CTA Reviews: DiGiCo SD12

Taking a break from my sabbatical--which is sort of odd since a sabbatical is taking a break--to post this video we shot of the DiGiCo SD12. DiGiCo was kind enough to loan me one so I could re-shoot the audio training class for SALT University. 

No doubt you know, if you've followed me for any length of time, that I'm a huge DiGiCo fan. I was into them before they were cool, having bought an SD8 in 2010 for Coast Hills when I was there. I have to say, the SD12 may be my new favorite desk. It's small, powerful and very cost effective. 

The dual screen configuration is super-cool, and I'm just a huge fan of the workflow. But who cares about all this typing, let's get to the video!

Learn more at: http://www.digico.biz/docs/products/SD12.shtml

UPDATE 7-28-17: In the video I state that all channels and busses can be mono or stereo. That is not technically correct. While any of the channels and busses can be mono or stereo, there are processing limits that prevent them from all being stereo at the same time. The SD12 currently has 72 processing channels and 36 processing busses. How you arrange them (mono or stereo) is up to you. Sorry for the confusion, the video is updated with corrected title states.

CTA Review: L-Acoustics ARCS

One of my favorite PAs to date; Northview Church in Anderson, IN.

One of my favorite PAs to date; Northview Church in Anderson, IN.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a real equipment review, and I figured it was about time. I’ve been holding off on reviewing these speakers until I’ve had experience with them in multiple venues. In the past, I’ve found that speakers can sound OK (or terrible) in a demo space, or maybe even sound good in one application. But before I can give an entire system a thumbs up, I wanted to hear it in multiple venues of varying shapes and sizes. 

Spoiler Alert

I’m a huge fan of these boxes. There, I said it. I have now designed and commissioned four ARCS systems in three different styles of rooms and they have excelled in all of them. In every case, I’ve been able to achieve incredibly even coverage throughout the venue while maintaining a high level of sound quality. It’s hard to ask for more than that. 

Let’s talk about the system components. There are three models in the ARCS series; the Wide, the Focus and the ARCS II. The design of the boxes is somewhat unique in that they can be arrayed in both horizontal and vertical arrays. They don’t become a true line array when you hang them together, instead they cover the audience areas in sections. 

The ARCS series marketed as a medium throw system, up to around 35 meters. In practice, I have found this to be pretty accurate. My last system was in a room about 80’ deep and while we covered it very well, I was gaining the top box up about as high as I could to get the SPL we desired back there. They tend to work perfectly in the 50-80’ wide by 50-70’ deep 400-600 seat venues currently popular with modern churches. 

The Wide box is a 90°x30° coverage pattern rated from 55 Hz-20 KHz with a max SPL of 135 dB. The Focus box is the same except it is based around a 15° vertical coverage pattern. The ARCS II is 60°x22.5° and will reach down to 50 Hz while delivering 140 dB SPL. While the Wide and Focus boxes are built around a 12” LF and 3” HF driver, the ARCS II has a 15” LF and 3” HF driver compliment. 

Matching Power

Like all L-Acoustics systems, the ARCS have to be driven by an L-Acoustics amplifier. We typically use the LA4x, though depending on the design, the LA8 or LA12x will work equally well. The LA4x is a 4x1000W amplifier, and each channel drives one ARCS box. Each L-Acoustic speaker series has a pre-built amp preset that works some pretty great magic on the speakers, and they require very little EQ to make them sound great. In fact, the first time I commissioned a system, the construction project was so far behind that we didn’t get time to do any tuning of the PA prior to the first service. Even with nothing but the stock presets, the mix sounded great and everyone was happy. 

I’ve found the bulk of my time in commissioning an ARCS system is spent getting the delay times set correctly and doing gain shading to get the levels consistent front to back. I usually do 1-3 small EQ filters to correct a few minor things in the boxes, then apply a global EQ for tonal shaping of the PA and that’s about it. 

Even Coverage

For me, a huge design goal of any PA is evenness of coverage. Internally, we have a design standard that shoots for ±3 dB or less of variance across the seating area in the 1-4 KHz range. Personally, I shoot for ±2 or less. With the ARCs systems, I’ve always been able to hit that mark. Here are a few traces from the last system I worked on. The pink trace is the center of the house right section in the front row. The blue trace is in the same spot, but in the back row. As you can see, overall, it’s pretty darn close. Overall SPL was within .5 dB and aside from a few acoustical anomalies (the room really needs some treatment), frequency response is very similar. 

Pink trace = front of the room; Blue trace = back of the room

Pink trace = front of the room; Blue trace = back of the room

    More than evenness, the ARCS are musical. In fact, they are some of the most musical speakers I’ve heard. Because they act more like a point source box than a line array, the phase response of the system is very coherent. L-Acoustics has spent a ton of time and money refining the porting and waveguides of all their speakers to deliver very phase coherent sound, and it shows. Even the smallest details of the music some out clearly, and the low end never overwhelms the clarity. When combined with the SB18i subs (which will likely be the subject of another post), the overall system is one that I just want to keep listening to. In fact, in every case, when I’ve been commissioning a system, I’m usually done in about an hour to hour and a half, but I keep playing tracks and walking the room for another few hours because it just sounds so darn good! I keep throwing more tracks at them and they rock it each time. 

Surprisingly Affordable

I always had in my mind that L-Acoustics was the premium-priced brand. And to be sure, the higher end line array products can get pretty pricey. But the ARCS—and in particular the wide and focus boxes we are using in most cases—are very affordable. We’ve found them to compare very favorably to systems that don’t sound nearly as good out of the box, even when the somewhat expensive amps are taken into account. 

And that brings me to the two things I assign to the negative column of the ARCS. First, you have to use the L-Acoustics amplifiers; or as they call them, amplified controllers. I once asked our rep about using another manufacturer’s amp for some front fills and he said, “Yeah, don’t even suggest that.” Now, on the positive side, the amps with the factory presets are fantastic. I wouldn’t not want to use them, I just wish they were less expensive. 

Second, when going from a focus box (typically on the top of the array) to a wide box (typically on the bottom), there is a slight gap in coverage. It’s very minimal—on the order of 2 dB or so—and would only be noticed by people listening critically while walking forward in the coverage pattern. But it is there. It’s a zone that lasts about 1-2 rows depending on chair spacing. As I said, most people sitting in those chairs aren’t going to notice. But if you play a track with a lot of HF detail, you’ll hear a little dip as you move through that zone. Otherwise, they just work.

Like all speaker systems, the ARCs aren’t right for every application, or even every budget. However, if they are a fit for the space and you have the funds, they are an excellent choice.

Mike's Mixing Axioms: #5 Timing is Everything

Photo courtesy of  David Lofink

Photo courtesy of David Lofink

Well, I bet you thought I forgot all about our final mixing axiom. I have not in fact forgotten, but have been really busy. In the past few weeks, I was part of a launch of a new church campus in Indiana, we kicked off a design process for another church in Indiana, and I took a week off to spend time with my daughter and her boyfriend who were visiting from California. In the midst of all that, writing this post took a back seat. Sorry about that! But here we are, at the final axiom. And perhaps it’s appropriate that the title is Timing is Everything.

I’m going to look at this from two completely different perspectives, both of which will make your services better. 

Time your Effects to the Song Tempo

This tip has made one of the biggest, subtle improvements to my mixes of anything I do. It’s a huge improvement because you can get really creative and layer in a bunch of great reverbs and delays which create a super-rich sonic landscape while not muddling up the mix—if it’s all in time! So often, I hear mixes that have a ton of delay and reverb in them, but because it’s not in time, it just “blurs” the sound. All those extra reflections and delays out of time make it hard to understand lyrics and can obscure instruments. However, when it’s in time, it just sounds good! 

I’ve written about this quite a lot, so I’m not going to go into great detail here. However, it’s one of those things that makes such a difference—and is so easy to do—that it’s worth mentioning again in a post about timing. 

Nail the Transitions

The other issue of timing has to do with transitions. In my view, transitions can make or break a service. Picture this; you’re in the congregation, the worship team is finishing up the last song, everyone is in a posture of worship. It’s time for the pastor to come up and pray. Except his mic is off. Suddenly the mic snaps on mid-sentence while the band abruptly cuts off. You’re immediately jolted out of worship posture to, “what just happened” posture. Bad transitions strike again.

It’s super-important that we not screw up the service by screwing up transitions. Set you console up so you can easily transition from worship to prayer without breaking anything. Maybe it’s just setting up a few VCAs to make it easy. It could be using snapshots or scenes. But whatever you have to do to make those transitions seamless, do it. 

Getting these transitions right means you need to be thinking ahead and be aware of what is going on in the service. You shouldn’t be surprised when the pastor comes up to pray. You need to be ready to make that transition, even if it happens differently than it says in Planning Center. As you approach the end of the last song in the music set, start thinking about how you’re going to go from band to whatever is next. As the video bumper is winding down, figure out the movements you need to make to get to the next thing. Think ahead, don’t wait until one element ends to begin contemplating what is next.

This was an area that I spent considerable time training my volunteers on. Virtual soundcheck is a godsend here. I would cue up a transition point and let them run it again and again until they became comfortable. You may need to practice this as well. Spend some time during the week considering how to smooth out the transitions and the service will be better for it.

So there you go; Mike’s Mixing Axioms. Hopefully this has been a good series. I’ve got lots of ideas brewing for new posts as well as some big changes around here for 2017. Stay tuned!

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