That Perfect gig sound

That (almost) Perfect (read ‘Great’) gig sound.

Throughout the years, I have been asked many times by budding musicians as to how I achieve that perfect gig sound, where everything is just working together. Never any feedback, not to much bass, the right mix, the right volume and no muddy vocals. Here, without getting into technical details of the gear itself, is the list of gear I use and how it is set up. The criteria was portability, affordability and most of all, the best sound possible for the money I spent.

The Gear:

Desk: Behringer QX1222USB

As a solo performer I needed to find something that has what I need and although there are many similar desks that will do the job, my reasonings for this desk are as follows:

  • Built in compressor on vocals (nice to have for singalong(ers))
  • Built in editable FX (very important)
  • Effects to monitor send (Very nice to have)
  • Built in graphic EQ assignable to monitor or main mix (nice to have explanation below in ‘Monitor’ section)
  • At least 2 AUX sends (one for monitor, the other for FX)
  • Affordable with descent quality
  • Small footprint and light to carry
  • Chanel sliders as apposed to pots

Things I did not require and were not part of my criterea are:

  • Parametric EQ (Standard 3 pot EQ is fine if you have the right gear that goes into the desk)
  • Sub out (available via workaround should I need it)
  • Feedback detection (included but never use it)
  • More than 8 channels. Unfortunately the required spec is only available in a 12ch desk as of writing.

Pro’s/Cons

  • Pro – Small footprint
  • Pro – light
  • Pro – Built in Compressor on 4 mike input channels but beware of feedback. Set to 12:00 o clock max.
  • Pro – Affordable
  • Con – 4 way EQ would be nice per channel
  • Con – Could do with a dedicated sub output to send to an in-house system. Workaround is through the headphone jack with suitable cable

The speakers: Alto TS215

After 30 years of gigging and carrying around large P.A. systems in huge boxes in either vans or trailers hooked up to the back of my car, it was time to tame things down and get realistic. I needed to decide where I would be playing the most and what environment the speakers needed to address. I initially had a very nice HK audio Lukas 1000 system but found it was not to easy to carry around in my standard sedan car, especially the bass bin that weighed 35kg. So, an alternative had to be found. My criteria for speakers were as follows:

  • Sound Quality. The actual sound produced needed to be clear, crisp, punchy and loud enough for 100 people in small to medium pubs.
  • Affordable. Without starting at the very bottom of the scale, and after a lot of research, I decided on the latest Alto range due to their great reviews
  • Enough power with plenty headroom: At a rated 1kw RMS these are sufficient for most venues with ample headroom to spare so you are never at the limit.
  • Weight and size. At only 15kg a piece and many handles, these are an absolute breeze to load in and out of my car without any effort.

Things I did not require:

  • A Dedicated sub. The issue with these are that the bass produced travels a lot at night and irritates the neighborhood. Furthermore, this would inhibit and negate the ease of transport. I also found that these full range speakers above are more than enough for the gigs I do.
  • High Cost. Although these are not the cheapest by any means, they are also not the top of the range at triple the price. I needed to decide the actual audience I was addressing and these fitted the bill perfectly.
  • Large size.

Pro’s/Cons

  • Pro – Awesome full range clear sound
  • Pro – Lightweight and many handles for transport
  • Pro – Fits into any car
  • Pro – Can carry both at once
  • Pro – Fits on a standard Speaker stand
  • Pro – Has a bass filter button for added bass Response
  • Pro – More than enough for most venues (i’ve never been on full)
  • Con – not very cheap (about R8k per speaker)

Monitor: Alto TX10 Active speaker

Say what?? Monitor you said? Yup, I choose an active full range speaker as apposed to a dedicated floor wedge monitor. Any good floor monitor will suffice, but for my purpose outlined above (portability, affordability and most of all, the best sound for the price) I chose this speaker for the following reasons:

  • Sound quality. As a full range speaker, no issues here.
  • Weight. Weighing in at only 8.5kg, this is not even an issue compared to a floor monitor at twice the size and weight (and cost).
  • Size: This thing is the size of a loaf of bread with 200w RMS, which is ample

What I did not require out of a monitor:

  • Loud volume capabilities 
  • Large size or weight
  • Expensive

Pro’s/Cons

  • Pro – Very light weight
  • Pro – Full range sound
  • Pro – inexpensive
  • Pro – Very loud
  • Con – none

No IEM

The question arose as to why an In ear monitoring system was not used. The consideration was initially there, as this would most certainly cut down on the overall gear that I needed to load, carry and eventually setup. However, as a solo performer, I personally find that IEM systems detach you from your environment. When you need to control the mix yourself in the room, and that can change between songs, the In Ear system is not adequate. Great if you have a sound guy sitting a few feet away in the audience attending to the mix, but for solo application, and in my view, a totally inappropriate use of the hardware. So for me, a speaker monitor of sorts is always my go to setup when doing small pubs or venues on my own. Its just easier to hear everything as it is.

Another small fact on choosing the desk, was that the Graphic EQ could be sent to the monitor mix, should I require it. As it turns out, it is not required as the Samson, or any similar full range active will usually have some sort of EQ of it’s own on the rear which is more than enough. I set the Bass to 9:00 o’clock and leave the treble where it is at 12:00 O’clock. Volume output is at 0DB (12:00 O’clock) At this setting it never peaks and is loud enough as a filler sound.

Microphone: Samson Q7

Although the Sure SM58 is the industry standard, I found after testing that it did not work with my voice as I liked. You need to go into a store and find one that works for you. The SM58 will be fine for most, but for me, it was not. I found it lacking in presence and overall punch. For me then, the Samson Q7 was my choice and I have used it for more than 10 years. For you though, the SM 58 might be a fine mic, so best test a few different ones.

The Electric Guitar: Fender Classic 60’s

Guitars are a completely personal choice and no guitar is the right guitar. It all depends on your style of music and how it is played. The best guitar played badly or the cheapest guitar played well, will make all the difference to any performance, so this item is less important to me. I just happened to get a great deal on a used version, hence it is my current guitar and listed here. Any guitar will do, as long as it is processed well, played well and EQ’d well.

The Acoustic Guitar: Yamaha CPX-8

It is not often I hear a well sorted Acoustic guitar on a gig. They usually sound thin and underwhelming. However, in this instance I was well surprised and left with a warm fuzzy feeling. Equipped with both a Piezzo and a built in microphone, this blend-able setup leaves no doubt as to what is being played. A well sorted Acoustic sound. 2 options here, straight into the desk utilizing the built in desk reverb or through dedicated patches on the Multi FX Line6 rig. Either way, a happening combo. Note to use the included anti feedback rubber plug supplied by Yamaha due to the microphone.

Guitar pedals Line6 FX100

What ever your flavor, Kemper, Boss, guitar amp or a pedal board Foot stomper setup, it’s all good. The key is to hone your sound, make it happen and blend it into your mix. As before, expensive gear used badly will be a waste of time completely, whereas average gear, used well, will make a massive difference.

After a lot of research and testing and according to my above required criteria, expensive amps, stompboxes or Amp profilers were a complete waste of time for my target audience. Purists will have different opinions as to why a Kemper will technically be better, or why a Marshall stack is what you need, but, in the heat of the moment, at the gig, at 11:00pm in the dark, does the audience care? No. Will you personally hear it? Yes of course. A big Marshall stack gives you as a guitar player great feedback on stage. The guitar will sound (to you) and feel (audio pressure) as it was designed to do. However, when we are wondering ‘Who the F#ck is Alice’ with a can of beer narrowly missing your head, we don’t need all that stuff in the end. I am not saying a 3/4 piece band should adopt this strategy, no not at all. By all means, don your profilers, amps and wedge monitors. This setup is completely different for a different audience and application. (see audio sample below)

The proof is in the pudding.

My desk is set as follows:
Microphone:

  • Gain – 9:00
  • Main Slider: 0 DB
  • EQ: 2:00 2:00 and 9:00 for the Bass with Low cut enabled and microphone specific for vocal input
  • Compressor: 12:00 O’clock
  • FX send: 2:00 O’clock (personal preference)

Guitar input (from GT-8):

  • Gain: 12:00 (GT-8 output matched so that none or 0 DB)
  • All Eq at 12:00 (all EQ handled by GT – 8 only fine tweaking required if at all (none)
  • Main Slider: 0 DB

Ipad, Laptop or music backtracks:

  • Gain: 12:00 (this is your main and 1st input volume consideration, everything else matched – none or 0 DB)
  • EQ: 12:00 (none or 0 DB) Good backtracks are already EQ’d and the full range speakers handle that perfectly as is.
  • Main Slider: 0 DB

Onboard Graphic EQ:

  • Not used. (only required in certain rooms to REMOVE eq) I NEVER add here.

Onboard FX

  • Reverb and Delay combo. Delay at 115ms 70/30 mix
  • FX mute pedal (used between songs)

Proof is in the pudding:

So, in essence, there you have it. What follows is a short extract from a live gig: