Category Archives: Audio
So in our ever continuing search for the “perfect” digital console to replace our aging FOH console we recently looked at the Midas XL8. We heard from our vender that their pricing had reduced drastically from it’s initial launch. It used to be a $350,000+ system so it wasn’t something we thought was even in our reach. After hearing about their pricing changes we set up a on-site demo and we’re glad we did! The console is pretty comprehensive so I’ll just go over the highlights that stood out to us. You can really go into detail on Midas’ site.
Midas’ approach on this console is a very analog. There’s a lot of faders, buttons, and knobs all over the surface. For example, you get 24 input faders, 12 VCA faders, 16 group/aux faders, 16 matrix faders, and 3 master faders. That’s 71 faders! I could count the knobs and buttons too but that would be a lot of work, ha ha. This allows you to work quickly and without relying on the screens as much as other consoles. In fact the rep said that as a test on one demo the engineer built his mix without using the screens at all just to see if it could be done. This is probably the only digital console out there where mixing without the screens would even be possible.
On each input channel strip you have on/off buttons and knobs for just about everything. This adds to the analog feel. Need to tweak something on the kick channel? Well, reach for the kick channel and start hitting buttons or knobs. Many features are accessed right in the channel strip vs selecting the channel and working in a centralized section (like a Yamaha console for example).
Each of the 5 sections of the console has a screen and an independent set of controls. Again this keeps you from reaching over to select a channel just to move back to the middle of the desk to tweak. You’re working right at the channel, again, like an analog desk. Whatever you can’t do right at the channel strip you can do with the extended channel controls in each section. Stuff like the complete EQ and dynamic controls aren’t on each fader’s channel strip, it would make the console too large. Since each of the sections has this master set of controls you can work quickly and without moving around too much.
The input channels show up on the desk in the typical way. You have 24 input faders and inputs show up 1-24 across the desk. Instead of going through the 96 inputs one complete layer at a time (1-24 then 25-48, etc.) you scroll left or right through the inputs 8 at a time. Think of having a 96 fader analog desk and moving left or right down the desk. So you can have 1-24 up, scroll right once and you have 9-32 up, then 17-40, etc. Need to bring up channel 84 real quick? No problem, instead of scrolling type 84 into the keypad on the section you want to bring 84 up in and then that group of inputs with 84 in it pops up.
You can organize the inputs one step further. Say you want the 16 inputs on the left of the master section to be on channels 1-16 but you need access to channels 41-48 at the same time. You can set the 8 faders to the right of the master section to area B mode and scroll through inputs independently of area A on the left side. Any one of the three input sections can be set to area B mode, or you can set two sections to area B mode if you want. This gives you lots of options beyond the normal layer mentality.
Probably one of this console’s biggest departure from the norm is what they call “pop” groups. On the XL8 you get 8 pop groups. These are used to create groups of channels that you want to quickly access without scrolling the inputs. These groups pop up (ha ha, I just realized that might be why they’re called “pop” groups) just to the left of the VCA’s by default.
Say you assign your drum channels to pop group 1. Now no matter where you are on the desk if you need the drum channels you just select that pop group and they show up. Set up the band, vocals, and whatever else you want quick access to and now you’re not digging for channels, you have direct access to whatever you set up through the pop groups. You can even assign a pop group to area B to organize things even more and have two pop groups up at once. So the band stuff could be in area A on the 16 faders to the left of the master section and the pastor’s mic could be in a pop group on area B ready to go.
In addition to those 8 pop groups you have 12 VCA’s. Selecting a VCA will pop up what’s assigned to the VCA like a pop group. So with the pop groups and VCA’s you have 20 groups of things that you can have quick direct access to. We found that with the pop groups and VCA’s set up you’re really not digging through layers very much at all. This is a really cool way to manage the desk and a very fast way to work.
Ok, so it’s easy to use but what does it sound like? Midas didn’t skimp or deviate from their analog roots. Their mic pre’s come direct from one of their analog consoles (I forget exactly which one). So when you’re at the desk you’re digitally controlling the gain on the analog mic pre. Going from the head end to the EQ’s, comps, and gates and everything had a good sound and worked like you would expect them to. The whole console works at 24 bit 96Khz to keep the audio quality as high as possible.
Our head engineer Michael Grosso spent a lot of time on the drums during the demo. Since drums often require some deep EQ cuts and good, accurate, gating they’re a good test for a console. We played around with some pre-recorded stuff to get our feet wet on the console. Then we patched in our drum set on stage and had a drummer play around for a while to hear the real stuff hit all of the mic pre’s. The results were very nice. Full and punchy sound, good useable gates, nice EQ and comps, we were pleasantly surprised. For the first time we felt like we had a console that was easy to use and sounded good at the same time.
Get past the channel strip and there’s room for up to 16 built in effects at once and a whole bunch of 31 band graphics EQ’s. Accessing the EQ’s can be done from a section on the desk or from a really cool external motorized fader controller that’s part of the XL8 package. To access external control of recorders or a Waves system there’s a built in 3-way KVM switch. This keeps you at the desk controlling everything instead of having to walk away to tweak something.
Midas gives you a bunch of I/O options. There’s two sizes of modular racks that you can populate with with XLR, TRS, AES digital, and DSUB cards. This allows you to customize your I/O at FOH for instance when you’re interfacing with a variety of outboard gear and outputting to other systems. For the stage end you could go with the cheaper fixed I/O rack that has 48 XLR in, 16 XLR out. One way or another you can interface practically whatever you want. There’s also a really cool splitter that has multiple mic pre’s for larger broadcast or multi desk systems.
We also found out about a cool 96 channel recording system their sister company Klark Teknik makes that allows you to record all 96 inputs and play back to all 96 inputs for virtual sound checking. It’s the DN9696 and it interfaces with the console through its AES50 digital snake connections so it doesn’t eat up any of your I/O in your racks. There’s 9 hours of internal storage space. You can also hook up external hard drives and record to the internal and external drives at once for redundancy. Since it connects to the AES50 ports the DN9696 shows up in the patching menu like the rest of the I/O so patching is really easy. In fact if you’re just patching the ins and outs 1-1 it can literally be set up in minutes, pretty cool.
The rest of the outboard gear consists of the routers that connect all of the I/O and the DSP processors. There are two routers for redundancy and 10 DSP units for redundancy. Only 9 DSP units are needed for full functionality, the 10th is a hot spare. You can actually run the desk on as few as 4 if I remember right, you just lose functionality as you lose DSP units. There’s also multiple power supplies on everything and 5 power supplies on the console, one for each section of the desk. The desk has a processor for each section so you can lose multiple sections of the desk and still keep going. Basically the odds of going down completely due to faults in the hardware are pretty slim.
There’s an iPad app if you want to walk the room and tweak stuff or just have some extra faders. You can preset for a show with their offline software. The console software was designed from the ground up in Linux so it should be very stable. We never encountered a problem during our two day demo and everything felt very fast and responsive when loading menus or selecting channels. The speed is probably part software, part having multiple computers running the desk instead of just one processor.
We really liked this console. Enough so that after spec’ing out a system based on our needs and getting the price we ordered one for our main sanctuary. The pricing really has dropped a whole lot from the original price. They also used to only sell the system one way and now you can custom order the system, that has helped reduce the pricing even further. The XL8 setup that we ordered is much less expensive than the Studer Vista 9, the Digico SD7, even the SD5 which were all consoles we were looking at, very cool!
To be fair the Studer and Digico can hand more inputs at one time. The Midas network can handle up to 432 inputs and 432 outputs but you only have 96 inputs on the console at a time. The other consoles can go well past 200 channels on the desk at once but that’s not really a deal breaker for us, 96 is plenty. I just point it out to mention that every digital console has pro’s and con’s and you have to learn what those are and see if that’s important to you.
The Midas is a little more stuff to carry around and set up than some consoles. Not a big deal for an install but for touring it would be something to consider. A Digico SD7 for example is a super fast setup. With all the processing and local I/O built into the desk simply power up the desk and connect your stage rack and you’re done. The Midas has the desk, external processing, external local I/O, external stage I/O, and external splitter racks if you’re using them, it’s a lot more stuff. When we demo’d the SD7 two road cases were shipped to us, the Midas came in 4 road cases, ha ha. Again, for our fixed install, no big deal. Touring setup and it might be enough to sway you one way or the other.
Midas also has several other consoles. The XL8 is the top of their range but they have six other digital consoles as well. They all share I/O and they all have the same software. So if you learn one desk the rest will feel very familiar. The entry level desks are pretty reasonably priced so quality systems are not out of everyone’s reach. The PRO 3, 6, and 9 desks are a cool platform. They each have the same control surface hardware but the software determines the amount of inputs and outputs you have access to. So you could get a PRO3 and upgrade over time to a PRO6 or PRO9 as needed.
Ha ha, this is getting long, time to wrap up. The Midas XL8 was a pleasant surprise. We love the analog feel of the control surface. It quickly became familiar and easy to use. We love the sound, the mic pre’s, EQ, and dynamics all work well. The system offers plenty of I/O options for us to do what we need to do right now and into the future. And the price came in at a very reasonable number, especially for a high end digital console. I think that when word gets out about the price you’ll see a lot more of these start to show up.
We received our Studer Vista 9 demo this week. This was our chance to get hands on with it in our facility at our own pace. First off, that’s a BIG crate, ha ha. The unit is assembled studio console style with the legs attached, not as portable as a dedicated live console, but it’s not meant to be portable.
The demo system we received consisted of a local I/O processor rack, a 64×32 remote input rack, and the Vista 9 console itself. In a Studer system the console is really just a control surface, no audio processing takes place in it, that’s all happening in the process rack. The console is your interface to control what’s going on.
Everything is built with reliability and redundancy in mind. Everything has dual power supplies and stuff that handles audio processing has dual redundant processors. This means that you would have to have multiple failures at the same time before audio would go down. Good to know when it’s all software running everything.
One big difference between analog and digital is if you have a failure. In the analog world you would have multiple power supplies in ahigh profile event so a power failure taking down audio would be rare. Fail in the analog world in another way and you typically lose just one channel. Since a software crash in digital would take down everything at once, it’s very important to have full, simultaneous, redundancy for high profile events. Our campus ultimately feeds over 50,000 people in a weekend when you add up campuses, internet, and radio, we need reliability.
So we got everything set up. It’s a little extra work since the processing isn’t built into the console but once you’ve connected it once it’s 5 minutes to set up again. First you boot up the desk and then on the computer monitor you open of the software. Once the desk boots up and the software loads you’re ready to control audio. It’s a little slow but as long as you’re on a UPS and you don’t have to reboot during a show it’s not that big of a deal.
Once up and running you’re met with some nice huge meters, lots of knobs for direct access, and lots of touch panels. The console we had to demo was 30 input faders, 10 master section faders, and 2 master faders. You can have up to 6 layers for the input channels and 4 layers in the master section. This gives you a good amount of faders for quick access. Personally I would want more in the master section to be able to have groups and VCA’s on the same layer at the same time. You can put any fader anywhere on the desk though so you could sacrifice some input faders for VCA’s or groups.
Once we got the console up and running we did run into some issues. My guess is that this console does not like to be moved. Our console went from Korea, to the UK, then to us in Fort Lauderdale. The problems we experienced with this demo console are kinda typical of connectors or cards rattling loose. I’m sure that these are all fixable but several things accumulated and kinda left us nervous about this particular console. So for many reasons, we’re sending it back and the search continues!
After posting about the Roland M-480 console and M-48 personal mixers I got to thinking about other personal mixing options. Mackie recently announced a pretty cool little mixer that could easily be a personal mixing system.
The Mackie DL1608 is a small, 16 input, 8 output (stereo main and 6 aux’s), digital mixer. The control surface is actually an iPad running their software. If you want to check the FOH mix from other parts of the room you simply take the iPad out of the mixer and you can wirelessly tweak levels, dynamics, and EQ.
Now at a glance you might think, yeah, but iPads are expensive! Granted they start at $500 and you’ll need one for each person that is running a mix. But an Aviom mixer is about $450 street price and it’s only a mixer. The iPad at $500 is reasonably priced and now you can use it for other stuff throughout the week. For those on stage once your mix is dialed in close the Mackie app and use the Planning Center app or ProPresenter app to control or keep track of other things.
You can connect up to 10 iPads to the console using a standard wireless router. So you could mix FOH with on iPad and assign 1 aux to each band member, give them each an iPad, and let them control everything themselves. I could see this being perfect for a traveling band or a church that needs to set up and break down every week in a rented venue. Get a split into the console, hand out some iPads, send the mixer outputs to wired or wireless in-ears, and you’re set up without a lot of work.
Lastly the Mackie DL1608 is pretty reasonably priced, $999 at Sweetwater, maybe less through your local Mackie dealer. While I have not heard it myself, traditionally Mackie digital console work well and sound pretty good. We have had both the digital 8 bus and digital x bus consoles in the past and both sounded good. Granted the DXBus had build issues but those have surely been addresses in the DL1608.
At $999, and with the ability to return it if you had a problem or didn’t like it, there’s not a lot of risk here.
We have a new campus coming online and it’s in need of a console and monitoring system. I light of that we have been demoing a Roland M-480 digital console along with Roland’s personal mixers. It’s a pretty nice package and we have decided to go with it for our new campus.
Keeping with the whole Roland family the M-480 serves as the master control for FOH mixing and setup of the M-48 personal mixers. Audio routing is all done through their REAC digital snake system over standard CAT6 cabling. You have a couple of different digital snake head options to pick from. For our demo we had a 16 x 8, they also have a 32 x 8 and 40 input versions.
The Roland M-480 is a great small format digital console. Pretty easy to use and smartly laid out. Instead of a touchscreen you have lots of buttons on the control surface to access what you need. The EQ and dynamics are all very useable. The faders are laid out in several layers including one layer that you can customize the layout to suit your preferences.
The M-48 personal mixers are pretty incredible. What makes these unique is that once they’re on the network you can feed the console any channel (up to 40) to any channel. The 16 channels can be 16 individual inputs, 16 groups of inputs, or any combination.
This opens up a world of flexibility. Each mixer can be customized for each user. So the drummer could have the drums laid out with all discrete inputs then have a sub-mix of vocals on one channel. Then the vocals could have discrete control of vocal channels with drums on one channel, band on one, etc. Even when you group things to one knob you still can have everything panned within that group. A stereo group also only takes up one knob so you could have 16 stereo groups if you wanted to. Other systems you lose mixer channels when you go stereo.
Now everyone can have exactly what they want. No more sharing one set of 16 channels for everyone on stage like you would be stuck with in other systems. Once you decide what you want to send to what mixer you can apply EQ, pan, and reverb to each channel.
You also get a lot of other features with the mixers including a built in ambience mic. That’s great for band members that don’t have vocal mics. Now you can talk to each other without having to pull ears in and out. There’s also a line input to add another source to rehearse from or a local input like a click track that doesn’t need to go to the house.
Setup of the personal mixers can be done through standalone software if you don’t have a Roland digital console. If you have a console like the M-480 then everything can be done through the console, pretty nice.
Whether you just want the M-480 console, or the M-48 personal mixers, you need the REAC snake system either way. This makes it a little more expensive if you only want a personal mixing system. But if you get the console and the personal mixers now it’s a more reasonable package and everything plays nice together.
If you’re in the market for a system like this definitely give the Roland gear a look. So far we have been happy with everything and the service has been good when we’ve had questions.
I got to check out Mackie’s new HDA arrayable speaker system today. We are looking into it as an option at one of our satellite campuses. I have to say we were pretty impressed with the sound right out of the box.
Basically these are self powered speakers with some processing already built in. There’s an HDA top speaker that’s 110 degrees by 20 degrees with a 12″ low mid driver and two 1.7″ mid high drivers. This matches up with the HD1801 subwoofer.
You can have a system as simple as one HDA and one HD1801 up to a flown system of two HD1801’s and four HDA’s. (That’s the weight limit of the flying hardware.) Ground stacked you could have as many subs as you want and up to 3 HDA’s stacked. We are looking at two HDA’s and two HD1801’s per side ground stacked in our application.
We heard the HDA’s in a music store, not really an ideal setup, but it still let us know whether they were going to be an option or not. They were set up with two HDA’s flown left and two flown right with two HD1801’s ground stacked. All of the system processing was done in the boxes, no external processor was set up.
They sounded really nice. Pretty smooth from front to back as you transitioned between boxes and very smooth from left to right. Some line array systems transition very badly left to right with all kinds of weird phase issues in the middle of multiple hangs. These aren’t really line arrays since you don’t couple the speakers but you get some of the benefits of a line array. Being able to adjust the level between the HDA’s to better balance the level between the near and far seats is a benefit of an array style setup.
The built in processing resulted in a pretty smooth system response. Nothing seemed like it was standing out or lacking. Overall system EQ would still be needed to adjust for the room but out of the box you have a really nice starting point.
Price wise I’ve seen street prices of $1,800 per HDA and $1,000 per HD1801. That means you could have a stereo rig with two HDA’s and two HD1801’s per side for about $11,200. That’s a pretty rocking system for the money! Some of our rooms have line array cabinets that cost thousands of dollars per speaker and you don’t have any amps or processing yet.
The HDA system is a great middle ground between powered speakers on sticks and a full blown line array system. Both price wise and performance wise. Now that we have heard these we are going to get an on-site demo and listen to them a little more critically. I’m sure for the application we’re looking to use them for they’ll be great.
Check out Mackie’s site for more information on the HDA’s. Also check out the Resolution coverage software. It’s pretty easy to use and will let you plug in your room’s specs and see what kind of coverage you can expect from the system.
At Calvary we have been on the hunt for a discrete, good sounding, headset mic, for a long time. We have gone through a ton of options from Countryman, DPA, and tons more that I can’t remember right now, ha ha. We never found one that sounded good to us and at the same time was comfortable for the pastor to wear.
Our audio vender was at a trade show a couple years ago and someone approached him and said that they had the best headset mic. He said to send us one and we’ll let him know if it’s any good. Next thing we knew a DaCappo (now Que Qudio) DA12 headset mic showed up in the mail and we loved it.
For the first time we had a mic that sounded good and was comfortable to wear. The part that goes around the ear is a soft rubber with a flexible wire inside. The wire gives enough to get around the ear and put on but doesn’t lose it’s shape. Once it has been adjusted and you’re wearing it for a few minutes you really can forget you’re wearing it.
Sound wise it’s pretty neutral, no hyped top end or anything. We get plenty of gain before feedback using the omni capsule. Lastly they’re built well, we haven’t killed one yet. The only weird thing is that the boom is pretty long. It’s adjustable about 1cm but that’s not really enough. We’ve been ordering the “petite” size and found that gets the boom far enough away from the mouth and nose to avoid plosives, and it looks a little better.
That’s the DA12 headset mic. So far about 4 or 5 people that said they “would never wear one of those” have worn this and have fell in love with it. In the world of headset mics this is the greatest thing since sliced bread, ha ha.
We were trying different options for controlling our lighting console from Ableton Live. We managed to get Ableton to output MIDI time code (through an in between program) and have our ETC ION console chase it. I’ll make another post about how we got that to work.
After some playing around with that setup we opened up QLab. QLab has native support for all kinds of timing and MIDI options. Using QLab we were able to simultaneously send time code to Ableton to track and play audio and send MIDI show control to the lighting console to “go” on the the cues. Basically we found that it would be pretty easy to set up QLab to be the center of control for everything. Hit one “go” button and trigger Ableton, lighting, the built in audio playback, built in video playback, just about anything!
Mainly we were testing sync’d playback from Ableton which is actually pretty easy. Either have the lighting console and Ableton both track to time code. Or have Ableton track time code and the lighting console track MIDI show control. Both options mean we can have our lighting cues precisely mapped out and repeatable all with the touch of a button.
And since you can set up multiple devices we were able to send MIDI timecode internally to Ableton and externally to our lighting console at the same time at different timecodes is we wanted to. This means if we needed to offset the timing to one or the other it’s pretty simple. So if you programmed a bunch of cues to a certain timecode range, but then had to change it in Ableton for some reason, it wouldn’t be a big deal, just offset the times.
I can’t wait for the next show where we need this kind of precision. By linking Ableton directly to the lighting console, or controlling both Ableton and the lighting console from QLab, we’ll have all the control we need! One “go” button and everything will sync up perfectly, pretty cool!
For more info on all of these products check out the manufacturer’s sites.
We currently have an aging Soundcraft Series Five audio console. It’s been a warhorse, providing over 14 years of high quality analog audio. But it’s getting cranky in it’s old age so we’re looking into a new option. We also do enough different events in our sanctuary where we will really benefit from the recall that comes with a digital console.
This has been a long process. For about 8 months now we’ve been researching and looking at different consoles. We’ve tried to stay open minded and give everything a look. Since our current console is still working (mostly) we’re taking our time to make sure we make the right decision. This will be something we have to live with for the next 10 years.
So far we have looked at digital consoles from Avid, Yamaha, Soundcraft, Studer, Midas, and Digico, probably more, ha ha. All have pros and cons and slightly different methods of laying out the console and how features work. They also vary greatly in price so that’s something else we’re looking at in addition to the features.
At this point it looks like it’s down to two options. The Studer Vista 9 and the Digico SD7. Both are flagship consoles for their brands and both are around the same price point. They can handle a large number of channels, more than we’ll need. Both have an option for Waves plugins. There’s tons of auxes, groups, DCA’s, matrix channels, both could handle whatever we want to do for the foreseeable future.
The real difference, like with most of these consoles, is how they’re laid out and how you access channels, features, and layers. Both are pretty flexible, pretty much any channel can be placed anywhere on any layer. You really need this flexibility in a large console to make it fit your mixing style and feel like you know where everything is.
The Studer is a little more traditional in it’s layout. Channels are in 10 fader blocks and there’s 10 faders in the master section for DCA’s and groups. In each channel bucket there’s a screen with lots of knobs on the screens for tweaking EQ’s, aux’s, dynamics, all the channel features. The knobs right on the screens makes it easy to know what you’re adjusting.
Switching between layers is done in a traditional way, pressing a button takes you through each layer. There’s a unique feature that shifts you towards the next layer 10 channels at a time. That is kinda cool but pretty limited as to when you can use it. But since you can customize what is on each layer you’ll build what you want that way instead of shifting things.
The thing I like least about the Studer is that the master section is only 10 faders. I’m used to our Soundcraft which has 8 groups and 10 VCA’s right in front of you at the master section. Having 18 faders means you don’t have to move around the console very much for level changes. With the Studer you have tons of groups and DCA’s but you access them through layers and only 10 faders in front of you at a time. You can use the knobs above the faders for controlling things but I hate mixing on knobs. That’s only ok to for aux masters or something you don’t access much.
It’s not practical to me to switch layers in order to use groups and DCA’s at the same time, i’ll just end up using one or the other. The only way to have both in front of you at once is to eat up some of the channel faders next to the master section and put the groups or DCA’s there. That would work but it’s not ideal. You could have that bank of 10 faders be half groups and half DCA’s and that would work but with our setup that’s not enough faders to do what we usually do.
The Digico SD7 gives you a lot of faders in a relatively small footprint. You get 12 faders on each side of hte master section for accessing channels. In the master section you get two rows of 12 faders for groups and DCA’s plus 4 more for masters and matrix outputs. That’s the default setup, anything can be put anywhere you want.
The SD7 layout seems the most flexible to me. When you change layers you do it in each of left, center, right, sections separately. So you can access whatever channels you want in the left bank while leaving you’re money faders ready in the right bank. You also get 18 layers (three banks of six) in the left and right banks and 12 layers (three banks of 4) in the master section. On the one hand that seems like a lot but on the other it lets you build the layers however you want.
On the demo console I set up one layer bank with each of the channels in order like a normal console would be laid out. Then on the next layer bank I grouped the mix down into sections. For example drums, guitars, keys, vocals, wireless, and playback channels. Now I’m not worrying about what channel is where. If I need to raise the snare I go to the drum group and tweak the snare. Because you have 18 layer to play with you have options like that.
Having 28 faders in front of me in the master section is great. I can mix with both groups and DCA’s in front of me at the same time with 12 faders for each. The remaining 4 faders for the masters and matrix outputs can be changed to “money” channels like the Pastor’s mic so you always have it without changing layers. That makes more sense for me than needing a matrix output fader. For getting into the menus and accessing the Waves plugins you do everything from the screen in front of you instead of a secondary computer like the Studer. Not a huge deal but it’s nice, keeps you in front of the console rather than away from the desk to make changes.
The rest of the differences are just preferences really. Software things to learn more than right or wrong. While we have demo’d both separately will will be getting both again, hopefully at the same time, and setting them up in our sanctuary and putting them through their paces with a live band. So far we have only tested them with pre-recorded stuff and local monitors, not real bands through the house system. Check back and see what we get!
Often we get emails or calls about volume in the sanctuary. It’s one of the more common questions. This is a reply I recently sent to someone and I figured it was worth sharing.
Volume in the sanctuary is one of those preferences that are hard to make everyone happy. Goldilocks and the Three Bears come to mind, ha ha. There’s “too loud”, “not loud enough”, and “just right.” The problem is everyone is different and we can’t make everyone perfectly happy when it comes to volume. Welcome to audio engineering!
How loud? Well there are a couple of parts to answering that question. The quick answer is that we run between 90 and 95 db at the sound booth. This probably means that the hottest parts of the room are between 95 and 100 db. These would be the seats closest to the PA.
With our relatively low ceiling it would be very difficult to have every seat at the same volume level. We just can’t put the PA where it would really need to be to make that happen. In a way it’s better that there is some variation. People who want it softer can sit further away while people that want it louder can sit closer. It’s not too often but when we get complaints we nicely recommend that solution. Usually people don’t want to move their seat though, ha ha.
Another part of the equation is the stage volume and room volume. Because we are not competing with a loud stage we can run the system at reasonable levels and still have the PA loud enough over the stage volume to get a good mix. The room is also controlled enough that we don’t have a long decay to compete with. Both of these things help keep the mix intelligible and allow us to lower the volume.
If you have a very loud stage (drums, guitars, monitors, etc.) it will be very hard to get a nice mix in the house without having to get way louder than the stage volume. You will also struggle to get enough gain before feedback. And if your room isn’t treated acoustically and there’s nothing to absorb the sound it will make it hard to discern vocals and the teaching. In my experience you have to get at least 3-6 db over the stage volume to get a good mix. So if your stage volume is 90+ db you’re already in trouble and that’s probably where you need to start.
We had to put a lot of acoustic treatment in our sanctuary to make the room usable. The ceilings are treated, about 70% of the walls are treated, and the carpeted flooring and padded seats all help control the room. In a 3,650 seat room this was essential to make it work but it’s just as important in a 300 seat room, you just don’t need as much.
On stage we are now completely on in-ears for the band and singers. This helped control the stage volume immensely. We’re using an Aviom system, which gives everyone on stage control of his or her personal mix. There are a few other options out there now that are pretty cool as well. We also put all of the electric guitar amps in boxes and the drummer behind a Plexiglas shield. Each of these things contributes to our quiet stage.
Lastly I would say consistency is very important. We have several full-time audio guys so that’s a little easier, I know that’s not always the case. At my previous church I was the 14 year old volunteer running everything, ha ha. I’ve seen and done both extremes. We are consistent in our mix and volume in our services. I think this goes a long way to not having the sound be a distraction to people. We don’t really use a db meter or RTA, we go by the meters on our console. We know where the main output levels should be and that’s where we stay during worship.
Not that we stay at the same exact level every song of every service. We also adjust for the mood of the song and crowd. A mellow song during a mellow service 8am service and we’ll be a little mellower with our levels. A rocking song during a night of worship when the crowd is singing their heads off and we’ll push the system a little more. Even though there are changes we stick to our max level that we feel won’t kill anyone. For a normal weekend we don’t vary too much from service to service and I think that consistency helps people to know what to expect and to find a seat that suits their preferences. If it wasn’t consistent then a person could sit in the back one day and not hear a thing, then sit in the front the next day and get creamed, ha ha. We don’t want that.
So that’s what works for us. I’ve heard of some churches that run worship really loud and just hand out earplugs to those who think it’s too loud. I wouldn’t do that but that’s what works for them. Either way I hope that I’ve helped, if you have any other questions feel free to email me.
Faber Acoustical makes some pretty cool iOS and Mac apps. I got them a while back when they were a little cheaper but they’re still reasonably priced. Since I always have my iPhone on me I use these apps pretty often. More often than I would use Smaart on my laptop.
There’s an RTA app that I use the most. Granted the iPhone microphone doesn’t have full range, flat response, but you can still identify frequencies that are feeding back or sticking out. When you’re killing feedback it helps to really zero in on the exact frequency that’s giving you problems. Many times when dialing in by ear it’s hard, or at least a lot slower, to get perfectly center on the problem frequency.
Once I’ve gotten enough gain from a microphone then I can move on to adjusting for tone. That’s how I approach problematic situations like wireless LAV’s and headsets or choir mics.