Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Analog vs Digital, Coke VS Pepsi

So, by now if you haven't see or been a part of an argument involving whats better, Analog vs Digital or Wedge, Side Fill vs IEM, then you haven't been around a lot (in the touring audio world as least) and to answer the other question... Coke is better, there is no argument there. :-)

Lets start with Digital Consoles vs Analog Consoles. Digital has been sweeping the industry by storm and has largely replaced the older analog standards. They offer a lot of features that were either not possible before or at least required a crazy amount outboard gear. They usually offer built in effects processors as well as lots of EQ. Routing options on a presidential-ed level compared to an analog counterpart. Usually digital boards are also much smaller and compact, making the tour ability factor way more appealing, and these days they're just as reliable as a analog in most respects (excluding opinions and old road dog banter). To top it off they're cheaper!!!...well seriously!! Why would you ever buy an analog console again? But don't sign off analog just yet...there is a reason that tour engineers the world over still go through the trouble of bringing the larger, heavier analog consoles everywhere they go.

Remember when I wrote about the BB King show in "MON vs FOH"? I discussed the decision we made, the morning of, to switch to digital vs analog for that is why that was a mistake: First, I was very proficient with the analog console, now that's not an excuse for not using digital, the whole "I just know analog, I'm not gonna learn that digital crap" with that attitude your days are numbered as an engineer. The main thing that messed me up that day was I couldn't do multiple functions at once. In that scenario I needed to be able to adjust multiple channel EQ's and multiple MON sends adjustments on multiple channels and make Graphic EQ channels, pretty much simultaneously, while not letting my eyes leave the band. In the digital scenario this isn't possible because of the way you have to cycle through inputs using the screens and switch between Mon and Main pages and rack pages to adjust channel EQ vs rack and graphic, I was 3 times slower and my eyes had to leave the band to watch the screen. So in this case analog not only was comfortable, it was more practical and would have been the correct choice for the Gig, I commonly will select analog if available for large festivals because of this same issue. Black Eyed Productions was recently out on the road and we stopped for a few days to work a large Festival withHorne Audio in Portland OR, with A Midas Heritage 3000 as the Mon console and it was great to have it there for some of these very reason's, the first band of the day came out with virtually no sound check and only 30min change overs for the rest of the day, we had a lot of acoustic instruments and as well as a Baby grand piano mic'ed, and they all needed to be loud yet pristine in the wedges and if it hadn't been for ease of analog in that scenario, the day would have much more difficult.

What about the benefits of digital? There are many and I am a big digital fan. In fact, for festival FOH scenarios digital is a life saver. You show up fresh off the road and the festival is already going, people in the venue, so an open air sound check is out of the question. And what about IEM's? If I'm carrying my ears and console saved from the last show then all I need to do is tune the PA to the way I want it using some house music, and using Dave Rat's concept, and my inputs should come up pretty close to how I want them. The bands ear mixes will virtually be the same. So once the show fires up, a couple adjustments and were rolling. But what if I'm not carrying? I can always carry my flash drive with the file from the console the night before, hit recall, tune the pa and I'm set. Same for MON's with the IEM's, its a life and time saver. If we had to redial the mixes and FOH mix from scratch on the fly it would be a nightmare, and most importantly it compromises the bands performance. So in this scenario Digital is by far the way I would go... I have had scenarios like this where the band is delayed until exactly 2 minutes past show start time! Luckily we had done exactly what we described and, since we also doubled as drum and guitar techs, the band walked right off the bus and on stage, lights went down and Rock N Roll!! They never had a sound check at all!! No one was none the wiser...and the band could hear fine after a few small adjustments and Rock N Roll!!

So... Digital VS Analog...depends on the situation.....I will discuss analog "warmness" on a another day....:-)

So what about wedges vs IEM? I briefly touched on this during "Musician vs Sound Man” so for today lets discuss the down falls and benefits of both. Ever heard that loud insanely awful ear piercing high pitch sound that just jumps out when a band is sound checking or playing?? Most of us have....its called occurs when the audio source I.E. vocal mic or guitar mic is turn up in the wedge monitor to the point that is uncontrollably starts to feed its self. This is the biggest down fall of wedges as well increased stage volume and wash...but wedges still have their purpose....nothing can quite replace that low powerful kick and punch that wedges can. In a rock setting where volume isn't an issue then wedges and side fill are great as well as drum sub etc. but if you have a band that is hard of hearing or needs loud with clarity're gonna wanna look to another avenue Like IEM's. IEM's or In Ear Monitors are actual little drivers that are worn in the ear canal, similar to iPod headphones. Quality ones are even molded specific to the artists ear canal and can produce high output volume directly to the artists ear. A couple great benefits to these is of course the loss of stage wash, reduction in stage volume and feedback. With those things out of the way, you can get amazing clarity to the artist. However, IEM's have always struggled to get the low frequency dB's up to a comparable level to a wedge, yet they get better and better as time goes on. Because of this, it has led some artists (without budget constraints) to do a hybrid. They will actually run stereo IEM's and wedges, dividing the energy between kick, bass and impact instruments in the wedges with vocals and guitars etc in the ears. This definitely adds a lot of work for the MON guy but is sometimes necessary. When Black Eyed Productions was out on the road last month, after the Horne Audio Gig, we flew to South Dakota to work a show for our good friends in Everly and Enation. Chris Bergstrom (me) was handling FOH and Peter Wiley was handling MONs with both IEM's and Wedges. We ran into a problem described above; our artist couldn't get comfortable, she was having difficulty getting vocals how she wanted them in her ears and Peter was getting frustrated along with everyone else....and not really at anyone...just frustrated...because it is frustrating. Luckily I had dealt with this before....but I was hesitant to just jump up...sometimes too many people is not helping at all :-) (another article) So after a bit I jumped up and began to rebuild her mix, removing impact and low frequency items and putting them into the wedges and after a bit we got it figured and she was comfortable and the show went on, Rock N Roll!!

Some scenarios require volume to be the number 1 concern, you find this in a lot of “houses of worship” and “corporate gigs”. In these venues, IEM's and no stage amps will used because of the low speed limit (volume cap) in which case the artists desires are secondary to the clients requirements.

So what is better? Digital VS Analog? Wedge VS IEM? Depends on the application.

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