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The Toys of Summer

Every summer, dozens of major tours hit the road, with acts playing festivals, fields, sheds, arenas or if they’re lucky, stadiums.

Every summer, dozens of major tours hit the road, with acts playing festivals, fields, sheds, arenas or if they’re lucky, stadiums. For them, tours are the ultimate litmus test all you have to do is look at the size of the crowd to tell exactly how popular an act is, how well it has been promoted and whether the price of entry is just right or a little steep.

The same criteria apply to the pro audio industry’s latest new toys as well. While productions go out all year around, every spring sees live sound companies and tour engineers decide what pro audio gear they’ll take out on the road during the summer touring season. Much as new acts have to compete in the concert marketplace with established artists who grace stages year after year, new sound equipment has to patiently and persistently make inroads on the road, building a reputation and winning over converts. With that in mind, we talked with a slew of audio providers and tour engineers to find out what new gear is out playing a gig near you this summer.

Kid Rock’s current tour is carrying a new
L-Acoustics K1 line source system.
Baltimore, MD-based Maryland Sound International has a lot of new equipment on the road, most notably consoles. “We have a new Studer Vista 5 SR digital production console out with Josh Groban on his 2011 ‘Straight To You’ world tour,” said Jeremiah Leiter of MSI. The tour has sizable input requirements, with plenty of percussion as well as full string and horn sections; the result is that the desk has to tackle nearly 140 input channels, all while operating in a 96 kHz redundant configuration to match the 96 kHz recording of the tour.

Not all of MSI’s summer efforts require such massive desks, however. “We have some Vi6s and Vi4s from Soundcraft that are out touring around,” said Leiter, “and we also do the summer and winter Dew Action Sports tours every year, which require a number of small, compact systems. For that, we just purchased a few Soundcraft Si compact digital mixers that we will be using.”

Besides beta-testing Version 5 software that runs the Crown’s I-Tech HD amplifiers powering MSI’s JBL VerTec inventory (“Our engineers and clients are really enjoying it so far,” says Leiter), the audio provider has also been expanding its loudspeaker inventory with some non- Harman boxes. “We bought a bunch of the new Outline products, for the clients who prefer a European-voiced box,” he noted. “It’s Butterfly, Mini-Compass and GTO, to name a few.”

Another European linearray system now making waves in the U.S. is Martin Audio’s MLA system. Camarillo, CA-based Delicate Productions has an MLA rig out with teen popster Selena Gomez. “We just got the MLA system—it came into our possession just before we started the tour in early July and that’s the first thing that it’s gone out on,” reported Jason Alt, account executive at Delicate. “The system matches audio all the way up from the first seat all the way to the back seat without a direct line-of-sight into the PA. The physics of what it’s doing blows us away every show; without having to re-hang the PA, you can move the audio around. Another thing we’ve really enjoyed about it on Selena Gomez is that not only is it less boxes than we would normally send out, but there’s only six subs a side—and it turns out that’s almost too much sub on some level, which we’re really impressed with.”

Josh Groban’s world tour is mixed on a Studer Vista 5 console provided by Maryland Sound International.In Lititz, PA, Clair has been making some updates to its proprietary PAs, too. After sending a prototype system out with Roger Waters last fall, the company’s I-5D line array is now “official,” having spent the spring out with Bon Jovi and the summer with Katy Perry’s current jaunt. “It’s a new product, a new twist, but it’s still an I-Series box, made to play with all the other ones,” said Greg Smith, senior director account manager.

That’s not the only new proprietary box at Clair, however; there’s also the company’s new point-source array system, named Vision, which Smith characterized as a trapezoidal box with similarities to Clair’s Prism and Electro-Voice’s X-Array. “I don’t want it to pigeonhole it as a heavymetal sound system, but Greg Price [FOH, Ozzy Osbourne] and Andy Meyer [FOH, Mötley Crüe] both took it out with great success; Andy’s still out with it.”

Not every new addition to a company’s audio arsenal is a massive PA or digital console, however. Over at Highland Heights, OH-based Eighth Day Sound, the most popular new requests are for microphones, with one mic in particular. “People are asking for Royer microphones more,” said Jack Boessneck, executive vice president at Eighth Day Sound. “It’s a Royer mic called the R- 122—a ribbon mic that’s really good and they make a live version [the aptly named R-122 Live] where the ribbon lasts more than 30 seconds! People are using them more and more on guitars; we’ve had them out with everybody recently: Tom Jones had it, Widespread Panic, I think it was on Beyoncé, and Snow Patrol has it.”

Escondido, CA-based Sound Image has sound equipment to match the vibe of any artist, but while Kid Rock plays a smorgasbord of retro styles, the L-Acoustics K1 line-source system on his current tour is brand new to most American audiences. “Yeah, it’s pretty new,” said FOH engineer Steve Cross. “There are only a few K1 systems around in the States. I first heard it at Coachella a few years ago when it was still somewhat of a prototype. That was a festival situation, so I had no time to play with it; I just walked in, mixed the show and left. It was pretty eye-opening, and it wasn’t in full manufacture yet to my knowledge.

“The K1s are very nice and extremely repeatable. The variety of venues that we play is all over the map, but once it’s up and timealigned, it sounds like it did yesterday. It doesn’t have a particular sound to it; it’s just a very neutral, natural sounding PA and you can get out of it almost anything you want to.

“We started this tour, using the K1s, on January 11 at Ford Field in Detroit in front of 40,000 people. It’s a domed football stadium, and I’m told shows just do not sound good in that building. We had a tremendous amount of K1 in there, and it sounded like a nearfield monitor to me; the room was no issue at all. New crew, new sound company, new sound system—we had a lot of unknowns coming into the first show, and it came off without a hitch. It was beautiful.”