For most of the summer and the month of September, I have been observing and interviewing sound guys (“engineers”) and bands regarding the comparison of analog and digital sound boards. In this blog I present my findings. As with all of my blogs, I introduce a subject and encourage feedback. Many engineers play instruments or support live music in some way. I would welcome your input. Also encouraged are those of you using sound boards for recording in addition to those working live shows.
Displays in Digital Sound Boards are Providing More and More Information as Technology Progresses
Prior to addressing the subject at hand, I want to talk a bit about my experience with live music. I live at the top of a canyon in the Rocky Mountains because there is live music in my town almost every night of the week. There is a venue here named “The Little Bear Saloon”. This venue is known around the nation. The saying is, “If you’ve made it in Colorado, you’ve played The Little Bear”. Eleven miles down the canyon on the edge of the plains sits a world famous venue named Red Rock Amphitheater. The saying is, “If you’ve made it in the world, you’ve played Red Rocks”. I attend live music at both venues whenever I can. Music is a big part of my life yet I’m just starting to really understand what goes on behind the stage in the sound booth.
In addition to being famous and known for its sound system, the Little Bear has a sound man that is recognized in the industry. His name is Lloyd Hoops and he has a trained ear that can make a good band sound better. I once asked Lloyd how he knew just when to come in with the reverb for the song lyrics “with the echoes from the amplifiers ringing in your head” in Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page”.
Lloyd’s response was, “I just sit in the basement with a pile of albums and listen.”
Apparently he listens well as profiled in the magazine article written about him titled “Lloyd Hoops, The Man Behind the Curtain”. Another time a man said that nobody could make his flute sound good. He was correct because Lloyd made it sound great.
In addition to asking sound men about their sound board preference, I also asked Ryan Chrys, recent recipient of Colorado’s Entertainer of the Year. Ryan’s sound board is analog. His shows include those he provides sound for as well as venues that provide a sound board.
I questioned Ryan, Lloyd, and several other sound engineers. The internet search result on this subject was void of live music comparisons and appeared to favor recording engineers. Therefore, the majority of the input was focused on personal responses by musicians and sound people. They appeared to have a common theme regarding digital and analog sound boards. The common theme was that digital offers a way to compact functions into a smaller board however it has a ways to go in order to duplicate analog especially in quality and fast response control.
Incidentally, Lloyd Hoops responded to my inquiry regarding analog versus digital with, “Want me to get on my soap box?”
Lloyd presented a situation where an amp went out and he easily switched it over from his analog board. He stated that swiping through screens in a digital application would have taken him too long. The switch was so fast, the audience barely noticed it.
I experienced this myself in Boulder, Colorado when a lead singer lost her mic. I looked to the sound tent only to see the engineer covering his ears in confusion while trying to solve the problem. His digital board was eventually figured out. The delay however was very noticeable to the audience.
Ryan Chrys had a show delayed twenty minutes due to a sound man trying to “figure out” a digital board and the associated connections. The audience was upset with this and blamed it on the people in view on the stage who just happened to be the band. The sound man was the issue however being out of sight meant being out of blame. Getting back to Lloyd, he seems to know where every input from the stage is. He has developed a feel for the board to a point where he doesn’t have to label every associated control on his board. I can only imagine that trait is learned through experience. True a digital board can produce a labeled image. The question is can it all be displayed and reacted to in a respectable response time.
Modern Sound Boards Enhance Portability
Lloyd uses an analog setup that is fixed in a building. Others that were interviewed used setups for outdoor concerts. The outdoor concerts are transitioning to digital for the advantage of portability. A minor complaint was made of the LED indicator lights and LCD displays being hard to view in bright sunlight when using digital versions.
Final comments about digital boards state that ”they’re ok if you get a good one” as well as “digital is getting there”. For now, it appears that analog is still the quality and response time choice whereas digital is the choice of convenience.
- “Lloyd Hoops, The Man Behind the Curtain”,” by Corey Colombin for Serenity Magazine, July 2014
- Ryan Chrys and the Roughcuts official website.
- Colorado’s Entertainer of the Year, By Colorado Country Music Hall Of Fame, Dave Herrera, Aug. 30, 2016, “The Trusted Ear”
- “The Little Bear Saloon website
- Red Rock Amphitheater website