Building Your Rig

Making It Work For You

At its best, live sound should reproduce the sound in your head.

There are any number of reasons that this might not happen. Some of the easiest to remedy are the ones that are caused by the space in which you are performing.

For example, trying to force your rig to do too much in an outdoor setting. I attended an outdoor live event a couple of years ago, at which the sound was nothing short of diabolical for the simple reason that the rig was just too small. The event organisers kept pushing the sound to the point where the bass simply broke up and the vocals distorted. This was especially galling as the acts I saw were brilliant!

Some noise, yesterday (Image by Yatheesh Gowda)

Some noise, yesterday (Image by Yatheesh Gowda)

My basic rule of thumb is this: ‘you can always cut a bit off but you can’t cut a bit on’. Having more power than you need is simple to remedy: turn it down. The PA I described earlier would have been excellent for an indoor show but was inadequate for an outdoor event.

Clear Vision

So what’s my point here? Well, over the past couple of years I have spoken with a number of people who have been looking to upgrade their live rigs but who have not been clear in their own minds how this is going to be used. For example, it is highly unlikely that an acoustic duo is going to need a 24 channel desk, separate power amp and 10,000W per channel cabs in order to play coffee house gigs or small pubs. By the same token, if that duo needs to play a larger venue, a pair of acoustic amps might not cut it either!

Building your live sound should be done with a clear idea in mind of how it is going to be used, in what sort of venue and with what level of flexibility necessary. Try to future-proof your rig by considering what you might need to do in order to adapt it should your requirements change. For example, have you got channels on the mixer to mic up the drums, if necessary?

CAD Touring 7 percussion mics

CAD Touring 7 percussion mics

Having a clear idea of how and where you are going to use this kit will allow you to ‘buy once, buy right’ with regard to the core of your PA, letting you scale it up or down as needed, and save you money. I’m always happy to chat things through, if you’re stuck!

Advice, Music

Power Mixer or Powered Cabs?

I had a really interesting conversation with a customer the other day about his live rig. He was using a Yamaha StagePAs system, which uses a small powered mixer / amplifier and passive speakers, but wanted to get something a bit bigger.

In an ideal world, I think he would have liked to have a mixer with more channels, say between 8 and 12 stereo / XLR with separate USB or auxiliary channels for backing etc but retain the Yamaha speakers. In principle, there is nothing wrong with that idea, however, the speakers present a problem: they are powered by the mixer he wanted to replace. In order to keep them, he would need to either:

  • Buy another mixer amplifier, or
  • Buy a passive mixer and separate amplifier.
An example of a powered mixer - the Peavey XR1212 features 2 powered amps rated at 600W each. 

An example of a powered mixer - the Peavey XR1212 features 2 powered amps rated at 600W each. 

As we were chatting, it transpired that he already owned a 1000W powered cab that he was using as a monitor. This cab alone had more headroom than the entire Yamaha StagePAs. If he had another, he could have the option of using a passive mixer (which tend to be cheaper) and it would solve the mixer amp / mixer + amp problem.  So, the solution presented itself.

Which To Go For?

So are powered cabs better than passive speakers? I certainly feel that they offer huge flexibility for a live performer. You are able to amplify your sound simply and you can set the headroom on the cab itself without concerning yourself with the output of your amplifier. On the downside, they are heavier and require power to both sides of the stage but I feel the benefits outweigh the costs.

The 1600W HH Tessen TNE -1201 powered cab - only weighs 15kg

The 1600W HH Tessen TNE -1201 powered cab - only weighs 15kg

What about passive speakers? Well, if you are using a mixer amplifier you don’t need to worry about power to the cabs and it is simply a matter of ensuring that you speakers have enough headroom to deal with the amplifier. For example, if your mixer amp kicks out 1000W but you only have 100W speakers, you have a problem! Divide the amplifier’s output by two and you will need a minimum speaker wattage of 500W per channel (I’d go for a bit more for safety’s sake). 

When I started out, back in the late 80s, the band I worked with always used a passive, analogue mixer, with a separate amplifier driving the two front of house PA speakers. Frankly, there was nothing wrong with that set-up and, to a large extent, there still isn't. However, at the time, there really wasn't another option. As technology has moved on, it has given us more options. The wrong option is the one that doesn't work for you or in the situation. The band I'm in currently uses a passive mixer and powered cabs. We can scale it up or down as required and it means we can play in more places as a result.