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Why so much compression and why so loud

Robin D

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As a rule, I can't recall any pro theatre based show that's suffered from the sort of over-driven PA that the concert venues seem to demand.


As an example, just finished the LX load in of "Six" at the Brum Hippodrome and sat watching them run the tech for about a third or so of the numbers - most of these are a pretty hectic rock style mix with those six voices blending and harmonising well, with a pretty high SPL coming from a pair of flown line arrays, two pretty big bass subx on stage and a load of other gear flown across the FoH advance truss.

Despite the levels, I still heard a quality mix with clear vocals throughout but it still felt like the concert that the show style is meant to be.

So if they can do that for an 1800 seat venue like that, then by scaling those practices up for arenas, WHY can't the same be achieved without the overpowering SPL???


BR member Shez was working the noise load-in, so if he pops his head in here he'll likely be more specific about what is there :)

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Sorry - I must have missed my cue here Tony ;)


I don't have any experience of arena scale sound - I'm wondering whether the designers / specifiers of that type of system are quite a different breed to theatre sound designers. In theatre, a key driver is making the PA transparent - i.e. you shouldn't know that it's there (for spoken word at least). That often means keeping levels low enough that they don't draw attention to the PA. Like Tony, I don't think I've seen any high level theatre shows with distorted or excessively loud sound. It's interesting to note that there is a very small number of theatre sound designers who between them seem to have the West End / national touring market almost completely cornered. Perhaps that helps to keep standards as high as they are.


Six is an interesting hybrid in that it sits somewhere between theatre and rock gig. Chatting to the fit up crew, one of the aims of the design of that show was to recreate the sound of the original album of the show. That means there's a lot of compression and other processing going on with the vocals to get that "studio" sound. A lot of additional instrumentation on track too. An almost silent band with all performers on IEMs helps keep the sound very clean. It was loud enough to be powerful and punchy but not in any way too loud. It was the usual d&b line arrays plus assorted fills & delays configuration that most shows on this circuit use, albeit rigged in slightly less common positions.

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