Warrm Up Your Sound
By John Mills
Continuing on from last issue, this time we present a few more tricks of the trade for those of you in the digital console gang.
This month we are going to learn a little about how to “warm up” just about any sound, especially digital consoles.
While this main trick is specifically outlined for the Yamaha M7CL and is exactly the same on the Yamaha LS9 consoles, it could be applied to other digital consoles as well, and honestly is a good thing to think about on any console, digital or analog.
For those of you who will take your dying breath, clutching your Midas console on the way to the bottom of the analog ocean, this month is for you. While I will not argue with you that analog sounds “warmer,” I want to pose the question as to why it does.
Let’s talk about tube guitar amps for one second. If you’ve heard me teach live before, I almost always pick on guitar players. But honestly I completely agree with them that their tube amps sound better on 11 and while I agree they sound horrible on 2, let me explain why that is. Track with me for a minute and we’ll make the transition to analog consoles, and finally digital.
A tube amp sounds good on 11 simply because the tubes create a harmonic distortion that is pleasing to our ears, but they can not do that on low volume settings because it takes a good deal of electricity to “heat” up the tubes can create the distortion. I’m not talking AC/DC or Metallica here, even a jazz sound is better cranked up because of somewhat unperceivable amount of harmonic content that is added when overdriving analog components. The problem is that with a tube amp, there is no real way to “attenuate” the output of the amp so the actual volume in the room is not killing us. So hear me guys… while I like the amp on 11, that doesn’t mean I want the cabinet IN the worship center. Get it backstage in a closet, or buy something like the www.AxeTrak.com to let you run the amp wide open, but not have the sound in the room, seriously, that’s what MY speakers are for.
So if we simplify that thought process; crank the amp, attenuate the sound via an isolation room or iso-cabinet, and you’ll have a warmer, richer sound from our guitar player. But how do we do that with an analog or digital console.
First things first.
None of the following are something you should try blindly 10 minutes before Sunday’s service. Try it in a rehearsal because this is all about manipulating gain structure and doing so will change the levels to EVERY part of your system, including monitors.
Analog Console friends:
The trick is simple. Set your gain structure to well above zero when soloing the input. Not necessarily on pastors lapel mic, but drums, bass, keys, guitars, vocals… sure. Be careful on the master outputs though. Since you are adding a bunch of gain on your faders it adds up, you’ll have to make up for it somewhere by turning down something else. You could back those masters down or attenuate your amps, or system processor.
I’d like to see you run your faders for the most part around the zero (or unity) mark which is about 70-80 of the way up. Again remember your master at this point could need to be drastically reduced.
Be careful not to clip your inputs… If you see the little clip light flashing occasionally for a few milliseconds, don’t worry about it, but if it’s staying constantly lit up, you’ve overdone this technique.
M7 and LS9 friends
I say M7 and LS9 because I have not tested the following on any other consoles, but I have done it for over four years on EVERY M7 and LS9 I walk up to… and the result is something even your wife should notice. No offense wives, but you usually don’t notice when we change sound stuff.
Here is the problem with digital, it’s math, there is nowhere for the sound to get any of those nice harmonics we loved about our analog siblings. But wait… there is analog circuitry in a digital desk. It’s the analog preamp and it’s in line just be for the analog to digital converter, otherwise know as the A to D converter.
So here is the magic.
On EVERY input channel of the M7 or LS9, select the EQ. Under the EQ page there is a little knob labeled Attenuate. It is probably set at Zero. Set it to -6. Do this on EVERY channel, did you hear me say EVERY channel.
Now, go bump up the HA (or Head Amp) 6 clicks up on EVERY channel. You can safely see signals on the meters that are constantly at the -6 light and occasionally hit the red peak light. My drums ALWAYS touch the Red light a little on loud hits. You have just added 6 db to the analog preamp. The hotter the better… but be careful because you know how those guys will check like a wimp in sound check then come out of the gate during service at 100 miles an hour. The same thing applies here as in the analog world a little trickling red clip light is ok, but too much of a good thing will bite you if you aren’t careful.
If you have access to your amps or system process you can also take 3 db off all your M7 eq outputs. Left, Right, Subs, Fills, ect… or maybe just the L/R that feeds all those things.
This biggest thing to consider in all this is that you make up or reduce the overall change in the system. We are not trying to turn anything up. If that’s what you are hearing me say, let me make it clear. Turn down the attenuator in the channel eq page, turn up the preamp. That should be a net gain of 0db but you will hear the better sound the preamp is creating. If you mess with any of the output eqs don’t for get to make up the gain in the external device they are feeding.
What we are doing here is raising the bit depth (adding more math to the equations) while at the same time heating up those power rails in the only analog section of the console. We aren’t really creating the distortion like in the guitar amp at all, but the idea is similar. More analog electrons before the math equals more harmonics, which equals a warmer sound.
Now before I get a bunch of emails saying, we blew up our speakers… Please, please, please only try these tricks if you fully understand what is going to happen. In the case of analog consoles, if you forget to turn down your amps or main fader, you WILL blow something up. In the case of Digital consoles, we pretty much made the equation (or volume) balance out, but consider you have completely changed the signal levels inside your console. If you are running Aviom or any other ear monitors, and even floor monitors, the levels to the ears, and or monitors, could be be drastically changed. Also consider your compressor and gate thresholds will need to be adjusted. Trust me, all the “wow that’s cool” and “man, it really sounds amazing” comments from anyone in the band will be thrown out the window if you change their monitors and don’t do a whole new sound check. So before proceeding, make sure you understand the entire signal flow and exactly what signals you are changing.
Please email me and let me know if you check out this trick. I have yet to have someone tell me they didn’t hear a difference. Have fun with it. And don’t forget to store your old scene so you can get back there if you don’t like the new setup. Sorry analog folks… you’ll have to take a picture of your knobs with a digital camera or something.
John is an industry veteran, providing Front of House Mixing, Road Manager, System Tuning, and Audio Training services to the Christian Music Community for over 20 years. He is currently out on the Kenny Chesney, country music tour as systems engineer. To read about his adventures out there go to: www.JohnDMills.com. If you are looking for down to earth training for your volunteers check out his other website Tech Training 101.