Friday, February 20, 2009

Killing Music Loudly

This blog ( is an experiment in communications, which I guess is true for all of this kind of self-aggrandizing, self-marketing drivel. However, what I'd really like to do with Wirebender Audio Rants is to discuss some aspects of professional audio in an open, honest venue (which is why Anonymous Users may post replies here) where we can say what we think without disturbing our professional standings. In other words, if you can't really hear the difference between a real 1176 and a virtual 1176, you can simply say that here, anonymously, and stand back and watch the fur fly.

Google only allows for 10 subscribers, I'm going to be varying the mail-out list for the blog, often. If you are interested in the subject and want to get into this discussion, please go to the blog address and sign on as one of the Wirebender "Ranters." The motivations for creating this blog came last night during the usual ear-punishment some call "live music." As I was being beaten into a coma by overbearing subwoofers, knife-like HF and midrange horns, and a mix that would make a deaf person cringe and an otherwise excellent Dinkytown club, I started thinking about what I would do to the inventor of the subwoofer if I could catch him in a dark alley. Sometimes, I think that same punishment ought to be dealt to all of the inventors of amplified music products, but that's another subject. If there are any classes of invention undeserving of patent protection, it would be weapons, medical devices and drugs, and high power musical amplification products. The first and the last because of their undeniable detriment to progress and the security of the planet and the middle . . . usually for the same reason.

During my years at QSC Audio, I did hundreds of ABX tests on a variety of audio equipment and designs. In the future, I hope to do a whole lot more of the same when I get my new ABX tester built. One of the first things we discovered doing those tests was how fragile and unpredictable the human ear is. Since statistics demonstrates that a significant number of "true" results are necessary to prove a test, we quickly learned that the volume level of any test had to be kept low for accurate results. Pushing the level above 85-90dBSPL quickly turned the best ears into consistently indiscriminant tools. A testee who might have gone 10 for 10 at 85dBSPL would drop to 50% accuracy at 95dBSPL after only 5 attempts.

My conclusion was that the hearing mechanism both fatigues and self-protects, causing a loss of accuracy in high volume conditions. Twenty years later, I find that my tolerance for grossly out-of-balance mixes is considerably lowered. Part of that lack of tolerance is because I know it will only get worse as the night goes on. A FOH engineer who might be reasonably conscientious about muting unused open mics at the beginning of the show will completely forget about those phase-distorting sources after 10 minutes of 125dBSPL noise exposure. 30 minutes into that kind of show, the subwoofers are dominating the sound field, punctuated by screeching upper mids. Any subtlety in the mix will be gone along with the FOH engineer’s hearing.

The longer the FOH engineer has worked this way, career-wise, the less likely it will be that I can tolerate his work. As much as I love music, including pop music, it has become almost impossible for me to enjoy live performance because of the deafening (literally) SPL that live engineers think I need to experience. In 2008, I went to six live performances (outside of my school events) and enjoyed exactly one of those performances (including school events) because of excessive noise exposure.

It would be interesting to know why FOH engineers think all music lovers need to be punished for the crime of submitting themselves to a show.

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Wirebender Audio Rants

Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.