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Welcome to sound design live. I’m Nathan Lively, and I just completed the fourth presentation of a live webinar training on sound system tuning. The webinars went well, but there just wasn’t enough time to answer all of the question that the 535 attendees sent in. But I don’t want to leave those people out in the cold so I have gathered all of the questions and I am going to answer all of here on the podcast.
I have organized them into sections, so today we are going to continue to part 2 and talk about how to prepare for sound system tuning so that we can be more efficient.
#6 Dennis: How to save time in tuning a system? Joel: With limited quiet time (usually shared scheduling with lighting focus or scenic artist), how do you triage tuning?
You see what I did there, Dennis? I answered your question with Joe’s question.
So what’s triage? Triage is the assignment of degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses to decide the order of treatment of a large number of patients or casualties. And it’s a great word to describe our work because in the rooms that we work in, the sound system, our patient, is suffering from many wounds. Some of them life threatening, some of them not. Live sound is a war zone and we have to figure out which of our patient’s wounds to heal first, to keep it alive.
And of course, we have a limited amount of time, because the show will start whether we have healed all of the wound or not. So the way you save time in sound system tuning is by picking the biggest problems and attacking those first. And I don’t know what those are going to be in your room, but they most often lie with speaker position and aim.
#7 Michael: What are ways to make tuning more efficient or faster in a limited timeframe?
My best time saving tip is to plan your microphone positions ahead of time. So if you can get the venue and system layout the night before, go through and mark all of your microphone positions with names OnAxA, XAB, VTopB, etc., and include what you want to do in each position, set level, delay, EQ, etc. If I don’t do this preparation step, it is almost guaranteed that I will take the right measurement in the wrong position, or vice versa, and have to go back and do it again, or worse, I won’t realize it until the show has started.
Another idea, if you have the resources, is to use multiple microphones. That will speed things up. Personally, I’m saving my money to get a multiple wireless microphone measurement rig. I got turned on to the Line6 XD-V75 and TX-3 microphone from Mel labs by one of my students, which seem like a good combo.
One other idea for you, Michael, if you can do some of the verification steps like polarity check ahead of time, at the shop, that will save you time.
#8 Jonathan: What’s the biggest bang for buck in terms of tuning with limited amount of time.
This is really hard to answer because, as I mentioned in question seven, I can’t do triage on a hypothetical patient without knowing anything about it. But I do want to give you some place to start.
- If I only had 60 seconds: I would verify that all of the speakers were working and sound was arriving at the correct outputs.
- If I had 5 Minutes: I would put up my measurement mic at FOH, play pink noise, and at least get a visual image of what I’m hearing in the room. It might not be enough time to make any adjustments, but at least I can start planning for what I can do during the show.
- If I had 15 Minutes: I would set level and EQ for my main speakers or arrays. They cover the largest portion of the audience, so they win by majority. Then if I had time, I would phase align the subs to the mains.
- If I had 30 Minutes: I would start matching my subsystems to the main system in terms of delay, EQ, and level to try to bring the whole thing together. With every next step I am looking at my sound system tuning roadmap and thinking, “Ok, what’s the next most important step I can take here to improve this situation for the best show possible?”
And of course, these are under ideal conditions where the system is already operational and I can just start optimizing. But half the time some technical problem will pop up and have to be taken care of because, if the system doesn’t play, none of this stuff matters.
#9 Lou: How do I get consistent results on any sound system?
So Lou, I have a special deal for you. Just put a crisp $100 bill in an envelope and send it to Nathan Lively, Minneapolis, MN, and I guarantee that you will get consistent results from this day forward.
Just kidding Lou. Of course, when you get really good at using all of the tools you have available to you, your ears, eyes, audio analyzer, etc., you can better predict the most important factors that will influence consistency. I wish I could tell you that if you match tonight’s frequency response with last night’s frequency response that it will sound exactly the same, but that would be a lie. There are other factors like room reflections that may actually require you to use a different target frequency response to achieve consistent results.
The only way I know to guarantee consistent results is to give everyone headphones and make sure all of your instruments go direct.
But there is hope. I think that if you not only train yourself to correlate what you see on the audio analyzer with what you hear in the room, but are also diligent about taking notes every day on what you learn and then reviewing those notes on a regular basis, your results will continue to improve and become more and more consistent.
#10. Carol: I’m seeking to increase confidence when dealing with unfamiliar systems in unfamiliar venues.
Carol, I have to admit to you that I still get nervous before every gig. There’s a little voice in my head that say, “You’re an imposter. You have no idea what you’re doing.” So the downside is that there is some stress related to each event i work on, but the upside is that that red flag motivates me to prepare better. So I find out as much as I can about the equipment, room, and production I’ll be working on ahead of time. I actually have a needs assessment checklist that I go through to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything.
And of course, this might not work out. It is fairly common that I either won’t be able to find out anything, or all of the information I got will turn out to be wrong or changed at the last minute. But I still feel more confident, knowing I did everything I could to prepare myself. And I know this all may sound kind of obvious, but I can’t tell you the number of times that I have arrived on site and been the only one who has bothered to look up the coverage angle and power rating for the speakers we are using.
#11 Seun: Is there a difference between tuning line Array and non line Array speakers?
So Seun, there’s nothing special about speakers being in a line or not, but I’m guessing that you are asking about working with constant beam width versus proportional beam width speakers, the modern line array element. And the main difference that comes to mind is that with proportional beam width speakers in a coupled array, you create the shape you want with the splay angles between elements, but that really only affects the high end. The low end doesn’t really care if you adjust the splay angles. It simply plays out out of the mid point of the array. Tapering the amplitude won’t help you like it will with constant beam width speakers. The only way to get around that is with all-pass filters to help you slightly steer the low end up, which is beyond me. I’m still trying to master the basics.
#12 Kyle: What are the first parameters to sacrifice in un-ideal conditions? Should I ignore Phasing? Time Delay?
So Kyle, you’ve got it right…but exactly backwards. The first parameters you should look at are polarity, level, and time. So if we have to sacrifice someone, I say we sacrifice EQ.