Honey, I Rebuilt the PA

Yeah, I know. I said I was retiring. But, 7Souls is being pretty successful, and I’ve been doing some “walk-in” mixing jobs of late, so I figured, “What the hell!” And, truth be told, I wanted something for the that would be easier to set up and improve on a few of the shortcomings of the current PA.

WHAT WAS WRONG WITH THE OLD GEAR?
(asked my wife)

Those of you who have heard my PA are probably wondering what the shortcomings were. It sounds pretty darned good (if I do say so myself) in small and medium rooms, and I can usually go from walking in the door to having a band on stage playing in two hours or less. Well, here’s a list things that could have been better, in no particular order:

  • Power - I really could use more!

  • Inputs - I really could use more! We’re mumbing about adding more instruments to 7Souls (though no more people), and I’m already using all my channels.

  • Outputs - I really could use more! The XR18 mixer is limited to a maximum of 8 outputs, 2 “main” and 6 “auxes”.

  • Monitors - The little wedges I have aren’t bad, but since they’re passive, and I only have a two-channel amp for monitors, I can’t give everyone their own mix.

  • Inconsistent user interfaces - The software for operating the mixer varies depending on the device being used. The two computer-based “consoles” use a different program from the app on an iPad, and Android devices need yet a third app.

  • Digital Recording - in order to do multitrack recording, an external computer is required.

Soundcraft Ui24R digital mixer

NEW MIXER: SOUNDCRAFT UI24R

The first part of the system redesign addresses the issues with the mixer — increased inputs and outputs and a consistent user interface across platforms. After looking at everything, and having an opportunity to use almost everything, there was basically one choice that “ticked all the boxes”: Soundcraft’s Ui24R. So, I found a good deal, and ordered one.

The Ui24R has 20 “real” inputs, as well as two RCA line-level inputs and a stereo USB playback port, which is how Soundcraft comes up with this being a 24-channel mixer. So, I consider it as a 20-channel board, and I’m happy. I do like that I can stick in a USB “thumb drive” loaded with MP3s for break tunes or backing/effect tracks and not waste a pair of inputs. And, I can also do a quick “board mix” recording to the same USB port (as long as I’m not playing back from that port). In addition, there’s a second USB port dedicated for use as a 24-track recorder/player by simply connecting and appropriate USB 3 thumb drive or SSD.

There are dual stereo main outputs (XLR and TRS), and eight AUX outputs. Internally, there are four effects busses and a couple of additional virtual AUX busses.

But wait, there’s more! A USB-B port does allow connection of a computer, so the mixer can be used as an interface for a DAW like Cubase, Sonar, or Logic Pro in a studio environment. There’s a built-in HDMI port and an additional pair of USB ports so a monitor (or touchscreen), keyboard and mouse can be directly connected. And, there is a pair of ethernet ports for network connections and “future expansion” (we’ll touch on that later), and an assignable footswitch jack. Close inspection of the side view also reveals a removable panel.

The mixer has excellent Lexicon and dbx internal effects processors. Each channel sports parametric EQ with RTA, a gate, and compression. Each output also has compression, graphic EQ, as well as dbx feedback suppression.

Soundcraft Ui web interface on Acer Chromebook R11

No special software, past a modern web browser, is required to control the mixer. Here, it’s running on an Acer Chromebook R11, and while the screen is small, the UI is quite usable. In fact, when we debuted the mixer at a show a couple of weeks back, I handled monitor mixing for myself and the drummer with this little machine in “presentation” mode, while the FOH engineer used one of my 19.5” touchscreen “consoles” for the main mix and front-line monitor chores.

I’m working in what is referred to as “Big D” mode (for “big display”). Soundcraft says that this requires a 1920x1080 display to work correctly, but I’ve found that the Chrome browser can be scaled so that the presentation fits on lower resolution displays. It’s definitely a “your mileage may vary” kind of thing, but it works quite well for me.

I did find that the Raspberry Pi does not play well with the Ui’s web interface. Firefox crashed repeatedly, and Chromium just plain failed to load, so I’ve upgraded the computers behind the larger consoles to Asus Chromebox 3s. They fully support the Asus VT207n monitors, which the Pis did not, so there’s now full multitouch control — helpful when setting up the parametric EQ or trying to move more than one fader at once.

All of the screens are pretty well thought out and easy to use. I felt comfortable with the layout in minutes. At the debut gig with 7Souls, although the FOH engineer was familiar with the Ui mixers, he’d never used on “in the wild”. He took to it very quickly, and was almost an expert by the end of the first set.

As you can see, there’s a lot of depth to this mixer. I’ve only shown some of the functionality here.

I mentioned that there is a second ethernet port for “future expansion”. Apparently, the future is now, and there’s a new version of firmware to load to the mixer that will allow these ports to be used to link a pair of Ui24R mixers together, making a single 48-channel mixer. Beyond being told by some of the beta testers that it works, and works well, I don’t yet know any details.

In my ideal world, this linking would also extend to the smaller Ui mixers, but I doubt this works as they only have a single ethernet port. It would be pretty neat, though, to be able to link a Ui12 to the Ui24R. The Ui24R would be placed on stage, and be the primary I/O device, while the Ui12 would be placed at the FOH position, and allow for better placement of wireless mic receivers, IEM transmitters, and give the FOH engineer a facility for talkback and headphones.

Hey, a guy can hope!

NEW SPEAKERS: TURBOSOUND IQ

I probably should have bought these a long time ago, because they would have overcome one of the shortcomings of the Behringer mixer — the lack of sufficient AUX outputs. I opted for a pair of iQ15b subwoofers, a pair of iQ12 powered speakers for “mains”, and four iQ10 powered speakers to replace my existing passive wedge monitors. Two of the EV ZLX12ps will be retained for stage monitors as well.

One of my reps has been trying to get me to switch to Turbosound for a couple of years now, and a quick audition was all it took for me to commit. They sound amazing. The tops are plenty loud, and the subs provide plenty of thump, and it all sounds incredibly musical. The Turbosound speakers and inbuilt amps are coupled to a bunch of Klark Teknik DSP technology so that everything just works together pretty much seamlessly.

With a Behringer X or XR mixer (or Midas M or MR), you can feed all of the speakers via Cat5e daisy-chained network cables (they call this Ultranet), if you want, or simply run XLRs out, as your see fit. Soundcraft can do something similar with JBL speakers, but from what I’ve seen, the integration isn’t as tight. Part of me wants to keep the Behringer XR18 to use as an interface to bring the Ui24R outputs out to Ultranet, though Behringer does have a purpose-built device for this that would take up less rack space.

The new speakers will be arriving sometime this week, and they’ll probably debut at 7Souls’ gig in late February.

BACK IN BUSINESS?

Yes, this “investment” does mean that I’ll be accepting gigs again, but the terms of the deal are going to be a lot different. In the past, my rates were extremely low for full PA jobs. Going forward, my pricing will reflect the “going rate” charged by most of my friends/competition.

Pixel2ated

google-pixel2-features-au__02.jpg

On November 10, 2017, I did the almost unthinkable, and switched from an Apple iPhone 6s to a Google Pixel 2. There were a number of reasons behind the decision, but chief among them was the superior quality of the Pixel 2's camera. Most of the other functions are pretty much like any modern phone -- it makes and receives calls and texts, and you can surf the web and waste time on Facebook.

I chose to go with the "standard" size, with 128GB of on-board storage, as I keep a lot of music and photo files on my phone most of the time, and I've added a Zagg screen protector and the new Moment Pixel 2 case and their new Tele lens (so far).

The camera really is amazingly good, especially given how physically tiny the thing is. The detail, noise, and color are all excellent, and the images hold up quite well to editing in my favorite mobile app, Snapseed (available for both Android and iOS), and the mobile version of Lightroom CC. Although I haven't used the feature, it's even capable of shooting raw files.

Stools detail, Pixel 2 camera Auto HDR+, cropping and slight adjustments in Google Photos.

The pictures I've taken so far have been JPEGs with the standard camera, and without the Moment Tele lens. I have played around with a few of the special features -- notably the Auto HDR+ and Portrait modes.

Auto HDR+ yields very good results most of the time. There's lots of detail in the shadows without much noise, and the overall effect is quite natural. The Portrait mode generally does a nice job of rendering fake "bokeh" (defocused backgrounds) around the subject, although it is possible to fool the AI, with some odd results. I'll write more about that another day.

I've added a new gallery, also called Pixel2ated, for images made with the Pixel 2 (go figure), that you can visit to see my new exploits in mobile photography.

My only complaint about the Pixel 2 is that there's no headphone jack. Most of the time, this isn't really a problem -- I can connect to one of my cars' radios via Bluetooth, and there's a USB-C to audio adapter that comes in the box. Unfortunately, the adapter doesn't allow for powering the phone while it's plugged in, which can be problematic on long trips if I want to use Google Maps for navigation and listen to Spotify or a podcast. On my daily commute, which takes about an hour-and-a-half, I can easily eat up 15-20% of my battery.

The Pixel 2 also doesn't have iMessage or Facetime. The built-in text app is pretty basic and struggles with group MMS messages, so I've been fooling around with alternatives (so far, QKSMS is my favorite). For a Facetime replacement, I found Google's Duo, which is free and cross-platform, and seems to work just as well as Facetime. I think Facebook Messenger has a similar function. And, of course, there's also Skype, which works on anything.

The bottom line, after about a dozen days, is that I don't really miss anything about the iPhone. A big part of that is because of how clean Android is on the Pixel, I'm sure. It runs smoothly, and pretty much everything just works, which I could no longer say about a number of functions in the iOS world.

Maybe next, I'll find myself a Chromebook....

Remix OS and Remix Mini

I'm trying a computer experiment. It's an experiment in low-cost computing. As you may know, I've been fairly impressed with modern Android tablets, and also with Google's Drive suite of productivity apps. Because of this, I was keen to try a "greater" experience, but didn't want to spend a couple hundred dollars or more on a Chromebook. 

Enter Remix OS from jide.com, a desktop-optimized version of Android 5.1 Lollipop, and also the Remix Mini computer. While I use the term "computer" somewhat loosely, the Mini does meet the basic requirements to be called a computer.

Remix Mini computer.

Remix Mini computer.

I was unable to get Remix OS to install and run from a thumb drive, but when I downloaded the OS, I was offered a significant discound on the Mini, so I went ahead and ordered one. It arrived from Hong Kong in just a couple of days in an attractive and very well constructed package.

While I'm not going into a lot of detail in this post, I will say that initial startup was not particularly smooth. Out of the box, the Mini is configured for PAL video, and most US monitors or TVs cannot display the 50Hz video. In my case, a 24" Dell monitor and a fairly decent 32" HDTV wouldn't do the trick. I was lucky that the old, no-name 19" HDTV in our bedroom would work, so I could complete the setup. 

Jide claim compatiblilty with the majority of apps on the Google Play store. I've been fooling with the Mini for a couple of evenings now, and I've found some things that work well, and some that simply don't. More on that as I learn more about this little "machine". At this point, I'll probably report on my experiences every few days.