Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: June 2014 (Page 2 of 2)

How Custom IEMs are Made Pt. 1

I’ve been using Ultimate Ears for about four years now, and one thing I can say for sure is they are dedicated to producing great products and serving their customers. Oh, and the ears sound pretty darn good, too. A few weeks ago, they invited me up to the office to take some photos to show you all of you. 

Like me, you probably never considered how custom IEMs are made. I was frankly quite surprised how much hand work was involved; I expected much more of the process to be automated. 

The process starts with a set of impressions. Below is a really bad picture of me having my impressions made. We have become really spoiled with our iPhone cameras the last few models… But I digress.

A two part gooey substance is squirted into your ears (after they put a cotton ball in to keep it from hitting your ear drums). You’ll note that there is a bite block in my mouth. This opens your jaw and changes the shape of your ear canal slightly which is especially important for singers. If they weren’t molded “open mouth,” every time the singer would open his or her mouth to sing, the seal would break and sound would be comprised.

It’s a weird feeling to have this stuff squirted into your ear. It’s a bit like being underwater. Thankfully, it cures in about 3 minutes. This substance forms an exact mold of the inside of your ears. In fact, when they pull them out, they look like this. 

The strings are attached to the cotton ball "plugs." 

The strings are attached to the cotton ball “plugs.” 

Once the molds are made, they head back to the shop where a dozen skilled technicians craft and shape the shells that will become the custom IEMs. One of the things about custom molded IEMs is that they rely on being exactly the same shape as your ear canal to maintain a seal. If the shape is off, the seal will be off and sound is compromised. Unlike universal fits, which have a foam seal that conform to anyone’s ear, the shape in customs has to be spot on. UE takes great pains to make sure the shape is right. 

The first step in the process is to refine the actual mold. As you can see from the photo above, there are strings and a cotton ball that needs to be removed, and they need some slight clean up. That happens at this “grinding” station. 

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

At this station, the mold is cleaned up and prepared for the next step. This phase is especially critical because any mistake here will translate to the final shell, and a new mold will be required. It takes a lot of skill to know how to buff this up so it’s useable, but not too small.

The next step is to make an inverse mold from silicone. I don’t have any shots of that as they weren’t doing any when I was there. But you’ll see what the mold looks like in the next few steps. 

Once the inverse mold is created, the shell beings to take shape. I hadn’t seen this step before, but it’s pretty cool. 

You can see the polished impressions on the table. Click to enlarge.

You can see the polished impressions on the table. Click to enlarge.

A UV-cured resin is poured into the mold. Remember, the mold is the exact shape of the inside of your ear, so the resin will be the exact shape. But the shell needs to be hollow, and the exact thickness all around. So how do you do that? This part is cool.


Once the molds are filled, they are placed in a special UV oven. Lids are placed on top of the molds, the door is closed and the timer started. Each color plastic has a very specific time that will cure the resin to the exact thickness. As it cures from the outside in, it only cures the outside. 

The molds are removed from the oven and the excess resin is poured off. Because it’s a UV cured resin, there’s no hurry. The molds then go back in the oven to be cured again. This time, the lid is left off as they want the whole thickness cured. 


After curing, the molds head to the next station. In the photo above, you see all the steps in the process so far. The original impression, the mold, and the custom shell. If everything has gone according to plan, the shells should be the exact same shape as the impression. It seems easy, but there’s a lot that goes into it up to this point.


Enough things can and do go wrong that UE employs over 20 different QC check points to make sure everything fits the way it should. Here, a technician checks the shell against the mold. Any gaps will effect the sound, and that is unacceptable. It has to be perfect. 

After the shells are approved at this point, it moves on to the electronics station. 


Today’s post is brought to you by Pacific Coast Entertainment. Pacific Coast Entertainment is the premier event production company servicing Southern California and the western states. PCE offers a complete line of Lighting, Audio, Video, and Staging equipment for rentals, sales and installs. Where old fashion customer service meets high tech solutions. PCE, your one stop tech resource.

Church Tech Weekly Episode 200: Who Has Time?

It’s Episode 200! After four years of being on the air, we took a look back at some of our favorite CTW moments while we reminisced about some great times. Sit back, relax and be ready to laugh. A lot!


Today’s post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

Keep An Open Mind

Despite the grammatical challenge, Apple's campaign is a great concept for a company and for life. 

Despite the grammatical challenge, Apple’s campaign is a great concept for a company and for life. 

From what I can gather, one of the traits of most successful people is the ability to try new things. Ability may be the wrong word—we all have the ability to try new things. Perhaps the word I’m looking for is desire. I love to try new things. I’m always on the lookout for some new technology, process, idea, whatever. Along the way, I’ve made some fantastic discoveries. 

Sadly, I have also had many conversations that go somewhat like this.

Other Person: So, what kind of PA are you putting in your room?

Me: Bose RoomMatch. We’re pretty excited about it.

OP: Oh, I would never mix on one of those. Terrible.

Me: Really? Have you ever mixed on it?

OP: No.

Me: Have you ever heard it?

OP: No.

Me: Have you even looked into the technology behind it?

OP: No. Bose=bad. That’s all I know.

Usually, all I can say at that point is, “Huh.” Now, we all have our biases. We all have things we know that we generally like. Given the choice, I’d probably choose a Heil mic over another most of the time. But if someone shows up with a new mic I’ve not used before, I’ll give it a shot. In fact, that’s how I discovered Heil. I had never heard of them five years ago, but someone showed up with a box full, and we gave them a try.

Try New Things

Alton Brown used to say, “Play with your food!” I tend to agree. Try new things. You never know what’s going to happen. Just because you’ve been doing something the same way for the last 10 years doesn’t mean it’s the best way. Talk to someone else and see if you can learn something from them.

I’m convinced that one of the reasons our stage is so efficient is because I’ve stolen ideas from a lot of smart people over the last 10 years. Every time I visit a church or talk with another TD, I try to pick out something that I can learn from them. It’s amazing how much you will know if you just talk with other people. 

Take Ideas From Unexpected Sources

I read all kinds of blogs and magazines and books. Some of them are directly related to my field, many are not. But I try to learn from all of them. I’ve picked up on some brilliant ways to automate my tech booth by reading computer articles. I’ve learned to be a better leader by reading articles on successful entrepreneurs. 

Even though Coast Hills is considered a big church, I’ve even learned many things from my fellow TDs at smaller churches. Don’t ever think you’ve learned all you will learn, or that whoever you’re talking to right now doesn’t have something to teach you. Some of the process we have in place at Coast were developed by someone who wasn’t even born when I started doing production. 

Don’t Pre-Judge

We all know prejudice is bad. However, we practice prejudice all the time. As I mentioned at the start of this article, some audio guys I know have a huge prejudice against Bose. That might be well-earned; their earlier stuff was not great. However, don’t let that blind you to new innovations. A few years ago, we all “knew” digital audio was inferior to analog audio. Today, most of us would not give up our digital consoles. But I have talked with some old guys who are convinced digital is bad; not because they’ve ever used it, know anything about it or heard it, but because analog is what they know.

If someone says, “Hey, have you ever tried this?” Don’t shut it down because it doesn’t fit your pre-conceived notion of what it should or should not be. Weigh the merits and try it. You might find a great new technique or product. 

It’s easy to fall into a rhythm of how we do things. But rhythms can become ruts. And ruts are just graves with the ends kicked out. Stay out of the graves; try new things!


Today’s post is brought to you by myMix. myMix is an intuitive, easy-to-use personal monitor mixing and multi-track recording system that puts each user in control of their own mix! myMix features two line-level balanced 1/4″ TRS outputs and one 1/8″ (3.5mm) headphone output, the ability to store up to 20 named profiles on each station, 4-band fully parametric stereo output EQ recording of up to 18 tracks plus stereo on an SD card. Learn more at myMixaudio.com

In-Ear Mixing Webinar

I’ll be hosting a webinar on Tuesday June 10 at 11 am CDT to talk about some of the best practices for helping musicians with their personal mixers. I’m talking with some folks from MyMix on how to best build stems and mixes so the musicians can be most successful. 

It’s a free webinar, but space is limited to 100, so get there early. You can view the webinar by clicking this link. 

For those that have trouble with time zones, the time will be 12 PM Eastern, 11 AM Central, 10 AM Mountain and 9 AM Pacific. If your state or county doesn’t observe daylight savings time, well, you’re own your own. 

CHCC Remodel: New PA, Pt. 2

Last time, I began talking about our new PA. After making the design change from exploded mono to left-right, we had to figure out how to get coverage over the widest section of seating in the middle, while keeping as much sound off the walls as possible. Here again, I was glad we chose the system we did.

At worst, we're down 2-3 dB in the corners of the room, which is a far cry from the 12-18 dB variations we have now.

At worst, we’re down 2-3 dB in the corners of the room, which is a far cry from the 12-18 dB variations we have now.

Asymmetrical Boxes For the Win

One of the best features of RoomMatch is how many different modules they have available. It’s not a line array; it’s a progressive directivity array. Each box covers part of the room. Because we wanted wider coverage in the middle than on the sides, we used asymmetric boxes to get some sense of stereo to about 80% of the room, while keeping most of the sound off the walls. 

And because it’s all done mechanically, we limit the effect of phase shifts and smear that tends to happen when you try this in DSP. I don’t know of any other system that can solve problems in coverage the way RoomMatch can. As you can see from the plot, it’s not quite as even as the exploded mono, but I think it’s going to sound very nice.

Each array is made up of mirror-imaged symmetrical and asymmetrical boxes. Here’s the house right one to give you an idea:

  • L26°, R45° x 05°
  • L26°, R60° x 05°
  • L26°, R60° x 05°
  • 120° x 05°
  • 120 x 10°
  • 120 x 20°

The top three boxes are 26° to the left, but 45 or 60° to the right. The last number is the vertical coverage. On the right side, the left and right coverage numbers are flipped. It’s pretty cool what you can do with both symmetrical and asymmetrical boxes in a design.

We'll have more low end to play with than ever before. A lot more.

We’ll have more low end to play with than ever before. A lot more.

The Low End

Right now, we have almost no low end in the room. The new system will have four dual 18” subs, flown in the center in a cardioid pattern. As you can see, the coverage is pretty even, with only a little bit of falloff in the back corners—which may be good; bass tends to build up in the corners anyway.

What About Speech?

One common question is how to solve the phase issues that will crop up in the overlap area when it comes to speech. Well, there is no way to solve that. There will be phase issues, but our ears are designed to hear in stereo, so each person’s ears will localize to the closest speaker.

Because this was a concern for me as well, I spoke with a few guys who mix on well designed, well tuned stereo rigs and asked them about speech. Both said it would be fine. And when I think back on my experience at Church on the Move last year, we sat right in the middle and never had any issues hearing the speakers. So I think we’re good. 

Plus, simply pointing the speakers at the seats will increase intelligibility by a factor of about 10.

The Rest of the System

Along with the RoomMatch speakers, we chose the Bose PowerMatch amps to drive them. The amps have a considerable amount of DSP in them and are fully networked. The amps will handle the array correction as well as the settings for the cardioid sub array.  An ESP-880 DSP will act as the overall traffic cop for the audio and do our system shaping. Having spent some time with Control Space Designer, I have to say I’m very impressed with the way Bose does DSP. 

Get Help

I’ve said this before, but when you’re working on a big system like this, get some help. I am not a speaker system design expert. I have a good understanding of what I want, and have good ideas on how to get there. But I still relied on my integrator (CCI) and the manufacturer (Bose) to get us the final designs. I definitely had input into the system and made many suggestions along the way, but it was the guys who really know the engineering that figured out how to implement my ideas into reality. 

How Does It Sound?

Stay tuned. This article posts on June 6, and we’re beginning installation on June 9. You can be sure I’ll have some posts up after the first weekend, and probably after that as we get the system dialed.


Today’s post is brought to you by Heil Sound. Established in 1966, Heil Sound Ltd. has developed many professional audio innovations over the years, and is currently a world leader in the design and manufacture of large diaphragm dynamic, professional grade microphones for live sound, broadcast and recording.

CHCC Remodel: New PA, Pt. 1

One of the biggest things I’m looking forward to in this renovation process is the new PA. For five years, this PA has been the bane of my FOH existence. Of the 12 speakers in the two clusters, 8 of them are pointed at walls. Only two actually cover the audience. As a result, 80% of our seating area is off-axis of the old PA. And with all that reflected energy coming back off the walls, it’s a less than clear system. 

Choosing a PA

I actually chose our PA well over a year ago. My friend Duke kept telling me about Bose RoomMatch and how he thought it would be a great solution in our room. After hearing it in several venues, we did a demo in our room. It was clear it would work great. 

Now I know some of you are scoffing at the name Bose. And if you haven’t heard the RoomMatch, you’re forgiven. Previous Bose systems were less than stellar. The new RoomMatch, however, has a lot going for it. It may not be an L’Acoustics or Meyer, but those are out of our price range. I looked hard and couldn’t find anything close to as good in our budget. And to be honest, RoomMatch is probably 80-85% the PA of the best of the best, and that’s good enough for 98% of the people in the seats. Getting another 10% in quality would cost almost 100% more, and that’s not worth it for this application.

And it really is going to sound good. Trust me. 

This was the final iteration of the first design. It was a 3-4-3 setup, and as you can see, pretty darn even between 1-4KHz.

This was the final iteration of the first design. It was a 3-4-3 setup, and as you can see, pretty darn even between 1-4KHz.

Choosing the Design

Initially, I really wanted to focus on speech intelligibility when we designed the PA. And that meant an exploded mono cluster. Many people mistakenly believed we were doing an LCR array, when in fact, each of the clusters were designed to cover one seating are with as little overlap as possible. While that would have made speech sound really, really good, the more I thought about it, the more I second-guessed myself on the music side. 

An exploded mono cluster has the advantage of delivering very consistent sound to each seat in the room. That’s a good thing. On the other hand, you can’t really do anything with panning to open up the frequency spectrum for vocals. In a busy mix, this can become challenging. 

Our original designs for the exploded mono system looked very good. As you can see from the above plot, we were ±0.9 dB between 2-4KHz over the entire seating area. That’s some even coverage. For reference, our current system is about ±9.0 dB. Yeah…

It's not quite as even, but I like the center coverage. 

It’s not quite as even, but I like the center coverage. 

Going Stereo

OK, not really stereo. But over Christmas, I started really paying attention to my mix and how much I was using left and right. Our current system isn’t really stereo in the sense that it’s delivering a stereo image to the whole room—though there’s so much reflected sound, it actually might be. Still, I used that left-right design to create some cool ambience in the mix. 

By double patching and delaying the guitar, I could keep it out of the way of the vocals when I needed to. The B3 is stereo, as are keys and piano. Those sound really cool when I widen them out. Even the cymbals open up a bit when I pan them left and right some, and when we have a bunch of vocals, I spread them out across the sound field. 

You can see how far the house right cluster extends into the house left seating area. And coverage on the walls is still pretty minimal.

You can see how far the house right cluster extends into the house left seating area. And coverage on the walls is still pretty minimal.

So I went back to CCI and Bose and asked them to work up a left-right design for me. We went through about five iterations before we landed on one that we all liked.

One of the challenges was to keep the coverage off the thrust as it extends quite a bit further than our current one does. CCI worked really hard with positioning, angle and box selection to make sure we shouldn’t have any feedback issues. 

That’s part of the picture. Next time, we’ll delve into how we got there, talk about the low end, amplification and how we plan to deal with speech.


Church Tech Weekly Episode 199: Rapport and Raparte

Continuing our theme of leadership, this week we talk with Greg Atkinson about his new book, Strange Leadership. We learn how to delegate, what role the Holy Spirit plays and how to be innovative. 


Today’s post is brought to you by CCI Solutions. With a reputation for excellence, technical expertise and competitive pricing, CCI Solutions has served churches across the US in their media, equipment, design and installation needs for over 35 years.

CHCC Remodel: Tech Booth

The back wall is existing; we raised the walls of the booth to obscure the monitors, and to provide a little more security. They have since added a short wall extension to the back wall as well.

I’ve spent the last several years looking at church tech booths. I knew, someday, we’d be able to relocate ours from the balcony to the floor. When we did, I wanted to be ready. The design was started about 3 years ago, according to file creation dates. The design has changed more than a few times over the years, but I’m pretty happy where we’ve landed. 

Design Objectives

As you may have gathered from my series on renovations, I’m always starting with a set of design objectives. In this case, we had several.

  • Get FOH to the floor, and keep it in front of the edge of the balcony.
  • Bring Lighting and ProPresenter to the floor.
  • Incorporate the existing camera platform.
  • Have a “Producer” desk.
  • Keep FOH, Lighting and ProPresenter in a line at the front of the booth.
  • Maintain enough space for new volunteers to observe.

That’s a pretty good list, and I think we hit it all. Design is all about compromise, and we did have to make some compromises. The booth is probably larger than it needs to be in terms of square footage. At 14’ deep and 21’ wide, it’s certainly spacious. The size was dictated by three things. 

I wanted room for new volunteers to sit and observe without being in the way.

First, the depth was based on the camera platform we needed to incorporate. The ProPresenter desk sits in front of the camera platform, and we needed enough depth to accommodate the desk, chair and some room behind the chair. We would have been fine with 6’-6” or 7’ in front of the camera platform, but that would have landed us in the middle of a row of seats. If you have to remove a row, you may as well push the front wall out as far as possible. 

Second, the width was based on a section of seating. After playing with a good half-dozen designs, it just didn’t make sense to not go full width. At best, we could have saved 1-2 seats on one end, and they would have been terrible seats no one would have ever used. So again, we went big. No need to go home.

Finally, we really needed to keep the FOH position out in front of the overhanging balcony. My original design was actually one row deeper (!) and had FOH on the left side of the booth, almost in the center of the room. Leadership felt that was one too many rows, and looking at it now, I have to agree. So we moved FOH to the right of the booth, which is a little more off center than I’d like, but due to the curve of the balcony, we’re still in front of it by a few feet. 

I looks big empty, but once we put everything inside, it will feel quite good.

Fully Wired

Tech booths have a lot of cable in them. For years, we’ve had a pile of cables at the front wall/floor intersection of ours. We’ve cleaned it up quite a bit by adding some conduit and a slotted cable duct (and tearing out old cable that’s no longer used). But for this one, I wanted it as clean as possible. As I mentioned last time in the conduit post, I located three 12”x12” boxes with 36 port panels on them throughout the booth. 

We put them as close to the rack locations as possible so everything will be pretty much straight runs. Because we’ll still have a few cables that won’t fit in the boxes (HDMI cables, for example), I’m also running a small 1”x2” slotted cable duct around the perimeter. 

Because we located the producer desk behind FOH, and it’s on the producer desk that the monitors for LAMA and the M-48’s live, I had to come up with a solution for that. I didn’t want the engineers to have to keep turning around to check levels or fix an M-48 issue. So I decided to double the monitors. By using simple HDMI splitters, we’ll have a set of monitors in front of and slightly below the SD8, and another set on the producer desk. Wireless keyboards and Magic Trackpads at both locations will enable operation from either location. 

We’ll also have the master screen and SD8 remote screen at FOH, along with the overview monitor. Including the built-in touch screen, that makes six screens at FOH. Excessive? Probably. But I’m a glutton for information. 

All our wiring is slated to live in F6 TecFlex with service loops so we can pull the racks and desks out to work on the backside. The desks will be on wheels, making it easy to get back behind for access. 

It’s hard to see in this picture, but the brace is just behind the keyboard tray.

No More Smashed Knees

I hate most tech booth counters and desks. They either sag in the middle over time, or have bracing that smashes your knees, or a deep front brace that catches your thighs. I determined to engineer my way out of this. 

I’m building the desks out of 4×4 redwood because it’s readily available out here. I’m placing a brace in the center of the desk where most of the weight will be concentrated so it won’t sag. The tops are two layers of 3/4” plywood laminated together with glues and screws. The brace is far enough back that when sitting on an architect’s chair, I’ll be able to sit as high as possible without smashing my knees. I also designed a clever little slide out keyboard tray in the middle. 

Sometimes I’m accused of over thinking things. And I’ve probably spent a few hundred hours working on this design over the years. But I believe when it’s done, it will be one of the nicest tech booths around. Even with the ugly pull box in the corner.


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