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WEEKEND MUSICIAN, JULY 2008

Arny BaileyGEAR THAT WORKS: Personal Monitor Mixing Stations
Don't like the mix? Stop whining and change it.

By Arny Bailey

Is there anything more annoying than a band struggling with their monitor mix throughout a performance? Of course there is (see cancer, hemorrhoids, car accidents, etc), but since this is a gear review, let’s pretend there isn’t.

I’ve been performing live long enough to be able to state that one of the biggest struggles I face each performance is getting the “mix” dialed in. Proper on-stage sound is a key factor to the success of a performance and getting this dialed in before the first note is struck is paramount. That said, how do you make adjustments during the performance as everyone gets warmed up (by warmed up I mean the volume creep from guitarists)? How do you make adjustments once your ears change, which they do. How can you provide a good overall mix when everyone hears differently and everyone’s placement on stage can change the sound?

Up until recently, the method of adjustment has been the musicians sending some sort of spastic arm-waving sign language to the sound guy pointing to the specific instrument or mic, giving the thumbs up or down and giving the OK sign when proper level is achieved. This is an annoying thing to do but there are not many options when the on-stage sound and more specifically, your monitor mix, is handled by someone off-stage.

Having someone remote control the on-stage sound is really a dumb idea when you think about it. They can’t possibly know what I’m hearing and jumping around and waving my hands is certainly a distraction for all, especially the concert-goer.

So, how do you take the on-stage mix out of the hands of the off-stage sound guru and get it back into the hands of the musicians? Many have addressed this by providing an on-stage mixer by splitting the signals and assigning one band member this role. Although this is better, it can still interrupt the overall performance groove with tweaks and adjustments between songs.

With the advent of digital sound, there is a fairly new product out there (relatively speaking of course) which allows individual mixers at each individual monitor position. So, if you want a different monitor mix, stop whining and do it yourself! You can’t hear the drums? Turn them up! The drums are too loud? Turn them down! Your mix is entirely up to you! Oh my goodness….is this Nirvana?

There are three systems that I know of out there that can be used in this application. The first is Aviom’s A-16II which retails for $5,837.73 on Musician’s Friend. This gives you 4 stations and if you would like to add another, the individual mixers are $575, plus another $28 for the mounting kit and a few bucks for a cable (cost depends on length). In addition to the price being a bit prohibitive for most Weekend Musicians, there was also something else that caught me a bit off-guard. Musician’s Friend also offers an “Aviom Button and Knob Repair Kit” for $25! Let’s face it, if you have to offer this for sale, then you have a problem with your design that should be worked out!

Even with the apparent design issues and cost, the Aviom A-16II offers more channels than the other systems at 16. However, changing the levels of the individual channels on the fly is more difficult and with the obvious issues relating to “buttons and knobs” I would only feel comfortable recommending this system for a studio application. With durability in question, it just doesn’t seem applicable to the rigors of the road.

The second system out there is the Furman HR-6 Personal Mixing Station. Although no starter kit that included the HR-6 individual mixing stations could be located at publication, the HDS-16 and HR-16 retail for $1,009.99 at Musician’s Friend and the individual HR-6 unit’s retail for $130.

One thing I really liked about this unit was that you can daisy chain the units together as opposed to providing home runs from each individual unit to the hub. This would definitely save on cable length and stage clutter.

Finally, I reviewed the Hear Back system designed and manufactured by Hear Technologies. A starter system which includes 4 personal mixers and the digital hub, retails for $1,495.97 at Sweetwater.com. Additional mixing units are available at $230.97 from the same source.

I found the detailed “Hook Up” diagrams featured on the Hear Technologies Web Site were VERY helpful and provide diagrams for different applications. Since most musicians out there are still using analog mixers, I focused on this application.

Getting the analog signal back to the hub can be handled a couple of different ways. You could choose to run up to 8 lines (either Aux mixes or individual channels) back through the snake to the hub on-stage and then from there distribute the signal to the individual mixing stations on stage via Cat 5 cables. However, if you do not have enough available lines in your snake, then you may want to locate the hub at the mixing station and then run a single Cat 5 cable back along your snake to another hub and distribute on stage from there. If you already have a digital mixing console, you can simply run a Cat 5 cable out of your mixer parallel to the snake to an on-stage hub.

The Hear Back system accommodates a stereo mix plus 6 additional individual channels which seems adequate for most group scenarios. With 24 bit depth sound, the quality of the sound is excellent.

I spoke to Michael Hurwitz, National Sales Manager for Earthworks High Definition Microphones and drummer for East Bay Mud out of the Bay area. Michael uses the system for his 10 piece band and loves them relating, “We have everything so dialed in at this point, it’s pretty much just plug and play. We actually hate it when we show up at a venue and they will not let us use our Hear Back set up.”

Michael has been using the set up for about 3 years now and has a pretty sophisticated set up. He first sends a basic stereo mix to all stations on the 1 and 2 stereo channels, then splits the other channels up by section or individual preference. “As a drummer, I can use headphones or floor monitors since I’m pretty stationary. The guitar players up front run their “outs” on the units to a wireless transmitter and then send this signal to their belt pack and in-ears so they can take their mixes with them around the stage.”

Whether you want to send your mix to a floor monitor, wireless transmitter or simply tie directly into your unit with headphones, it is entirely your preference. Don’t like the mix? Stop whining and change it..

MEET THE WRITER - ARNY BAILEY
President of In Form, Inc. Media Design and Chief Editor of Weekend Musician is a licensed architect practicing in the Pacific Northwest and weekend musician currently fronting ABOUT FACE, a classic rock cover band and The Grand Delusion a Tribute to the music of Styx and Journey.

Courtesy of Weekend Musician, July 2008 • www.weekendmusician.com

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