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Steve Vai

The Architects of Sound


The audio gurus at Harman International have been expert architects of sound for years. Their impressive stable of industry-leading brands – including JBL, Crown, dbx, AKG and Lexicon – allows Harman to create exceptional pieces of professional audio gear that all work exceptionally well together. Whether you're playing intimate gigs in small venues or rocking the socks off a crowd of thousands, the brands of Harman International are your key to a perfectly integrated system that delivers flawless live sound, night after night.


We sat down with a select group of Harman gurus: Richard Ruse (JBL), Andy Flint (Crown), James Ure (dbx, Lexicon) and Joseph Wagoner (AKG) to create the perfect systems for a variety of common applications. The result is a series of clear and hassle-free blueprints for carefully designed rigs that deliver maximum flexibility and state-of-the-art sound, as well as simple, convenient setup and operation.


The coffeehouse is where many artists play their first gig. Whether you're a singer/songwriter or a duo playing covers, the atmosphere is intimate and it can be a great environment to get your music out to an audience. But all too often coffeehouses are plagued by substandard sound, muffled vocals and feedback. You need a setup with enough power to be heard, yet compact enough to deliver pristine sound without taking up what precious little space you've been provided.


For this setting, start with a pair of AKG D5 handheld dynamic microphones. These high-performance, low-noise mics let the natural sound of your voice come through, and the choice of two matched microphones adds versatility: "You can have two vocalists, a vocalist and a percussionist, a solo performer on vocals and an acoustic instrument, all with two high quality dynamic microphones," says Wagoner. "With it's condenser-like sound, the D5 is a dynamic microphone with a super-cardioid polar pattern and great resistance to feedback."


To get the best out of both vocals and instruments, you'll need a mixing board next. For this type of small system, an 8-channel stereo board with built-in FX would be a good choice.


The final, crucial link in your audio chain is a pair of great-sounding, easily-portable JBL EON 315 powered speakers. These lightweight, durable enclosures provide the perfect level of power for a coffeehouse setting. A 15" low-frequency driver, combined with an advanced 1" neodymium compression driver deliver beautifully even frequency response with balanced highs and lows. The EON 315 speakers are also easily pole-mountable so you achieve excellent room coverage and everyone hears every note.


A good DJ setup needs to be just as flexible as a good DJ. First of all, you need power and clarity you can count on. A good system has to deliver enough volume to keep the party going without distorting, and the all-important bottom end has to punch hard without getting flabby. Whether you're a club in need of a DJ installation or a mobile DJ jonesing for the perfect portable rig, we've assembled a setup that brings the best components together to deliver great sound wherever you spin.


Your connection to the crowd begins with the AKG WMS 450 Vocal Set D5. The transmitter is a wireless version of the popular and acclaimed D5, so you can crank the volume without feeding back. With wireless capability you're free to roam the crowd during songs to keep the energy going strong.


"This mobile wireless microphone will be an asset to anyone performing at events such as weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, proms… for working the room and ceremonial announcements. The D5 capsule will get the job done in every case from a vocal performance, exciting a crowd to passing the mic around the room for speaking messages," says Wagoner.


Since you need to keep your mind on the music, the wireless receiver is remarkably easy to use. The Auto Setup mode automatically scans all available bands to find an interference-free channel, and the programmable display clearly shows all the important system parameters.


Once you've run the wireless and your turntables through your DJ mixer, the next step is the indispensible dbx DriveRack PX. The DriveRack is like having a great soundman in a portable, single-rackspace unit. And unlike a soundman, you don't have to buy the DriveRack a beer to get good results.


"A common problem for mobile DJ's is getting the EQ right in a variety of venues. As the room changes the EQ needs to change. The PX can have that system tuned in seconds as opposed to spending time trying to balance the system by ear," says Ure.


This powerful processor has everything you need to optimize your sound in any space, indoors or out, including patented dbx Advanced Feedback Suppression for squeal-free operation at high volume levels. The included M2 measurement mic lets the DriveRack capture an audio picture of your performance environment, then the Auto-Correct feature compensates for any deficiencies so you get clear, even response anywhere. The Sub-Harmonic Synthesizer extends bass response so you can really get the groove thumping. The DriveRack PX is designed specifically for powered speakers and includes a variety of presets with room for saving your own settings as well. It even comes already optimized to work with JBL's EON speakers.


The speakers are where signal becomes sound, and when you need that sound to thunder with powerful bass and crisp clarity, you want JBL EON powered speakers. A pair of powered EON 515 enclosures matches perfectly with a pair of EON 518S subwoofers. The 515 enclosures feature an upgraded 15" neodymium Differential Drive low-frequency driver, and a 1" neodymium compression driver, so they can handle thundering sound with ease. The 518S subwoofers feature an 18" Differential Drive neodymium driver, so every ounce of bass is loud, clear and in your face.


"The best compliment JBL gets from mobile DJs is that the whole system is loud and lightweight. It's not a back breaker and at 2 a.m. that makes a huge difference!" says Ruse.


Rehearsal systems have come a long way, and these days they often combine live sound and recording functions. The key to a well-designed rehearsal system is the ability of the band members to hear each other and themselves clearly. It's also useful to be able to record everything so you can listen back and see which parts need some fine-tuning.


The trusted AKG D5's will do the job perfectly. For a board, this system will need to have a 4-bus architecture, so it's easy to get a great mix for the room and a great recording at the same time.


With a Lexicon MX200 in the mix, you'll never run out of effects capability. You can run the MX200 in either stereo or dual mono configuration, and even control plug-in effects in a recording computer with a simple USB connection. The dbx266 dual compressor gives you extensive control over vocal dynamics, both live in the room and for recording.


Let's face it, rehearsal rooms are often not the best sonic environment, so getting a handle on EQ and feedback control is crucial. The dbx 231 is a dual 31-band EQ, a perfect tool for balancing the room and controlling feedback in the monitor mix.


For power, we've got a pair of the new Crown XLS 2000 amps. The new XLS series utilizes extremely high efficiency Class-D technology to produce massive amounts of power in an amp that weighs less than 11 pounds. Best of all, Crown's proprietary DriveCore technology keeps the amp stable, even when power fluctuates.


"DriveCore is a chip that was developed by Crown and Texas Instruments. Without getting too technical, it gives the XLS series the same modulation, feedback, and protection front-end of our flagship amplifiers. One big benefit is that you get superior performance even when you have power line sag and distortion from your power source – it's like having a power conditioner built in to the front of the amplifier. Combine that with Peakx™ limiters built into the amps and you are guaranteed rock-solid performance and protection for your system," explains Flint.


For rehearsal speakers, the consensus was JBL's JRX112M. These compact cabinets are versatile enough to use as floor wedges, pole mount, or permanently fly in the room, all while providing accurate, full-bandwidth sound: "Typically rehearsals are held at lower volumes and the JRX speakers offer superior performance without breaking the bank," says Ruse. And as the band grows, they can even double as expansion for your club system, either as additional floor wedges or as a sidefill system on larger stages.


While many clubs have their own sound systems, they're not always well maintained. Having a top-notch system you trust guarantees that the audience will hear you at your best.


For a club gig, you'll be miking more than just vocals. The AKG D112 is a classic kick drum mic with the powerful low-end response you need for a solid ‘thump', and the Perception 170 condenser is an impressively versatile instrument mic, perfect for acoustic instruments, as well as drums and percussion. The AKG D40, with its integrated stand mount and high SPL capability is a versatile choice for guitar cabinets, brass, or drums with the use of the included H440 rim mount.


There are a lot of boards to choose from for this slot. You'll want at least 16 channels and built-in FX. 4-bus architecture will help for sub-mixes and live recording. Flexible routing helps, too.


Next up is the Lexicon MX400, the big brother to the MX200 from the rehearsal system. The MX400 gives you the same great Lexicon effects in a 4-channel unit that can run as dual-stereo, surround, or 4 separate mono effects for maximum flexibility. Like the MX200, it can also double as an effects unit in your home recording studio.


You can't have a great live mix without serious dynamics control to make the vocals punch and keep the drums under control. To cover all the bases, this system has both a pair of dbx 166XL compressor/limiters, for classic vocal compression, and treatment for bass and drums. Harman recommends using a group function on your board to send the vocals as a group to one compressor and the grouped drums to the other.


Final optimization comes courtesy of a dbx 231 EQ for precise equalization on the monitors, and a dbx DriveRack PA+ to control the front-of-house speakers.


The DriveRack PA+ boasts the same great features as the DriveRack PX seen in the DJ system, but offers more outputs and processing, optimized for both powered and non-powered speaker systems.


"Any sound system will benefit from a DriveRack. The DriveRack was designed to include everything you need between the console and the amplifiers or powered speakers. This includes EQ for speakers and room tuning, compression to maintain even level through a show, sub-harmonic synthesis for low frequency extension and crossovers for your 2x2-, 2x3-, 2x4-, 2x5- and 2x6-way systems. The ability to fine-tune the speakers with a parametric EQ, limiter and delay, sets the user up for a great show. Add to that the Advanced Feedback Suppression system and you really have it all in one box," says Ure.


Both monitors and mains are driven by the reliable, professional power of the new Crown XTi power amps and the system control software Band Manager. A pair of Crown XTi 4000 amps drives the monitors and main cabinets, with the big power of an XTi 6000 reserved for the subwoofers.


"Band Manager is geared towards making the life of a gigging band easier and truly unleashes the full power of the XTI series of amplifiers. With the ability to save and recall presets, you can have your entire system configured with the touch of a button. If you play at a venue often, you can save your settings as a preset and recall quickly. Band Manager also comes loaded with JBL presets so if you are using a JRX, MRX, SRX, or VRX box you can have your speakers ready to go in a few seconds with factory tuned presets that you know are right – it takes all the guess work out of crossover and EQ settings. Another great thing about Band Manager is that it automatically configures a monitor panel and master EQ panel for all the XTi amplifiers in your rig. The monitor panel allows the user to monitor the input and output signal for each amplifier on a single panel, along with the ability to mute individual channels or the entire system instantaneously. The master EQ panel allows you to make EQ changes across different amplifiers with the click of a button – again system setup is fast!" says Flint.


All the enclosures for our club setup come from JBL's MRX series of cabinets. Utilizing JBL's Differential Drive neodymium technology for both lightweight and efficiency, MRX cabinets are quick and easy to set up. Dual MRX518s subwoofers and MRX515 main cabinets ensure enough low end to move the audience while maintaining clarity in the all-important mids. Finally, a pair of MRX112Ms make great floor wedges, but are also versatile enough to use as a sidefill system.

 
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