CLARITY Delivers Huge Sound for Mexican Stadium, Juarez Vive

CIUDAD JUÁREZ, MEXICO – SEPTEMBER 2013: Located in the US border city of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, the recently-completed Juárez Vive is a stunning sports stadium and a proud symbol of the recently-embattled city’s rejuvenation. Indeed, the bold, exposed angles of its support structure give one the impression that the stadium is rising into the air. When the baseball season got underway in April, the newly-completed stadium accommodated 12,000 fans for a thoroughly-modern game-day experience. An important component of that experience is now a highly-intelligible, pleasantly-musical sound reinforcement delivered by Danley Sound Labs loudspeakers and subwoofers, with support from Ashly amplifiers and Symetrix processing. The Mexican government had great expectations for the sound system’s performance, and the Clarity Incorporated-design not only exceeded those expectations, it did so on the narrowest of budgets.

Ciudad Juárez’ strategic location in the context of Mexico’s drug wars threatened to smother the rich cultural life of its 1.3 million people, but things have turned around in recent years and the city is regaining its footing. The new stadium thus bears a level of personal investment from city and government officials that have influenced its design and construction. “The Governor of Chihuahua, César Duarte Jáquez, toured the construction site frequently to track and encourage the progress,” explained Rich Mason, president of North-Carolina-based Clarity Incorporated. “Our charge was to deliver ‘sound that was befitting the best of Mexico.’ They expected us to jump a very high bar.” The construction company, Afirma, only involved Clarity Incorporated after first determining that the original sound system designer wouldn’t be able to deliver that kind of performance on budget. As a result, Clarity Incorporated started the design three months late and operated on an emergency schedule.Bill Weir, Clarity Incorporated’s director of technology designed the system with assistance from Ivan Beaver, Danley Sound Labs’ chief engineer.

A small crew from Clarity Incorporated spent three weeks on site to assist Afirma with the installation. “This is a value-engineered system,” asserted Weir. “Occasionally, you get a big-budget project in which issues can be overcome simply by throwing money at them. You don’t have to give them a lot of thought. But in this day and age, and especially for a government client, money is tight and you have to carefully balance the tradeoffs inherent in any decision, but in such a way that no one feels that it’s a compromise. That’s a value-engineered system.”Loudspeaker and subwoofer placement at the new stadium looks deceptively simple. Nineteen Danley SM-80 full-range loudspeakers ring the lip of the roof that covers the stands, and every other SM-80 is joined by a Danley TH-118 subwoofer. “We’ve been huge fans of Danley from the very first moment we heard their loudspeakers,” said Mason. “Their phase coherence and pattern control are unrivaled, and they present the most natural sound stage I’ve ever heard short of studio monitors.” Weir, a loudspeaker designer himself, originally drew up the plans with a Danley SH-69 and a Danley SM-96 at each location. “I was able to quite nearly create an equilateral triangle between the slant of the seats and the point at which the loudspeakers would hang,” he said. “I wasn’t aware of the new SM-80, and so the SH-69 and SM-96 would combine to give me the appropriate coverage. Ivan realized the SM-80 would be as effective, but at a fraction of the cost, and suggested them as a replacement. I’ve worked with him enough to trust his recommendation on an unproven product. Sure enough, he was right. I’m blown away by the SM-80.”Weir observed that subwoofers are often omitted from stadium designs. “With conventional subs, it’s hard to retain low end definition or clarity in a stadium situation,” he said. “It’s just mud. In contrast, Danley’s tapped-horn subwoofers have vastly lower group delay and a very definite focus that you can’t get from conventional designs.

Put another way, it doesn’t matter how loud or low something goes, it’s the manner in which it does so that matters. And Tom Danley’s bass is not only loud and low, it’s musical and defined.” The stadium’s roof and appropriate spacing also contribute to exceptional low frequency definition.Heil microphones and a handful of other input sources feed a 16-channel Yamaha LS9 console, which in turn feeds a Symetrix 8×8 DSP with a Symetrix BreakOut 12 for additional outputs. “Given the circumstances, we didn’t have a lot of design cycle time on this job,” said Weir. “And as well as one might plan things out, the system requirements are likely to change on site. Symetrix has a reputation for building solid algorithms that are supported by well-designed analog circuitry. Its flexible open-architecture topology allowed me to perfectly tune the system functionality while I was in Juárez.”Nine Ashly pe3800 and four Ashly ne2400 amplifiers power the system. All of the Ashly amplifiers are networked to allow Ethernet control from a central location. “Ashly is another company that puts sound and reliability first,” said Weir. “Their network amps are a great example of appropriate functionality. They sound great and maintain a robust low end even with a lot of speaker cable. Of course, that kind of sound quality is paramount. Beyond that, the network capabilities meet the client’s needs without adding any costly – but ultimately unnecessary – bells and whistles.”He continued, “Clarity has no obligations to any manufacturer. I can use whatever I want in my designs. Given the design expectations and constraints at Juárez Vive, I’m certain that this is the only combination of gear that would have succeeded. It’s a very unique synergy, and I’ve never heard a better system for anything less than five times the price. From the client’s perspective, it’s simple: they have a far better audio system than even dared imagine possible, and they stayed on budget.”


CLARITY Elevates Hardpop Club

The Hardpop Club in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico is both a source of immense local pride and a beacon to serious DJs and electronic musicians around the world. Indeed, the hard-partying citizens and electronic music fanatics of Ciudad Juárez regularly fill the Hardpop Club to its 500-person capacity, and international DJ and club publications consistently rank it within the top one hundred clubs globally. Over the past two years, the Hardpop Club has – with the help of North Carolina-based Clarity, Inc. – switched out its old sound system for a cutting-edge Danley Sound Labs system with abundant headroom, crystalline fidelity, and honest, chest-crushing bass. The improvement over even the best conventional club sound systems is obvious, and artists and fans alike are hailing the new sound at Hardpop Club. In addition, Danley’s new optional club aesthetic makes a bold visual statement that underscores the unique sonic characteristics of Tom Danley’s innovative designs.

As a border town that was especially hard hit by Mexico’s drug war, Ciudad Juárez is both a city and a rallying point, and the returning health of its vibrant cultural life is a metric of hope for its citizens. “The owner of Hardpop Club is in a city that is attempting to recover from its bad reputation,” said Bill Weir, vice president of technology at Clarity and the mastermind behind the club’s sound design.  “He feels that he has to go above and beyond to attract A-list performers from around the world. He wanted a new sound system that would be unique and that would reinforce Hardpop Club’s position as a leader in the industry.” With its focus squarely on the music – most of the club’s patrons are electronic music fans first and club-goers only second – that meant taking the new sound system to the next level.

“Clubs are obligated to refresh their sound and look every so often and Hardpop Club was due for an upgrade,” explained Rich Mason, president of Clarity. “Electronic dance music is one of the most demanding forms of music on a sound system because its creators fully and deliberately exploit the entire frequency range – from 20Hz to 20kHz. Rather uniquely, Danley offers a lot of legitimacy in the low end, particularly the bottom octave. Beyond supplying a ton of bass, Danley subwoofers are truly musical. Because Danley full-range boxes are horns, we can keep energy off the walls, and their phase coherency is phenomenal. Hearing a loud Danley system is a unique experience because it is devoid of the distortions inherent to conventional subwoofer and loudspeaker designs.”

Four Danley SH-96HO full-range boxes paired with four Danley DBH-218 subwoofers comprise the main output of Hardpop Club’s new system. Because of their excellent pattern control, which extends octaves below conventional designs, Weir was able to toe the SH-96HOs in to keep energy off the walls and on the main floor, reducing the room’s decay time by 300ms. Four Danley SM-96 full-range boxes paired with four Danley TH-118 subwoofers fill in the sound from the back of the room. Weir was careful to use the DSP capabilities of the Powersoft K- and M-Series amplifiers to properly delay and phase all of the system components so that everything sums in phase in the middle of the room and so that no components are fighting. A pair of Danley SH-46s and a pair of Danley TH-212 subwoofers at the DJ booth inspire great performances. A Lake LM44 DSP provides modest overall system tuning.

“Working with Danley on this project was great,” said Mason. “We suggested a number of add-ons or options that would raise the Danley brand in the eyes of club owners, and they took us up on every one. The most conspicuous suggestion was a bold color contrast between the horn and the rest of the box. For Hardpop Club, the horns are red and the boxes are black. It doesn’t even look like a speaker!”

“High-SPL sound reinforcement systems are typically either forgiving and lack resolution; or they have the resolution but are merciless and unforgiving of material produced in a less than stellar fashion. The greatly reduced distortion in the mid-band Danley means that even with material that’s less than perfect there is a level of effortlessness that is always present. And since the large format horns are full range and have no convergence error, the sound in the venue is exceptionally warm, friendly and consistent,” says Weir.


Drum Violence

Drum Violence

by

Doug Burns, Clarity Inc.

The room is dark and as the lights come up the acoustic guitarist starts picking softly and as the energy rises you know what is coming, 125db of snare drum swimming in the sounds of 8 cymbals being hit on every 16th note. Awesome. This is the problem that everyone deals with on Sunday morning so lets talk about a few ways to make live drums sound better in a church.

Now before you revolt or label me, I am a drummer and have been for many years.

Violence – Since trying to convince a drummer to play quiet is fruitless the first thing, the approach I like to start with in this situation is violence. Quietly take the drummer into a back office and…well, shall we say, help them see it your way. Don’t worry . Violence has been used for centuries and I am sure the part in the Bible where they beat unruly drummers half to death with shovels was left out due to content management and time constraints, it is a long book. If that approach doesn’t work take a look at a few of these other ideas.

Drum Shield – Let’s consider the clear drum shield. Ahhhhhh, a sliver of plexiglass will make everything better. Right, if we are on the moon. 3/16th inch of plexiglass doesn’t have the properties to damp the level of a drum set and so the sound that doesn’t go through the plexiglass is just reflected back up into the air, causing more arrival issue problems, and in general, smears the sound in the room. I am not so sure that a typical drum shield doesn’t actually make the drums sound worse because you get the sound from the kit and then the reflected sound coming a few milliseconds later smearing everything while doing very little to quiet the set in the room. The only drum booths that actually do something are the ones that have wrapped fiberglass damping panels inside, a full fiberglass back, a fiberglass roof and most people don’t like the looks of them but when has looks ever gotten in the way of better sound quality. Yup, that is sarcasm. So to clarify, thin plexiglass with no top and sides does virtually nothing to diminish the overall volume of the drums, it takes full-on ugly to get that done.

Tuning – This is where you need to ask if the drums are the church’s or the drummer’s, because I have seen drummers heads spin when someone touches their set. It can be scary. The snare, it is usually tuned very tight which gives it a high pitch along with that crack that drummers love, yet can also raise the dead. The best thing to do is tune the drum as low as possible, literally make the drum almost dead. I know this isn’t what a drummer wants but if you threaten them with electronic drums they will give it a try. Or resort to violence (see above) I talked to one church tech that said they would hardly tighten the lugs more than finger tight. Low, low, low is the new quiet. For toms, they need to be little tighter especially on the floor tom because it helps the tom cut through with tone not just the slap of the stick hitting the head. Still tune them as low as possible, but pay attention that the attack of the stick isn’t the loudest thing. For the kick, the more damped the sound the softer it will be, and although I am not a fan of the muffled sound, it does quiet it in the house. Just add another pillow to the kick, lower the pitch of the snare and stand back in awe.

Cymbals – Cymbals are the worst offending part of a drum kit in my opinion. Everyone should be aware that perceived volume is amplitude over time. Yup, transients like a snare hit are quite a bit louder than a crash cymbal but a drummer riding that crash like a jockey coming down the final stretch at the Belmont makes it sound louder than the snare drum. That’s because the snare comes and goes in a few milliseconds and the cymbal lasts for eons it seems, and that is why cymbal choice is so important. Thinner crash cymbals with a fast decay get out of the way quicker and lower the perceived volume in the room because it is the never ending ring that you want to minimize. The same goes with the hi hat cymbals, they should also be lighter and if possible have the drummer keep them tighter when he plays them as everything is exaggerated in the room. What the drummer thinks is a “little” open, sounds huge to the audience.

Hybrid electronic cymbals No Al Gore hasn’t started making cymbals, Zildjian, yes, I said Zildjian has come up with a real cymbal that is quieter than a traditional cymbal yet plays exactly like the real one. Oh yeah there are electronics and cool lights. Zildjian Gen 16 cymbals added to an acoustic set can bring the sound levels down and although there is a little trade off in sound, the gains in volume are amazing. They are worth a look. These look and play exactly like the cymbals that cause so much damage to the overall sound quality yet are quiet enough to need them added to the mix, when is the last time someone said “hey can you turn up the cymbals”?

Perception is everything. Putting the drums in the PA can have the effect of making them seem quieter. Remember perception is everything here, I think I said that somewhere before, a drum set in the corner of a stage can really draw attention to itself and the perception is always “wow the drums are so loud”. Adding them to the pa takes some of the focus off the actual set and by blending them with the rest of the mix the perception can be that they are quieter. Sounds crazy but it does work because our minds plays tricks with us all the time and if you fixate on the noise coming from the corner it can sound louder than it blended evenly through the pa. You may also want to send the drums to a group, compress the dickens out of them while at the same time sending them to the mains uncompressed. Blending the two can thicken up the drum sound and we all know big and round is better than shrill everyday even if big is louder.

Finale – So until next time remember the steps

Your first choice is violence
Drum shields need to be ugly
Low is the new high
Quick decaying cymbals = lower perceived volume
Save energy with hybrid cymbals
Perception is everything, turn the drums up in the mix.

We will break down each step in more detail next time, this is just to get your mind going…..yeah, yeah, put down the shovel. Cheers, Doug


The #1 Most Important Production Technique

Well I just got back from mixing at a 3 day festival. I have almost 20 years behind the board, my cohorts had lots of experience too. We had a “state of the art” PA, it was large enough for headroom and very high quality, we had great, self powered monitors, top of the line mixers and mics… Even the cable was the highest quality!

Yet, for the majority of the bands there the experience was only marginal. Now, I am as sorry to have to say this as you may be surprised to read it. “Why?” a thoughtful person might ask.

The answer is very simple, and its not what you may think. A lot of these bands are like the majority of bands that gig, or may go into the studio in that they are not to the point where they have proper management, or even a representative. When asked to supply advance information often there was little beyond a stage plot. When asked about things like mix preferences or who likes what and how, we were greeted with blank stares. They had never been asked this before and had no idea how to reply. A lot of them simply said, “Man, I dunno- just mix us please.” Talk about being on the spot!

When you come to the gig (or session) without presenting clear communication to the production people around you, it is a guarantee for dissatisfaction. During a festival there are no “sound checks.” The poor monitor engineer has been there for 12 hours without a break already, and he has only heard a few of your songs maybe a couple of times at best. He doesn’t know not to put that wedge there because your keyboard player is nearly deaf in that ear, or that if the lead vocalist hears the slightest bit of bass guitar though the PA on stage he will fly into a public temper tantrum. Frowns all around, and the worst part is that your first gig in front of that many people has gone from an unforgettable moment of joy to an unforgettable night in hell.

Meanwhile, the next act’s point person approaches the mixer, smiles, holds out his hand and says “Hi, I’m Robert with. I have a few things you are going to want to be aware of. They need the lead vocal spread around, the tall blonde projects way louder than the other backing singers so watch her, they need kick in the drum wedge and sidefills, but not the front vocal wedges, the clarinet player needs more of the sax than the clarinet- the sax player needs them to be even and they need to hear the sampler loud and proud. Also, the acoustic guitar is going to be annoying at 5Khz, you might want to bring it down a bit. We need a 120ms. slap echo with one repeat (think Elvis) on the lead vocals.

There – in the 5 minutes while they are setting up their instruments they now have their monitors set up for them, the front of house engineer knows what effects are appropriate, and in just a couple of minutes into the first song the entire act is solid and they are playing a great set. All because of a little communication.


Epic Fail

I remember when I was younger and all we could play at home were records and tapes. We had a modest collection, a hundred or so records, a couple dozen reel to reel tapes. Each one meant something to us. They were important! We would invite people over to have listening parties when a new record was released by a favorite artist, it was a big deal. No one talked while the music played, people applauded the turntable when it was over, and it took 5 minutes of discussion to decide what to put on next.

My family did a lot of concert production. We got a lot of repeat business because, well- we made things sound really good and the artists really appreciated it, as did the crowds. Everyone respected the music- not just the artists and crew- but the MUSIC, as if it was it’s own living entity that we were all in the humble service of.

In a nutshell, music really meant something to people. It wasn’t as much of a social thing, it was a deeply personal, transformative experience. I believe this is what Bach had in mind when he wrote “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” for his church. I believe this is what our church fore-bearers had in mind when the organ was invented and placed in these holy places. I know that when we played it back on our Altec 604Bs and JBL subs in our little living room, that room became a holy place. When we put on Hendrix’s “Band of Gypsies” or “Who’s Next”, Zeppelin IV, or Tangerine Dream’s “Ricochet” on Sunday afternoon in the summer and opened up all the windows of the house, instead of complaining about the noise, our whole block- literally the entire block- even the old folks would come over with food and we all had a great time enjoying each other’s company all day, every weekend, with all differences aside.

It was the music that united us, and it wouldn’t have worked if it didn’t sound so damn incredible that you just had to stop right in your tracks and pay attention.

There was no way you could not take it deeply into you. You didn’t brace yourself against it. You just let it in, and with it came spirit- in whatever form or flavor you needed it in at that particular time- just for you, and it happened that way for everyone present, everytime.

Fast forward up to today. The vast, vast majority of people have hundreds or thousands of songs on their personal players. They play back low quality compressed audio that wouldn’t impress a dead cuttlefish. Not albums mind you, songs. (whole other blog about the difference between an ALBUM and a collection of songs put together on a disk) taken out of context, or that never had a context to start with. An abundance of anything cheapens it.

At a concert, people will complain if the video screen isn’t high enough resolution or the projector isn’t bright enough or there’s a strobe light flashing for too long- but even musical people- and I have a lot of them as friends- will just accept harsh, shitty audio that is as offensive literally as nails on a chalkboard.

When a concert is being set up, especially at a modern festival, there is usually only a few minutes to do a sound check for the artists, while the lighting designer gets to take all night after the festival closes to program cool lighting for the next night.

I wish lighting guys made people blind from doing bad lighting! Not really, but you get the point.

The only thing that matters at the average concert today is that the music is loud and that it doesn’t stop. There is no time to get quality. It’s too expensive or something, I’m not sure- I get told a different thing each time. You try setting up 8 monitor mixes for a band in 5 minutes flat sometime, I dare you!

Show promoters care only about cramming as many acts as they can into the set show time for the night, never mind that there isn’t time enough to do anything even remotely right.

“Artists” get paid astronomical sums of money to go onstage too drunk to keep from knocking their stuff off their tables, unplugging it in the middle of their set. They do not bother to learn the most basic technical things about the equipment they are using and flatly do not care if they create horribly distorted sound- like an AM radio off station- that bad! They will tell you literally -this was told to me recently and I quote directly as nearly as I can remember “It’s above your pay-grade to interfere with him, just suck it up and deal with it.” So, doing my job and helping an artist to deliver his music to the audience is now “interfering.” Wow. OK.

There is only one thing that I know of that can make 100,000 people or a million people get together and cheer in joy, spontaneously without being prompted- and that is MUSIC.

Is it a coincidence that as music becomes more and more a commodity to be just consumed like anything else and is regarded as just another diversion that the world falls further and further apart? Right now we need anything- ANYTHING WE CAN GET to help us get it together, and music is still the #1 solution for getting people on the same page with one another regardless of race, location or language.

But experience shows it has to sound good to work. Otherwise people aren’t arrested by the tyranny of beauty.

“Artists” are nothing without US. WE are the people whom they must speak through. Without us, they may as well go yell down a well about it. WE are the standard bearers, and WE are FAILING!

If we do not hold the feet of Promoters, Managers, Artists, Ministers, and the public in general’s feet to the fire, then who will?

This is OUR industry, and we are shooting ourselves in the foot by not demanding to be given the circumstances to provide quality. Why are we as an industry cheerfully shooting ourselves in the foot?

Come on people, look around you in the world today. Its time to matter!

How can we change this? What can we do people?

DISCUSS!!!

– Bill Weir


Correct and Wrong

One of the great things about the digital audio revolution is being able to see on screen the effects of applying EQ, Compression, De essing, etc. You can see all the ups and downs in your eq curves, reminding you of how draconian you were about to be with the signal.”Look at that!” you exclaim to yourself…”That CAN’T be right!” …Out it comes. We can look at the phase curve on a SIM system while Eqing and see phase relative to the adjustments we are making. Yikes!

All the while the upper midrange is building up and things are getting more and more abrasive sounding. But it must be correct right? “I read everywhere that if you use good mics and put them in the right place that you don’t need EQ and using it is evil.” Well, not really.

EQ lives on consoles for a reason. Almost never in the real world are you going to be able to place mics at naturally phase aligned points on stage, nor would you have the time to determine where those were. You also have the output of the stage monitors to consider, and with 18 open mics on a small, loud stage for example, there are going to be some radical peaks produced. Not only will they be peaky, the peaked areas will sound very “phasey” because its the phase alignment of several signals that is producing the peak in the first place.

How many concerts have you been to that employ state of the art digital equipment and sounded terrible? I bet things would get much better if the engineer could turn off the monitor they are looking at and just use their ears.

Our ears are better instruments to use for evaluating subjective sound quality over any contrived instrument. A well trained ear can detect minute phase changes, a non well trained ear can as well, its just that the person attached to them can’t correlate what they are hearing with what they need to do about it on the board.

So, mix with your ears, not with your eyes and what you think you know, and pay attention to the crowd’s reaction.

For a fairly comprehensive online course on ear training and related education visit www.smackmypitchup.com