Gear Talk: Vocal Capsules Part 2

This week we are moving down the line with the vocal capsules that I’ll use with new or known vocalists. Last week I started with the SM58 because it is my utility mic. This week I want to talk about the Shure KSM8. Shortly after it was released we picked one up and have never looked back. The KSM8 has some unique features that help it really shine in a few specific areas. As I said last week, this series isn’t meant to be a sales pitch, these are just the capsules that I use. If you are heavy Sennheisser, EV, DPA users, reach out to me via email (daniel@studiostagelive.com) and we can work together to write a few posts about a wider variety of choices (reach out quickly and we can get those integrated into this series). 

The KSM8 is the first dual-dynamic cardioid microphone. There are actually two capsules in there that are doing some pretty cool things. The easiest way to explain it is this: the capsule closest to the source is doing what most capsules do, the other is capturing what we would want to be nulled out. This creates a rather large polar pattern that allows for a great range of mic techniques. This is really where this capsule shines. I’ve included 3 pictures for you to look at that summarize what I’m explaining in a more technical manner. The first is a diagram of what the inside of the mic looks like. The second is the response curve. The last is a representation of the more balanced response when mapped against distance. This is the page from Shure that explains all these pictures at greater length. A word of caution here though, don’t cup the microphone or cover up any of the port holes around the capsules. I know this is a pretty common caution for most microphones, but this one especially is pretty bad if you don’t allow both capsules to do their jobs. 

In real life this translates to some pretty neat results. I love to use this with new vocalists. No matter how they hold it, as long as it is somewhere in the vicinity of their mouth, it is full sounding and clear. Because the proximity effect has been minimized, and the response is balanced out, if that new vocalist is really quiet, really loud, or super dynamic, this microphone is the perfect companion because when the sound is captured, it’s already helping me out. This is what I aim for which every capsule I choose for my vocalists. What capsule do I have that will compliment the users tonality, even out response, and accurately capture without too much EQ. Beyond new vocalists I also find myself using this capsule with most female vocalists in general because of its’ response curve and good rejection that the capsule provides. When used with good mic technique I’ve found that it does a great job rejecting what I don’t want to hear in the mics. This allows me to be able to use it with a vocalist in front of the drums, near the PA, etc. These are also the reasons why I would normally use a KSM8 over an SM58 as it is just that little bit different and better. The biggest downside for me is that if you have a brighter than normal voice because of the upper end response, this mic might be a bit harsh for some. 

Hopefully you’ve learned a bit about why I love to use the KSM8 in various situations. Next week I’ll be talking about the KSM9 and the ways I use it in contrast to the KSM8. Do you use the KSM8? In the comments below or on facebook, tell me what got you interested in getting it or looking at it. If you want to be emailed when any new content goes live, follow this link, and subscribe to my blog. See you on the flipside!

Gear Talk: Vocal Capsules Part 1

In today’s world, we have quite the choice of capsules. Watch a lot of old concert recordings and everyone was using one of a just a few options. But today, there are multiple manufacturers making many different varieties of microphones. Whether your twisting the capsule onto a wireless transmitter or swapping out a wired mic, it certainly isn’t much easier to start tailoring your selection to your use case and hopefully to the person using it. That is the topic of this series. Over the next few weeks I’ll be taking a week and talking about how I use each capsule that I have. One of the downsides here is that I only own a subset of Shure capsules (with a few outliers). I’m not sponsored by Shure (though I’d like to be) and this isn’t meant to be a sales pitch but rather me sharing how I match capsules to singers on a weekly basis. If you are heavy Sennheisser, EV, DPA users, reach out to me via email (daniel@studiostagelive.com) and we can work together to write a few posts about a wider variety of choices (reach out quickly and we can get those integrated into this series). 

This week I’m going to talk about the standard: the SM58. I usually buy this head for every wireless mic I buy because it is the most multi-purpose mic that I know of. If you can’t at least make something or someone decent with a 58, you’re doing it wrong. For over 50 years this microphone has been used for so many popular artists like Martina McBride, Cheryl Crow, Rascal Flatts, Iggy Pop, Luke Bryan, and so many more. But what sets it apart? Most people cite it’s classic performance with a flat response except a brightened upper mid which gives it a warm but present feeling for most. But it’s also known to be so durable in fact that people seem ok letting it be run over by a truck. Shure claims each part, when received from their contractors, is put through military grade endurance testing and I believe them. I have held a broken or damaged SM58 microphones in my hand before but have never actually witnessed any just cease to even work a little bit. On top of that, you can get it for $99. So not only is it super durable and sound great with most people, it’s probably one of the most reasonably priced microphones on the market. 

So how do I use it? Let me tell you. For me, every mic is situational. Quite often new people walk across the stage I work with. Most of them are speakers so it’s a headset battle but with vocalists it becomes a full out capsule war. Now while I don’t usually start with an SM58, but if I’m just having a hard time matching the vocalist with a capsule, it will never be long before they’ll be singing into a 58 just to get back to a baseline. This is the biggest thing I use the mic for: getting a baseline. So many times I’m just not sure which direction to go with the rest of my arsenal so I’ll just pick up a 58 and use what I hear with this mic as guidance. How their voice sounds with little correction with an SM58 will guide the next step. On top of that, in at least most cases, the SM58 is not a bad choice for a microphone. But there are a few instances when I use it first. The biggest first use for me is for really quiet singers (or soft spoken speakers). The rejection for this mic is pretty great and it’s a cardioid microphone giving it a forgiving pickup pattern. As they gain confidence and in turn volume, I might switch off of it for a different capsule but maybe not. There is just something to be said about being consistent about using the same microphone with the same person so you can start building up memory about what you’ll need to do each time they sing. But, that boost in the upper mids can be detrimental, in my opinion, for female vocalists. Everything must be weighed when considering which capsule to use. 

Well, that’s about it for this week. But I want to hear back from you. In the comments below or on facebook, tell me the weirdest thing you’ve ever mic’d with an SM58. I want to know if my weird stories are the norm or an exception. Don’t forget to come back next week when I’ll talk about the capsule I use first on any male vocal and compare it back to our series baseline, the SM58. If you want to be emailed when any new content goes live, follow this link, and subscribe to my blog. You won’t regret it! See you next week!

Gear Talk: Audio Distribution Part 5

Welcome to our final article in the audio distribution series.  Over the last 4 weeks we’ve covered the gamut from analog patch panels and analog splitters, to the older digital distribution formats, to the latest and greatest in audio networking in use today. Today we’ll focus on some of the more proprietary but well known manufacturer specific formats that are widely used today, most of which you will probably recognize. Buckle up and let’s get started!

First up, is Waves Soundgrid.  Anyone familiar with using Waves plugins live, has likely come across soundgrid in some form or another.  Soundgrid is Waves’ proprietary format and allows for up to 128 bidirectional channels to flow over a single ethernet cable.  Soundgrid can handle sample rates between 44.1K up to 96K. Soundgrid is a layer 2 network technology that uses one of three applications to route audio between devices.  Waves MultiRack which, when coupled with Waves processing servers allows the end user to process additional audio tools through a live console in real time with little to no latency.  MultiRack can act as a soundgrid router in addition to its duties as a plugin host. Waves LV1 is an actual software audio mixer with 64 stereo channels of audio and can hold up to 16 different soundgrid compatible devices.  Waves LV1 can be used as a traditional console or used as a giant audio router for soundgrid, or both. LV1 also allows end users to use Waves plugins directly in the mixer allowing for very flexible and detailed mixes. The last application, Waves Soundgrid Studio is primarily designed for DAW use and allows for additional processing power by offloading plugin processing to an outside PC instead of using the DAWs processor.  This too, can act as a soundgrid router. Waves Soundgrid is a fairly robust platform with options of integrating with MADI, AES50, Dante, and AES3, as well as having a driver for computer audio to be added to the Soundgrid network for recording or multitrack playback. Waves also works with many different manufacturers to make option cards for direct connectivity to many different audio consoles. The only possible downside to Waves Soundgrid is that a host program like LV1, MultiRack, or Soundgrid Studio have to be actively up and running for audio to properly flow and stay routed. You are also completely reliant on perfect performance from all parts for the system to work. 

Aviom’s ANET is another format still in use, while older and mostly replaced with Dante it can handle a 64 channel stream.  ANET uses a proprietary Layer 2 network technology to shift 48K audio around to different devices. It uses proprietary hardware and software to make and control routes.  Aviom’s ANET is most popular for its 16 channel personal mixers. Aviom made ANET cards for many console manufacturers and also analog to ANET converters that allowed end users to convert analog line level signals to ANET signals to be used with their personal mixing systems.  ANET was also utilized with limited success in large venues for it’s channel count and routing capabilities.

To help connect multiple consoles, DigiCo developed Optocore.  Optocore is a Ring distribution system that can handle up to 512 channels of audio at 96K.  Optocore can be used in a star topology but loses some of its redundancy. One nice feature with Optocore is that outputs are automatically calculated by the number of inputs being assigned so a lot of the math is done automatically for the end user.  Optocore can also be interfaced with a number of other manufacturers via option cards or via a MADI converter.

For major broadcast consoles there are a couple options for users to choose.  Calrec’s Hydra and Hydra 2 networks and Lawo’s NOVA networks. Each of these are basically giant routers with thousands of inputs and outputs also capable of handling hundreds of processing channels.  Both formats have redundancy for both DSP and control. Both use a computer to make routes but are not dependant on the computer for the routes to be maintained. Both Calrec and Lawo can integrate with almost any audio standard and have options for both analog and digital IO.  These consoles and their router frames are intricate pieces of technology and can act as a hub to a television studio or an OB sports or entertainment truck. Both utilize remote I/O boxes so that they can be networked through an entire installation and can easily be scaled up or down based on the needs of the current client or production.

Allen and Heath has built a new 96K protocol for the dLive and SQ Platforms called GigaAce.  GigaAce is capable of handling over 300 channels of bidirectional audio and control down a single ethernet cable.  GigaAce is a layer 2 format and primarily point to point to point with the ability for redundancy. One useful feature is that GigaAce can carry control data for multiple A&H consoles down the line so one A&H console with other A&H consoles connected to it via GigaAce can bridge control networks off a single ethernet cable.  Allowing an end user to easily control A&H consoles spread out at an installation.

StageTec uses a proprietary network protocol called Nexus to handle audio networks of 4096 by 4096 when properly configured.  Like Lawo and Calrec it can handle consoles with hundreds of processing channels. StageTec is seen mostly in large theatre type installations but is making inroads into broadcast setups.  StageTec consoles are also capable of distributed I/O boxes and can easily be scaled based on the needs of the client or production.

Yamaha has developed a new network technology called TWINLANe.  In addition to their heavy use of Dante in their CL, QL, and TF mixers Yamah has also developed TWINLANe as a method for audio transport in their PM Series consoles.  TWINLANe allows for 400 channels of audio to be distributed to consoles or devices on the network.

SDI, or Serial Digital Interface is the de-facto standard of video transport in use today.  Almost all professional video devices use SDI to carry audio and video. While SDI is not necessarily an audio format I did think it important to cover because HD-SDI has the ability to carry up to 16 channels of 48K audio down one stream.  This means you can send full HD video and 16 channels of audio down one cable. This can be extremely beneficial to installations that already use SDI to transport video because those SDI lines can also carry audio and can be used to distribute audio where no additional audio cabling may be run.  Keep in mind however, that not all SDI devices are created equal and that some can only see two, four, or eight, channels. If you’re looking to utilize the audio channels inside an SDI stream make sure the devices involved (including any SDI routers involved) can handle the amount of audio needed.

While there are many other audio formats in use around the world today I wanted this article series to cover the main ones in use and some of the original formats that grew the audio industry.  Understanding the basics of digital audio and digital audio networking will be crucial as audio consoles merge ever more with IP protocols and turn more and more into network devices. As capabilities and inter-connectivity grows, it’s crucial to understand the ability of your console to connect with other devices. We know that these last few weeks of audio distribution may have been a bit of drinking from the fire hose so please feel free to ask questions below, drop a thought on Facebook, or email us at engineers@studiostagelive.com. As always, if you want to be emailed when a new post is live on the site, sign up at this link! See you all next week!