Portable Sound Systems in the Age of the iOS

Sep 1, 2012 9:00 AM, Mix, By Derrick Jeror

Or, How Wi-Fi Killed the Audio Snake


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Derrick Jeror

The author, Derrick Jeror, with iPad.

I work in live sound, and I’m done with audio snakes. No, I don’t mean I’ve switched from copper to Cat 5. I mean that I’m done, totally, forever. And my mixer? I have one, but you won’t see it. It’s behind the stage. And my iPad? No, I’m not playing Angry Birds, I’m mixing the band from the best seat in the house, right next to my wife and kids. I don’t even think about monitors anymore, the band takes care of them on their own. And because there’s no snake, stage racks or separate monitor system, everything takes less than 20 minutes to set up. Just put the mixer near the stage, connect the band and powered speakers, and go. Even crazier, an entire system for a 600-seat venue can fit in a Honda Civic. Oh, did I mention I’m doing all of this with a $1,999 mixer and some free apps? Welcome to the future of portable sound.

Because of my line of work at Housetop Media—a bit of installs, retailing, mixing, audio consulting, with an emphasis on portable churches—I’m obsessed with setup and tear-down efficiency. I’m also obsessed with cutting-edge technology. About three years ago, my never-ending search led me to the PreSonus StudioLive line of digital mixers. They were cost-effective, compact and powerful, but I wouldn’t say revolutionary. When I got my first StudioLive it only came with Capture (a multitrack recording program) and StudioOne (PreSonus’ DAW). The revolutionary stuff came with the software releases and firmware updates that followed.

First came VSL (Virtual StudioLive), a computer program that provides a control interface and a backup for your preset library. Next came SL Remote, an iPad app that lets you mix over Wi-Fi. Most recently the company released an app called QMix. It’s a personal monitor-mixing app that works on iPhone and iPod Touch. These apps and computer programs have totally transformed how I design portable sound systems and how they operate.

FOH, Wherever You Sit

Have you ever arrived at a venue to find the FOH location is either up in a balcony or back in some “sound room” with a hole in the wall? With the mixer onstage and SL Remote on my iPad, I can pick from any spot in the room to mix. The only time I am physically at the mixer is to set the analog gain knobs and load channel presets when the band first arrives. After that, it’s all iPad. I know mixing on a touchscreen instead of knobs and faders may seem like heresy to seasoned road dogs. But after giving it a chance, I have to let you in on my dirty little secret...I actually like it better than mixing on the console.

With the large display I can quickly scan and see EQ, gate, compressor, panning, routing, mutes and fader settings for every channel from a single overview screen. I can directly manipulate parametric EQ curves by touching and pinching. My iPad finally feels like the “magical” device Steve Jobs told me it would be. On top of the features already mentioned, you also have control of eight assignable 31-band graphic EQs (if you are working on StudioLive 24.4.2), aux channel control, effects including tap tempo, scene loading, channel naming and talkback mic control—with a wireless mic you can talk to specific members of the band from anywhere in the room. And because the controls are so visual, I find it’s a great teaching tool for new sound engineers. Suddenly compressor thresholds and ratios make sense to a kid once they see and hear the changes at the same time.

Because Wi-Fi can be flaky depending on where you are, I always bring an Airport Express for my private network, giving me an additional stereo audio output that I connect to the StudioLive. Using AirPlay, I can play audio wirelessly from my iPad through the system from anywhere in the room. I use it to play music before and after church services and events. Also, using a remote desktop app on the iPad, I can control the computer that’s connected to the mixer. That lets me remotely start and stop recordings in Capture or play back audio files from the computer.

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