Audio / Buying Guide

How to Upgrade Your Sound System

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Perhaps you started with a small, self-contained PA and need better quality with greater output. Or perhaps your audience has grown and you are looking to add to your setup, or you need better coverage and more control. Maybe you started with an inexpensive analog mixer and are looking to make the jump to a digital board. If you have made an initial investment into a sound system and are looking to make some upgrades, here’s a short list of ideas that might be worth investigating.

Mixers

If you are looking at upgrading your analog console, have a listen to a Midas Verona, or for the more budget conscious, the Midas Venice. These models come in a variety of channel counts and sound fantastic. The Soundcraft MH2 offers an excellent professional-quality mixing platform with warm and responsive EQs, and is suitable for monitors or FOH. Allen & Heath makes the GL Series, which is considered a workhorse with excellent sound quality. Another widely used console is the Yamaha MGP32X, which is a favorite for touring bands and club installations.

All digital mixers offer parametric EQ and full dynamics on each channel, as well as onboard studio-quality effects. Do some research, decide on a budget and, if possible, have a listen before purchasing. If you are tired of lugging around giant racks of signal processors, it might be time to transition to a digital mixer. Midas has just released the MR18 and MR12 digital consoles, which would be perfect for a smaller portable setup. Both models share the same form factor as the Behringer X-Air Series (which require an iOS or Android device to operate), but offer better-quality preamps and converters, resulting in higher-quality output. The Midas M32 and M32R are also excellent choices, and the current price drop makes them even more affordable. Available in 16-, 24-, and 32-channel models, the Soundcraft Si Performer Series and Expression Series are highly regarded for their sound quality and ease of use. Soundcraft has also released the Si Impact, which is a budget-friendly 32-channel mixer. Other notable mixers include the Yamaha TF-Series, the Allen & Heath GLD Series and Qu Series, as well as the Mackie AXIS and the Presonus StudioLive Series III.

In-Ear Monitors

If you’ve ever struggled with feedback from stage volume, then in-ear monitors might be your ticket. You can purchase a variety of systems that are affordable and will work with an entire band. The best-case scenario is to have separate transmitters and receivers for each performer, allowing for individual mixes. However, if you are on a limited budget, you can purchase one or two transmitters and add additional receivers. The gains you get are exponential and often result in better performances from the talent and a better FOH mix, since you won’t be fighting feedback. The Shure PSM-Series offers great starter packages that include a transmitter, one or two receivers, and a set of in-ear earbuds. The Sennheiser ew 300-Series offer excellent starter packs, as well as Audio-Technica M2 and M3 range of in-ear wireless kits. 

Sennheiser ew 300 IEM G3 Wireless In-Ear Monitoring System

Wireless Microphone Systems

A wireless mic system can add value to your setup, and there are several brands and models available for any budget. It is important to keep in mind for any wireless system to double-check your area and see what frequency bands are available. If you’re not sure what frequency band or technology is right for you, ask your sales representative. It would be very frustrating to purchase a system only to find out that there’s too much interference, and the store won’t take returns on microphones. I highly recommend utilizing a UHF system (Ultra High Frequency) since this can alleviate some issues with radio and television signals. The Shure SLX Series offers a receiver and transmitter with an SM58 microphone head, while the ULX Series comes with a BETA 87A microphone capsule. For even better performance, check out a digital wireless system, like the Shure QLDX24/B58, which offers better-quality sound with fewer artifacts. The system includes two antennas, a rackmount kit, and uses a Beta 58A handheld microphone. Another notable manufacturer of high-quality wireless microphone systems is Sennheiser, which offers a wide selection for any budget.

Sennheiser AVX Digital Handheld Microphone Transmitter

Wired Handheld Microphones

If you’re still using no-name brand microphones that you picked up in a pawn shop, perhaps it is time to invest in a decent microphone collection. There are many excellent dynamic and condenser microphones available for a variety of applications. Besides the old standard Shure SM58, it’s worth checking out Audix, most notably the OM-11, which is a dynamic hypercardioid with clear sound and low distortion, designed to offer more gain before feeding back. The Shure KSM8 uses a Dualdyne cartridge, which is a dual-diaphragm dynamic microphone that virtually eliminates proximity effect and masters off-axis rejection, while providing the signal clarity of a typical condenser microphone without the need for additional processing. A personal favorite of mine is the Neumann KMS 105 supercardioid condenser microphone, designed for handheld live vocal performances. It has the classic Neumann character and quality with clear, full-range sound and provides a thick-walled metal housing to alleviate handling noise.

Shure KSM8/B Dualdyne Dynamic Handheld Vocal Microphone

Drum and Instrument Microphones

If you are working with live bands or a club with a stocked backline, perhaps you could treat yourself to a drum-mic package, available in a variety of styles and budgets. Audix makes some great, cost-effective kits. The DP7 is capable of covering a seven-piece kit, including a dedicated kick drum microphone and two condensers for overheads. From personal experience, I can attest to the Sennheiser 600-Series Drum Microphone Package, which ships with an e602 kick drum mic, four e604 mics, and two e614 condenser mics. The kit ships in its own storage case, with mic clips for attaching to the drum shell. What’s more, the microphones can easily double as instrument mics for guitar and bass cabinets, brass, woodwinds, etc.

Audix D4 Hypercardioid Dynamic Drum and Instrument Microphone

System Processors

One of the most critical pieces of equipment to any sound system is the system processor. If you purchased the dbx PA2, you might want to think about upgrading. The VENU360 is a logical step, since it offers the same wireless iOS/Android control, but with a more robust feature set. Any of the three inputs or six outputs can be individually addressed, plus, the signal-to-noise, THD, and dynamic range have been greatly improved. Although they are not controllable wirelessly, the Ashly Protea Series processors can be controlled by computer via USB and offer great sound quality and ease of use at an affordable price.

Ashly ne8800mm Network-Enabled Digital Signal Processor with 8-Channel Mic Inputs & Protea Software Suite

Speakers

If you would like to upgrade your speakers, do check out the Yorkville Unity Series. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but you won’t find this quality in another speaker with 135 dB output in this price range. The unique horn design features a single compression driver, surrounded by three mid-range drivers that are mechanically time-aligned to provide a coherent waveform without the need for DSP. The result is crystal clear mid-to-high frequencies with no discernable crossover points and no comb filtering. For other point-source designs, check out the EAW QX-Series, the dB Technologies DVX, and the Turbosound TCS Series speakers.

Yorkville Sound Unity Powered Series U15P 3-Way Active Tri-Amp 1000W Loudspeaker

If you are looking to cover a lot of people with a narrow pattern, you might wish to investigate line-array technologies. They offer medium to long-throw applications with great pattern control that puts the sound on the audience and directs it away from walls and ceilings. The JBL VRX-Series is designed for small to mid-sized venues and includes a built-in crown amplifier with processing. Turbosound Flashline are also very popular for live music venues, offering a combined polyhorn and dendritic waveguide to provide a 110° H x 8° V dispersion. For smaller line arrays that are easy to deploy and are highly portable, check out the QSC KLA12 and the Yorkville PSA1 Paraline Series, which utilizes a Paraline lens to deliver a focused 15° vertical dispersion and wide 110° horizontal coverage.

Turbosound FLASHLINE TFS-550H Dual 3-Way 6.5" Line Array with Combined Polyhorn and Dendritic Waveguide

Have any favorite sound gear you’d like to recommend? Share your suggestions below, in the Comments section.

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Line Arrays are very convenient for transporting and rigging also good for throwing sound long distances and controlling the direction of sound but sound unatural. Everything's a compromise, you have been warned ;).

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