Processing on-the-fly!

[Editor's note: Today's article is from a guest author, Jason Mageehan, from England. He's writing about a specific piece of equipment, the dbx DriveRackPA that, as he said in his cover note to me, "quite literally changed my life!" I enjoy the detail of how he uses it; even more, I love the passion with which he writes! Enjoy!]

My name is Jason, based just outside London in the UK. I discovered this website and found some of the articles really interesting and well written, so thought I could contribute something that I have found helpful in my life doing sound in church. Firstly a bit of background to me, I am a semi professional musician, a semi professional sound / recording engineer and a semi professional graphic designer. When I say semi-professional, that means that I get paid, but not often enough to make it a full time career!

So this piece of gear, the DBXDriveRack PA, as a sound guy who has worked in some interesting venues with some even more interesting PA systems, this little beauty has changed my life....oh yes, and when I say 'interesting,' that doesn't always mean 'interesting-good'; often it's 'interesting-bad'!

Let me tell you the story of how I first got hold of the device. Our church quite often will hold a large evangelistic meeting, about a year ago now, we rented the local municipal hall which seats about 1500 people to have Arthur Blessit, a guest speaker preach the word! We had a 2 hour window to set up the sound system, the band, set the stage, basically turn a dry venue into church for the morning. This was the PA system I was given to work with:

  • Meyer Active Tops
  • Logic Systems Twin 15" Passive Subs
  • QSC Amps
  • Allen and Heath GL2400 Mixer
  • Samson Compressors / Gates
  • Selection of In-Ear monitors and passive Foldback Wedges.

Stage monitoring kind of takes second place when you're on a tight limit with time and resources! As a musician myself, I know that if I can hear a basic mix with enough clarity that I can make everything out, I'm happy, and that's easy to do with the right ear, so let's forget about that and focus on the FOH. So, we have a mish-mash system, in a municipal hall with terrible acoustics. Having done sound there before, I knew getting the overall EQ Curve and crossover point would be essential, and to get that done really quick because I had to work with other peoples time constraints as well....I knew I needed some more time.

I rented the DBXDriveRack PA and a measurement mic (RTA Mic) as I had read good things about it, and thought at worst it would be a comprehensive crossover and look nice, and I could go back to the Behringer (yuk!) manual EQ unit the church owns, and at best it would do everything I wanted it to do (crossover and EQ) quickly and effectively.

I have to say, it did do everything I wanted it to do, this room, this PA system, the DBX literally brought it all together and it sounded like a fantastic install, not something threw together quickly for a service. It took about 90 seconds of white noise to be fed out of the speakers at performance levels for it to monitor the sound and make adjustments accordingly that raise and lower peaks in the sound spectrum to give you what is essentially a completely flat speaker response. Having a flat response is clever, but not particularly exciting to the ear, but obviously you can then overlay an EQ curve over the top of your corrected sound, which will then give you exactly the sound you are after.

Put simply, this box does exactly what it says it will do. I have since had my church purchase one. Normally it sits in the install rack running our FOH sound, but when we go out, (and when I have a gig!) I can take it out, use it and re-fit it, set it back to the church preset....easy!

One more story in my life with this unit, a recent fund raiser where I used my own Yamaha 03R digital desk and this unit, with a PA system that is truly a mish-mash of brands....

  • 18" Sound Lab Subs
  • 15" Ross Full Range Speakers
  • LD Systems Tops
  • Lyon Forge Amp
  • Behringer Amp

Now, the system is set up so the Sound Lab Subs, and the Ross Full Range speakers are actually both used as Subs, and the LD systems were the tops. The event was in an Old English church which have lovely acoustics for a choir, but not for a more contemporary set up. Again, I used this unit, and I honestly could not believe it. If I was blindfolded, I honestly would have believed that there was a D&B rig in there, or an EAW, basically I'd put it up against any big brand speaker company even with those speakers.

That may sound flippant, but those of us who've been around long enough, know that however good your system is, if you don't have the ears for it, it will sound bad. What this unit does is take a lot of the hard work out of the equation. I don't use any of the other features on the unit other than the crossover and the EQ facility, but here's a full run-down of the product: [Editor’s note: the DriveRackPA has since been replaced by the DriveRack PA+:].

Some people say it sounds “too digital.” In response to that, I can honestly say, when I use my digital desk and this together, yes, it sounds incredibly pure, and I like that. But what I tell people is this: this unit will very quickly and easily give you an solid foundation to build your soundscape. It has never failed me, and it has saved me on a number of occasions where the situations have been such that I've needed some help from a machine that has an ear that is better than mine.

Would I recommend it? Yes, go and rent one first to see if you like it though [Editor's note: or call CCI Solutions who has one in their "Try It Free" program in the US]. Also, before you make your next speaker purchase, think about this: if this unit costs you £400 [$499 in the US], and one speaker system costs £2000 and another costs £4000, have a serious play around here, because you might find that, like me, you can get a less able system to sound just as good as a top of the range system, and you'll have saved loads of money!

The unit has a tag line; "The cure for the common PA". In my opinion, it is.

Jason Mageehan