Archive for May, 2010

Miking Acoustic Piano Live

From the keys of guest-blogger Erik Zobler:

I am currently on tour with the George Duke Band.  George’s keyboard rig consists of two Yamaha ES8s, a laptop for generating virtual instruments, a “key-tar� that he wears like a guitar, and an acoustic piano.

One of the hardest things to do in live sound re-enforcement is project the sound of acoustic instruments when the band’s stage volume is high.  The Duke Band stage volume at times approaches “rock� levels (or so I have been told my many venue crews).  Getting a good piano in this environment is no easy task. There are some big acts that take the easy way out by placing a midi piano inside a piano shell, but George loves the sound a feel of a real piano, so that is not an option.

In the past, we used to tape AKG 414’s across the plate braces inside the piano. We would also use a Barcus Berry contact pickup attached directly to the soundboard.  The Barcus Berry’s sound was not great and required a fair amount of EQ.  Sometimes instead of the Barcus Berry, we would place a 57 on foam looking across one of the sound holes. We used this approach for many years, but the sound was always a bit uneven, and I still found it difficult to get the acoustic piano sound above the band when the band inevitably turned up their amps to 11.

About a year ago we started using the Earthworks Piano Mic system.  It consists of two “random incidence� microphones (that’s what Earthworks p1020735.jpgcalls them) suspended on a bar that adjusts to fit the size of the piano.  As far as I can tell “random incidence� means “omni-directional�.  These microphones are very small diameter condenser mics that are placed close to the dampers.  These mics can be used with the piano lid open, on the small stick, closed with the music stand cover open, or completely closed.  We tried all of the lid variations and as one would expect, the quality of the piano sound decreased with each increase in lid closure.  However, as the sound quality went down, the feedback rejection went up.  We currently keep the lid completely closed, but there still isn’t enough volume before feedback on the piano.

Enter the Schertlers
Eventually I had the idea to pick the brain of Chick Corea’s engineer Bernie Kirsch.  Bernie has been with Chick as long as, or longer than I have been with George. He handles Chick’s live sound as well as studio work.  He p1020739.jpgrecommended we try Schertler Instrument Pickups in addition to the mics. The Schertlers sound much more natural than the Barcus Berrys.  They have better feedback rejection than the mics and they are perfect for feeding monitors on stage. For the front of house I blend all the mics and pickups together. Using this combination, I am able top1020920.jpg achieve much higher gain before feedback.  When things get really tough, I can turn up the pickups a bit more than the mics to keep the piano on top of the band.  It is, after all, a piano player’s show.

We originally started with two Shertler Dyn-GP’s, but when one of them failed, Schertler sent us an A-Dyn pick up that uses their phantom powered pre-amp. To my ear, this setup is the best we have had, but still not perfect.  There are phase issues, and I have to apply more eq than I would like. The resulting sound of the piano occasionally ends up with some lower midrange honk and is almost always lacks a little warmth.  However, I can finally get the volume I need from the piano when the band is loud.  Last night in Zoetermeer, Holland, an audio engineer in the crowd paid me a compliment.  He was curious as to how I was able to get such a big piano sound with such a loud band.  (Smile!)

PS I am a studio engineer who has been dragged, kicking and screaming into the live world, so I am not surprised that I have never used a Helpenstill piano pickup.  But at a recent gig in Minden, Germany, a Helpenstill was p1020768.jpginstalled in the piano. I was very impressed.  Leakage was almost non-existent and the sound of the pick up was quite good.

Click here to here my interview with Erik on mixing piano

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Prof. Dr. Fritz Sennheiser Dies at 98

Our industry lost a true pioneer today with the death of  Professor Dr. Fritz Sennheiser. He helmed a company that created and sustained a range of products over many years,  some of which were war-torn and frought with ruin.

Born in 1912 in Berlin, Fritz Sennheiser always had a fritzsennheiser-013.jpgstrong interest in technology.  In light of the 1929 Wall Street crash on ‘Black Friday, he chose to pursue an electrical engineering/telecommunications education at Berlin’s Technical University.  While at the university, he worked for the Heinrich Hertz Institute for Vibration Research, a Mecca for telecommunications engineers at the time. Directly after his exams, Sennheiser became senior engineer at the institute for radio frequency engineering and electroacoustics at the University of Hanover. Allied bombing, however, destroyed most of the Institute’s research labs.

Sennheiser located a former youth hostel in the small village of Wennebostel, just north of Hanover, and re-founded the Institute. At war’s end on May 8, only seven of the 50 employees of the Institute remained, and a British communications unit took over. When the British occupation unit left a few weeks later, Sennheiser moved back into the abandoned farm house and founded his Lab W (Laboratorium Wennebostel) with just 7 employees. Ten years later, Labor W had 250 employees and produced a range of products including subminiature transformers, high- precision measuring devices, high-quality miniature microphones, mixing amplifiers and more.

In 1958, Labor W was renamed Sennheiser Electronic and by 1960 the workforce rapidly increased to 600. Sennheiser invested huge amounts of money not only in development but also in the very latest manufacturing technology, pioneering in the field RF technology, electron tubes and electroacoustics.

Just twenty years after its formation, Sennheiser had become the largest company in Germany specializing in the manufacture of microphones. On May 9, 1982, Prof. Dr. Fritz Sennheiser celebrated his 70th birthday and handed over the management of the company to his son, Jörg Sennheiser who was instrumental in saving fellow German microphone manufacturer, Georg Neumann GmbH from failure by purchasing it in 1991.

The Neumann company went on to win the 1999 technical Grammy while Sennheiser Corporation was awarded a technical EMMY for its work in wireless technology and a technical Oscar by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1986 for their MKH 816 shotgun microphone. Up until his death, Dr. Fritz still came in to work to tinker on various projects.

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Mix Nashville Postponed, Golf Benefit Still On

One of the reasons Mix Nashville takes place at the end of May each year is that it leads into two days of golf at Harpeth Hills. It’s a great tournament called Audio Masters that benefits the Nashville Engineer Relief Fund, a nonprofit established by the Nashville section of the AES. Because of the flooding in early May and the damage to our venue, Soundcheck Nashville, we are postponing Mix Nashville until early September. But the golf tournament is still slated for May 27-28, and we encourage all who haven’t signed up to contact Nicole Cochran and bring in a foursome, or toss in a sponsorship.
“Countless individuals in the region have had their homes and livelihood affected by this tragedy,” says NERF Board President Jim Kaiser.
“This is a perfect time to donate to NERF, knowing that the funds will go directly to our audio community,” adds Cochran, event coordinator of the Audio Masters. “We are so grateful and humbled by the many local businesses and national manufacturers that have for years generously donated to this fund. It’s more important than ever that we fill our coffers so that we can help those in need.”
The Audio Masters is the primary fundraiser for NERF, a 501(c)3 corporation that has been distributing assistance to the engineering community for more than a decade. Individuals and companies wishing to make a donation or sign up for the tournament can contact Nicole Cochran at 615-293-0260 or
Direct donations can be made to Nashville Engineer Relief Fund; 9 Music Square South #235; Nashville, TN 37203. Or via PayPal at Donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. The contribution tax ID number is 30-0066433.

What a Difference a MicroClock Makes

From guest blogger Erik Zobler:

In the March issue of Mix magazine I reviewed the Black Lion Audio-Requisite Audio FM 192 upgrade for the Digidesign 192 interface.  Part of theclock.jpg FM 192’s sonic improvement was no doubt due to Black Lion’s clock.   BLA also makes a stand-alone version of their clock called the MicroClock.  I read reports that it improved the sound of live digital consoles, so I bought one to take on tour with the George Duke Band.  It is “micro� sized and it fits nicely in my back pack along with all the other junk I need like flashlights, CD’s, console tape and sharpies.

I had already used the MicroClock in the studio while mixing Duke’s (yet to be released) new album, so I was somewhat familiar with the sound of the MicroClock (or at least how it changed the sound of the device that was clocking to it).

Our first date was in Copenhagen on a Yamaha M7CL.  Unfortunately I could not get the M7CL to lock the MicroClock, so I was not able to use it.  After a few analog shows, I had the opportunity to try the clock again on another Yamaha M7CL. This time it synced to the MicroClock without any problems.  My assistant from the sound company said he had heard about externally clocking digital consoles, but expressed a healthy skepticism about whether it would actually make the M7CL sound better.  I too was skeptical, even though I had heard a difference in the studio. I was not sure if there would be any noticeable benefit in a live situation.  We fed the analog output of a CD player into the console while I switched the console’s clock back and forth between external and internal.  After a few switches, I was convinced that the sound was much improved. The technician was so impressed that he called his boss to tell him he needed to buy one.

A few more analog consoles (and shows) later, I was working on a Digico S7.  This time the console locked with no problem.   Once again the sound was improved, but it was not nearly as apparent as it was with the Yamaha console.

Last night we worked on an M7CL again.  I used the clock during the show.  After the band finished and while we were playing a CD to accompany the guests as they were leaving, I called over the technician from the sound company to show him that I was unhooking the clock.  When I switched the console from External to Internal clock, his jaw dropped.  And my eyes widened too.  The sound on internal was MUCH WORSE.  For some reason, on that console, in that venue, the difference was HUGE!  A sonic analogy would be as if you were speaking with your hands cupped in front of your mouth, closing off any direct view of your mouth, and then opening them up.

So far, I have only tried the MicroClock on two brands of consoles.  The improvement on Digico boards was minimal, but on the Yamaha it was significant. I look forward to trying the clock on other digital boards that are no doubt coming my way.

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Recording In Surround At The Cathedral

I recently had the opportunity to record a unique musical performance at the Trinity Cathedral in downtown Phoenix. The performance was an improvisational concert featuring Norwegian composer/pianist Ola Gjeilo tednola.jpgand saxophonist Ted Belledin. Ola’s compositions have been performed and recorded in more than 30 countries worldwide in venues such as New York’s Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, Los Angeles’ Disney Hall, Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center, Washington DC’s Kennedy Center and National Gallery, as well as the Copenhagen and Oslo Opera Houses. Ted plays a range of saxes from Bari to Soprano, is a composer himself and earned his Bachelor’s degree at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. Frankly put, these guys are both badasses.

Because the concert was in a church, I wanted to keep everything very compact and easy to use, even from a distance. I used Millennia’s HV-3R rig.jpgremote controllable mic preamps which have their own IP address, so with a wireless router you can control levels, apply phantom power, group and label channels at wi-fi distances. I used an Apple MacBook laptop running Parallels, Windows XP and Millennia’s AELogic software to control my levels from the audience. My first call recorder was JoeCo’s Blackbox 24-track hard disc recorder which packs a whopping amount of features into a single rackspace. I chose to record at 96kHz/24-bit and the resulting tracks sounded great. As a backup, I used an Alesis HD24. The small Mackie at the top of the rig was for confidence monitoring via headphones.

I was able to keep the visible part of the recording chain to a small footprint by miking the the piano with a stereo pair of condenser mics on a stereo bar on a single stand and close-miked the sax with an active ribbon mic. For the room, I used the new DPA 5100 surround mic. It has 6 capsules for 5.1 operation but not needing the sub mic, I used just the L, C, R, LS, RS outputs. The mic is very compact, light, easy to mount and sounded fantastic.

The placement of the DPA 5100 was critical for my overall balance so I had longshot.jpgthe players set up in their usual fashion for maximum eye contact, then set the 5100 back 10’ from the piano centered directly between the soloists. This gave me a nice stereo picture with piano off-center left and the sax off-center right.

For the mix, I had to roll off 80Hz on all tracks because the venue is very near the downtown light rail and two busy streets. Once I got the rumble out, the acoustic signature of the venue with its 40’ wooden ceilings and tile floors shined through. I set the balance mostly with the close mics panned in their appropriate perspective and then brought in the DPA 5100 for room effect. The results were stunning.

Keep your eye on Mix’s July issue for a review of the DPA 5100 from east coast engineer Joe Hannigan. I’ll be posting some samples of the performance in stereo and 5.1 as an online extra associated with the digital version of that review.

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Music City Disaster Relief

There is a Facebook page now for Music City Disaster Relief. Please join if you’re a FaceBooker or get involved on some of the other sites to encourage & establish fundraising, non-perishable food item food drives, and relief effort for those in the Nashville area that has flooded from recent storms. Nashville has given timeless music to generations, and artists constantly perform for benefits and causes. Now, Nashville needs our help. Call your local Salvation Army & Red Cross offices to ask what you can do.

The damage has been tremendous. The arrow in the photo points to Soundcheck, a live sound rehearsal facility where Mix has held the Mix picture-3.jpgNashville event since 2008. It houses a lot of audio gear, guitars and provides jobs for many people.

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