Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: March 2011 (Page 1 of 2)

CTA Classroom: Stage Lighting Angles Pt. 2

Rob is back again today following up the most recent post on stage lighting. Thanks Rob for this great series!

Side Light
The main component of lighting for dance, side light profiles and models the body and shows off the stature of a human subject.  This, along with it’s ability to colour only one side of an object, while leaving the other side to be coloured differently, make side light attractive when lighting the human form at it’s most dramatic. More on Side Light.

Side Light. An example of Side Light.Side light can come from high above, down low on the deck or a similar height to the target the target – where it is often called cross light.  This provides us with a great way to light a person on stage with natural colours, while standing out a deeply coloured stage floor (from the back light) which remains untouched by the sidelight.

Foot Light
All light sources arriving from deck level can be called footlights, the common practice in the theatres of history to place wicks burning in oil along the stage front gave rise to the term “floats” that we still use today.

Foot Light Foot Light.Light coming from below is the natural angle of a campfire, but is unnatural in many everyday situations, making floats quite spooky and ethereal as the natural shadows of our faces seem to be upside down.  Subtle low angle lighting can be a great way to create intimacy on stage and can look really nice on the faces of choirs – a common effect if they are carrying candles.

The other great use for foot lights is the creation of shadows at the rear of stage.  Depending on the angle used, shadows can be tall and looming or more subtle and appear to create more on stage than actually – mirroring a choir by adding a few more rows of figures for example.  Try it out with a few carefully placed PAR16s next weekend….! More on Foot Light.

Putting Lighting Angles Together
Now most of the time, you won’t want the drama of using one single lighting angle exclusively in your stage picture but instead blend them together and create a different balance between elements.  Mixing the differing angles and their properties can create one look, while a subtle change can make the stage transform before your eye – all before you have even considered light colour.

I have always liked to group my different angles together on different submasters, look at the stage and balance the picture in the same way that a sound engineer balances a mix of audio sources.  They use their ears, in lighting we use our eyes.

If your church is low on resources, you probably won’t be cover all bases but I would encourage you to look beyond simple front light and visibility, to find a way to add some additional modelling light from further upstage in any form; high side, back or top light. The difference it makes to your overall stage look is really something.

Oh, and maybe you can get really creative with some complimentary shadows.  Stay in touch and come and visit us over at On Stage Lighting.

Rob Sayer is a professional educator, Lighting Designer and programmer who is currently lecturing in Theatre Production at Bath Spa University in the UK.  With 20 years professional experience in show business Rob is also the Editor of On Stage Lighting, the world’s most popular blog on learning production lighting techniques.

With thanks to Alex Musgrave, lighting designer and student at BSU who appears in the examples.

This post is brought to you by Horizon Battery, suppliers of  award-winning Ansmann rechargeable systems that are used worldwide by Cirque du Soleil and over 25,000 schools, churches, theaters, broadcast companies, & businesses. Learn more about their pro-grade batteries and chargers by visiting their web site. Tested and recommended by leading wireless mic manufacturers and tech directors.


CTA Classroom: Stage Lighting Angles

Today I’m excited as we have a guest post on CTA! Rob Sayer is a lighting designer and the editor of On Stage Lighting, which just happens to be the world’s largest blog on production lighting techniques. For this post and next, Rob is going to share some basic concepts on stage light. Be sure to check out his site, as there is a wealth of information there. Without further adieu…

If you are responsible for the stage lighting in your church, you’ll know how important it is for many reasons.  Light can set mood or atmosphere for worship, uplift and inspire.  It also provides that all important visibility – your congregation being able to see those on stage and connect with them.

In stage lighting, we have a number of controls at our disposal, tools in the box if you will.  As well as intensity, we have beam size and quality, colour and even the dynamics of lighting changes over time.  One lighting control that is often overlooked or misunderstood, particularly outside of theatres and music concerts is the angle that light arrives at our lit subject, be it a pastor, a choir, band or even a scenic piece.

The angle of incidence, to give it it’s proper title, is a function of where a light source placed in relation to it’s intended target.  Light might come from in front of the subject, behind or even from the side and the use of these different angles can be as dramatic as any other tool we have.

The angle of incidence is always described relative to audience point of view.  Front light arrives at the stage in the same direction as the audience is looking.  In recorded media, the camera is deemed to be the audience and the angle is referred to in terms of that Point Of View (POV). As well as this angle being described in a 360 degree rotation around the target in plan view, it can be noted in terms of height of origin – a high front light up in the roof, a low front light from in front of stage on the deck.

Let’s look at the different angles of incidence in broad terms and what they mean to you and your show.

Front Light
Light arriving from in front of the subject, usually either over the audience on pipes or trusses or stands at either side of the seating.  Front light provides the all important visibility for both audience and face-on cameras and allows the congregation to connect with the Pastor and their message by being able to clearly see their eyes and facial expressions. More on Front Lighting.

Front Light An example of front light.Good frontlight opens up the face to the viewer without making the subject squint or too uncomfortable although there is no avoiding that when you are on stage, lights hit you in the eyes.  Being able to clearly see someone speaking also assists intelligibility, something that I’m sure Mike would approve off – front light does this for us.

Front light is pretty much the first consideration for most churches with few lighting resources.

Top Light
Light coming from directly overhead, top light (or down light) provides a dramatic look for a person on stage.  With extreme contrast between features, the eyes and other areas of the face are hidden in shadow when top light is used on it’s own, making the subject appear almost ghostly with a strong halo effect on the top of the head and shoulders.

Top Light Top Light.Used along with lighting from the front, top light provides us with some more depth to a three dimensional picture while keeping that high contrast effect.

Top light is also used extensively for lighting orchestras and choirs so that they can read their scores clearly.  There is an article over at On Stage Lighting specifically on lighting a choir or ensemble successfully, not always an easy thing to do depending on your rigging situation.

Back Light
Arriving from upstage, above and behind the target, back light provides the some real depth to a stage picture that could be rather flat when viewed straight on, making the subjects stand out from the background.  This is particularly important to cameras, which shoot a 2D image and helps the viewer perceive some Z depth between things on screen.

Back Light Back Light.Back light is easy to spot because it produces a fine halo (or rim) of light around a form, sometimes referred to as rim lighting. It is also very useful for washing a stage floor with a strong colour, without transforming anyone on stage into that same colour, instead leaving a pleasing rim around their form while light from forward angles fills in their features.  Stage floor colouring is only useful if your audience are seating above deck level, of course, with raised seating can provide an excellent canvas. More on Back Light.

The concert industry lighting designers love to fill their stages with angles from behind the performers as they can create an exciting stage picture with plenty of colour and depth.  Plus, light beams that shine forward through a haze atmosphere refract better that ones travelling away from the audience.

Next time, Rob will be back with more angles and some great thoughts on putting it all together.

Rob Sayer is a professional educator, Lighting Designer and programmer who is currently lecturing in Theatre Production at Bath Spa University in the UK.  With 20 years professional experience in show business Rob is also the Editor of On Stage Lighting, the world’s most popular blog on learning production lighting techniques.

With thanks to Alex Musgrave, lighting designer and student at BSU who appears in the examples.

CTA Classroom: Writing Proposals

The topic for today’s post comes from a reader. This reader is about to embark on a major system upgrade. He’s done his homework, knows what he wants and is now ready to present the information to senior leadership. But how to go about it? He writes…

My next challenge is the presentation. Do I just print out my Excel sheet and give it to them, or do i type it out in Word with some brief explanations of each piece? I also can’t get too technical because my senior pastor’s eyes start to glaze over if I start going deeper than how to turn on the computer and I will also have to present it to the entire church for their approval.

This is an excellent question. I think most of us can relate; and it’s something we as TDs need to learn to do—communicate effectively with non-technical people. Now if he were to compile a stack of spec sheets for the various pieces of gear and give it to the pastor with a spreadsheet with the costs, he would be communicating the necessary information. However, it would not be done in a way that makes any sense to the pastor.

What I think we need to do is align our request for funds for new equipment with the mission and direction of the church. If we can show how ministry will be enhanced or improved with the addition of this equipment, the requests get significantly more attention. It’s important to remember that senior leaders typically don’t care about what equipment we put in. They just want to know what will happen once it’s installed. They want to know how ministry will be improved. Communicate that, and you’re golden.

I have a standard proposal format that I follow when writing up proposals. But before I get to that, let’s consider the background. Before asking for new equipment, we need to know why. What needs are not being met right now that will be with this new gear? What takes too long, is not volunteer-friendly or is not creating the desired environment on the weekend? How does this piece of equipment further us on our mission? Who will be using it, and what do they need it to do? Will it be easy for the users to operate? All these questions and more need to be sorted out (by you) before you even start investigating equipment. Once you have all of that information, here’s an option for presenting it.

My proposals are built around four key elements, and three optional ones. Always included are The Challenge, The Solution, The Cost, The Timeline. Optional sections, if needed and applicable are Additional Benefits, Options and Executive Summary. Let’s look at them one at a time.

The Challenge
In this section, you would break down what is wrong or missing from your current system. In the examples included in this post, I tell our team why the current speaker system in our community room is inadequate. They typically know this information (it’s often what leads to the request for you to look into fixing something), but I like to restate it so they know I’ve paid attention to the pain points. This section says, “Here’s why what we have doesn’t work,” and it leads us to the next section…

The Solution
Here is where I briefly and generally describe what we’re going to buy to fix the challenge. I will tend to use model names that are only as detailed as they need to be. For example, I said I wanted new speakers from Electro Voice or QSC, I didn’t specify ELX115Ps or K12s or full-range speakers and subs. That information is not important (and they don’t know what it means anyway). We’re not being intentionally vague; we’re insulating them from details that make their eyes glaze over. This section says, “We need replace this old piece of equipment with this new piece of equipment,” or “We need this new piece of equipment.” Keep it simple. If they have further detail questions, you can always talk about it (but they’ll never ask).

The Cost
I usually do the cost in a paragraph, rather than a spreadsheet. Again, they don’t need to know that the wall control for the Symetrix Jupiter is going to cost $385. They need to know what the total system costs. I also like to find a way to offset the costs with savings or the sale of old gear. Even if you can’t save a lot, it’s still worth the effort to point it out. I always have a spreadsheet that I use to calculate the cost of an upgrade and can provide it if necessary. However, after you do this once or twice successfully, you will never be asked for it. By the way, successfully means fixing the problem and staying in budget. Don’t miss those points.

The Timeline
I learned the hard way to include this. Sometimes, you put together a proposal that you don’t think will get green-lighted for a few months. Then suddenly, the pastor has all kinds of energy around it and wants it done next week. If you can’t pull it off, it’s a problem for you (even if it is legitimate; you can’t start a PA upgrade during Easter week!). So, put in a timeline that you can live with. In my video system upgrade, I say we can handle it after Easter. We need it now, but even if I got approval this week, I can’t pull it off before Easter. So be clear with that.

Additional Benefits
This is an optional section, if it applies. If upgrading the speaker system in one room also nets you a nice portable system so you don’t have to rent one anymore, point it out. These can be the finer points that help sell a proposal.

If you have a few options on the table and really need leadership to choose between them, point them out. Normally, I like to go in with either a really solid proposal for a single solution or three proposals, low, medium and high. Make sure the one you want is the medium one, and put enough questions about the low one’s ability to really do what you need that they won’t pick it. It’s not manipulation if you’re doing what’s best for the church (well, maybe it is a little…).

Executive Summary
For really long proposals (my proposal to upgrade FOH and Monitors was 5 pages long), I include a summary. This gives elders and others who are really voting yea or nay a quick read on what’s going on. This paragraph quickly outlines the problem, the solution and the cost. Details follow.

That’s how I format proposals. I vary the process occasionally depending on what I’m doing, but this is my overall model. The longer I’ve been at Coast Hills, the more brief my proposals are becoming. That’s largely because I’ve banked enough trust that when they ask me to solve a problem, I do it well and cost-effectively. They trust me to get the right stuff in place, and they don’t need all the details. I always have supporting documentation ready, along with rationales and have typically talked through much of this with my boss before turning in the proposal. Once you do it well a few times, it gets a lot easier.

Speaker System Upgrade

Video System Upgrade

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Interesting Finds on the Web; 3-24-11

Here are few things that I found interesting this week…

Sendoid: Finally, Sharing Big Files Isn’t A Huge Pain
Possibly a much better alternative to e-mailing large files.

Expert Series: What Are You Reading?
Looking for book recommendations? Here are a few…

The History of The Internet [Infographic] | ChurchCrunch
It’s good to remember that the internet we take for granted today isn’t really that old…

Golden Rule of Effective Communication
Some good thoughts on communicating in the 21st century.

Mic Test: DPA 4098 HB Hanging Choir Mic

If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know that we’ve been having great success with our DPA 4098 hanging choir mics. I wrote about them originally right after I received some pre-production models to test and was immediately impressed. At that time, we used them on a small (20 or so) kid’s choir that was singing in front of a live band.

We’ve since deployed two of them over the house for ambient/audience mics for our IEMs (and now the broadcast mix), and again, they work great. Recently, Coast Hills hosted the Capistrano Unified School District’s Honor Band and Choir over two nights. Since we bought two more 4098s during our Christmas production, we decided to hang them over the stage for these events.

Our stage is about 70 feet wide and 40 feed deep. We elected to hang them at roughly the 1/3 and 2/3 positions across the width, and pretty far downstage. The choir night was first, and we did underestimate how far downstage they would stand. Still, with the mics pointed toward the back corners of the stage, they did an amazing job picking everyone up. We had them hanging about 8 feet off the stage, which put them about even with the kids who were standing on the upper risers.

The next week when the band rolled in, we used a similar hang, though we came a little further downstage. We also raised them up to about 15 feet above the floor to open the pickup pattern a bit.

For the choir night, we did put the mics in the PA to help the students carry a little better, especially the younger ones (they had an elementary, Jr. High and Sr. High choir that night). All I had to do for feedback mitigation was patch a 1/3 graphic into each channel and knock 2-3 bands down about 4 dB. It took just a minute to ring out and we had all kinds of gain before feedback once they started singing.

For the band, we didn’t put them in the PA at all; the bands were plenty loud. We did record them, however, and the tracks sound great. I have a few cuts of the band and one of the choir for you to listen to. I strongly recommend headphones or at least good speakers to really hear what the mics are doing. The detail and overall quality of the sound is impressive, especially with the band.

Once again, DPA has a winner here with the 4098s. At $499 each, they’re not cheap, but I’m not sure there’s a better mic at that price point (or perhaps even at twice the price). Combine the cost with their incredibly small size (they almost disappeared on the stage) and it’s almost a no-brainer.

Listen to the audio file (or right-click to download)


This post is brought to you by Horizon Battery, suppliers of award-winning Ansmann rechargeable systems that are used worldwide by Cirque du Soleil and over 25,000 schools, churches, theaters, broadcast companies, & businesses. Learn more about their pro-grade batteries and chargers by visiting their web site. Tested and recommended by leading wireless mic manufacturers and tech directors.

The Importance of Networking

The other day I sent a tweet asking the question, “Who do you have pouring into your life?” If you’re a TD or a volunteer tech leader at your church, it is imperative that you have someone (preferably a few someones) who can speak into your life and encourage you when you have a rough day. Like it or not, the TD role is often a lonely one. There are typically no other staff members who get what we do, and our very nature makes it hard to reach out for help when we need it. This is a shame. As believers, we’re called to be in community, yet we techs often neglect that. My friend Roy calls us a tribe, and we need to reach out and get to know others in this tribe.

This point was driven home personally to me a few years ago when I was in a different (and much more difficult) situation than I am now. I had some really tough stuff going on, and was growing increasingly discouraged. Thankfully, I had developed some relationships with other tech guys (albeit guys who were in different parts of the country) that I could reach out to. I spent several hours on the phone with them just venting. I don’t recall anyone saying anything particularly profound that changed my situation, but just the fact that I could tell them what was going on and know that they got it was enough.

I had the oppourtunity to be that friend recently. A good friend reached out to me and a few others after a really bad day. I called him up and we talked for over an hour. Really, he talked, which was fine; he just needed someplace to vent. All I had to do was listen and acknowledge. When we do that for each other, we’re living out what Jesus calls us to. There’s nothing magical about it; we just need to be involved in each other’s lives.

I feel pretty strongly that we need other techs involved in our lives. Talking with wives or girlfriends can be helpful, but often times they want to come to our rescue or take up our offense, and that isn’t always what we need. And quite honestly, they may not really get the issue anyway. A fellow tech, however, will get the issue before you even finish tell him (or her) about it.

So how do you find these magical people to talk to? Well, like anything else in networking, it’s best to establish your network before you need it. If you’re a full-time TD, you should join CTDRT, the Church Tech Directors Roundtable. That group can help connect you with people across the country, and often, right down the road. Since there’s no cost to join, you really have no excuse. If you are involved in church tech, but not the full-time TD, you can join CTANO, the Church Tech Arts Network Online. The idea is similar, this group will connect you with other like-minded people and often you’ll find some guys nearby.

I would also encourage you to start reaching out to other churches in your area. Find out who the tech guys are and get to know them. Some people are threatened by that, or don’t like it, but keep looking. Most of the tech guys I’ve gotten to know around here are very thankful to have someone to get together with once in a while.

The nature of our job as TDs means we’re constantly giving away; we’re servants at heart and we solve other people’s problems. It’s who we are and what we’re called to do. To keep from burning out, we need someone to walk with us and encourage us. And there’s no one better but a fellow tech guy. So, who do you have pouring into your life?

DiGiCo vs. Avid: 1 Year Later

DiGiCo SD8

OK, so it’s not been quite a year. However, the question has come up a lot lately so I thought I’d post about it. Generally, people want to know if I’m still happy with the choice of the SD8 over the Profile. The quick answer is yes. I could wrap this up and start another post, but perhaps some explanation is in order.

In my original post, I highlighted several key factors that led me to chose the SD8 over the Profile. Those factors were:

  • A more modern, flexible DSP structure
  • MADI
  • Software

That all still holds true. And before I go further, let me attempt to explain the SD8s I/O capabilities (as it seems to be a constant source of confusion). The SD8 has 60 input channels, any one (or all) of which can be mono or stereo, without changing the channel count. So, if you want to plug 120 XLRs into the console and configure them as 60 stereo channels, you can. If you want to plug 60 XLRs in and configure them as 60 mono channels, you can. Or, you can do any variation on the above. Also, unlike my former Yamaha console, you can pair any adjacent inputs; they don’t have to be odd to even, or even to odd. As long as they are next to each other on the input card, they can be a stereo channel. To help this make sense, you have to mentally separate inputs and channels. In practice, what we’ve found is that 60 stereo channels equates to about 72 inputs on a normal analog or digital board. That is, by the time we combine 2 channels for keys, piano, guitar, etc., on a large show, we’re using 72-ish inputs.

When it comes to outputs, the same thinking applies. You have 25 mix busses (1 of which is always Main LR). You can configure those 24 remaining busses as mono auxes, stereo auxes, mono groups or stereo groups, without changing the bus count. So, if you want 24 stereo aux mixes, you can have them (though you won’t have any groups). If you want 12 stereo aux mixes and 12 stereo groups, you can do that. Or 12 stereo auxes, 6 stereo groups, 3 mono auxes and 3 mono groups. It doesn’t matter; as long as the total number of auxes and groups doesn’t exceed 24. I know I’m belaboring this point, but DiGiCo does a poor job of explaining this on their web site, and it’s the first question everyone comes back with whenever I send them there to look at the board.

Again, in use, we’ve found this to be tremendously flexible. I like not being a slave to a fixed output bus architecture. Sometimes, needs change and we need to reconfigure. It’s really easy to do, and we get what we need.

As for MADI, it rocks. Avid has added MADI capability now, which is good. I’m not going to spend more time on that. It just works.

The software of the SD8 is still my favorite. I didn’t realize at the time exactly how powerful the snapshot functions were, but learned that lesson well during Christmas. For example, it’s not at all hard to have a snapshot that brings one fader up in a half-second, and another one down in two. I did that 14 times for one song, and it was a huge help in smoothing out all those mic-to-mic transitions. And it’s easy to set up. I find myself using the Macro programming a lot as well. Whenever I need to do something more than once, or perform a whole bunch of operations on a set of channels, I write a macro. It takes just a minute and saves me tons of time.

Customizing the surface of the board couldn’t be easier, either. Each fader is just a control; it doesn’t care what it controls. So we can build fader banks that include input channels, groups, auxes and even matrix masters if we want. And we do! It’s surprising how much page flipping that saves you when you build a “Foldback” page. We have two auxes that we use to fold back to our M-48s for local inputs and speaking mics. We created a page with those auxes, plus all the input channels we feed them with. Hit solo, and we’re in sends on fader mode, and it’s super easy to adjust those fold backs.

I love the show-based file structure as well. We have different shows for different services each week, and we can completely customize the console to make those services run as smoothly as possible, with minimal page flipping. In fact, I can mix all but our largest productions on the top layer of pages; I only change pages to adjust record mixes and fold backs.

While not directly an SD8 feature, the other key factor for us is the great integration with the M48 monitoring system. By sending a MADI cable over to the S-MADI Bridge, we give each of our musicians a 40 channel mixer for fully customized mixes. They love it, it sounds great, and we’ve yet to come up with a band too big to handle.

From an ease-of-use standpoint, the SD8 is by far the fastest console I’ve mixed on. Everything I need is just a button or screen press away. I don’t find myself digging through menus or mousing around to adjust a parameter. It’s all right there on the touch screen. Because I can assign the three rows of encoders above the faders to the most commonly used functions (and they can be different for each fader bank and page), the controls I need are right at hand all the time.

Occasionally I’ll find myself with plug-in envy when I hear my Avid-driving friends talking about the newest plug-in they’ve fallen in love with. However, I’ve found the SD8 sounds great on it’s own, and having 8 multiband comps and 8 dynamic EQs that I can assign anywhere is all I really need. The desk sounds really good; I don’t find myself wanting to spend thousands on plug-ins to make it sound a little better. Now, when I get a better PA with more resolution, maybe. But I can always install the Waves SoundGrid option if I really need to.

I could go on for a lot longer, but I’ll wrap this up. It has been a great console for us, and we’ve experienced very little of the instability and crashiness people warned us about. Yes, there have been a few minor issues, but no more than we had with our PM5D, an none that negatively affected a service. Tech support has been great each time we’ve had an issue, though that’s only been 1 or 2 times.

All in all, it’s a choice I would tell myself to make again if I could send me a fax from the future.

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Interesting Finds on the Web: March 18, 2011

It’s a shorter list this week.

MIT NSE Nuclear Information Hub
– Probably one of the best sources for information on what’s going on with the nuclear power plants in Japan. Highly technical, but very readable.

Not Many of You Should Presume to Be Bloggers | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction
John Dyer has some interesting things to consider before clicking the “Publish” button.

Quick-Connect AV Cabling System – Audio Video Devices
This could be an alternative to the hated (at least by me) Rapid Run cable system.

Sabatoge – Guru’s of Tech « DukeDeJong
Duke has some really good thoughts here, as always.

This Is the Scariest First-Person Video of the Japan Tsunami Yet
– Crazy first-person view of the Tsunami. It’s unbelievable how powerful the water is.

EV LiveX vs. QSC K-Series Shootout

Speaker shootout Our setup for speaker testingOne of the most interesting (at least to me) announcements at NAMM was EV’s new line of self- and un-powered speakers, the LiveX. They were a direct shot at QSC’s K-Series, and come in at a compelling price point; roughly $200 a box less than a comparable K-speaker. Based on the demo we heard in their small demo room, I was very interested. This was a timely announcement as we are in the process of upgrading our PA in our student room. The existing JBL Eons are just not doing it, and it’s time to make a change. Though we were told the speakers were in stock and ready to ship, that turned out to be marketing-speak. It took a few months of wrangling, but the truck finally delivered two palates of speakers to my dock. It was an exciting day.

Since the K-series is sort of the new standard in this category, it seemed fitting to compare the LiveX to those. I called up Criss from AudioGeer, our local QSC rep and asked if he could bring some speakers down. He brought me two K12s, two KW121s a KSub and a KW181 sub. Now, I had heard the both speakers before, but it was in another room. I didn’t really like the KWs then, but I’ve heard they have improved the DSP settings so I thought we’d give them another shot.

k12 back The K12s offer a variety of input and mixing options.
We set up the LiveX 12s and the KW121s first, along with the subs. Since I’m also testing a Symetrix Jupiter 8, we ran everything through the Jupiter. The crossovers were set so that the speakers themselves were doing the crossing over (as recommend by Criss), and the EQ was flat. We really wanted to hear the speakers.

Right off the bat, there was a very noticeable difference between the two. Neither was necessarily bad, but the EV had quite a bit more upper midrange to high end detail. The K’s tend to be a bit darker overall, and the 121 was no exception. Pattern control is really tight on the 121 (it’s 75 degrees, conical), with a very noticeable falloff as soon as you get to the edge. In our room, that did not work to our advantage.

elx121 The LiveX, on the other hand, are a bit simpler.The LiveX 12s, being a 90×50 box, actually fit perfectly. We could aim them to get very even coverage right down the sides of the seating area, with a pattern that was just off axis on the front of the stage. As I said, there was a lot more detail in the high end, but it was accompanied by some unwanted artifacts in the 3-4K range. They actually bordered on harsh at times. Once we drove them up to around 96-98 dB SPL C, we really didn’t want to go farther. Which is too bad, as I really need to get 104 or so out of that system.

We played around with them for a few hours and finally decided the LiveX 12s were the best choice for the room. Criss and Jim left and Van and I started cleaning up. On a lark, we decided to throw the LiveX 15s up just because they were there. I should clarify that I wasn’t super-impressed with the 15s at NAMM. I really did like the 12s, but the 15s were just OK. I didn’t expect to go with the 15s, but Kevin had them sent down anyway. I’m glad he did. We threw them up on the poles, popped in a little Zac Brown and after about 2 measures, Van and looked at each other with our mouths hanging open.

Suddenly, all the harshness that the 12s had disappeared; they were smooth as butter all the way to the top. They still had more high-end detail, a wider sound field and more even coverage than the K12s, but they just sounded so musical and listenable. With the 12s from both companies, once we hit around 96 dB, we really wanted to stop. With the 15s, we just wanted to keep going. It was quite surprising. We knew within a few minutes the LiveX 15s were the winners, but we kept throwing different musical styles at them. After an hour, we called it quits.

That Sunday, with the student band on stage, I again switched back and forth between the LiveX 15s and the K12s. It was pretty clear what the best choice was.

I’ve not mentioned the subs much at all; and I’ll just say this. The KSub doesn’t do it for me. It’s a dual 12, and just doesn’t have the punch we need. The KW181 was pretty nice, and if we had gone with the K12s for tops, I would have gone with two KW181s. However, the LiveX EXL118P really sounded good for what it is (a $700 powered sub). We had some interesting coupling effects in the middle of the room at first with the 15s and the subs, but once we switched the 15s to “With Sub” mode, it all cleared up. This switch inserts a high pass filter at 100 Hz. With the band on the stage, we decided we needed a little more low end oomph, so I boozed the subs about 8 dB relative to the top boxes. This gave us the low end we were looking for.

So the winner, at least in this room, is the LiveX 15 and sub. It beat out the QSC speakers mainly on coverage pattern and price. Though the 15s really did sound significantly better, at least in our space. Now, you do give up a few things with the LiveX. They don’t come with the nice bags that QSC provides (however, I have a room full of EON bags that we never use). You also don’t have any integrated fly points with the LiveX, so we’re looking at ATM’s wall mounted pole arms. I’ll say that QSC makes a nice speaker, and I can see it being a perfect choice for a lot of applications. However, for us, the LiveX wins this one. Now, these are not Meyer or D&B boxes. I’m not going to say that they can compete with that level of cabinet. However, the entire system will cost less than a single M’elodie, so see them for what they are. If you’re looking for a affordable, portable system, give the LiveXs a listen. Compare them to the K-Series and see what you think. And remember, the right speaker for our room might not be the right speaker for your room.

This post is brought to you by Horizon Battery, suppliers of  award-winning Ansmann rechargeable systems that are used worldwide by Cirque du Soleil and over 25,000 schools, churches, theaters, broadcast companies, & businesses. Learn more about their pro-grade batteries and chargers by visiting their web site. Tested and recommended by leading wireless mic manufacturers and tech directors.

Rechargeable Batteries: The 1 Year Test

Last year, I wrote a series on rechargeable batteries. I’ve long been a proponent of them, having started using them in wireless mics in 2006. In that series of posts, I did some pretty extensive testing to see exactly how long two modern, NiMh AA batteries would run a Shure UHF-R mic with an SM58 capsule on it (with music played through a wedge to simulate the mic processing audio). I compared the run time to a brand new Duracell ProCell (considered the standard for alkaline–aka disposable–batteries). I expected the NiMh batteries to hold their own against the ProCell, as I’ve had good experience with them for years. What I did not expect is for the ProCells to be completely trounced by the rechargeable cells.

In that test, the best NiMh cells ran for 14 hours before the mic switched off. The ProCell only managed 9.75 hours before going dead. So not only do rechargeable batteries save you a bunch of money, they also run longer than a ProCell (by over 4 hours!). Faced with that clear and decisive victory, many people made the switch. However, some remained unconvinced. “Let’s see how they hold up in a year,” was a comment I heard often. So here we are, one year later. This time, I pulled three sets of NiMh batteries from our regular stock. These are batteries we’ve been using every week for a year. I have no idea how many cycles are on each one, because we have more stock than we actually need. I can tell you we don’t baby them, nor do we abuse them. They’ve always been charged at the soft charge setting (500 mah), and we always pull straight from the charger.

Last time around, I tested two low self-discharge chemistries, the Ansmann Max-E and the Sanyo Eneloop. Neither provided the runtime of the higher capacity NiMh batteries, but they both outlasted the ProCell. As I don’t see any compelling reason to use low self-discharge batteries in wireless mics, I’ve pulled them from our stock and didn’t re-test. I have the charger capacity to always fill mics from the charger and suggest that to everyone. I do use Eneloops at home, however, and they’re fantastic. But let’s get on to the results, shall we?

UPDATE 3/18/11:

It was pointed out that I did not include model numbers for the batteries in question. So here goes: Ansmann 2850 mAh, PowerEx 2700 mAh, Sanyo 2700 mAh. All are NiMh chemistry.


Battery Testing Graph

I think this speaks for itself. Click for a larger version


As you can see from the chart, the ProCells once again lost. Big time. This time, we got 8.5 hours out of a fresh set of ProCells, while the worst NiMh battery ran over 12.5 hours. Just as importantly, the “fall off the cliff” point (as indicate by the vertical red lines) is 7 hours for the ProCell and 11.25 hours for all three NiMh batteries. I define “fall off the cliff” as the point where you really should replace the battery as the life declines very rapidly after this point. Interestingly, last year, the Sanyo ran the longest at 14 hours (beating the Ansmann by 45 minutes); this year however, the tables turned and the Ansmann outlasted Sanyo by well over an hour.

It’s also interesting that all three NiMh batteries fall off the cliff at roughly the same point, however the Ansmann lands a little softer, giving you a little more time to get them changed. Now, with that said, quibbling over the last hour of run time in the scope of a total run time of 14 hours is rather academic. And I don’t recommend you push them this far anyway, you’re really asking for trouble after about 8-9 hours with any of them. Again, it’s interesting to note that the Ansmann indicated 3 bars far longer than the rest of them, which is consistent to what we observe each weekend.

In Use

In our use, we battery up the mics around 12:30 on Saturday, and power them off at 6:45 or so. Most of the time, the mics are reading 3 bars, though the Ansmanns tend to be reading 4 at that point. When we use them in our PSM900 IEMs, we rarely see them report less than 4 at the end of the day. Sundays are similar, though the runtime is shorter.

We’ve gotten pretty confident in the run time of these batteries; to the point where we really don’t spend much time thinking about it. Sure, I have Workbench open at FOH and glance over occasionally, but it’s more to make sure they’re all turned on; I rarely consider the battery gauge. For me, that’s a big benefit of using the rechargeable batteries; I just don’t think about them anymore. When I’m at FOH, I’d much rather spend my time thinking about the mix than wondering whether my batteries are going to hold out for one more song (and I’ve been in that boat far too many times with ProCells).

Other Observations

Last time around, I gave the nod to PowerEx batteries as the winner, though I acknowledged the other two as being so close that it really doesn’t matter. A year of use has changed my mind. We have a bunch of all three batteries, but we use the Ansmann more than the others most of the time. This is for a few reasons. First, the Sanyos are bigger than the others and don’t fit well in the UR2s. We have to pull them out, and that’s caused some degradation of the plastic wrap on the outside. Some of them are really coming apart. The PowerEx are also breaking down a little bit, and again are slightly bigger than the Ansmanns. They come out of the mics better than the Sanyos, but the smaller Ansmanns fit the best. Overall, the Ansmann cells are holding up very well, both in charge capacity and physically. We have had two Ansmann batteries short out internally, however. I’m not sure what caused this; the vocalist noticed the mic heating up, so we pulled the cells and found a clear dark line on the top of the cell. This happened twice in the first 6 months of operation, and hasn’t been repeated. We assume we got a few bad cells, because I’ve used at least 150 Ansmann batteries over the years and these are only two to ever go bad.

As I’ve said over and over, we’re saving a ton of money every year on batteries; at least $1,000 and probably more. Given that it cost us less than $300 to get into it, it’s a pretty fair bargain. I expect the batteries to last 5 years before we have to replace them, our savings is pretty significant. It’s also considerably more environmentally friendly to not dump thousands of used AAs in the trash every year. We use them and don’t think about it, which I really like.

I’m not sure how you could remain unconvinced about the effectiveness of rechargeable batteries at this point, but in case you are, we’ll revisit these same cells a year from now and see how they’re doing. Until then, I’m going to find something else to spend that $1,000 on. Maybe some new mics…

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