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Live PA Techno Set - Mixing into Compressor.
Old 28th May 2014
  #1
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Live PA Techno Set - Mixing into Compressor.

As a techno artist I found that if I play after a DJ, my music by comparison just never sounded as ... deep ... as "in the pocket". Too many sharp attack transients.

So a few years ago I started using an RNC on my mix bus. Not a lot of compression, maybe about 3 dB, on a ratio of about 2:1, with a medium-fast attack ("super nice" seems too slow to me).

So I got used to mixing into the compressor when I play live. This has really helped, except when I have a quiet passage or a breakdown, the program volume swells audibly because the beat is no longer working the compressor. Then, when I bring it back, the impact of dropping a really heavy beat is lessened because the compressor immediately jumps on it.

So ... I got to thinking: maybe I should try mixing the dry signal in with the compressed signal, a la New York / Parallel compression. It sounds easy enough, but I like the compression to be set-and-forget when I'm playing, I'm considering experimenting with this. Any thoughts or recommendations? Would another compressor be more suited to the task?

Since I need to mix the compressed signal with the uncompressed before it goes into the house mixer / DJ mixer / whatever I'm plugged into, I'm particularly wondering what would be a suitable product for that. It has to be a compact, transparent-sounding, and not-too-expensive line mixer suitable for summing the two stereo signals.
Old 28th May 2014
  #2
You should find one that has a foot pedal to change the settings. Recent Lexicons have DBX Compression.

Lexicon MX400 has a Foot Pedal: 1/4 in. phone jack option. But the specific footswitch seems out of production: Lexicon Lexdfs Footswitch | Performance Audio
Old 28th May 2014
  #3
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Spazoo's Avatar
i use a rane sm 82 line mixer for live pa. 8 stereo channels with stereo aux bus. transparent. only 1u rack space. it's easy to find them in good condition on ebay for less than $150 USD.
Old 28th May 2014
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Spazoo View Post
i use a rane sm 82 line mixer for live pa. 8 stereo channels with stereo aux bus. transparent. only 1u rack space. it's easy to find them in good condition on ebay for less than $150 USD.
Hmm, that's a reasonable option, except that I'd really like something smaller, i.e. something that would have roughly the same footprint as the RNC. I presently am not using anything in a rack.

What about the Mackie 402VLZ4? That's a hundred bucks ... would that unduly color a mix?
Old 28th May 2014
  #5
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If you are doing a proper live PA you should be asking the promoter to supply a mixer as part of your gear rider. They should be able to rent a Mackie 16 channel for $50 a night in any decent sized city in the first world. If they can't swing that, you shouldn't be playing for them.

Those RNC boxes sound like poop when you run the entire mix through them. They sound much better when you run them on an aux bus and have the returns going to their own channels on the mixer. That way you can adjust the level and EQ of the compression from the mixer. This also works a treat when you run effects returns through their own channels and you can feed the wet signal into the compressor.

It's a lot more flexible and you maintain the dynamics of your original signal.
Old 28th May 2014
  #6
Ham
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Ham's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Whatupdoe? View Post
If you are doing a proper live PA you should be asking the promoter to supply a mixer as part of your gear rider. They should be able to rent a Mackie 16 channel for $50 a night in any decent sized city in the first world. If they can't swing that, you shouldn't be playing for them..
This right here.
Old 28th May 2014
  #7
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by Whatupdoe? View Post
If you are doing a proper live PA you should be asking the promoter to supply a mixer as part of your gear rider. They should be able to rent a Mackie 16 channel for $50 a night in any decent sized city in the first world. If they can't swing that, you shouldn't be playing for them.
Well then you aren't familiar with my town, in which one guy provides sound systems for most of the events I am likely to play for, and he always provides his system with a DJ mixer plugged directly in. So if I include a 16 channel Mackie in my rider, it would not only be overkill, but most of the time it would be plugged in to CD inputs (or worse, FX returns) on an A&H Xone.

For this reason I like to show up prepared to leave the final demarcation of my own equipment as a single, stereo pair. Any mixing that will happen will be with my own gear, that I have full control over, and I will personally plug it in with complete awareness that I have chosen the most direct path to the sound system, thank you very much.

FYI I don't appreciate assertions as ridiculous as my gear rider determining whether I am a "proper" live pa. That's insulting. You seem to otherwise know what you're talking about, so please tell me you just chose your words poorly.

I thought about feeding the compressor with an aux send, but I don't want to do that. I use a digital mixer so I would be concerned about phase issues arising from recombining. (With a digital mixer you always have a small delay). But, what I am suggesting is functionally very similar - I compress the main mix with the RNC, as well as taking a dry copy of my main mix from the other output jacks, then recombining with an external mixer. Depending on my choice of external mixer, I could still apply EQ as you suggest.
Old 29th May 2014
  #8
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I do this semi-professionally so I've dealt with the realities of touring a hardware live PA across the US and EU.

You mentioned a very small utility mixer which lead me to believe that you had needs as a touring artist. If you don't have the space limitations of carry on luggage then you should just use whatever. You can afford to be as picky as you like when you don't have to travel with gear.
Old 29th May 2014
  #9
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Last edited by Whatupdoe?; 29th May 2014 at 04:50 AM.. Reason: Duplicate
Old 29th May 2014
  #10
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Jonathan Race's Avatar
Why not aim for something with a higher ratio and bring the threshold up a bit. That way you are still acting on the transients but keep the dynamics between breaks and drops a little more intact.
Old 29th May 2014
  #11
I'm using a Rane SM262s and a pair of JBL-Urei 7110 exactly for this purpose.
There's a couple of small submixers inside my modular. Since that synth has huge dynamics the compressor-limiter is not a luxury.
I agree this is something the venue should do, however I like to control my sound myself, and not rely on unknown factors like a FOH engineer and his gear.
as for small desktop mixers or compressors, you could look at a good DJ mixer, some have limiter built in.
Old 29th May 2014
  #12
wouldnt less gain reduction reduce the swell in breaks? It only swell because the compressor is bringing up the quiet parts... If there is less to bring up it wont jump as loud?
Old 29th May 2014
  #13
Respect for dropping "live PA," a legit old school term I haven't heard applied to live techno lately.
Old 30th May 2014
  #14
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I apologize I didn't realize what people who aren't into this scene might not already know: an event featuring this type of music typically has a bill of 4 performers or more (per stage) in an evening. Typically, the performer who plays before me is a DJ, and the performer who plays after me is a DJ. And at these events it is assumed that there will be no silence or downtime between acts. Oh, and there is no FOH mixer or engineer, ever. Therefore, when I set up and play, I want to be as easy-to-connect as a CD player or scratch amp. I output to one stereo pair, balanced or unbalanced, on the best suitable connector. That's my job. If I'm playing at a festival, where the stage has already been operating for 12 hours before me, I'll likely have to set up while the show is already in progress, and play without the luxury of a sound check - but we know the system works, and I can check my own mix using headphones, so if I plug my stereo output into any existing tested input, it's going to work.

My rider specifies that I need a stereo line-level connection via XLR or 1/4" (although I am also prepared to connect using RCA), and it also specifies the amount of "table space" and "floor space" I need to set up my gear and face the audience. Oh, and it specifies my simple power requirements - a single 120VAC receptacle on the same circuit as the "main" mixer which I can safely draw up to 3 amps (overkill) from.

It's not difficult for me to achieve this, and by keeping it simple I can also get bookings from small or medium-sized promoters who might otherwise say "screw this, I'll just hire another DJ to fill that hour".

Since I'm considering surrendering my entire sound to an additional external mixer, I want it to have the best audio characteristics possible. Sadly I am haunted by memories of about 10 years ago, when I was seeking a master volume control for my studio monitors. I bought a small mixer, like 4 or 8 channels, I don't remember the brand. I just wanted to use it to control the listening level from my MOTU interface's stereo output. Unfortunately when I added it to the chain it sounded like garbage. It introduced a harshness to the upper mids that I simply couldn't accept, so I returned the mixer for credit on a Presonus Central Station.

Here we are now, about 10 years later. I can't have another little mixer that sounds like crap, yet I don't see any need for this mixer to be any bigger than a clock radio, especially since I have space limitations.

After a bit more research I'm eyeballing the Mackie 802VLZ4. Would anybody care to talk me out of it, or suggest something with better price:performance?
Old 13th June 2014
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jonathan Race View Post
Why not aim for something with a higher ratio and bring the threshold up a bit. That way you are still acting on the transients but keep the dynamics between breaks and drops a little more intact.
You're technically correct, but this is difficult for me in a live situation. I often go for 15 minutes or longer without looking closely at any meters. (Overloads always stick out like a sore thumb to me)

As the compression ratio increases, the threshold becomes less forgiving. Assuming a fixed threshold, if my program material into the compressor gets too hot, then it will squash it even harder, yielding the same problem I've been having. And if I don't hit the compressor hard enough, it won't do anything.

As it happens I just picked up a Mackie 402VLZ4. I couldn't argue with the price: in Canada Long & McQuade has 'em for $109, and there is a current promotion that they give you a gift card for $10 off your next purchase.

I have a very important (for me) show a week from tonight, so I'm going to start experimenting with this shortly! I'll happily report my findings ...
Old 21st April 2017
  #16
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Hey, i´m facing exactly the same problem. Also a techno artist playing a live, using a RNC.
Did you find any good solution? Replacing the RNC with any other compressor? Or did the parallel compression worked?
Please let me know.
Cheers
Old 21st April 2017
  #17
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Eigenwert's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by major7th View Post
Respect for dropping "live PA," a legit old school term I haven't heard applied to live techno lately.
In the old days, "Live PA" always had been a term for "fake live act". The PA itself was the thing that was running live, hence the name "Live PA".
Old 22nd April 2017
  #18
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You could get a Korg Kaoss DJ and use it in standalone mixer mode if it's line level...
Old 11th June 2017
  #19
Gear Head
Golden Thread, I will try some of these experiments
Old 11th June 2017
  #20
Gear Guru
Answer .. dont use a compressor
Old 11th June 2017
  #21
Registered User
Here is an idea ... using a multiband compressor (so the frequency balance isn't skewed by over exuberance from certain instruments) ... but then following this with a volume pedal and/or filter to bring some control and dynamics back into the whole mix.

I have discovered the TC Spectracomp Bass compressor is amazing. It's a tiny, cheap little pedal with a single knob - but inside it's a 3 band multiband compressor, and it just sounds better and cleaner than many of my favorite analog compressors. It's programmable by the TonePrint editor - very deep. You can change the crossover points and ratios and everything, and decide what you want the knob to control (could be multiple parameters, or it could be turn off for set and forget).

I also like my Strymon Deco - and that can be used over a whole live mix - it's perfect for tape fllanging a whole mix. Being a tape emulator, it provides a natural compression and saturation that I really like, and gives volume (and tone controls) in a small package.
Old 11th June 2017
  #22
M32
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Some mastering engineers would probably cry murder if they read this, but running your gear through this will get you beyond fat. I heard a FOH engineer use this on an acoustic live band a while back in a live venue with notoriously bad acoustics and soundsystem.Huge sound, solid, clear & chunky. i can only imagine what it must do to a minimalistic electronic setup... Bit pricy though

UBK FATSO
Old 11th June 2017
  #23
Registered User
The Fastso would be amazing - but I wonder how much more amazing it would be than a Strymon Deco for a live rig ... the Deco is stereo path if necessary. Different things, but acheving a similar purpose. I have a Drawmer stereo compressor/limiter I like to use over a live mix - but it's very clean and transparent. The tape compression thing was a bit of a pleasant surprise - I got the Deco as a retro slapback delay, but found the tape compression thing was so good.
Old 11th June 2017
  #24
Quote:
Originally Posted by djugel View Post
Answer .. dont use a compressor
yeah, seems way too big a deal for the OP...
if you are running samplers, i compress the samples prior
if its about the hardware drum machines, a friend submixes the perc then onto an Alesis micro comp., which seems to work well.
kind of sounds like a mixing issue, esp. at 2:1
Old 12th June 2017
  #25
Gear Guru
Other answer.... get a 909
Old 9th January 2018
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by laneo View Post
Hey, i´m facing exactly the same problem. Also a techno artist playing a live, using a RNC.
Did you find any good solution? Replacing the RNC with any other compressor? Or did the parallel compression worked?
Please let me know.
Cheers
Wow, I forgot about this thread. Sorry I promised I'd report back ... and I didn't.

I changed my main mixer back in 2015. I now mix my stuff using a Mackie 1402VLZ4 with some outboard effects.

The 1/4" main outputs from my 1402VLZ4 are connected using an unbalanced cable to the input of the RNC. The RNC outputs connect to inputs 1-2 on my wee 402VLZ4 mixer. I also connect the XLR main outputs from the 1402 to 402VLZ4's balanced TRS stereo input.

So now on the 402 I mix the dry signal with the compressed signal. It's roughly 50/50. I set the compressor with a much more aggressive ratio now, with the threshold a bit higher. The attack is quite quick - maybe about 5-10 ms. Release is about 0.3 seconds.

The result sounds fantastic. The compressor is usually working about 3-6 dB of reduction, which would sound awful by itself, but when mixed with the uncompressed signal provides more of a glue effect. I get lots of compliments about the clear, punchy, deep sound of my sets. With the quick release there is pretty much no perceivable swell when the beat goes away. Also there is enough transient from the dry signal (combined with the compressor's attack not being instant) to really provide a nice impact when the beat kicks back in.

I appreciate everyone's input. All the suggested hardware is interesting, and I'll definitely keep it in mind when I re-tool again ...
Old 9th January 2018
  #27
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Thanks for your explanation! I´ll try that.
Old 10th January 2018
  #28
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Thanks for sharing your experience, that's super helpful!
Old 5th September 2019
  #29
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Thanks for the contribution!! Facing nearly the same situation and looking for the best solution in terms of budget, sound quality, flexibility and portability. Extreme bus compression can make the sound dull and unnatural like in EDM which is not desired at all. Some distortion can be useful. So I guess parallel compression on mix bus is a must. Will consider this in my gear choice.

Some venues have poor monitors and it's hard to keep track of levels while battling with all those analog gears in a smoky dark environment. I personally try to keep an eye on my mixer's output level (mackie 1202). You can also have a mobile lunchbox system with combined limiter/compressor units such as the neve 2264alb. Then it would be a set and forget system. But it would cost over 2.5k bucks as everything has a price and it doesn’t have the blend knob.

There are so many choices in 2019, the more choices u have, the harder to decide. I'm considering the following 500 series compressors:
Sound Skulptor CP4500 (gssl)
Lindell Audio 77X-500 (1176)
Elysia xpressor 500
Hairball Audio FET/500 RevA (1176)
Serpent Splice-500 MKII (1176)
RND 535 (2254)
Linkable mono units can be a better investment as they can also be used in the studio separately. I only have one dbx 560a in my lunchbox for now, which is a very clean vca comp without much character. Currently I'm comparing the character of these before any decision. I like the smashed drums on some 1176 Rev.A demos on youtube but I know gssl and others can yield similar results. I A/B'd the vst variants of these yesterday for some idea but unfortunately they start to distort digitally when driven hard... Any opinion is appreciated.
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