Live Sound Perfection

November 18, 2008 2:30 AM

I went to see Cardinals in Birmingham (Carling Academy) last night, and was (once again) blown away at the quality of their live sound. It was LOUD, possibly too loud at times, but I left with no ringing in my ears at all. Nor did my wife or our friends, none of whom frequent loud gigs. How is this possible?

Do 'bad mixes' or certain overly-loud 'harsh' frequencies tend to do more damage? I wasn't imagining the volume. You couldn't talk over it. There was plenty of treble to go round...

I noticed they were using Logic behind the desk, by the way, and they allowed 'taping' (a la The Dead). Plenty of very high quality boots and board tapes here, just to show that I'm not mad.

The only other shows I've ever seen that had this sort of live sound perfection were radiohead and (oddly) Roger Waters/Pink Floyd. Engineering prowess, I suppose.
posted by chuckdarwin (3 comments total)

I don't know for sure but based on my limited personal experience I think it has at least partly to do with headroom. A lot of clubs really max out their outputs introducing a lot of distortion and unpleasant harmonics -- making the treble that's there harsher.

But some places and some shows I've been to I've seen the amplifiers in the backstage area or under the stage look like their output meters are barely ticking over and it sounded great. There's plenty of treble there but it's not getting made harsher or louder due to the horns distorting.

Doing live sound and doing it really, really well is as much of a dark art as mastering really, really well.
posted by chimaera at 10:25 AM on November 18, 2008

I second the headroom. It makes a big difference, but most venues don't seem to get it at all. There is no reason that amps, speakers, etc are even close to their limit.
posted by fuq at 7:22 AM on November 23, 2008

Headroom is definitely the best way to get the best mix. I have spoken with several great live sound persons (from Billy Joel to Against Me) and the Wattage rating of the power amps must be high in comparison to the speaker load to sound anything near realistic. Unfortunately power amp wattage (which many brands semi-fabricate to be deceivingly high by testing with white noise instead of pink) comes at a pretty hefty cost.

But even with the best designed system bad acoustics will completely screw sound up. A bad sounding room is a bad sounding room no matter how many Watts you have running or who is finessing the eq.
posted by dagosto at 1:54 AM on November 25, 2008

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