Monitor engineer Brad Baisley spent the summer and fall of 2013 supporting Blake Shelton’s Ten Times Crazier tour through the continental U.S., appearing in mid-sized concert venues. Shelton, a judge for several televised singing competitions (Nashville Star, Clash of the Choirs, and The Voice), is credited with saying that Baisley's monitor mix is the best sounding mix that he has ever heard onstage. In October the CMA recognized Baisley’s work as he received the 2013 SRO (Standing Room Only) Award award for Monitor Engineer of the Year. The CMA Board of Directors created the SRO (Standing Room Only) Awards in 1990 to honor outstanding professional achievement within the touring industry. “It’s pretty much the highest honor a live sound engineer can get,” Baisley says.
Baisley cites the importance of his signal chain in faithfully reproducing Shelton’s vocals out on the road, “with less distortion and more clarity,” he says. “I wanted a set of physical knobs to turn at any moment without having to click through a bunch of plug-ins. A lot of the software processors I was using added too much artificial harmonic content. While sounding impressive initially, it became fatiguing over the course of a long performance. I was looking for a precise yet warm and quiet microphone preamplifier. I wanted a musical equalizer where I could make quick adjustments to the overall tonal balance of the vocal. Discrete electronics almost always sound better than those using complicated integrated circuits.
"I had attempted to use various boutique studio all-in-one channel strips with mixed results," Baisley continues. "Many pieces, while sounding great, were just not built to be moved around the country in the back of the semi-truck. I have found often that they let me down at the worst possible times. I like to think of the 500 Series format as a 'real-life hold it in your hand' alternative to software plug-ins.
“I am currently using a Radial Workhorse PowerStrip with a Radial Power Pre microphone preamplifier and Q4 equalizer,” he says. "The Power Tube initially blew me away with its tube character. I found in my situation that the PowerPre places the vocal in such a great way in a crowded mix. The Power Tube had such a big sound that it didn't seem to leave as much space in the mix for other instruments. Even though the Power Tube has nice tube-drive to it, any added distortion can be fatiguing when listened to at high SPLs for extended periods. I trust Radial to build a solid product, but I need gear that sounds the same everywhere I go day after day, which with tubes can't always be expected. I am a vacuum-tube junkie at home with my hi-fi stereo and home studio equipment, but tend to shy away from using it in critical applications on tour. I also quite like the Breath setting on the Power Pre. It seems a bit more subtle than the 'Air' setting on the Power Tube. Finally, the innovative Accustate gain control on the Power Pre ensures [that] no additional noise is added to the channel."
Baisley's EQ of choice for the "Gold Channel" is the Radial Q4 500 Series EQ. "Class-A devices, by their nature, have very little crossover distortion," he explains. "This makes the sonics of the Q4 much less fatiguing than other topologies. Even with the controls set to what appears to be flat, this equalizer seems to impart a silky sound by subtly smoothing out some of the upper midrange peaks inherent to live vocal microphones. I love the tone shaping ability of the high and low shelving bands on the EQ. They seem to have a very gentle slope and by cutting them both, ever so slightly, I am able to emphasize the important vocal midrange frequencies while retaining the low frequency power and high frequency air. I use the two semi-parametric midrange bands to cut some problem feedback frequencies around 900 Hz and 3 kHz. I find them to be very graceful and unobtrusive even with the high amounts of cut I sometimes have to use.
"I've been interested in the 500 [Series] format for a long time because I like the idea of being able to mix and match wildly different types of devices to achieve the exact sound desired. With all-in-one channel strips, I often found that I liked the sound of one part of the device, but didn't love the rest. Prior to Radial's introduction of their take on the format, I was reluctant to try any 500 Series equipment on tour because of reliability concerns. Many boutique 500 Series modules have exposed circuit boards, which I feared would be susceptible to interference outside the confines of an air conditioned recording studio. The other downside of these open circuit boards for touring purposes is that they are largely unsupported except by the edge connectors and the the two panel screws. When I found out that Radial was entering the 500 Series market, I knew they would build a product equally as rugged and roadworthy as the countless other Radial products I have come to trust on tour. Radial's modules are fully enclosed in heavy sheet-metal, and their PowerStrip rack fully supports each module."
Shelton is scheduled to tour again beginning in June 2014 in Canada.