approach with every mix.

If you have a hundred tracks, will you try to have them all heard? Or do you go in and do some subtractive mixing?

Elliott: Well, it depends if that’s necessary. I don’t usually get those kind of calls where they say “Here’s a hundred tracks. Delete what you want.” It’s usually not about that. And I have to say that I’ll usually get between 24 and 48 tracks in most cases and hardly ever am I given the liberty to take some of them out. 

I mean if something is glaringly bad I’ll do that, but to make a judgment call as to whether background vocals should be in here or there, I generally don’t do that. I just assume that whatever an artist and producer sends me is kind of written in stone. They’ve recorded it, and unless they tell me otherwise, I usually don’t do subtractive mixing.

How long does it take you to do a mix on average?

Elliot: Depending on how complicated it is, it usually takes anywhere from 3 hours to a day.

3 hours is really fast!

Elliot: Yeah, well a lot of time you just get a vibe and a feel for something and it just comes together. Then you look at it and say “How much am I actually going to improve this mix.” I mean if it feels great and sounds great I’m a little reluctant to beat it into the ground.

For me it’s still about a vibe and if I can get things to sound good and have a vibe, that’s all I really care about. I still put Al Schmitt on a pedestal. Look at how quickly he gets things done. He can do three songs in a day and they’ll be perfect and amazing sounding and have the right vibe. So it’s not like it can’t be done. Some people say that you can’t get a mix in a short time and that’s just not true and Al’s my proof.

Where do you usually start your mix from?

Elliot: Out of force of habit, if there’s a rhythm section I’ll usually start with the drums and then move to the bass and just work it up. Once the rhythm section is set I’ll move on to everything else and end with vocals.

How much EQ do you use?

Elliot: I can’t say that there are any rules for that. I can’t say that I’ve ever mixed anything that Al has recorded, but if I did I probably wouldn’t have any on it. With some of the stuff done by some of the younger kids, I get it and go, “What were they listening to when they recorded this.” 

So in some cases I use drastic amounts where I’ll be double compressing and double EQing; all kinds of stuff in order to get something to sound good. I never did that until maybe the last 5 years. Obviously those mixes are the ones that take a day or more.

When you’re setting up a mix, do you always have a certain set of outboard gear, like a couple of reverbs and delays, ready to use or do you patch it as you go?

Elliot: Usually I don’t start out with any reverbs. I’m not one for processing. I’d like to believe that music can survive without reverbs and without delays and without effects. Obviously when it’s called for I’ll use it, but the stuff I do is pretty dry. The 70’s were a pretty dry time and then the 80’s effects became overused. There was just tons of reverb on everything.

Most of your Steely Dan stuff is pretty dry, isn’t it?

Elliot: It’s pretty much dry. What we used were plates usually.


Real short ones?

Elliot: Not necessarily. In the days when I was working at A&R [studios in New York city] we had no remotes on any of our plates there. Phil [Ramone - producer and owner of A&R] wanted to make changing them difficult because he tuned them himself and he really didn’t want anybody to screw with them.

There would be at least 4 plates in every room. Some of them might be a little shorter than another but generally they were in the 2 to 2 1/2 second area. There was always an analog tape pre-delay, usually at 15 ips, going into the plates. The plates were tuned so brilliantly that it didn’t become a noticeable effect. It was just a part of the instrument or part of the music. You could actually have a fair amount on an instrument and you just wouldn’t notice it.

Is the sound of the A&R plates something that you try to get today?

Elliot: Oh, I’m always trying to get that reverb sound If I’m using plates either at Right Track or Capital, I’ll still use an analog tape delay going into it.

For more of this interview, check out The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook

Bobby Owsinski is an author, producer, music industry veteran and technical consultant who has written numerous books covering all aspects of audio recording. For more information be sure to check out his website and blog.


Posted by Keith Clark on 03/22 at 04:18 PM
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Friday, March 21, 2014

Church Sound: Four Benefits Of Remote Mixing

While I'm all for getting some exercise, I welcome a few less trips to and from the sound booth
This article is provided by Behind The Mixer.

Do you think iPad remote mixing is simply a fad? Or do you feel you finally have a tool that will benefit your audio production? 

I’ll go as far as saying it’s something you’ll never want to give up once you try it. There are several ways remote mixing can be beneficial…

1) Mixing Monitors On The Stage
Remote mixing apps can give you the ability to mix your aux sends to your different monitors.

In this case, you can stand on the stage and either set an approximate mix for each musician before they get there or stand with them while you set the mix. 

The latter can save you time in going back and forth with hand signals or other more tedious methods. In some cases, musicians can use their own iPad’s to control their monitor mix on the fly.

2. Mixing In The Sanctuary
Part of setting your house mix is walking the room and listening to how it sounds in different parts of the sanctuary. Then, going back to the mixing board and making those changes…and rechecking after that. 

Remote mixing enables you to walk the room and make those changes from where you are standing. And if you’ve never “walked the room,” it’s a great reason to start.

3. Sitting With The Family
If you’ve been running sound long enough, you might find yourself in a situation like I’ve faced. It’s a holiday service and the service schedule is simple; a guitar, a singer, and the pastor’s mic. You want to sit with your family during the service because it’s the right thing to do during such a holiday - to be together with your family. 

However, all the other sound techs have left town and it’s up to you. This would be a great time for remote mixing.

There are a lot of variables at play as to whether or not such remote mixing should be done but I do want to mention it as a use of the technology.

4. Mixing From The Best Position
Portable setups are where I see this most helpful.  It’s usually in a large ballroom or other similar arena where the mixing board is required to be behind the stage or out of line from the house loudspeakers. 

Having mixed in similar scenarios, remote mixing from the best location would have save me a lot of headaches.

Remote mixing gives you the ability to change your mix (even monitor mixes) immediately. While I’m all for getting some exercise, I welcome a few less trips to and from the sound booth.

Ready to learn and laugh? Chris Huff writes about the world of church audio at Behind The Mixer. He covers everything from audio fundamentals to dealing with musicians, and can even tell you the signs the sound guy is having a mental breakdown.

Posted by Keith Clark on 03/21 at 01:25 PM
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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Allen & Heath Digital System Installed In Chinese Mobile Corporation

Allen & Heath iLive digital products were selected to be installed in the new office building of Hebei Mobile Communications Co., Ltd, in Shijiazhuang, China.

Allen & Heath iLive digital products were selected to be installed in the new office building of Hebei Mobile Communications Co., Ltd, in Shijiazhuang, China.

The installation was managed by Sanecore, who decided to use an Allen & Heath digital mixer as the heart of the whole system, with the addition of multiple digital base stations, in order to satisfy the requirement of room combination and audio synchronization, while providing audio quality superior to any typical A/V matrix.

Four iDR-16 MixRacks were installed, one for an inspection room, one for the emergency command centre, and two for monitoring in the hall. Real time audio communication between multiple rooms was established using Allen & Heath’s proprietary ACETM point-to-point audio network technology.

An iLive-R72 Control Surface and two iDR-16 mixers were installed for the PA system in the command centre, and two more iDR-16s were used in two adjacent meeting rooms. Connected via ACE, they manage a total of 64 inputs and 32 outputs, handling various sources, including gooseneck microphones, audio signal synchronised with video, and PC audio signals.

“The powerful digital mixers are connected in one network, and the operating through central control touch panel is so easy with so many inputs and outputs, it’s just incredible! Different signals can be transferred, switched between each other and processed easily, and it is convenient to operate via the iLive-R72 surface,” commented Li Shuzhi, project manager at Hebei.

Allen & Heath

Posted by Julie Clark on 03/18 at 12:10 PM
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New Products & News Highlights From Prolight+Sound/Musikmesse 2014

The international Musikmesse and Prolight+Sound trade fairs last week in Frankfurt attracted about 110,000 visitors from 142 countries, according to figures released by Messe Frankfurt.

It represents a slight decline in visitors compared to the record of more than 113,000 set last year. Altogether, 2,242 international exhibitors from 57 countries presented their products and services at the show

“This year’s Musikmesse and Prolight+Sound were characterized by a high visitor standard and a willingness to place orders,” states Detlef Braun, a member of the Board of Management of Messe Frankfurt, noting that this compensated for the slight decline in visitor numbers compared to last year.

The Prolight+Sound 2014 sector attracted a total of 897 exhibitors from 42 countries. According to a Messe Frankfurt statement, “The exhibitors gave the fair a positive rating in all respects with almost 80 percent saying they were satisfied to extremely satisfied with the course of business.”

The show also underscored its status as international sources of impulses with a comprehensive spectrum of seminars, lectures and workshops. At the Musikbiz Lounge & Congress Area, participants could find out about music marketing, copyright law and publishing, and hold discussions. The Eventplaza Conference offered numerous information events on trends, strategies and expertise for the live-entertainment and theatre sectors with particular attention being paid to the subject of event safety. Additionally, speakers from the media-technology sector passed on their knowledge about sound and event technology at the Prolight+Sound Conference.

Let’s take a look at the new products unveiled at the show. Check back oftan as this roster will be updated regularly.

Consoles & Mixers
Yamaha Commercial Audio QL Series Digital Consoles
Soundcraft Large-Format Vi3000 Digital Console
Roland Systems Group S-2416 Digital Snake
Avid Expanded Live Sound Plug-In Platform For S3L Mixing System
Allen & Heath Version 1.4 Firmware For GLD Digital Mixers
Midas PRO X Digital Console With Neutron Engine
New Optocore Software Implementation For DiGiCo
Behringer “Artist Presets” Library For X32 Digital Console
Salzbrenner Stagetec Polaris evolution Modular Networkable Mixing System
Aviom D800-Dante A-Net Distributor
Yamaha Commercial Audio Version 2.0 CL Series Digital Consoles
M.A.R.S. SoundPad For Innovason Eclipse GT Console
SM Pro Audio uMiX Series Wi-Fi Remote Controllable Digital Mixers
SSL Trio Of Duende Native Plug-Ins
DiGiCo D2-Rack For Use With SD8 & SD9 Consoles

Loudspeakers & Studio Monitors
NEXO GEO M6 Loudspeaker Series
Five Coaxial Loudspeakers From Eighteen Sound
Mackie Upgrades SRM450/350 Powered Loudspeakers
RCF HL Stadium Series Joins Installed Sound Line
Eighteen Sound Announces 18iD High Performance Subwoofer
VUE Audiotechnik hs-20 Compact Subwoofer
Celestion CDX14-3030 1.4-Inch-Exit Ferrite Compression Driver
Meyer Sound LYON Line Array System
Adamson Systems Energia E12/E218 Touring Packages
One Systems 118IM-SUB All-Weather Subwoofer
Amadeus PMX 4 Miniature Loudspeaker
Beyma 18-Inch Cone Drivers
Dynaudio BM mkIII Nearfield Monitors & BMS II Subwoofers
Mackie Thump Series Power Increase, New Subwoofer
Amadeus ML 8 Compact Subwoofer
Cerwin-Vega! P1000X 10-Inch Powered Loudspeaker
Beyma MC500 Family Of Woofers

Microphones & Wireless
Shure Wireless Workbench Version 6.9
AKG DMSTetrad Digital Wireless Microphone System
DPA Microphones Necklace Mic & Reinforced Cabling For d:screet 4060
Shure Headset & Centraverse Lavalier Microphones

Power Amplifiers
Powersoft X Series Power Amplifiers
d&b audiotechnik D80 Power Amplifier

Audio Tools
PreSonus Music Creation Suite Recording Kit
Radial Engineering JX62 Guitar And Amp Switcher For Live Touring
d&b audiotechnik ArrayCalc Simulation Software V7.6.11
RCF RDNet 2.0 Control & Management Software
Waves Audio MetaFilter Plug-In
AFMG EASE Version 4.4 Acoustic Simulation Software
Harrison 832c Filter Unit Joins Analog Studio Product Line
Radial Engineering ProMS2 Single-Channel Mic Splitter
TASCAM UH-7000 High-Resolution USB Interface & Microphone Preamp
Waves Audio Abbey Road Reel ADT
Audient ASP880 8-Channel Mic Preamp & ADC
Radial Engineering Next-Generation JDI Duplex 2-Channel Direct Box
Harman Releases JBL Performance Manager 1.7

Show News
New PreSonus Distributors For France, Israel, Russia And Spain
VUE Audiotechnik Expands Global Footprint With New European Operation
Focusrite Names Damian Hawley Director Of Global Marketing & Sales
Soundcraft Presents “Mixing with Professionals” Sessions
TC Electronic Announces Development Plans For Universal Audio UAD Platform
FaitalPRO Appoints Andrew Richardson To Manage OEM & Area Sales In UK, India
JBL Professional Hosts Forum Seminar On VTX Line Arrays
Celestion Celebrating 90th Anniversary Of Manufacturing Loudspeakers
Henning Kaltheuner Leading Market Research At d&b audiotechnik
Ashly Audio Appoints Mike van der Logt As EMEA Sales Manager
Biamp Systems Appoints Vibhav Singh As North India Area Manager
DPA Microphones Appoints GerrAudio To Lead Canadian Distribution

The next Musikmesse and Prolight + Sound will be held in Frankfurt on April 15-18, 2015.

Posted by Keith Clark on 03/18 at 05:36 AM
Live SoundRecordingFeatureBlogProductBusinessConsolesDigital Audio WorkstationsInterconnectLine ArrayLoudspeakerMeasurementMicrophoneMixerPowerSoftwareSound ReinforcementStudioPermalink

Monday, March 17, 2014

Virtual Sound Checks Without A High-End Digital Console

Here are a few ways to get it done
This article is provided by ChurchTechArts.

Here are some thoughts on doing virtual sound check if you don’t have a digital console at your disposal offering that capability.

Disclaimer: This is not going to be exhaustive. There are hundreds of hardware/software combinations that will get you the same result. These are some ideas only.

Also, it should be noted that “cheap” is a relative term. All of these solutions are going to cost money, real money. However, if you church is serious about raising the level of audio technician performance, it’s money well spent. On we go…

First, let’s define “virtual sound check.” It is simply the ability to record the band with each channel on it’s own track and then being able to play that recording back, in place through the same channels on your console.

To illustrate with a very primitive example, let’s say your “band” is a worship leader with an acoustic guitar. To facilitate virtual sound check, you would need a way to record the vocals and guitar on separate tracks, and you want those sources to come off the board before any EQ or dynamics.

Typically, you’re using direct outputs or the insert outputs. When you get ready to practice, you do a little patching (in software or hardware) and play back that recording through the same channels you use if the worship leader and his guitar were live in the room.

One thing should be immediately apparent here; the bigger your band (and the more sources you have), the more elaborate the system you’re going to need for virtual sound check. If you are running 30-40 inputs every weekend, this post is really not for you as that system is not going to be cheap.

Rather, I’m focusing on those who run fewer than 24 channels per weekend (a number that is not arbitrary, as you’ll see in a minute) and using an analog board. Here are a few ways to get it done.

Audio Interface(s)
The simplest way of doing this job is with a USB or more likely a FireWire interface such as the M-Audio ProFire 2626, a Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 or similar interface with 8 analog inputs and 8 analog outputs.

The first thing you’ll notice when shopping for an interface is that manufacturers get very creative in the way they count I/O. For example, the ProFire 2626 is listed as having 26 inputs and 26 outputs, which it does. But only 8 of them are analog.

M-Audio ProFire 2626

And if you’re using an analog console, that’s all you care about. If you have a digital console with ADAT I/O, you gain you an additional set of 8 useable channels.

Now, the catch here is that there aren’t any interfaces with more than 8 channels of analog I/O (at least I can’t find any). So that means if you’re running 12 channels of audio, 4 get left behind. Unless you get creative. You might ask why you can’t just connect two 8-channel interfaces to your computer and send those inputs to your recording software.

The issue is that most DAW software won’t support multiple I/O devices simultaneously. If your DAW of choice doesn’t support multiple I/O devices, there is a workaround, at least on the Mac.

In Audio/MIDI settings, you can create what’s called an Aggregate Device, which allows you to create a virtual device that is made up of two or more actual devices. You then chose the Aggregate Device as your I/O source in your DAW, and all the inputs and outputs on all devices that make up the Aggregate Device are available to the DAW.

So an example system might be made up of two Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 interfaces combined into an aggregate device and recorded using Reaper on a Mac Mini. That would give you 16 channels of recording and playback for around $1500, give or take. That seems pretty reasonable; at least until you consider the next option.

Focusrite Saffire Pro40

Hard Disk-Based Recorders
There exist on the market a couple of hard drive-based recorders, most notably the Alesis HD24. This little 3-rack-space wonder is capable of recording or playing back 24 tracks of 48 hHz, 24-bit audio.

The HD24 has 24 channels of analog I/O (plus 24 channels of ADAT I/O) and costs about $1600. Really, this is the way to go. It requires no computer, is simple to set up and operate and is rock-solid reliable. Add 24 channels of TRS patch cables and you’re done.

Alesis HD24

Other options include the Tascam X-48, which is a full-blown 24 channel workstation (and almost $5,000) and the excellent, but somewhat pricey JoeCo BlackBox, which will set you back almost $3,000 by the time you add a drive.

JoeCo BlackBox

There are a few caveats with any of these solutions. First, if your board has direct outputs, it’s a fairly simple matter to patch those direct outs to the inputs of whatever recording solution you use.

Getting back in, however, will require some re-patching. You’ll want to pull your mic inputs, and patch the outputs from the recorder or interface(s) into the Line Inputs on your console.

If you don’t have direct outs, you’ll need to use the inserts. One cool thing about the JoeCo BlackBox is that the inputs are normaled back out to the outputs during every operation except playback.

That means that for recording (or just sitting there), the insert signal is returned and you can continue to use the board normally. When you hit “Play,” it opens the normal and sends the recorded signal back to the return on the board. From a user interface standpoint, that’s really nice. However, it will cost you twice what an HD24 costs…

When using the inserts, you will likely need to push the cables into the console until the first click. An insert jack is a TRS (tip, ring, sleeve) connector, so it has 3 contact points. Most consoles use the ring as the send, so if you push a TS cable in to the first click, you get the equivalent of a direct out (albeit an unbalanced one). Pushing it in all the way will interrupt the signal, so you’ll only do that on playback.

Using inserts is going to mean a fair amount of patching and some experimenting, so don’t decide to try this out at 8:50 on Sunday morning.

Once you get the system up and running like you want, start recording your services in all their multi-track glory. Then during the week, you can practice and experiment just like the band is there, only they aren’t.

Keep in mind, you won’t have any acoustic energy coming from the stage, so things like drums and vocals will be a little different. But this is still a great tool for training and experimenting with various processor settings.

Like I said, this isn’t exhaustive; I only intended to give a few examples. Hopefully though, it will get you thinking about how you can implement a virtual sound check system in your church.


Mike Sessler is the Technical Director at Coast Hills Community Church in Aliso Viejo, CA. He has been involved in live production for over 20 years and is the author of the blog, Church Tech Arts . He also hosts a weekly podcast called Church Tech Weekly on the TechArtsNetwork.

Posted by Keith Clark on 03/17 at 11:46 AM
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