Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: October 2014 (Page 2 of 2)

CTA Review: Ultimate Ears Reference Monitors Pt. 1

It’s been a few years since UE announced the Reference Monitors, but I’ve been eager to get a set in my ears since I heard about them. They were developed in partnership with Capital Studios to provide pro audio engineers with a flat set of reference “speakers” anywhere they were. I have four other sets of custom IEMs and have auditioned at least another half-dozen units. At the risk of spoiling the ending, I’ll say up front that these are far and away my favorites. But as always, there’s more to the story.

What Are They?

Here’s a description from the UE website:

“They combine a new proprietary design featuring three speaker balanced armature speakers. Other new technology includes a rugged low profile, low distortion cable, dual acoustically tuned sound channels and multiple passive crossover points creating the ultimate in separation, detail and clarity.”

So what does that all mean? To put it simply, it sounds good. Really good. Like all UE products (and most other custom IEMs) they are a balanced armature design. Unlike a dynamic driver—which is essentially a small speaker—a balanced armature consists of the armature, which is wrapped by a coil and suspended between two magnets. Sending electricity through the coil changes the magnetic attraction which moves it back and forth. A diaphragm is attached to the armature, and this produces the sound we hear. 

Balanced armature drivers are tuned to be highly effective for a given frequency range, which is why there are three of them in each IEM. But getting a coherent sound out of three separate armature drivers is tricky business. There is all kinds of proprietary goodness going on, some of which I can’t talk about and much more I don’t full understand. But it’s a lot harder than just shoving three drivers in the shell and gluing it together. 

The Sound

The target sound profile for these monitors is a detailed, flat response. I have no real way to test this, but I can report that based on my extensive listening with them for the last month, they are the most detailed and flat-sounding IEM’s I’ve ever heard. One thing that IEM manufacturers often do is tune a particular model for a purpose. For example, the UE Vocal Reference monitor is tuned to deliver the goods over the vocal range. And they do that very well. But I wouldn’t listen to music through them for pleasure. But the vocal performance is incredible. 

I’ve heard other IEMs that are better for bass players and drummers as they have hyped low end. Some push both the lows and highs. Others accentuate the midrange. You can choose the right response for the instrument you’re playing.

But when it comes to mixing, you really want flat. And as far as I can tell, these are. More than that, the detail is just incredible. The articulation of a bass, for example, is often hard to reproduce in a small IEM. These nail it without it being over-hyped. The high end is crisp and detailed as well. Compared to my UE7s, I’m hearing a ton more of the subtleties of the cymbals and keys. 

Fit is another important aspect to the sound. Currently, I have three pairs of UE monitors and two pair of 1964 Ears. The UE’s simply fit better than the 1964s. The better fit means I can listen to them longer without discomfort, and the fit also improves the overall response. When I first started talking with the folks at UE about getting a set (and this was shortly after they were introduced), they said some people don’t like using them to just listen to music because they are so flat. Personally, I have enjoyed them immensely, probably because they are so flat. I don’t feel like I’m getting an over-hyped bass or muddy mid’s and high’s. The music just sounds like the music. That works for me. 

My conclusion is that these are great IEMs for just listening to music. But they are supposed to be Reference Monitors, so how do they work for that task? That’s a question we’ll tackle next time.


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Lessons Learned at a Concert

Last week while in Atlanta for the Catalyst conference, I got to hang out with my friend Nick Rivero and his new wife, Sarah. Not only did we have some great BBQ, but we had a great time talking about production, touring, and building stuff. As we talked, I was reminded of a night a few years ago when Thomas and I got to hang out with him at the Staples Center in LA. Nick was touring with Lady Antebellum as a video system tech. We got a tour of the entire production; backstage, the stage itself and FOH. And then there was the show, which was also pretty impressive. 

I won’t go into a lot of details about the evening itself as that is not the point of this article. I will say the show was great; and everyone we met was very gracious and friendly. We felt very welcome there and stayed all the way to the end of tear down. I tend to really pay close attention whenever I get to do something like this as there are always things I can learn to make my processes better. What follows are some of my key takeaways.

Predictability and Consistency is Important

On multiple occasions I asked Nick how much things changed up for the evening’s show over the course of the tour. And on each occasion he said, “Not much.” At one point we were talking about how they wire their system up each day and he said (and I’m quoting from memory, so it may not be word for word, but it’s close), “When you’re doing this every day, you want things the same as possible.” Another time I asked him about the walk-in playlist, wondering if it changed up each night. Again, the answer was, “Nope. It’s kind of nice to have that predicability. After a while, you know when you get to this song, you have a few minutes to go.”

As I am a huge fan of consistency, this was really more of a reinforcement for me than a lesson. But still, it’s always good to challenge your thinking, then come to the conclusion that you’re headed in the right direction. Doing things the exact same way has saved me on many, many occasions. Once I find a process that works, I repeat it over and over again until I come up with a better process. 

Many Hands Don’t Make Light Work; Many Skilled Hands Do

We’ve heard that verse repeated over and over again in church and in many respects it’s true. However, I loved watching the union hands come out to strike the show after the concert was over. The various team leaders on the tour would give a bunch of guys some brief instructions and off they would go. Near the beginning, I watched Nick say, “OK, green shirt guys, my name is Nick. I need you to take all these cables, coil them up to the end and bring them back here. Thank you.” Within a few minutes all the projector and camera looms were neatly coiled and returned to video world. Even more fun to watch were the riggers. Without hardly a word, trusses starting coming down, fixtures were removed and returned to road cases and lines coiled. The whole show was loaded out in a few hours.

Contrast that to the typical church “y’all come help teardown” party. It’s chaos! One or two technical people will try to herd the army of cats on stage as cables get coiled improperly, equipment gets put away in the wrong spot (or worse, lost), things get taken down that should be left up. Sometimes, people even get hurt.

I prefer fewer people with more skill. Give me a few guys that know how to wrap cable and ask good questions over a dozen completely unskilled people every time. During my last few years as a TD, I adopted this approach for our big events. Instead of recruiting huge teams, I hand-picked a few guys who I had worked with and knew would do things the right way. It went much better. 

Being Together Still Matters

With the rise of “online church,” some of us are wondering what the future holds for the weekend service experience. At the show, I was again reminded of the power of being in a large group, experiencing something together. I am not typically a fan of large crowds, but I will say there was an energy and excitement in the room that doesn’t exist when I listen to their CD or watch a video in my office. One of the big things we still do well as the Church is bring people together for a common experience. When God is doing something in our midst, it is palpable, and being part of that with a few hundred or a few thousand others is powerful. We mustn’t forget that.

What do you learn when you go to a concert?

Setting Up a Redundant Dante Network

Last time, I shared with you the problem you can have if you set up a Dante network improperly. Without redundancy, a single break anywhere in the system can cause major problems. With redundancy, if you cross the streams, the whole network refuses to work properly. Based on my experiences a few weeks back and some conversations I had with people who know a lot more about this than I do, I have revised my set up process to make sure things work properly. 

Configure First

My biggest mistake was wiring everything together then powering it all up. I freaked the switches out without even knowing it, then nothing I did after that worked properly. So the new tactic is to configure first, then wire. In some cases (like Yamaha Rio boxes), this will mean flipping dip switches for redundant mode. In others, it will mean powering it up and selecting redundant mode in the setup menu. No Cat5 cables will be connected until each piece of gear is verified to be in redundant mode.

But it’s not time to connect anything yet. The next step is to set up the switches. It’s important to get the QoS settings correct, build VLANs, configure settings for wireless use and disable energy efficient modes. This is all best done without anything connected to the switch. In fact, the next time I do it, I’ll be programming switches in the office before heading out to the field. 

Wire Primary First, Test

Once everything is configured properly, and we’ve triple-checked to be sure everything is in redundant mode, we will wire up the primary network side and make sure that all works. The system will function just fine on just the primary network, and this is the time to mount all stage racks to consoles, make sure signal is flowing between devices and the system is functioning as expected. 

If everything checks out with just the primary network connected, then it’s time to connect the secondary network. If everything was configured properly, nothing should happen. If the system freaks out when you plug in a device’s secondary port, you have the streams crossed somewhere. At that point, disconnect the secondary, power cycle everything and check your settings again. 

Once you get everything working with both networks, you can test the failover by pulling the primary from one device. Audio should keep on flowing and stay working when you plug primary back in.

Label Well

The take away for us on this install was to make sure everything was labeled well once we got it all working. We further hosed ourselves during trouble shooting by accidentally plugging a primary port into a secondary switch. I didn’t do it for that install, but in figure ones, I will even use different colors for the Cat5e cables and patch cords to make sure the two networks stay separate. And I’ll standardize on those colors so as we build networks all over the country, we will always know what is primary and secondary. 

It’s Not That Hard, Just Different

I know a lot of people are afraid of the digital network revolution in sound systems. It’s true that when we used big copper snakes, it was a little easier to troubleshoot things like bad cables and improper patches. However, we still had to make sure the system was wired correctly with regard to polarity. We still had to pay attention to power and grounding. The transition between balanced and unbalanced connections still had to be handled properly. There were plenty of places for things to go horribly wrong. The biggest difference was we could typically physically see the problem. 

In the networked world, we can have problems that we can’t physically see. The problems can exist inside a switch and it takes a different set of troubleshooting skills to figure it out. But it’s not really all that hard once you do it a few times and get some basic knowledge of the system. Yamaha actually has some great information on setting up network systems and switches, and I highly recommend you check it out before you set up your first Dante network. This post is not meant to be an exhaustive guide, just an overview. 

It’s a brave new world out there, folks. I’ve been saying for a few years that our job as technical artists will involve a lot more network skills. Now is the time to beef up that skill set!


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Important Safety Tip: With Dante, Don’t Cross the Streams

One of my favorite scenes in Ghostbusters is when Egon gives the guys a warning about crossing the streams. As we know, it’s not good. Not good at all.

Dr. Egon Spengler: There’s something very important I forgot to tell you.

Dr. Peter Venkman: What?

Dr. Egon Spengler: Don’t cross the streams.

Dr. Peter Venkman: Why?

Dr. Egon Spengler: It would be bad.

Dr. Peter Venkman: I’m fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, “bad”?

Dr. Egon Spengler: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.

Dr Ray Stantz: Total protonic reversal.

Dr. Peter Venkman: Right. That’s bad. Okay. All right. Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.


That scene played out in real life for me a few weeks back. Well, sort of. I didn’t exactly experience total protonic reversal, but I did discover that it’s a bad, bad thing to cross the streams in a redundant Dante network. But let’s back up a step. 

Two Types of Dante Networks

There are a few different ways to lay out a Dante network. Ignoring topologies for a moment, you can either set up a redundant network or a switched network. All Dante devices have two Dante network ports on them, and they will be labeled Primary and Secondary. By default, most devices have those two ports connected together in switched mode. That means you can plug one device into the primary and another device into the secondary and data will flow freely between all three devices. 

The benefit of this method is that you don’t need any switches. Just keep daisy chaining all the devices together and the network works quite well. The downside is that if any link in the chain breaks, audio stops flowing. If you had a console and computer at FOH, two stage racks, a processor and a few amps on stage and someone breaks the cable between the two stage racks, you will lose audio in the house as the data is no longer flowing from the console all the way through to the system processor and amps. 

Now, you could just take all the primary ports and connect them to an external switch. That way, if you lose one link, only that device is affected; the rest of the system still functions. This is clearly a step up in reliability from the daisy chain, but you can still lose a device if a cable fails. 

That’s why the better option is a redundant network. In a redundant network, you connect all the primary ports to a switch (or series of switches, depending on the layout) and all the secondary ports to another switch or set of switches. I highlight “another” because it’s very important that the networks remain separate. 

Don’t Cross the Streams

I learned this lesson the hard way a few weeks ago. It turns out that if you wire the system up properly, with all the primary ports going to one switch and the secondary ports to another, but have one device set up as a switched device, you essentially build a bridge between the two networks. And that’s bad. While you don’t have total protonic reversal, you do get what is called a broadcast storm, and the switches freak out. The only way to fix it is to separate the networks and power cycle everything on the network. 

Dante devices will stop working properly, probably won’t pass audio and devices will not mount properly. Basically, it’s bad. I chased this problem for a while before my friend Jake Cody helped me figure it out. I learned an important lesson that day, and it changed the way I will set up a Dante network next time. 

Why Redundant?

You might be asking, why bother with redundancy if it’s so fraught with peril to set up? Well, it’s really a safety net. When we used analog copper snakes, one wire could go bad, and we’d still have signal in the others. In say, a 56-channel snake, if you lost one channel, you still had 55. On a 16-channel drive snake, you could patch around a channel that went bad. Even if you lost 2-3 of them, most of the system would still function. And if you got creative, you could make it all work. 

But when the entire system depends on four 24 gauge solid copper conductors, it doesn’t take much to wipe the whole system out. If one of those wires breaks, you don’t lose 75% of the system; you lose it all. Or if a single switch freaks out, you can lose the whole network. And the only way to fix it is to stop audio, and reboot or reconfigure. 

Building a redundant network will let you fix a problem in one leg while the other still passes audio. For any system that is mission critical—and that pretty much means all of them—you should go redundant. 

Next time, I’ll share with you my revised process for setting up a network that will work the first time.


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.

Yamaha QL5–First Impressions; The Less Good

We’re in a series of reviews of the Yamaha QL5. We first saw it at InfoComm and did a video about it. It’s the smaller brother to the CL series, and though it has a little less capacity, it has much of the same feature set. Having recently installed one, and spend a weekend mixing on it, I have some thoughts. I’ve already given you an overview of it, and ticked off the positives. But there are a few things that are tricky.

Photo courtesy of Yamaha

Photo courtesy of Yamaha

It’s Complex

As I mentioned in the first installment, this is a complicated system. It has a lot of power and with great power comes great complexity. One of the biggest examples of this is the touch screen interface. Now, I’m a fan of touch interfaces. I even really like the touch and turn concept. However, the main view of the channel on the QL is very dense. They tried to pack so much information to a small space that it can be hard to navigate. I watched the team at the church stare at the screen for a lot longer than they should have to looking for the Direct Out section, for example. 

It’s just a really dense interface. There are so many buttons, knobs and expandable windows, it’s hard to know where to do what. And some controls aren’t immediately apparent. For example, to turn on phantom power for a channel, you touch twice on the gain knob and it brings up a new window with additional controls. That makes sense once you know it, but it’s not right in front of you. 

To be fair, the same is true of many digital consoles, including my beloved Digico. But those board don’t pretend to be novice-friendly. They’re for higher end users, and I expect them to be a little harder to figure out. I was hoping the QL would be a little more transparent. 

The Interface Can Be Confusing

There are several setup screens that look really similar but have different functions. Sometimes you don’t know exactly how to get to a feature you were looking for. Because I did all my console set up in the new QL Editor software on my Mac (which, I will say, is vastly improved over Studio Manager), I couldn’t figure out how to rename a channel (double-touch the gain knob, select the name tab). These aren’t deal-breakers, but I kept feeling like they tried to pack too much information into too small a space. The upside is you’re not many button presses away from things; the downside is, controls can be hidden in plain sight. The good news is, most of those issues are set up functions, and you’re not doing them live during a service. 

Photo courtesy of Yamaha

Photo courtesy of Yamaha

I Miss Dedicated Controls

Most likely to keep budget down, there are but three EQ knobs on the surface. You access the four bands by pressing one of four buttons below the knobs. Again, I expect this on a $2500 board. But on a $15K board, it feels a bit cheap. Though perhaps it was just that the layout of the controls is the exact opposite of what I’m used to and I kept turning the wrong knob initially. You’d get used to it if you mixed on it regularly. Still, I found it a little slower than I’d like to to rapid EQ adjustments. 

Again, you have touch and turn, so you can just use the touch screen and the single knob, which I ended up doing a lot. Maybe I just have high expectations. 

Virtual Soundcheck Is Harder than I Hoped

The big selling point of digital consoles is virtual soundcheck. Record the tracks just after the A/D conversion and then play them back for practice, system set up, training and show optimization. Again, I’m used to the Digico way—which is probably the second best way out there after Roland’s R1000 system. On a Digico, you simply copy the inputs from one MADI bus to the other, record from bus 2, then hit one button to bring them all back in.

I could be wrong—and I still need to get some education on this—but it appears we’ll be doing a full re-patch of the inputs to get them back in. And there are some tricks to getting all the tracks recorded correctly, especially if your stage and inputs aren’t 1:1. When I go back in a few weeks to finalize the install, I’ll be spending more time with this feature and will update you when I know more. But it’s not as easy as I hoped. 

Like I said before, I like the console and will recommend and install more of them. I don’t think any of these things are deal breakers, but I felt you should know about them. I’ve always said I’ll tell you what I like and don’t like about a product, and that’s all I’m doing. Though that attitude has kept several reviews from running in trade magazines, I’m not afraid to print it here. The QL is a good console, and I think Yamaha will sell a lot of them. For that, I give them props. 

Also, thanks to my buddy Jake Cody who helped me troubleshoot my Dante installation. We had some weird issues, and he was great at helping sort them out. Next week, I’ll pull the curtain back on that adventure.


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.

Yamaha QL5–First Impressions; The Good

Photo courtesy of Yamaha

Photo courtesy of Yamaha

Last time, I gave you an introduction to the relatively new QL from Yamaha. I recently installed a QL5 at a local church and spent a good bit of time on it, setting it up and mixing a weekend. Overall, I’m impressed. I’m not ready to give back my Digico jacket, but I wouldn’t turn down a gig mixing on a QL. And in fact, I’m kind of really interested in getting on a CL now. In this installment, I’m going to talk about what I like about the QL. The guys at Yamaha are always giving me a hard time about giving them a hard time, so I’m starting with the good stuff. 

It Sounds Good

One of my biggest knocks against the M7 and PM5D is that I didn’t think they sounded that great. While M7’s get better when you externally clock them, I’m not a huge fan of the mic pre’s and I don’t love the EQ. And the comps on the M7 were not my favorite. The QL changes all that. The pre’s sound good, especially on the Rios. The EQ seems improved and the comps are much more transparent. I had one vocalist this weekend who had a big range. When she got loud, I was smashing her channel pretty hard, and it hung in there nicely. So good job on that. 

It’s Powerful

Being part of the Dante ecosystem means you can do a lot of routing with it. Yamaha has done a good job building an interface that can handle the Dante patching inside the console, which is good because Dante Controller is horrible. However, as a side note, my buddy Jake Cody showed me some tricks that make Controller a little less horrible. More on that later. 

You have 64+8 channels that you can process, and patching them in from internal inputs or Rios is pretty simple. Once you find your way around, anyway. With two insert points per channel in addition to the two dynamic sections and EQ, you have a lot of channel processing options. 

They even included most of the premium effects rack from the CL, though those are for your money channels; you don’t have enough instances to do the whole board with LA-2As for example. But, their, LA-2A sounds pretty good, though I didn’t think it was as easy to get the sound I wanted as the Waves version. 

It’s Compact

The QL packs a lot of power into a small footprint. This will be a boon to portable churches and those with small tech booths. We find we are moving a lot of tech booths out of balconies and closets lately, and not having to dedicate 6 lineal feet to a console is a big deal. And like I said, you can drop it in place of a 32 channel analog system and use it right away. That’s pretty cool.

It’s Flexible

I am sort of addicted to custom fader layers. Having spent a lot of time on the Digico series, I’m pretty used to putting whatever fader wherever I want. If I want to mix and match inputs, DCAs, groups and auxes, I can. The QL lets me do that. The scribble strips are pretty clear, and I like the color coding. You can even assign custom colors to the channels. With 12 user-defined keys and 16 dedicated sends on fader buttons, you can set the console up pretty much the way you’d like. 

I walked into a church I had never been a part of, installed the QL, integrated all their wireless, playback and stage inputs, built the config and mixed a service without any major problems. I was able to find the controls I needed quickly and got the entire band plus 7 vocals and a choir dialed in enough for a service in about 45 minutes. So that’s not bad. And keep in mind, this is the first time I’ve spent any real time on the console.

I was happy with the sound, and more importantly, the church was happy. They noticed a big improvement from their old system, and once they get comfortable with it, they are going to love working on the console. I rarely recommend products I haven’t used at least in some capacity, but I have specified the QL for several of our upcoming jobs. I’m happy to report it did not disappoint. 

For the most part. There were a few things that bugged me, and we’ll hit those next time.


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