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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Monitor Mixing? There’s an App for That

Most churches I work with don’t have the financial or volunteer resources to have separate FOH and monitor consoles. So the part-time, volunteer FOH guy is expected to mix multiple monitors, a separate recording mix and the main mix, and everyone expects it to sound as good as a U2 concert. Let’s top that off with the fact there may be only an hour to set up, soundcheck and run through the song set before service starts. And people wonder why sound guys tend to be grumpy and mumble to themselves a lot?

For those reasons I’ve been a big proponent of personal monitor-mixing systems like those from Aviom. The band can quickly get the mix they want and it lets the FOH guy focus on the house sound. The biggest drawbacks to these types of systems are extra setup time, stage clutter, inability for the FOH guy to remotely help someone with their mix, and, for most smaller churches, the cost can be prohibitive. A six-seat Aviom system can cost upward of $6,000, and that doesn’t include the cost of in-ear monitors. I’m not bashing Aviom or similar systems; they have their place and they work great, if you have the budget. I often don’t.

With QMix each band member controls his or her own aux channel or stereo aux pair. If you already have monitors and either an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, it doesn’t cost a dime. Bands can even share a single iPad and pass it around during practice. But if everyone has their own device, you can assign each device to that person’s monitor mix so they can’t accidentally mess with someone else’s mix. Because I leave the mixer right up by the stage, I can use a single PreSonus HP60 headphone amp to create a six-person in-ear monitor system for less than $300. To add mobility, I use Elite Core’s wired IEM belt-packs that cost around $20 and let you move around stage without cables tugging at your ears. Unless a musician absolutely has to go wireless, I always prefer wired due to better sound quality, reliability and much lower price. There are also other benefits to QMix.

First, you have direct control of every input on the mixer, with independent control of effect levels in your monitor mix; most systems limit you to 16 channels. Second, you can assign each band member to either have complete control of their monitor mix or just give the 80-year-old pianist the “Wheel of Me” that lets her simply turn herself up or down. Likewise, you can group channels, so, for example, once a drummer gets the eight-mic kit balanced, they can turn the entire kit up or down but still have access to make individual channel tweaks when needed. Third, you can name all the channels on the computer, and channel names show up on everyone’s devices. No more writing on masking tape! And finally, as mentioned but worth repeating: Less stage clutter and quicker setup and teardown.

There are some disadvantages, too, if you’re used to working on a more traditional system. For starters, the number of individual monitor mixes is limited by the number of aux channels, which ranges from four on the 16.0.2 up to 10 on the 24.4.2. Also, some people just prefer physical knobs. And finally, again worth repeating, flaky Wi-Fi can be an issue, so bring a router and set up your own private network.

Road Dog, New Tricks

I completely understand that this type of setup is a massive paradigm shift and isn’t for everybody. But if you’re a small- to medium-size church or band on a limited budget and are willing to try something different, I don’t think you can find a better solution for the money. Every church I design this type of system for is always nervous about the idea of not having a snake and not putting the mixer in the back of the room. And every one of them comes back to thank me for pushing them to think differently. You’ll save money, get more functionality and, if you’re portable, drastically reduce setup and tear-down time.

This year PreSonus is going to see new competition from Mackie, Line 6, Behringer and others, no doubt. But the company isn’t sitting still, releasing new features like integrated SMAART analysis. In today’s world, software is just as important as hardware, so the developments will be interesting to watch. One thing is certain, though, portable sound has changed forever. And this is just the beginning...

Derrick Jeror is the founder of Housetop Media in Corning, N.Y., where he specializes in system design for houses of worship.






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