A Look Back
By John McJunkin
I think it’s safe to say that most of us look back on 2020 with less-than-fond memories. We faced coronavirus, natural disasters, and other struggles—but all the same, we grew as a result. First Peter 1:6-7 says,
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Indeed, He promised us He would strengthen us through difficult seasons. And this one has been a doozie! One of the silver linings to emerge from this season is that many churches who formerly had no capacity to live-stream services have now developed that capacity. And many churches who had limited capacity to do so have now become more advanced in that endeavor. Plenty of new audio technology has emerged despite the challenges. We’re going to take a look at 10 products that were introduced in the last year. They all have one common thread: they’re useful to us in worship audio.
First up are CODA Audio’s N-APS and N-SUB loudspeakers. The N-APS speakers are right in the middle ground between line array and point-source—they’re compact (two 6.5-inch drivers), and they feature the ability to be deployed whichever way suits your needs. They can be configured in 60°, 90°, 120°, or asymmetrical horizontal coverage patterns, which makes them even more versatile. CODA’s N-SUB subwoofer is intended for pairing with N-APS speakers, and delivers low-end down to 30Hz at astonishing SPL levels as high as 139dB. CODA’s new speakers offer exceptionally high fidelity at exceptionally high SPL’s, in a broad and versatile array of configurations —very much worth your consideration.
I was pleased to find an Allen & Heath Avantis upon my return to front of house once my church cautiously resumed in-person services late last summer. The Avantis offers 64 channels and 42 buses, and operates at 96kHz—a nice (and clearly audible) improvement over our previous FOH console. The mixer features two giant touchscreens, and the workflow is as smooth and intuitive as any I’ve ever seen. Plug-in style processing feels (and sounds) like the genuine article, particularly in the case of the available upgrades to vintage processors approximating the classic analog sounds of yesteryear. Wet/dry controls facilitate parallel operation in many of these processors. I LOVE this console!
Bob Heil is one of the early pioneers in the domain of live sound, and his products continue to help us do it well. He has added another offering to his stable of excellent hand-held vocal mics, the supercardioid PR-37. As the owner of a PR-35 myself, I am aware of the rock-solid build quality and excellent fidelity of his mics. The PR-37 features a 1.5-inch dynamic element, and that solid build quality helps to reduce handling noise. It’s published frequency range is 40Hz-18kHz, and due to Heil mics’ excellent low-end capacity, my PR-35 ends up in numerous applications requiring good low-end response. I’m sure the PR-37 is no different. I’m hoping to get an ear on one sometime soon.
An excellent accessory for the Heil mic would be Shure’s new AD3 Axient Digital Plug-On wireless transmitter. This high-quality unit facilitates transmission to Shure’s AD4D and AD4Q Axient receivers for excellent wireless fidelity and other benefits like encryption. Automatic input staging optimizes gain settings, and the transmitter features a patent-pending locking mechanism to ensure it will remain attached to the mic. It provides phantom power for condenser mics, and uses either AA or Shure’s own rechargeable batteries. This is an excellent choice if the vocalist loves a particular non-wireless mic and wants to keep using it.
Mackie has upped the in-ear monitor game with three new offerings: the MP-320, MP-360, and MP-460. Prior to these introductions, they only offered one and two-driver IEMs, so the additional drivers are welcome for the purpose of increasing the fidelity of the signal. The MP-320 uses three traditional dynamic drivers, and the MP-360 and MP-460 use three and four balanced armature drivers, respectively. All three offer full bandwidth frequency response, and include high-quality cables, which are detachable—a feature that is very important to me. They ship with a hard case and multiple ear tips so they can be customized to fit anyone.
Radial Engineering has introduced a new 2-channel acoustic instrument preamp—the PZ Pro. Of course, a regular DI will get your acoustic guitar signal into the mixer, but as we all know, it’s probably not going to sound stunning. The PZ Pro offers some processing to improve that signal and gives our FOH engineer something better to work with. Each channel features a 3-band equalizer, piezo booster for low-output pickups, and an assignable FX loop with a wet/dry control for maybe a little reverb. Channel 2 offers an XLR input and phantom power, begging you to plug in a mic for coffee-shop worship—another application in which that FX loop would come in handy—with a little ‘verb on the vocal. I predict this will be a popular product for Radial.
Legendary Audio’s Gold Channel is borne of a similar idea—vastly improving the quality of a live signal to sound more studio-like. Created by the minds of Billy Stull and [Rupert Neve collaborator] Kevin Burgin, the Gold Channel is to vocalists what the pedalboard is to worship guitarists. This boutique device features a high-quality tube mic preamp, HPF, three-band sweepable EQ, two FX loop circuits, and a compressor, among other things. It is essentially a high-end (think Neve, SSL, or API) channel strip modified for use in live sound. This product will suit and thrill top-tier worship vocalists. I plan on test-driving one soon.
In both of my mixing roles at church (FOH and livestream), I definitely want a great pair of headphones at the ready for isolated listening. AKG has introduced the K361 and K371 models, each with its own corresponding bluetooth-enabled version (K361BT and K371BT, respectively). AKG headphones have been revered for decades, and with good reason—they’re excellent. These new units feature eye-popping bandwidth (15Hz-28kHz for the 361 and 5Hz-40kHz for the 371), a large 50mm driver, and the practicality of a detachable cable. Considering here are many third-party bluetooth transmitters available, I would strongly consider setting up a wireless headphone system for both of my church mixing roles just to avoid the limitations of a cabled system, and even if not, I’ll consider these new AKG headphones either way.
Among beyerdynamic’s new offerings are a couple of microphones—specifically, the TG D70 and TG I51. The former is a mic specifically intended for kick drum, and the latter is intended for use with virtually any instrument—equally likely to end up on electric guitar cabinets or snares and toms. The TG D70 represents a modern refinement of beyerdynamic’s legendary M-88 microphone—popular for use on drums for years. It features an elastic suspension system—important for use in the loud and seismic environment of the drum kit—and it’s also hypercardioid so as to focus as exclusively on the kick drum as possible. The TG I51 is a reasonably-priced cardioid instrument mic that can go even beyond drums and guitars to capture horns and the like.
Finally, Electro-Voice has introduced the PXM-12MP—a 12-inch self-powered coaxial floor-wedge monitor. IEMs have become all the rage, but there are still plenty of applications for which monitor speakers are preferable. On the floor, its output is angled at 55°, and its dispersion pattern is 90° by 90°. It features substantial built-in digital signal processing, and four presets make setup much easier. EV chose Class-D amplification to keep weight down, and the whole package weighs in at just under 30lb. The published frequency response is 64Hz-20kHz, and as the manufacturer points out, the speaker can be used for other applications—fills, delay speakers, or even main PA for small venues. Definitely a useful speaker and worthy of consideration.
Hopefully if all goes well, we’ll look back on 2021 as the year when the world recovered and everything got better. And we’ll continue to worship the Lord no matter what—with great new gear from great manufacturers. Prayers up!