Try mixing when your stage program hits your face at 111dB before you start. EV’s Manifold PA system triumphs down under.
Balls to the wall, in your face, full on and louder than you ever thought possible. AC/DC used EV’s Manifold system down under, and Paul McCartney’s sound engineer Paul ‘Pablo’ Boothroyd was the engineer for this one-year long world tour.
Live sound engineer? More like an audio ringmaster!
AC/DC are the most challenging live act in the world. They are uncompromising. Unlike many ‘heavy’ or ‘metal’ bands, when you see 18 Marshall quad boxes on the AC/DC stage, you know they are all in use. Full use.
The guitars fill the arena before the PA starts to work. Stage level hits the mixing position, 33m in front of the stage, at around 111dB (unweighted). That’s already damn loud.
Where do you start? Like his predecessors sound engineer, Pablo learned early about the taboo subjects. Previous engineer Robbie McGraph came from Simply Red, and was slightly bemused that he had been chosen to mix rock’s greatest live show. He found a taboo in production rehearsals when he suggested using a sampler for the kick drum. Pablo found his taboo when he suggested the band turn down. Perish the thought!
“It’s very traditionalistic” he told me. “I receive it, I channel it. This is very straight audio law – input is output. When they rock, it rocks!” And wow, did it rock. In your face, in your chest, and damn your hearing. This is an event.
With the band specifying an EV manifold PA system because they used it last time and were very happy, Pablo was pleased to go along. His previous systems were Showco’s Prism (with McCartney) and the Turbo Flashlight PA (with Dire Straights, for whom he system engineered). The EV Manifold system came from DB Sound in Chicago, and basically is a horn loaded 2 box system – high boxes are the MTH-4, loaded with 4 x 10″ speakers (horn loaded) and six 2″ compression drivers for a two way mid/high configuration. The lowboxes (MTL-4) are loaded with 4 x 18″ woofers. They are the sames hape and size as MTH-4’s.
Manifold has a respectable beach-head in Australia, with AAA Productions in Perth, LAVA in Melbourne, and Osmond Electronics in Perth all using MTH/L-4 and MTH/L 2 (half size) variants. Manifolds main attraction is the output to size ratio (OTSR) – which on our slide rule is unsurpassed.
Pablo likes bass flown in the main PA array. A word on contemporary PA design here. Many systems are designed to fly the high/midcomponents and sit the sub bass on the deck. Pablo says this is bunk because the high/mid program hits your head a few milliseconds before the bass bit, which is still rolling up off the venue floor.
The EV Manifold system allows you to be abstract in system design, and the DB crew (headed by big and genial South American Jimi Hurrieta) fit the rig to the room. Because your sub and your top box are exactly the same dimension, you just mix and match. In Australia it comprised 24 high boxes and 20 low boxes per side, plus 8 MTL 2 (high and mid only, a half box) which catered to front fill and sat atop some floor mounted MTL-4 subs).
The Australian system variation was a band of subs wrapped under the top row of MTH-4 boxes. Other times they had rigged the subs as a column in the flown array. Differently to standard DB Sound spec, Pablo had the flown subs rolled off at 63Hz, while the floor subs went all the way down. This required a fourth ‘way’ or bandpass on the system crossovers, which were BSS OmiDrive units. Pablo has a theory about losing punch and information delivery if all the bass is on the floor. When it comes to mixing the show, Pablo also has a twist, which some engineers swear by. It’s doubling the main vocal channel. What you do is take a line out from the mixer, post fade, post EQ, and insert (plug) it back into an adjacent channel. The idea is that you can get more gain working the mixer electronics less hard. Less input gain, less line gain. Because the 2nd channel is post, it is following the first. The first channel is off on the VCA masters, so the actual control is at desk centre on the Midas XL-4.
The vocalist sings through a new Beyer 7000 UHF system, chosen for a number of reasons. It feels ‘right’ in the hand, it sounds ‘right’ in the mix, it is in use. It has a dynamic mic element rather than a condenser, which is also available.
The other big job in the mix is getting the background vocals out there. This is done simply by muting- switching the background vocals on and off, virtually to the beat. These mikes are routed through a mute group, the mute button is well worn. Pablo’s right finger sits on it all night! On and off, to the beat……
This is because with the world’s loudest band hammering away, every single microphone which is open to the mix will add to your woes. For this reason, some other live sound twists are employed. Overhead mikes for the drum kit number seven, because each cymbal is miked, some from beneath, with Shure SM 98’s. The guitar amp shave a single Audio Technica 4050 condenser mic on one 12″ speaker in one of the army of quads. Under the stage are some Iso Boxes, which are a sealed box with a speaker and another Audio Technica 4050 mic inside.
The Iso Boxes are used because this way Pablo can get a guitar channel which is relatively clean, un tarnished by stage noise. So he can add bass or EQ without clutter. The Iso channel is mixed with the quad channel. Each guitar and the bass have an Iso Box. The bass amp (an SVT with Ampeg boxes) and Iso Box uses a Shure Beta 57 and a DI.
Down at the drums a Beyer M88 and a Shure SM91 (the square boundary mic) compete for Pablo’s affections. Snare has an SM 57 on top and on bottom. The toms all have the new Sennhieser small drum mike on them, but we do not know what number they are.
Pablo is clear on what his job is. “I get the vocal clear across a wall of sound.” Meanwhile he has enormously enjoyed this year with AC/DC, and thinks he probably couldn’t work with another hard rock or metal band. “I’ll smile about this tour for years to come – if my ears stop ringing!”
The monitor engineer is known as Grubby. Anyway, Pablo informs me he was chosen because AC/DC have started to use one in-ear monitor. Yes, ONE. The singer has one to help with pitching.
Pablo said some very wise things about in-ear monitors – for he himself also mixes monitors for other acts sometimes. It seems artists enjoy getting stereo in-ear monitor mixes, so much they get ‘artistic’ and start singing off the mic. Because the monitor engineer can keep the signal coming without feedback, the artist thinks it’s OK to move the mic away from the mouth!
Of course the poor FOH engineer is trying to make gain before feedback while this is happening. A trap, yeah?