It’s been a while since I’ve talked about rechargeable batteries. Mainly because there was no new news with the Ansmann brand we had been using, and I wanted to try out the new ones for a while before giving an update. Thankfully, the wait was worth it, and this is good news. When Upper Room […]
Rechargeable Battery Test
One of my most popular series of posts was last year’s rechargeable battery test. As far as I can tell, I did one of the more comprehensive, real-world tests of how rechargeable batteries hold up in wireless mics. Now that we’ve been using the cells for a year, I thought I would do a follow up post to see how they’re holding up. The results may surprise you…or not.
Environmental Projection Recap
Yesterday, we were privileged to host Camron Ware and his roving band of projectors as he talked to us about and demonstrated Environmental projection. He had some great thoughts, and the images are stunning.
QSC K-Series/EV LiveX Shootout
After Camron left for the airport, we moved over to our community room to fire up some powered speakers. We spent about 4 hours listening to and playing with K12s, KW12s, LiveX 15s, LiveX 12s and all the subs. The results went pretty well, and we thought we had a winner (though it was by a nose) until we threw up one more set (that I wasn’t planning on testing). Then the entire game changed…
Symetrix Jupiter DSP
The other thing we tested yesterday was the Jupiter 8×8 processor. On paper, and in the offline editor, it looked like a great processing option for our student/community room. After spending the afternoon with it, will we move forward with an installation?
APB/Dynasonics ProDesk 4
While we were playing around with speakers, a truck pulled up to our dock and dropped off something I’ve been wanting to play with for a while; a ProDesk 4. As we re-capped in our Digital vs. Analog series of webinars (Part 1 and Part 2), digital is not right for everyone. And if you’re going to go analog, go with good analog. I’ve heard nothing but positive things about the ProDesk (and the entire APB line for that matter) and am eager to get my hands on one. And now it’s in the loading dock. How fortuitous!
New Shure Mics
Since my QSC rep is also my Shure rep, he brought down a series of new Beta mics to for me to play with. I have a Beta 91A, two varieties of Beta 98, but the one I’m most interested in is the Beta 181. It’s an all-new mic with interchangeable heads and is supposed to be wonderful on guitar cabs and as overheads on drums. We’ll be testing them over the next few weeks.
I’ve been wanting to do this for some time, and this year it’s coming together. Thanks to the generous support of DPA Microphones, Van and I will be doing a whole series (24, we hope!) of short videos from NAB. We plan to highlight new products, interview manufacturers and bring the NAB experience to your desktop. We’re totally stoked to be able to do this, and a bit frightened that it’s only a few weeks away. If you are going and need a pass, click here. Keep an eye out for our coverage starting the week of April 11.
So that’s about it. You can see why I’m pretty excited. Lots of good stuff is happening, and we’ll have lots of great content to bring you over the next few months. Thanks for reading!
I was skeptical about the need for Thunderbolt, but now I’m excited. This could be really useful for us in the audio/video fields.
The Table Project’s Jason Wenell | Church Marketing Sucks
You’ve heard about The Table. Now hear from the developer.
Receivd – Real-Time File Sharing
If you ever need to share large sets of files with someone (and who doesn’t?), this could be really useful.
Love Wins and Truth Prevails, But Speed Kills ‘em Both | Don’t Eat The Fruit
Good advice to remember before you hit the “Send” button.
Free iPad app offers software training | Business | iOS Central | Macworld
One more training resource.
Canister lets you add water (or bodily fluids) to recharge batteries
Going beyond rechargeable batteries into fuel cells. This is interesting tech coming down the pike. Now if we can adapt this to wireless mic batteries…
Now when I first wrote the article, it was really a, “I didn’t think this would work, but here’s an interesting finding” piece. I couldn’t really explain why it worked, it was simply clear that it was working. However, after doing some analysis and thinking about what’s going on in our room, I’ve come to a conclusion. But first, I should qualify this as saying that this works great for us, in our room, with our band, and our PA. I’m willing to admit that we may be the only venue in the world where it does work (more on that in a minute). Regardless, here’s why I think it works for us.
First off, we have a perfect storm of bad FOH locations. In our room, FOH is in a balcony 20 feet above the audience, 90 feet from the PA. We have a PA that was not designed for our room, and is hung incorrectly. The top boxes (EAW KF750s) are aimed directly at the FOH position. The bottom boxes (KF 755s) are pointed at the front section of seating on the floor. That means the whole back section of the house is entirely off axis of the PA. We have a 10 dB SPL difference between FOH and the back section of seating and 6 dB SPL between FOH and the front. In case you’re not hip to how big of a difference that is (the SPL scale is logarithmic), it’s a lot! And because of the way the boxes interact, the frequency response between the floor and the balcony is completely different. And don’t get me started on the side walls (slanted, but the wrong way) and the hard back wall with no treatment on it right behind us.
We’ve spent hours and hours trying to tweak the PA to create a more even sound across the seating area and in the balcony, however nothing short of a complete re-hang will fix it. And even that solution will put the FOH position off-axis of the mains, and leave us again not hearing what everyone else hears on the floor. As an aside; kids, this is why you pay for a proper design of your PA and don’t just hang any old cabinets in the air willy-nilly.
The net result of all those factors is that what we hear in the balcony is nothing like what everyone else hears on the floor. Seriously; it’s not even close. We may as well be mixing in a different room on different speakers (in fact, we are…). However as it turns out, the frequency and dynamic response of our UE7s closely approximates what the PA is actually doing on the floor. This is clear when we build a mix with the IEMs in, then pull them out to listen at FOH, then go downstairs. The mix built on the UE7s sounds OK at FOH (and often quite a bit bright), but downstairs it is remarkably similar—and remarkably good.
Again, I will point out that we’re not just plugging in our ears, closing our eyes and mixing. Wally Grant pointed out on Twitter (in response to a Dave Miller tweet) that he too thought this was crazy unless we were to give everyone in the house earplugs. We don’t of course; and to make sure we’re not going crazy with the mix, we have an FFT, real-time SPL and SPL logging running at FOH, and have for the past 6-8 months. We know how loud our music is supposed to be, and it’s an easy matter of glancing over at the meter and level graph to see how we’re doing. We also make it a regular habit of popping out the ears and listening live. And we have someone else in the booth listening who can suggest adjustments as needed (which is not that often). Interestingly, we used to get complaints on the volume almost every week. Those complaints have largely disappeared.
Now, would I rather have a properly designed and installed PA that provides even coverage over the entire room and have FOH on the floor so we can actually hear what everyone else hears? Absolutely!! But until someone is willing to write that $150,000 check to make it happen, we can either mix in a different acoustic space, on different speakers and get lousy, inconsistent results, or we can mix on our UE7s and enjoy weekly compliments.
Tim Corder hashtagged a Tweet saying, “Just because it’s on a blog doesn’t make it good.” (To which I wanted to respond, “Guys, I’m right here…I can hear you) But he is right. Just because it works in our room for us doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for everyone. However, the fact of the matter is in our room, it works. I’m even willing to suggest that we may be the only facility in the world where we get better results mixing on ears than mixing listening to the PA. (Actually I don’t believe that, but it is possible.) He also said it’s called “live” mixing for a reason. Again, I agree. I don’t mix dead. I’m listening to the music at the exact same time the congregation hears it. I respond to the band just like I would in any other setting and I watch the crowd to see how they’re responding. It’s all happening in real time; dare I say, live. I’m simply choosing to monitor the mix on a source that more closely approximates what the crowd is hearing.
Now, if you have a lousy FOH position, this technique costs nothing to try and may give you good results. It also may not. If it doesn’t work for you, put the IEMs back in the tin and try something else. All I can say with confidence is that it’s made a huge improvement in our place. In fact, this past Saturday during debrief, our Sr. Pastor commented (on his own), “The sound was awesome tonight.” I was mixing, and went back and forth between ears in and ears out all night.
Since I wrote this post, my friend Dave Stagl wrote a counter point explaining why he thinks this technique is flawed. As I said, Dave is my friend and I respect his opinion and skill. Dave makes a compelling argument and I agree with almost all of what he says. We’ve talked about this on a few occasions and while we may differ as to our approach, we agree completely on one thing; at the end of the day, the people who sign our checks need to be happy. And right now, even with two different approaches, my boss is happy, as is Dave’s.
And when it comes down to it, I’m not advocating this technique. I just think it’s interesting. If you don’t think it’s a good idea, don’t do it. I won’t be offended. Now, can we get on to more fun debates like whether that bottom snare mic is really necessary or if rechargeable batteries work or not?
Of course, the big news was Shure’s Axient system. Billed as a “game-changer,” it will certainly set a new standard for interference free wireless mics. Shure’s done up a whole mini-site just for Axient, and I encourage you to check it out for more details. The summary goes like this: Axient is an active system that monitors for, detects and automatically changes frequencies when interference comes along. During the private demo we saw, the Shure rep was speaking into an Axient handheld. They switched on a second handheld tuned to the same frequency and in well under a second, the system detected the interference, and changed channels, restoring the clean audio.
Note that the system is changing channels on both the transmitter and receiver, and doing it automatically!
To make that work, you employ the ShowLink AP, which enables the system to remotely control the transmitters, and you can make adjustments to them from Wireless Workbench 6 as well. ShowLink operates in the 2.4 GHz band and can talk to up to 16 transmitters at once. Another amazing feature is Frequency Diversity. The new handheld can transmit on two separate frequencies at once and the Axient receiver will take those two frequencies, monitor them and send the best one out the single audio output. If interference hits one channel, the receiver switches to the other one (inaudibly) and picks a new frequency to replace the bad one. For for the “money” mic, you now have real RF redundancy.
The system is also compatible with UHF-R transmitters, so you can dual-bodypack the talent and do frequency diversity as well. They’ve also developed some pretty impressive Lithium Ion rechargeable packs and chargers for the new components. Availability is said to be “Spring,” with cost being “at a premium to UHF-R.” So it’s not going to be cheap. But when you absolutely have to have rock-solid wireless, Axient is going to be the choice.
Continuing on with Shure’s announcements, we also saw the new PSM1000 wireless IEM. The new flagship in their PSM line, the 1000 is built around a single rack space dual transmitter and the new true diversity P10R receiver. The PSM1000 should have all the audio and even better RF performance than the PSM900 (which I picked as the winner in last summer’s IEM shootout). It also has some cool new features including a 70 MHz tuning bandwidth, the ability to do a full scan of the tuning spectrum and transmit that data to the transmitter for analysis, programming or uploading to Workbench 6.
We saw a single pack do a full scan of the spectrum, the data being sent via IR to the transmitter then watched as the transmitter picked 4 good frequencies and programmed all for units in the rack. It’s pretty impressive. This product should be available shortly at a price higher than the PSM900.
Defining most popular is tricky. One way is to look at stats for individual posts. That’s incomplete, however, as the vast majority of people just come straight to the blog and read what’s on the home page. So I really don’t know how many people have read which posts. Another way to count it up is to view the posts with the most comments; presumably if people care enough about the post to comment on it, it’s significant. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to count comments per post, so that’s going to be tough.
So I’ve defaulted to picking the 10 posts that have received the most individual traffic. The list surprised me, and perhaps there are some here that you missed. Thanks for sticking with me and giving me a reason to write this much. 500 posts in 3 1/2 years has been a lot of fun!
Top 10 Posts of All Time (as counted by number of distinct views per post)
Good quality microphones give the biggest performance increase for the money invested. If the right sound is not captured by the microphone, then no amount of technical gadgets is going to be able to get a good sound. Avoid vocal microphones with high proximity effect (increase in bass response) (e.g. Shure PG58, Shure SM58).
I’ll start by stating that I disagree with most of that paragraph. Yes, good quality microphones are important. However, when you rank them on the “benefit for dollars spent” scale, you only get big gain for dollars if you’re upgrading from those 3 for $19 deals you see in the Kingdom Electronics ads. Once you get into mics that cost $100 or more, the differences are often subtle and in some cases, academic. Case in point; Bono quite often sings into an SM58. Should he be avoiding that microphone? I wonder if he’s ever tried the PG58?
So why do I think microphones do not provide the greatest improvement for dollars invested? Simple: What we do is sound reinforcement in a live setting and as such, I think speakers better fit that description. I’ll unpack this more in a later post; let’s get back to microphones.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan of good mics. In fact, I’ve spent a fair amount of money recently improving the depth and breadth of our mic locker. A good mic can make a big difference. And right now, I’m buying new mics because I don’t have enough money to buy a new PA. So even though my other sound engineers and I notice that the PR-22 sounds a lot better on the snare than the SM57 it replaced, I’ve yet to have anyone come up to me and tell me that the snare sounds better. That’s because it’s a subtle difference and we’re listening for it (and we note how much less EQ is required to make it sound good).
Conversely, if we hung a new PA that had vastly better coverage, evenness, phase response, lower comb filtering and overall better fidelity, I think people would notice. To be sure, it’s going to cost some coin to make that happen, and for the same amount of money, I could have bought a truckload of mics. But I’m quite sure I could replace the e609 on our guitar amp with a U87 (roughly 30 times the price of a 609) and no one would notice.
So my recommendation to the reader was not to replace the drawer full of SM58s just yet, rather, investigate a new speaker system. Once the system can faithfully reproduce what you send it, then start looking at better mics.
Now let’s get on to another part of the report that I mostly agree with.
Microphones should be selected from a trial use after the rest of the sound system is brought up to standard. The more expensive microphones have a flatter frequency response (more natural sound, higher volume before feedback occurs), better off axis rejection (more volume before feedback, less pick-up of adjacent instruments or voices), lower proximity effect (tone changes at varying distance from mic), lower handling noise, better “pop” filters
Generally all of this is true. What I take issue with is the notion of “more expensive” microphones are inherently better choices. Case in point: When we bought our new wireless system, I specified one KSM9 capsule that I planned on using that for our worship leader. Turns out, it doesn’t work for him. And as we’ve tried it on many of our vocalists, it doesn’t work for most of them either. In fact, some of them really don’t like it.
So here we have a capsule that’s over $500, and for the most part, we and most of our singers prefer capsules that sell for less than half that. Quite honestly, I’d be really ticked if I had ordered ten KSM9s instead of ten SM58s based on the notion that more expensive=better. In fact, I’m going back and ordering a few more Beta 87s because in our PA, with our singers, they are a superior choice.
Does this make the KSM9 a bad mic? No! On paper, it is be head and shoulders above the Beta 87 or SM58. However, the less-flat frequency response, proximity effect and wider pattern make the latter two better choices for our vocalists.
And that brings me to the one part of the consultant’s report that I thoroughly agree with:
Microphones should be selected from a trial use after the rest of the sound system is brought up to standard.
Before you go out and commit big dollars on new mics, try them out. If you can get demos, do it. If not, buy from a dealer who will let you return them if you don’t like them. Try a large cross-section of mics if you can. The best choice might surprise you. In our case, we much prefer a Heil RC-35 on our worship leader over the KSM9, even though the Heil is 1/2 the price. And our student worship leader sounds fantastic on a RC-22. I’ve always been a big fan of the Neuman KMS105; we had a KMS104 on our worship leader and I thought it made him sound muddy with no clarity at all.
Most importantly, don’t let anyone sell you a microphone because it’s more expensive and therefore “better.” It may have better specs, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice. Try it out and hear for yourself.
So what did I do on my week off? Not a whole lot. And that was by design. I slept in every day until at least 9 AM. I normally don’t sleep that well, and it takes taking a week off to realize how tired I am most of the time. Possible goal for 2009; go see a sleep specialist and find out why I can’t sleep.
My wife, oldest daughter and I walked up and down Summit Ave. in St. Paul one afternoon. For those unfamiliar, Summit Ave contains the largest collection of Victorian architecture in the US. There are some simply amazing houses there. I would have pictures except every one of my rechargeable batteries failed in my camera when I tried to take a few shots. The sidewalks were largely iced over, so it was as much an exercise in balance as anything else. We’ll go back in the spring…
After the rechargeable battery debacle, I spent several hours researching battery chemistry. I learned a lot, and once my new batteries get here, I’ll have more to say about that. Like everything else, the equipment has to be matched to the application, and mine was not. In the end, it’s good news for churches who are looking to spend less money on batteries. Look for some posts on this topic in the coming months.
I got to run the snow blower a few times, which is always fun when you have a new snow blower. I’m sure that will wear off by March, but for now I’m looking forward to more snow…
We watched a lot of Discovery HD. I missed Planet Earth the first time it came out, so I TiVo’d the ones they’re running this week. It’s truly fascinating, and I found myself asking over and over, “How did they get that shot?” Even the girls enjoyed it. I also became totally addicted to Storm Chasers.
I bought a new DVD player when our 10-year old Sony decided to stop playing brand new CDs. I still can’t quite justify spending the coin on Blu-Ray (especially since I can download HD movies to my TiVo from Netflix), so I spent $58 on an upconverting Toshiba. I’ll have to say the picture of an upconverted DVD sent to my 50″ DLP is pretty amazing. We watched Prince Caspian last night and the picture blew me away.
I also spent some time just listening to music. I haven’t been able to do that in a while, and it was good to sit and listen. Of course, I had to fiddle with the various surround modes of my receiver, tweak the tone controls and mess with speaker distances, but I did enjoy the music.
Having some time off gave me an opportunity to read as well. I re-read a book from my college days, On Writing Well by William Zinsser. I had forgotten what a great book that is. I have also started The Shack. I wasn’t prepared for how good that was going to be either.
Finally, I put some structure to a book that’s been rattling around in my head for nearly a year. I have started writing it twice, and now that I have a plan, I expect to make some good progress on it by mid-year. Though the primary topic is the technical arts in the church, it’s probably not going to be what you expect. More to come.
So that was my week off. I still have 3 more days before I’m back to work. We have a few more movies to watch, and tomorrow the girls and I are trekking down to Minneapolis to walk around and have lunch. And it’s supposed to snow, so I may get the snow blower out again!
Happy New Year!
First let’s to a Pros and Cons of wired and wireless mics (and for this discussion, I’m referring to vocal mics—we’ll leave the discussion of lapel mics for another time).
- Significantly less expensive per channel
- Rock solid reliability (provided you buy good cables, and you did buy good cables, right?)
- No batteries to buy
- Easy to store, maintain and use
- No chance of the mic shutting down during a service because you forgot to change the battery
- Lots of options to choose from, easy to get the “right” sound
- Smaller package to hold
- Wires, everywhere; they’re ugly and tend to clutter up the stage
- You can’t wander that far without getting tangled up
- You need to lay out and pick up all those wires
- You need a line back to the board for each mic, which means a bigger snake, or more installed wiring
- No cord = neater stage, more mobility
- Easy set up and take down
- They take up no channels on the snake or installed wiring
- Batteries—they eat them like growing teenagers eat cereal
- Batteries can go dead during a service
- RF interference can be an issue if they are not frequency coordinated properly (and even if they are…)
- Significantly more expensive per channel
- You need space to put receivers
- [added] The compander circuit in most wireless mics can have negative effects on gain before feedback as well as the sound (see Dave’s comment for more detailed explanation—thanks, Dave!)
- Did I mention batteries?
So, at first glance, it might look like wired mics are the way to go, right? Mmmm, yes and no. Here’s what I advise smaller churches with limited budgets: buy enough wired mics to suit your needs, and if there is budget left over, buy a high quality wireless mic. Here’s the thing—a high quality wireless mic system will set you back a good $600-750. We’re talking about at a minimum a Shure ULXP, Sennheiser G2, AKG WMS 400 or AT 4000 series. If you go with anything less than that, you’ll be disappointed (with the possible exception of the AT 3000 series, which sound pretty decent for about $450-500, just be very careful with frequencies).
Now I know there are some budget conscious shoppers out there saying, “But Mike, we use XXX wireless system and it only cost us $250 and it sounds great.” No, it doesn’t. It sounds adequate at best. If you compare it to even the lowly SM58 wired mic, the 58 will sound better. There is a reason the high quality mics cost what they do, and it’s all about the quality of the sound and the reliability.
Another problem is that cheaper units will not play nice once you get more than a few of them operating in the same room simultaneously. Our church made the mistake of buying cheap ($300) Shure UT systems by the caseload and we have trouble every time we turn more than 6 of them on at once. That’s because they are not designed to do that. And now I’m phasing them out, putting thousands of dollars on the shelf.
I hate it when churches buy stuff that they will throw away in a few years because they can’t afford good stuff now. The thinking goes like this: We can’t afford to spend $700 each on the 5 wireless mics we want, so we’ll buy 5 $300 systems now, and upgrade later. Bad idea. Not only will you end up wasting $1500 on the ones you get rid of, but you’ll be unhappy with them while you own them. It’s far better to buy five $200 wired mics now, because they will still sound great in 5 years and will still be useful when you can afford to drop $3500 on wireless.
Please don’t waste God’s money because you want what you can’t afford. Buy good stuff. Make sure everything you buy will still serve a purpose 5 -10years from now. Plus, what you do buy will serve you better because it will be of good quality.
Now for larger churches, the wireless option is a good way to go, with some caveats. First, make sure you buy a high quality system that is rated for at least 10-12 channels in your room. Make double dog sure you frequency coordinate for your location (most manufacturers have an online tool for this, or ask your vendor). Buy from one manufacturer, trying to frequency coordinate is tough enough without having to cross frequency groups. Once you get past 4 channels, start looking at antenna combiners. It keeps the installation neater, and gives you better results.
Develop a battery policy that has a high margin of safety (ie. change them before every service). I really like using rechargeables because I hate throwing batteries away (check out my post on rechargeable batteries). Buy mics with good capsules on them. Many people don’t know you can order the transmitters with a wide variety of heads. Treat that selection process like you would for wired mics. You may even want to buy a few different types (of capsules, not wireless systems) to suit different singers.
I would also suggest you evaluate why you want to go wireless. Is it to go for a really clean stage look? Consider what else you can do to achieve that goal. Is it for freedom of movement? At Crosswinds, the harmony singers pretty much stay put, so they are all wired. I use a wireless for the worship leader to give them the option of moving, and I bought a really good head (Beta 87C), so it’s one of our better sounding mics.
It all boils down to my overall strategy for church equipment purchases: Do it right, do it once. Don’t buy junk, and don’t buy stuff you won’t be able to use in 5 years. Hopefully this will help guide you toward making really wise decisions and give your congregation, vocalists and tech crew the equipment they deserve. Peace.
Photo courtesy of Nick Fisher I love moving sidewalks. Whenever I’m trucking through an airport trying to get from A13 to B47 as quickly as possible, I always take the moving sidewalk when available. I love the feel of the wind at my face and that sense of superior speed and time management I feel […]