If you have a live event planned, then you need an audio system that can make it happen. That requires setting up and running some kind of sound system and having someone with the know-how to engineer it. Any event from the smallest conference with a microphone and a few standing speakers, to a huge stadium event with back-stage monitors, a P. A. System and mixing stations – requires equipment and a skilled operator.
The kind and type of audio equipment needed is specific to the event. Is it an event with music or just speakers or both, the size of the venue, the budget, state of the art or old school – these are just a few of the hundreds of elements regarding live audio. Audio systems and engineers are custom fitted, but there are basic components to any audio system that are worth knowing as a way to begin.
One of the primary pieces of sound equipment is the audio mixer. In a live situation a sound engineer uses a mixer to mix recorded or live tracks by adjusting volume levels, effects and quality (timbre). Powered and unpowered analog mixers have been the main categories in live sound mixers, but now they have introduced amazing digital consoles. These digital versions are capable of live sound applications with onboard effects and total recall mixing. Choosing the type of mixer that works for your event requires an assessment of venue, size and budget.
For smaller venues with smaller groups, a PA that is compact, easy to haul and fitted to a car is fine. In this case, a powered mixer is good because mixer, power amps, EQ and effects are all in one box. The only thing left to do is plug in speakers and a microphone.
A larger setup with musicians, backup singers, also designed to play smaller venues and clubs, operating as a typical band or group would function best with the unpowered analog. The traditional unpowered analog is simple and quick to setup and is designed to allow for growth. Bigger systems can be created with the addition of larger speakers and more elements. Newer analog mixers also come with digital effects processors, eliminating the need for additional outboard equipment.
The newer digital mixers include dynamics/effect processors as well as instant settings recalls. They are also designed to be effective at any performance level and are designed as a basic system that can grow with additions. A digital mixer like Digidesign’s VENUE, or the Yamaha 01V96, are good examples of current recommended digital mixers.
Fundamentally important, the lowly cable is frequently neglected. Proper cable care and maintenance and good quality cables are the bottom line in terms of powering your system. Live events tend to be hard on cables and they should be hardy and long lasting. Primary needs would be enough cable to handle the microphone setup and line and cable for both speakers and mixer to speakers.
The basic microphone amplifies vocals but there are also specific mics for instruments, as well as a full range of mics in both categories. As quality technology and sound has increased in demand as well as in design, more sophisticated and sensitive mics have emerged for live events. Dynamic mics are hardier, and the condenser mic is more refined. Of course, a variety of wireless systems are emerging and are particularly valuable for added mobility and for speaking events.
There is a huge variety of PA speakers offered for every type of event and venue, and as design technology becomes more rarified, so does the inventory. PA speakers are either active (powered) – meaning with built-in amplifiers, or passive (unpowered) without an amplifier. Active speakers eliminate the need to haul an amp. The unpowered passive speakers come in an array of configurations from which to choose and they normally are built with a much greater power capacity. There are a lot of factors that come into play with speakers beyond the basics such as bi-amplification or tri-amps or adding a sub-woofer to the system.
Stage monitors are critical as they enable those on a stage to hear themselves and one another. There is a full spectrum of designs offered including the standard unpowered stage wedges, the wired or wireless in–ear system, power solutions as well as small stage fills.
A powered mixer or speaker system may not require outboard amplifiers. But, if you are matching a power amp with any PA speaker then you are best to choose an amp that has the capability of delivering power equivalent to double the speaker’s (continuous) IEC rating. You are seeking enough headroom to deliver undistorted and clear power without interruption.
Effects are known as signal processing. When working with live sound this normally means delay and reverb, EQ (graphic or parametric), and compression and limiting. An effects processor for live performance needs to be optimized specifically for live event function in particular. There are amazing “all-in” signal processing products on the market now that really simplify and improve the quality of live sound and are consolidated.
Working live events means hauling equipment and gear. Whether small and simple or a large tour in stadiums and concert halls, equipment needs to be properly stored and organized to ensure maintenance. A fast and simple load-in is determined by how well the equipment was packed at the previous venue. Proper cases and mounting racks, constructed of durable protective materials is paramount. Purchase designs that leave room for growth and additions.
This general outline of basic standard equipment is the beginning guide for setting up an audio system for a live event. At Herman ProAv, we have spent nearly half a century in the electronics industry and offer every piece of quality equipment needed to ensure the success of any type live event.
Visit our website at hermanproav.com or call 888-736-6888 if you have any questions or comments about manufacturers, products, or any other technological or A/V area, we are happy to assist and advise. In the end, it will save you time, money and effort.