FCC Changes in Wireless Reallocation Plans

Last Fall, the Federal Communications Commission announced plans for an incentive auction of the 608 to 698 MHz UHF spectrum — the previous UHF TV channels 36 through 51. Many of these frequencies in this 600 MHz band are used by professional audio users, whether for wireless mics, IEM's, intercoms and IFB talent cueing systems. 

Ironically, some of these affected systems migrated to those frequencies after the FCC's previous “reallocation” of TV channels 52 to 69 (the so-called “700 MHz band” from 698 to 806 MHz) in 2008, which were made illegal for pro wireless applications after June 12, 2010. But a recent change at the FCC may spell some good news for pro wireless users.

Major telecom providers —among them ATT and Verizon — have been anxious to snag every bit of that bandwidth, and with billions of dollars at stake (possibly as high as $20B), it is unlikely that pro audio users could possibly compete in a bidding war against these corporate giants. However, leading manufacturers of pro wireless have been very active in working with the FCC to make the commission aware of the needs of our industry and there may be a ray of hope on the horizon.

The first good news came from a recent announcement by FCC commissioner Tom Wheeler that the Broadcast Television Spectrum Incentive Auction — originally scheduled to begin in 2014 — has been rescheduled to next year, which hopefully would give the FCC more time to examine the issue.

Stage Directions recently spoke to Shure VP Mark Brunner, seeking an update on the reallocation proceedings from the pro industry's standpoint.


“As you know, the FCC is planning further auctions of the UHF television spectrum,” Brunner explains. “Those auctions have now been moved back to mid-2015, with a report in order sometime in the late spring regarding the rules of the incentive auction, which will indicate how much of the UHF band will be made available for auction to licensed users and the telecom companies — ATT, Verizon, T-Mobile — and the future rules relating to wireless microphone operations. Many things are under consideration here — reserved channels for wireless microphone operation, their future and the future status of those channels; also guard-band access between the licensed swaths of spectrum and how much of that could be made available for wireless microphone use. These are open issues the FCC is considering right now.”

And the pro audio community is united in this regard. “The wireless microphone industry and many of the manufacturers are in discussions now to put forward plans and ideas forward to the FCC on the best way for our industry, indicating our needs and our use of UHF spectrum on a daily basis across a variety of industries,” Brunner continues. “The industry and Shure, Sennheiser, Audio-Technica and Lectrosonics remain committed to putting the best foot forward for our users and making sure the commission is aware of our issues. We will continue to advocate for wireless microphone operations and protections going forward as further spectrum decisions are made.” 

For more info, visit fcc.gov.

From: http://www.stage-directions.com/5799-fcc-changes-in-wireless-reallocation-plans.html

Preliminary Report: More Wireless Channels May be Taken

This is only a preliminary report, but that’s appropriate, as the information described here is still not finalized.

The FCC is giving pretty suggestive indications that they’ll be taking more bandwidth away from our range of available wireless microphone frequencies. Nothing is firm yet, but it appears that they’re targeting part of the 600 MHz range

The clearest indications are suggesting that the change wouldn’t happen until 2017 at the earliest, though that may be an early date. Those sources are also suggesting that the frequencies being considered are the 658 MHz to 697 MHz.

You’ll remember that the FCC sold 698 MHz to 806 MHz in 2008, largely to cell phone companies, though much of one block was purchased for television broadcasts. The sale generated $19.592 billion; that’s a lot of money, and it appears that they’re motivated by the same goals again.

There are some significant differences this time around:

·         The preliminary reports are that they’re looking at fewer frequencies (658 MHz to 697 MHz), though that decision, like all the others, is still up in the air; it remains possible that they could expand the auction.

·         There has been some not insubstantial noise made, largely by Sennheiser, to require the winning bidders to compensate the existing bandwidth users (that would be you and me!) for the loss of the use of the frequencies.

·         There is apparently discussion going on about re-opening some of the frequencies that had been previously removed from availability to wireless microphone use. The rumors center around frequencies “adjacent to digital TV channels.”

·         Last, but certainly not least, the FCC appears to be working with a more transparent process this time around. This is, in reality, pretty advance information: much better than last time!

While discussing these changes in the RF spectrum, and the growing demand for the very limited amount of RF spectrum that’s available (a limitation of physics), we discussed other options for the demand for wireless audio devices. We discussed infrared technology, Bluetooth, and WiFi as potential options among those technologies currently available. Nobody admitted to be working on completely new technology.

Disclaimer: This article is a summary of “not authorized for public announcement” conversations about public information. While the individuals in the conversation are very familiar with the industry, much of this is rumor and none of it is an official announcement (as far as I know) yet. This article is merely discussing rumors in the field.

And even the most alarming rumors are certain that nothing will happen until 2017 at the earliest. This is not (this time) a rush project.

A Skeptic Looks at the Behringer X32

You want my perspective on the Behringer X32?
This is the place in the conversation where I generally hesitantly ask, “Do you want the polite answer, or do you want my honest and politically incorrect answer?” 

But I know which one you want. So here goes:

Behringer is marketing this, as some have said, as “a Midas design wrapped in a Behringer blanket.”
When I first heard it, I discussed that concept with Midas factory people, and in the process, I learned some fascinating new swear words. . . .

The first report was “The X32 has Midas preamps,” which also generated substantial “highly colorful invective” from Midas.

The second report was, “Midas helped us design the preamps” which, I’m told, is enough closer toward the truth, so that you can even see the truth from there (“ *cough!* They made a phone call.”), but still brought colorful invective into the conversation.  

At that point, it appears that Uli Behringer’s name was brought into the conversation, and the Midas guys were reminded who it was that signed their paychecks…. Now they try so very diligently to stay out of that conversation, but they do toe the party line when you push them.

From an outside-of-Behringer perspective, the X32 board is kind of confusing to me: it is actually far better built than Behringer analog boards, and it both works and sounds better than the previous Behringer digital board (which gave new scope and clarity to the term “hot mess”).

A friend whom I trust (and who drives an Avid SC48 regularly) may have said it best: “Huh. It doesn’t suck. Who’da thought?” And now he recommends the X32 to small churches.

The board sounds pretty good. I can’t comment on “better than the other guys” because I don’t have that comparison data, though I do know that Behringer has earned their reputation for over-statement (see above).
A better question for the entry-level digital board world is, “Does it sound pretty good?” And yes, it really does sound pretty good! It doesn’t suck! 

Does it sound better than the other guys? No, but it's not unusable. 

It’s not as easy to use as some others digital consoles; in fact, they actually are consistent with Midas on that issue: neither digital console is very intuitive! But it’s not ridiculous. It can be learned.

The more important question is whether it will last as long as the functionally bulletproof industry leaders (who have asked not to be named in an article about Behringer). The answer to this one is as yet unknown, but I haven't met a single person who was willing to even entertain the idea that it might.

The X32 doesn’t have the legacy of durability on its side. Behringer analog consoles have had a rough failure rate (in my experience) over the past year, and the first shipment of X32s had a 50% fail rate (my experience; I’m told it was closer to 30% nationally), but they seem to have fixed that; recent shipments have not had failures: none. I confess that I am going to be very interested to see how long they DO last.

Behringer has got a few things incredibly right:

·                     Price point. ‘Nuff said. Ain’t nobody does price point like Behringer does.
·                     Moving faders. I don’t know that most churches need moving faders, but some a lot of sound guys want to have ‘em just to have them. (One of my concerns: moving faders strike me as the best candidate for the first break point on an economy-built board.)
·                     Gadgets: It’s easy to add Behringer personal monitor mixers and (“AND!” Are you listening, Soundcraft?) their digital snake. No, I know that nobody in their right mind, buying a board in this price range needs a digital snake. But they want one.
·                     It doesn’t suck! Either in sound quality or in usability. Again: that’s worth noticing. This is a very usable board.
·                     Price point. Did I mention that? This is an awful lot of digital mixer for $3k. Wow.
·                     Durability: This is the scary part of the conversation.

The thing that scares me the most is what I call the TT24 Syndrome: There was another price-point-driven digital mixer a few years back that comes to mind. I won’t mention the brand name, because that’s not polite, but it was a great mixer, when it came out of the chute! It sold well and performed well over the first couple of years. They were wonderful!

And then the factory had some challenges: they had done quite well in developing the board and selling the board, but they didn’t do as well supporting it. And pretty soon, the firmware updates were fewer, and there was more time between them, and they didn’t solve as many of the outstanding issues… Eventually, the whole project was kind of swept under the carpet in the back of their unnamed Woodinville warehouse, and nobody ever talks about it any more.

Behringer can smile and point to features all day long, but the real-world success of the mixer won’t actually be determined in 2013, and probably not in 2014 either.

On the other hand, for a $3000 mixer with all these features? You know, it doesn’t suck. I think I'm impressed!

Pro Audio Parade Music

I’ve been researching: How do you do pro audio for a Fourth of July Parade? In this case, we’re trying to give a bunch of dancers some dancing music and share that music with the audience, but we could be playing music on a float or a trailer. I know lots of churches who are involved in parades nowadays, and their entries always involve music. How do we make parade music so that everybody can hear it, and so it doesn't sound like garbage?

We’ve all seen the little battery powered systems; they’re great for a small group in a quiet environment, but they aren’t enough for sound in a parade: the high school marching band two blocks away will overwhelm it. Let's save these for mission trips or fellowship halls (they're pretty good for that!).

I consulted with Fred Tomke an engineer at QSC Audio. Fred knows his stuff: he’s been using his own K12 speakers on top of a bus in his own local Fourth of July Parade for a few years. OK, Fred, what do I need to power them properly?

It turns out that the only thing you need is a competent inverter for the vehicle. He uses a “basic 800 watt” inverter to power his (2) K12 speakers (1000 watts each), a small mixer, and a CD player. He says he’s never run out of headroom. “The secret is in the power supplies on the speakers: they’ll handle anything from 85v to 240v.”

To connect multiple devices (like the mixer, CD player, and multiple amps), just use a power strip. And we ended up using the smaller, broader-dispersion K8 speakers on this project: The smaller size made it easier to load onto their minivan’s roof rack, and the 105ยบ dispersion pattern means more people alongside the parade route will hear it, even if you lay the speakers on their side (as any sensible minivan driver would do!). It still has the same 1000 watt amp built in, so “loud enough” is not an issue.

The little JBL EON210P system will also work nicely in this environment: a little poweredmixer and two 10” main speakers.

There is one important detail: don’t use an inverter that connects via the vehicle’s cigarette lighter. That lighter is limited, typically, to about 5 amps, and you’ll pretty much need all 6.7 amps that an 800 watt inverter can provide. Instead, use one of the inverters that connects directly to the vehicle’s battery, or extend to the battery with 10- or 12- gauge cables.

Oh, and make sure you vehicle is running. This kind of power consumption will drain your battery pretty quickly.

With this kind of setup, you can get loud enough that the parade officials will come tell you to turn the music down! Or you can use this system for your concert-in-the-park after the parade!

Happy Fourth of July.

Using the Presonus Studio Live Mixer

The Presonus StudioLive digital mixer may be the most popular small mixing board for churches this year. But as easy as it is to operate, it's not the same as an analog board.
Recently, Presonus's Rick Naqvi did a very detailed webinar on the board. It's an excellent source for learning how to use the new board.

Vocal Microphone Technique

It's always been amusing to watch the band set up. The guitarist brings his amp, a few pedals, and maybe a couple of guitars. The bass player brings his instrument, and often his own amp. The drummer uses the church's drum kit, but he brings his own sticks and takes the time to tune and position the drums to his liking.

But the vocalist just uses whatever mic is handed to them.

My experience has been that the choice of microphone for the vocalists, especially the lead vocalist, has a substantial effect on her sound in the house, her intelligibility, and even her confidence in front of a crowd. Using "whatever they give me" would be like the the guitarist playing "whatever guitar they hand me," whether it's a Fender Squire or a Paul Reed Smith Custom 24 guitar, or the sound guy saying, "Yeah, whatever. Behringer, Midas, Yamaha, Digico: they're all the same."

The point: if you're a vocalist, find a mic that really lets your voice give its best in your facility. If you're the sound guy, then give real thought to what mics sound best on which vocalist, particular the main vocalists. Try out some new ones if you need to, and teach your team that "This is John's mic!" Or encourage John to buy his own vocal mic.

And of course, audio engineers love working with untrained vocalists, who sing away from the mic, lean into the mic for their loud notes, and cup the grille. The reality is that a good sound system will clearly amplify whatever sound (good or bad) that the vocal mic picks up. It is not to the vocalist's advantage to send a poor signal to the sound system.

Audix created this video, and they make some excellent vocal microphones (and some amazing instrument mics), including some at modest prices. Of course, they use Audix mics in these brief clips. But the techniques are appropriate for any handheld vocal microphone

Note: this post contains a video clip. If you're having a hard time seeing it, click on the title ("Vocal Microphone Technique") to watch the video on the post's home page. And if you want to share the video with your vocalists, use this link: http://j.mp/VocalTechnique.  

Two Days Discovering Nexo

I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about Nexo speakers over the past few years. I’ve listened to various of their models, and I’ve been impressed enough to recommend them for a couple of rooms, particularly given the outstanding support I’ve been getting from them.
But I haven’t really known the Nexo lineup; until I hadn’t had opportunity to listen critically and extensively to their whole selection of speakers.
I have now. 

I spent Monday of this week designing speaker systems for rooms using various software, and I was liking the way the Nexo speakers worked in the planning: the plans looked good, but what did they sound like?

The Cerritos Center in the greater Los Angeles area is an awesome building. We'd be using their main room (what a beautiful room!) the next day to try out the Nexo line arrays.
I had a .dwg model of the Cerritos Center, so I modeled out what various speakers would sound like in there. The weekend is sponsored by Nexo, so I focused on Nexo boxes, in this case, line arrays (Nexo has several). I liked what I saw in the computer.
The NX1 software was easy to work with, so I imported some smaller real-world rooms that I’m working on in the real world. Yep. Looked easy. Looked like the PS series might sound good.

I have to admit, there’s a fair bit of skeptic in me. Any box that promises me a rectangular coverage pattern (in this case, Nexo’s PS series) had better do more than just advertise well! It needs to offer actual rectangular coverage pattern. And more importantly it needs to sound good! But they sure looked good on the computer screen: a couple of boxes and a sub in a room that seats 400.
Nexo's PS series
(Apologies for the cruddy
cell-phone-camera photos.)
Finished the designs, closed the computer for the night, and  headed out for dinner with 40 engineers and another dozen or so from Yamaha/Nexo (Yamaha distributes Nexo in the US). Got to know a lot of these guys as human beings. Not a one of them was a jerk (and that’s kind of rare, when dealing with representatives of high-end gear!). For a large number of them, church audio is in their blood, not just professionally, but personally: they appear to live out what they teach during the week. I took it as a good sign.
Next morning, we head over to the Cerritos Center, where I met with head of audio Jack Hayback, and head rigger & carpenter, Rogan Gerard. We talked shop of course, and they took us on a tour of the facility. Then we started listening to speakers. We started with Nexo’s PS series. The speakers hang very nicely, but we listened to them on a pole, just above head height.
I fell in love.
Let me just cut to the chase: I never knew “Sound on a Stick” could sound that good. I measured 112 dB at the back of the listening room, and I have to say, it sure didn’t feel like 112 dB. We were playing vocal tracks (I got so tired of “Bird on a Wire” this weekend! I still don’t know the artist.), and it didn’t sound like a PA playing. It sounded like a woman there singing to me. Singing well.
Randy Weitzel had put up a very nice drum kit behind the speakers, and brought in a fine drummer to show them off. We listened to the same drum kit: voiced the same as the original kit, with zero EQ, zero compression: same drum kit, but more of it. We listened with speakers, without speakers. Even the little 8” 2-way sounded way bigger than it was.

(Note: I’m not big on stage monitors, but the Nexo wedges [45N?] were clear, loud, and were so tight in their pattern that even the drum overheads were in the drum monitor!)

The boxes' horns reportedly put out square pattern: I didn’t measure the exact edges of the pattern, but it sure seemed square to me. The coverage was clearly narrower on one end than the other; I could hear that. The previous days' computer exercises seemed to match real world applications.

Then we listened to Nexo’s Baby Line Array: the Geo-S8. An 8” 2-way box, in a couple of 12-box arrays. Pretty good! Clear, articulate, musical, at 90 feet. Fifteen hundred seats of modest folk music would be a fine fit for the baby line arrays, or a few hundred seats of music with teeth! I had done a project with another small line array recently; I'll bet these could have served that room at least as well.

Then we needed to pull these down so we could put up another array to test. We took down two dozen S8 boxes and hung two dozen S12 boxes in less than an hour. OK. I’m impressed. That was easy. Let's go to lunch.
Line Arrays:
Geo-D, Geo-T and Geo-12
(outside to inside)

After lunch, we came back and listened to the S12 boxes, the very boxes I had been using in the design software to fill the computer model of the Cerritos Center. It looked good in the model, though the room might have been a little toward the big side for these.

They fired them up, and behold: they sounded as the modeling showed: clear, articulate, in the entire room. Well, most of the room; the third balcony was a little weak, but the software predicted that. When we added the subwoofers, it was clearly nothing to complain about. Remarkably smooth. Remarkably even, throughout the room. I like those boxes. And yes, the room might have been a little toward the big side for these speakers. I will have no problem recommending these speakers for a medium size church, and they'll make it sound good!

We listened to the Geo-D boxes (it’s kind of weird, in that it’s pronounced: “G O D”). These are the main boxes for this room, and I can see why: effortless excellence. I walked the entire floor, and three balconies, and maybe a dozen of the loge boxes: the entire room sounded the same! It was a little (!) bit louder in some seats than it was behind them, but the voicing was clear everywhere. I’ve heard it said before, but it was true: there wasn’t a bad seat in the house! These boxes are amazing!

I had taken time to talk with Jack Hayback (away from the Yamaha/Nexo boys) about his experience with the Nexo Geo-D speakers, and how they compared to the two other brands before them. His eyes lit up! He had lots of good things to say, a number of stories, and he compared them to the two (other brands) that he had had before he got the Nexos. This was a sincerely happy audio guy!

More significant, the Lighting Director, John Palmer, told me how clear the audio was when he first heard them. (In my experience, it takes a lot for quality sound to impress the LD!)

Lastly, we listened to the Geo-T: the big dogs. These are the famous boomerang shape that you’ve probably seen on major arena tours around the world, and I can believe it. They shook me to my core at more than 100’, both in clarity and in the solidity of their sound. I can see why the Big Names tour with this gear.

Subs, in Cardioid (!!) configuration:
RS 18 & RS 15 
I suppose I should mention that all of the subwoofers for the line arrays – which were shaking my pant legs at 100’ – are cardioid subs. During the “fairly loud” cuts (think Sunday morning volume), we could hold a conversation on the stage behind the subwoofers. During the “concert level” cuts, not so much, but we were not overwhelmed on stage: I could have heard monitors easily. (The subs are even louder, about 3dB, in omni mode, but of course, much louder behind.) 

We actually spent the next two hours listening to this track and that (and “Bird on a Wire” on every speaker in the house!), listening loud, listening quiet, to all these speakers, not because we needed to, but because we wanted to. Big line arrays, sounding as good as I’ve ever heard, and more. I have never heard so much detail from James Taylor, Pink Floyd and even Rammstein, and several I don't know. I’m not used to describing Rammstein as “beautiful,” but I did this weekend!
It’s not hard for a big line array to play loud music well. But when they can play the same music softly and gently at 60 dB, with the same clarity as at 120 dB, then I’m impressed. It still had solid, believable 60 Hz bass guitar at 60 dB! I'm not used to that.
Summary: These are very good speakers. The entire lineup is worth paying attention to, and in my opinion, probably worth their not insubstantial cost. 

They are not the right speakers for everybody; they’re not inexpensive, for one thing.
Anything beyond the PS series probably need professional installation, and certainly need professional design. And while I haven’t seen it, I imagine there may be a  room that they just don’t fit well in. The PS series can handle aggressive worship music comfortably in a mid-size church, as can the Geo-8. The Geo 12 will do wonders in a large church. And if your room is big enough, the Geo-D will make it sing! The Geo-T is not, in my opinion, needed for anything much smaller than a stadium concert. 
But if you have some room in your budget for quality speakers, do NOT overlook Nexo.
(Obligatory plug: if you would like a speaker system designed for your room – and you have a budget for it, drop me a line, and we can talk about Nexo, or a dozen other lines. But we will talk about Nexo. At least for a little bit.)