Unleashed Culture & The Need for a Compressor/Limiter

Posted on September 10, 2010

by Dark Star Dan

Sean & I are working an Audio-Visual gig today called “Unleashed Culture” at the new InterContinental Hotel in San Francisco. A-V is something we are offering more and more at Media One as we have invested heavily in all kinds of cool and new gear. Now the conference we’re at features some of the leading thinkers, CEO’s, and practioners in the area of culture-building in the corporate world today. There are speakers here such as Chip Conley; Founder and CEO of “Joie De Vivre” Hotels, Joel Peterson; Chairman of the Board for Jet Blue & Stanford Lecturer, Ann Rhoades; former VP of SouthWest Airlines, and PF Chang Board Member, Lori Goler: Head of HR at Facebook, & Patty McCord; Chief Talent Officer of Netflix. Their goal at this conference is to offer practical ideas and steps that can be immediately implemented to make a difference in your company’s culture and long-term success. It’s an intersting room full of interesting people, yet here we are plugging away on our computers – listening – and now wishing we had brought a compressor/limiter with us.

Compressor/Limiters -which often come grouped together on the same piece of outboard gear – are some of the coolest and most important tools to have on gigs with live speakers – or simply live gigs in general. I should know better than not to have brought one with us today. Maybe I got thought side-tracked as we are featuring our brand new QSC K-12 powered speakers today and I just didn’t think beyond just being excited to hear how these work. So far, they’re excellent! The problem, as is usual, is related mostly to the differences in microphone technique between the various presenters and the tonal diversity of their voices. 

For example,  my second presenter is slightly animated and his voice ranges from being soft and pleasant when he’s holding the microphone maybe a touch too far away from his mouth, to suddenly being very loud and boomy (is that a word?) when he is more animated and pulls the microphone up close to his mouth. With a compressor/limiter, I would set my threshold levels at a point as to push up his quiet moments (w-compression) and then put a ceiling on the loud sound pressure levels – a limit –  for when he starts being very loud and animated on the mic (limiter). I use a higher ratio for such issues, somewhere around 8/1 to infinity for heavier limiting. This would give an overall smoother sound for the room and also make a better recording.  The key as always, is to listen to what you are hearing and work from that point of reference.

Our third presenter is holding his mic down by the second button on his shirt (his chest) and then he pulls it up close to his mouth. Again, this causes major sound fluctuations due to his mic technique. Without my limiter, it turns out to be a total volume fader-riding experience on the mix board for me. This is fun and not fun at the same time.

By the fourth speaker things drastically improved. Chip Conley wanted to wear the Countryman E-6 microphone I hade brought with me and that was a smash hit for the rest of the day. We call this the “Madonna Mic” as it clips on your ear with a very discrete, bendable, mic-tipped wire that adjust just in front of  your mouth.  This helps keep the sound pressure (volume of their voices) more  consistent and frees-up their hands for powerpoint lasers or to enhance their points. It also takes away the the probability of poor mic technique through the consistent postition of a microphone.

Now it’s a given I’m probably the only one in this room (other than Sean) who is even noticing most of these sound issues and that is fine. It does sound very clean and clear in here and I am happy about that. But part of trying to be the best we can be – to offer the best service that we possibly can – we should have brought some more outboard gear such as a compressor/limiter for this event. I did bring an EQ to ring-out the room but it is essentially not necessary in this brand new, acoustically balanced room. We only have 4 wireless microphones and a projector today so I was thinking we would be OK. Next time, no matter what the gig, all the tools of the trade should be accessible. It’s part of being a pro. That’s my three minute rant for this moment. And although I am on a diet, where the heck is my bagel?! Dang it!

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Live Stream, Event Recording, Audio Recording, A/V, Audio-Visual, events