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System Equipment Guide

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Ryan Garnett:
Hey guys , did a little write up today! Please feel free to add/make changes to it. I would like to see each topic expanded further to include some good gear choices in budget ranges if anyone wants to take that on. Anyway:

Often people decide they want to invest in their own PA system and don’t look at the grand picture of things. They will go out searching for which Speakers, Amps and Mixers they want and ignore the rest of the gear required to setup an entire PA system that is actually usable. As with any project like this, if you don't understand how to do something, for safety's sake, please consult with a professional. Pro audio equipment (especially when it comes to power and rigging) and its useage can cause bodily harm, injury and/or death if used improperly, please be safe! So without further ado here’s a run down on what you will need.

You have to capture your sound from stage somehow; this is where it all begins. You will need mics for vocals, drums (kick, snare, toms, etc) and instruments (keyboard/guitar amps/etc). You will also most likely need a DI (Direct Input box, used to get unbalanced signals of different levels to your mixer in a nice clean balanced format) box or two to grab signal from your guitars and keyboards as well. Also you may want a wireless mic or two. Handhelds are useful for band singers who like to move around and jump and bounce, they can also be used for speeches and spoken word events, MC's, etc. Lavs and headsets are great for dancers and others who need to use their hands while moving around.

Some companies to check out:
DI Boxes: (disposable budget gear)

Mic Stands and Mounts
Of course you will need to put those mics on something, unless you plan everyone to hold their vocal and instrument mics while playing and singing all at the same time. Figure in stands for all vocals and guitar mic pickups. DI’s can be left on the floor. Drums you will need a stand/mount for each mic to place it on its desired target.

Some companies to check out:

Mic and Patch Cables
Now that you have your capture devices, you need to get that back to the mixer. If it’s on stage, great, run straight to the mixer. You’ll need a variety of XLR and ¼” patch cords to get signal from the stage to your mixer (or snake). Keep in mind varying sizes will be handy to cut down on stage clutter. Figure on one cable from every input and likely a dozen or two spares for flexibility.

Some companies to check out:

Think of it like a big simple extension cord for mics. You plug your mics into it, and you plug the snake into the mixer. This lets you put your mixer far away from stage (FOH - Front of House, the place where you typically mix from) and easily hear what you need to hear to make a killer mix. Size it appropriately for the number of inputs, but also the number of returns you’ll need for speakers and monitors.

Some companies to check out: (EWI)

Now this is one of those big ticket items everyone is concerned with. You must size your mixer again for the number of inputs you have, but also the number of mixes you will need as well. Routing and flexibility in the mixer section is important and investing the extra dollars here can be beneficial down the road.

Some companies to check out:

Mix Position
At mix position there are some items necessary for your own comfort and ease of opperation. You will want some sort of table/folding table to put your mix and other stuff on and a chair for you to sit your butt on between mixes. You may also want some sort of tent or cover for outdoor gigs, tarps for the ground and to cover up gear also come in handy. Also at mix position you may want some sort of monitoring. Typically just a set of headphones on board, but also some smaller monitor speakers may come in handy. Also at mix position you will more then likely want some playback devices or recording devices. A cd player is almost standard, some sort of mp3 playback device may also be a nice addition. Minidisc is useful for recording and playback in some cases. Tape is antiquated but somewhat useful still in an odd situation.

Some companies to check out:

FX Processing
If you desire the extra effects in the signal chain, then the purchase of a FX processor will be necessary. Think Reverb/Echo/Delay/Flange/etc for your FOH rack.

Some companies to check out:

Compression and gates have many uses in live sound; from taming insane vocalists to making a killer kick drum, they are very important! Figure on needing a few channels of compression and a few channels of gates (often times a compressor will also have a gate along with it) for your FOH rack.

Some companies to check out:

You will likely want to tailor your sound carefully to the room and make that awesome mix. A graphic EQ is a very common device to have in the signal chain for FOH. Also having a 1/3 Octave (31 band) EQ on your monitor mix will let you ring them out and they will cut through the stage wash better.

Some companies to check out:

DSP processing is the way to go these days for signal management. You get a crossover, delays, time alignment, system equalization, and a bunch of other very useful features in a small 1-2 space rack mount device. They also have save and recall features to store different rooms and setups. This device goes after your FOH graph and before your amps.

Some companies to check out:

Of course you will need to power your speakers with something. Be it powered speakers with the amps internal or separate amplifiers. You will need an amp channel to power each speaker including your Tops, Subs, and Monitors.

Some companies to check out:

You have to get the sound out to the audience. Keep your audience size in mind when choosing speakers so that you buy appropriately sized gear for your events. You will need at least 2 tops but having subs will help your mix immensely, especially the bass guitar and kick drum. Also you will need monitors on stage so you can hear what you’re doing.

Some companies to check out:

Speaker Stands and Cases
You may also need to elevate your speakers to get them above the crowd. There are a few ways of doing this. You can get tripod stands if your tops are small pole mountable kind and put them up on these. You can fly your speakers from some sort of truss with crank up stands or chain hoists or fly points. Or you can stack them on top of your subs. No matter what way you do it, make sure it's stable and safe! You will also want to keep your nice new expensive speakers safe. So either road cases or speaker bags/covers to keep them safe on the road.

Some companies to check out:

Although included in the other topics. Monitors need to be taken into consideration in their own topic. Multiple monitors on stage, anywhere from 1 to dozens, can be used. Each monitor must be on a "mix". That is the mixer must send it, it's own unique signal. Typically you will see 2-4 mixes on a smaller rig. This is because you can run 2 mixes on one amp, or 4 mixes on 2 amps...and since you usually find 4-6 aux sends on a typical small format mixer. Each aux sends a mix to an amp to a monitor for the musician to hear.

Some companies to check out:

Now that you have spent all this money on gear, you need to store and transport it somehow. You will want cases to put everything in, and I do mean everything. Typically you’d want a case for mics/DIs, a case for your mixer, a case for your FOH processing, a case or two or three for cables (power, signal, speaker) and a case for your amps if you choose the passive route. Another cheap alternative is to bring Rubbermade storage bins with you for all of your cables and other nic nacs, quick cheap and easy.

Some companies to check out: (EWI)

Signal and Speaker Cable
All the cables to connect your FOH stuff together and get back to the amps. Insert cables for compressors, patch cables for FX and other inputs like a cd player. Then all the cables to get from your amps to your speakers, both FOH and monitors. There are many cables necessary at this end of the system as well.

Some companies to check out:

Power Cables
You will of course need to plug all this gear in. Heavy gauge extension cords for FOH, to your amps, and anything else you need to plug in. Quad drops for stage are handy for guitar amps and effect boards, these are extension cords with 4 duplex outlets on the end to plug your stuff into. You may also consider a distro (a device that safely takes a high current line and distrobutes it into several smaller 15 or 20 amp circuits) so you are able to tap into larger supplies for those power hungry amps and speakers. Also power strips or power conditions may be necessary if you have many devices to plug in. A conditioner in your FOH rack is recommended.

Some companies to check out:

Transportation and Storage
All this gear is useless without a way to get it to and from your gigs. Vans, trailers, or trucks are the most common ways but if you want to try something crazy like tieing it to your bumper and dragging your wheeled road cases, let me know how it goes. Also, when the gear is not at a gig, you will need a place to put it. Dedicated vehicles are nice so you can leave the gear in there...otherwise a storage cube or your basement may need to be taken up.

There are many items that we use while out on a gig that are considered disposable or expendable. Don't forget to pack a tool box with all the little goodies. Some recommended items are:

* Pens
* Sharpies
* Electrical Tape
* Gaff Tape
* Flashlight
* Batteries
* Zip Ties
* Bulbs for minilights/racklights
* Multi-Tool
* Band-Aids
* Behringer
* Adapters (1/4", XLR, RCA, etc)
* Fuses/Breakers
* Soldering Iron
* Double Sided Velcro
* Rags and Paper Towel

There are a few other things to pack in the tool box that can come in handy at the gig.
SPL Meters 7&cp=2032057

Computer Audio
In the past few years computers have become very common, almost required to do live audio. They can be used for real time recording and capture, RTA and room analysis, as well as playback. A laptop is easy to bring around gig to gig, but also rack mount PC's in your FOH rack may be an option as well. Special hardware interfaces and software is also required to perform most of these tasks.

Some companies to check out:

If you are not working by yourself at an event, communication with your other roadies is very important. There are three different systems you may want to impliment. Of course there is hand signals and straight talking to each other, but can sometimes be limited. Then there are handheld radios such as ones that opperate on the FRS (the $50 two pack down at best buy). And finally there is the clear-com type communications, that is a wired (or wireless) communications system that is transported around the venue on XLR like cables. Headsets are the most typical type of clear-com setups which through a belt pack connect to a base station. This is the most complicated but very clear and reliable.

Some companies to check out:

This is only a basic run down of the components needed for a useable live sound rig. There are other components that you may choose to buy and some you may decide to leave out. However if you follow this little guide and take care of each of the items on this list, you will make out not to bad.

Some organizations/sites to check out that may help in your passion for audio: and (more car audio related, but some good theory there as well)

Some great books (if you're into that sort of thing) to read regarding sound reinforcement:

* Sound Systems: Design and Optimization: Modern Techniques and Tools for Sound System Design and Alignment - Author: Bob McCarthy
* Yamaha Sound Reinforcement Handbook - Authors: Gary Davis and Ralph Jones
* Sound System Engineering, Third Edition - Authors: Don Davis and Eugene Patronis
* Handbook for Sound Engineers, Third Edition - Editor: Glen Ballou

A lot of short forms are used in this industry, here are a few to get you started:

ADC - Analog to Digital Convertor
DAC - Digital to Analog Convertor
DBa - Decibel Level, A-Weighted
DBc - Decibel Level, C-Weighted
DI - Direct Injection/Input Box
DSP - Digital Signal Processor
EQ - Equalizer
FOH - Front of House
FX - Effects (usually in reference to an FX Processor)
PSW - ProSoundWeb
RTA - Real Time Analyzer
SPL - Sound Pressure Level
SR - Sound Reinforcement

Good luck!!

Rob Spence:
Check out
for mic stand info

Tom Reid:
Hey Ryan,

I see this thing has been up here since Oct.
And I never saw it.

Maybe some sort of appendix of abbreviations would be a helper.

Oh yeah, and how about a best practices guide?

Like yellow cords are lame, buy black.

If you're doing a copy band for the first time, check their set list before playing walk-in or break music.  How was I to know the band was going to do Dynamo Hum?

Always check an outlet with an idiot light or a (preferred) meter before plugging in.

A road crew of three can keep a better eye on gear during load-in/load-out.

We do a lot of things naturally because we were instructed by mentors or hard knocks.

Nathan Vanderslice:
 There's another source for equipment and that's Ebay. What would be good is a is a guide to some of the equipment that's good to stay away from. Sometimes you can get real lucky and get a real good deal on used equipment. Alot of times, there's nothing wrong with the equipment, it's just a matter of someone upgrading their setup. I am familiar with some of the Ramsa equipment and it's good stuff. I bought a 4416 board for $400 but found out that there were a number of problems with it (some I may have caused trying to do repairs). I finally gave up and decided to try again. Amazingly, I found someone else selling the same model board for only $300. If I didn't know that it was discontinued, and that Ramsa doesn't sell in the US anymore, I would have thought someone made a mistake and sent me a brand new unit. Not a scratch on it and it works BEAUTIFULLY. BTW, the last list price for that was ~$8,000.

Jordan Wolf:
I'd highly recommend Belden cable be added to the list.  Here's the link to their e-catalog:


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