May 23, 2017 – The Coachella Music and Arts Festival has become the most talked-about music festival of the year in recent times, and this year headliner Kendrick Lamar delivered an unforgettable performance to close out the dual-weekend extravaganza — leaving the 125,000 attendees of this year’s event with something to remember for years to come. Lamar and his team turned to a combination of Sennheiser’s Digital 9000 and new Digital 6000 wireless systems to transmit every syllable of his energetic and powerful set with clarity and unwavering reliability.
Monitor engineer Chris Lee says that Lamar first became interested in switching to Sennheiser digital wireless after performing with Beyoncé on her Digital 9000 system. “He was really impressed with how that system performed on the shows they did together, so we reached out to Sennheiser and discovered that the new 6000 series receiver would work with the SKM 9000 series sticks that he had requested and perfectly fit our needs,” Lee says. The Coachella performance marked the debut of their new wireless system, which includes two EM 6000 receivers for four channels of audio transmission. The four microphones used for the setup, which cover lead vocals, a lead vocal backup mic, and two guest mics, are each SKM 9000 transmitters paired with MD 9235 capsules.
Lee, who was already working with the artist when he was using his previous Sennheiser 5000 series wireless system, was thoroughly impressed with the leap to digital. “We were very happy with our 5000 series wireless system, but now that we’ve heard the Digital 6000 in action it’s like night and day,” he says. It starts with the 9235 capsule, which Lee and front-of-house engineer Kyle T. Hamilton say captures Lamar’s voice remarkably well—and pushes out the rest. “The rejection on the MD 9235 is stunning,” Hamilton says. “Even with everything that’s happening on stage, this mic is really quiet.” Lee concurs. “The MD 9235 provides plenty of isolation even if he’s out in front of the PA or near the side fills with the crowd screaming,” he says.
The Studio Comes to the Stage
In addition to its rejection, the sonic character of the MD 9235 capsule is a key consideration for Lee and Hamilton, and combining that with the pristine wireless transmission of the SKM 9000 transmitters and EM 6000 receivers helps the team achieve what they describe as a studio-like vocal sound. “With a show like this there are pre-programmed backing vocals and samples from the studio recordings, so you really want to try to match that studio vocals as much as possible,” Hamilton explains. “The MD 9235 has the clarity you need for that high-end studio vocal sound. It just has that cut and airiness.” The EM 6000 also lets the pair utilize a nearly all-digital signal path throughout – dipping into analog only for a high-end tube compressor – to ensure maximum signal integrity all the way from the capsule to the PA system and monitors. “The sound coming through digital is crystal-clear, and then I can add a little color with the tube compressor for that extra magic,” Hamilton says.
Built to Perform
The SKM 9000 and MD 9235 pairing also give Lamar the mobility and flexibility to deliver a command performance without plaguing his sound team with dropouts or sonic irregularities. “It has extremely low handling noise, and even when he’s being really dynamic on the mic it doesn’t break up,” Lee says. Hamilton explains that even when Lamar was cupping the mic for a few moments it maintained an even keel. “He was getting into it and cupping the mic a little, but somehow the clarity was still there,” he says. “Most mics sound like a 102 dB kazoo when that happens.”
Sound That Travels
With staging that included a separate smaller performance area 100 feet from the main stage, Lamar moved freely throughout the show. During two songs, an elevator lifted the artist 40 feet into the air; therefore steady RF was a top concern for Lee and Hamilton. “In our production meetings we were thinking we might need a duplicate system given how much ground Kendrick covers during the show, but the RF performance of the EM 6000 is just amazing,” Lee says. “As soon as we set it up on-site at Coachella and tested it out we realized that we were rock solid and didn’t need that secondary system at all.” Hamilton was impressed too. “Zero dropouts,” he said. “Even with all those factors with the staging it was really solid.”
After their first outing with the Digital 6000, Lee and Hamilton are ready to bring the show on the road for Lamar’s upcoming tour. “The MD 9235, SKM 9000, and EM 6000 are the exact vocal chain we’re using for the tour, so we feel ready to go after this,” Hamilton says. While Hamilton has worked with Sennheiser wireless gear in the past, he has also used other manufacturers in certain situations, but after using Kendrick Lamar’s Digital 6000 rig he feels that Sennheiser has emerged as the clear frontrunner in wireless transmission. “I bow down to Sennheiser on this one,” he says. “I’m really impressed. You could say I’m very much in the Sennheiser camp now.”