DISCOVERING NEW USES FOR THE MARTIN AUDIO MLA MINI
By E. Wayne Sowder
My ultimate goal as a Front of House engineer is to make sure the artist has a clear pathway to each member of his or her audience. That's why I'm always researching new products, networking with other techs and remaining my own toughest critic as I work to sharpen my skills.
Time is the most unforgiving factor in live sound production, and everyone has fought a losing battle against the clock trying to solve unexpected problems. So discovering tools that increase audio performance and reduce the amount of system set up and tuning time is really exciting. These tools are especially important to regional sound companies who provide systems and techs for a diverse mix of musical genres and venues on a one off basis.
When RMB Audio added Martin Audio MLA Mini enclosures to an inventory that already included the MLA Compact system, the sound techs started evaluating the system using the factory presets for basic 'speaker on a stick' configurations. It wasn't until Matt Johnson began testing the VU-NET network features that we discovered the software had presets for 'Single' and 'Double' front fills.
Typically, we'd used Martin Audio W8LM cabinets equally spaced on the downstage edge. Substituting the powered MLA Mini speakers for lip fills would allow the entire system to be controlled on the same network, saving setup time and facilitating control, eliminate the need to carry an amp rack, occupy a smaller footprint on the stage and in the truck pack.
At the time, the next show requiring lip fills was at the Red Hat Amphitheater in Raleigh, North Carolina for the 'Rock and Roll Marathon' with New Politics, a Danish Dance-Rock band, headlining and Love Canon, a regional bluegrass band, opening the show. We decided to use the MLA Mini in the single configuration since it was the closest to our normal front fill package.
The first thing we noticed after turning on the Minis was the voicing similarity between the MLA Compact main hang and the front fills. Walking from the coverage of the main hang into the coverage of the front fills the clarity remained constant without adding additional EQ.
Moving onstage, we immediately noticed that the MLA Mini also mirrored the excellent rear rejection characteristics of larger MLA systems. This was very helpful since the Love Canon microphones were in close proximity to the front fills.
We chose to deploy the MLA Minis in double-stacked mode for artists with a louder stage volume, such as Parliament Funkadelic and J Roddy Walston & The Business. The results were impressive, using the 'Double' program in VU-NET compensated for any variations caused by adding additional cabinets and provided a front fill package that caused several FOH engineers to comment that they'd mixed shows where the mains weren't that strong or sounded that good.
For a Nickel Creek concert at the Roanoke Performing Arts Theater, we worked with their FOH Engineer David Sinko who has a very interesting process of sound checking where he mixes in mono, plays 30s music and is very discerning. When I told him that the less you do to the MLA system, the happier you'll be if distance and elevation data is drawn correctly, that's exactly what he wanted to hear. He doesn't like to spend the entire day tweaking a system.
We were walking the room with David before the show and it seemed like in the center three or four rows back the front fills seemed to be in front of the system and the Main hangs were disappearing or being overpowered by MLA Minis. We decided to shorten the start of the main coverage and David asked if we'd have to rehang the speakers and I told him we could do it all on the computer via the VU-NET system, which definitely surprised him.
Matt Johnson, RMB Audio's MLA tech for that show quickly changed the start coverage of the main hang using only the MLA software and moments later David re-walked the coverage and was very pleased with the results. The group had the chance to an extended rehearsal that day which allowed all of RMB's techs to evaluate and experience the performance of the combined MLA systems. Walking and sitting in various parts of the venue from front row to the last row in the balcony confirmed that each audience member would hear the same mix that David was hearing at the FOH position.
RMB Audio also deployed the MLA Mini in a unique way at the Koka Booth amphitheater for a performance by Josh Groban and the North Carolina symphony. The venue has an area of tall trees that provide shade from the sun at house right where many patrons have begun seating themselves. Because the area was too far off axis from the main hang to provide quality audio, Robert Weddings of RMB suggested that we use an additional MLA Mini four-box, one sub system to provide coverage for the area. I wasn't on the show, but I heard from all of the techs that the boxes were projecting far back into the house, with full range coverage 150 feet back.
The fact that the MLA Minis are on the VU-NET network makes them an integral solution for any changes in terms of EQ, time alignment and the ability to monitor how hard the system's being pushed or how much headroom you have.
When we first set up the MLA Mini at the Red Hat amphitheater in Raleigh, we were walking house left to house right and the transition from the main hangs to front fills was transparent retaining all of the clarity and intelligibility. The surprising thing was when we did groups with more stage volume and used the double front fills, there was a nice low mid energy coming off of them, so it never sounded thin nor overwhelmed by the stage volume.
The Mini front fills can keep up with some pretty loud stages. They are surprisingly powerful boxes that easily carry from edge of stage to front of house position.
Overall, MLA lets the laws of physics work for us by only putting sound where people are instead of sending it to every part of the room and generating reflections and other noise. The technology has become a game-changer in delivering sound and how the system should sound because without all of the room reflections and clutter, the mix becomes much cleaner and more defined, especially in terms of getting a better stereo field throughout the house.
Photos: New Politics, Love Canon, J Roddy Walston & The Business,