MLA MINI STEPS OUT &NDASH; BY SIMON HONYWILL
The world of corporate events is full of surprises. I have been involved in some absolute corkers in my time where creativity and event technology have combined to amuse and amaze, and some that have been so painfully dull as to warrant stabbing one's own leg with a Rowney compass just to get through it – if only there had been a Rowney compass when I needed one....I could have used a Leatherman I suppose but that would have been a little excessive.
So when I tell you that this article is based around an event for a large franchise of corner shop colossus SPAR, I don't expect you to gasp and go dewy eyed, dreaming of an inspirational conference for Apple or Ferrari or the like. Furthermore, this wasn't your glamour location where the entire sales force gets flown out to Nice or Sorrento for a week, this was in Exeter. Now Exeter is alright, and the Romans actually seemed to like it so much they didn't bother with the rest of the West Country, but when I tell you the venue was Westpoint, those of you who know this soulless cattle shed just off the end of the M5 will join me in groaning long and loud. For if there was ever a more unsuitable edifice in which to stage an event which requires the use of modern event technology, I'd be keen to avoid it. It's not that it's particularly difficult to work in – the load in is really easy, there is acres of space for trucks, it has electricity – it just has absolutely no redeeming features, and perhaps the only feature it does have is a reverberation time of at least 7 seconds. That and perhaps the pies they do in the cafe, which are pretty good. It also has a unique aroma, one which ensures you never forget the building's original purpose – the trading of Devon's finest livestock.
And so it was that Andy Davies and I swam into the ocean of constantly decaying acoustic energy (with a touch of cow dung), armed only with 24 brand new MLA Mini, six MSX subs and three flying frames, spurred on by an eagerness to discover whether this little loudspeaker marvel could live up to its name and complete the range already well-populated by its larger cousins, MLA and MLAC. It was, as they say, our first time with MLA Mini, and indeed the first outing anywhere for the new system.
Now the pressure was on, because this event is a major item on the calendar for Plymouth based Pyramid AV, under the directorship of my friend Nic Black. The production team at Pyramid have been producing events for SPAR for some years now, and there is a deep-rooted measure of trust between client and supplier, of the sort that really doesn't need a flaky new piece of technology coming along and screwing things up. Nic was well aware that this was a revolutionary system, and there was every chance it was going to render the event better sounding than ever previously imagined, but it HAD to work.
The system was deployed in three hangs, with two main remits – one was full range, intelligible coverage of speech and music for the seated conference area at one end of the hall, and the other was coverage of the entire hall for general announcements throughout an exhibition - approximately 80 x 50 meters. Andy and I opted for an 8 deep, left/right configuration for the conference, which was flown upstage of a thrust where all presentations would take place, and a central third hang of 8 approximately 30m out into the hall. The third hang was optimised to cover approximately 50m to the far end of the hall, and the left/right was loaded with two optimisations, one to cover just the seated conference and the second to work with the central hang to cover the entire hall.
Well, did it work? Bearing in mind the acoustic environment, which to be fair had calmed down by about 4 seconds by the time the draped auditorium was up and the exhibition built, but was still pretty lively, bearing in mind that the main left/right was behind all the mics, I would go so far as to say that Westpoint has never sounded so good. It was actually gorgeous to behold. This little system has something that I have never heard in a small format line array before – real depth and control across the entire spectrum, and a genuine ability to throw some distance. It is warm, smooth and extremely well behaved, requiring little or no eq on all the head mics save a bit of LF roll-off. There was loads of gain before feedback, and I was actually enjoying the very simple task of mixing a little playback, speech and VT – everything sat just right. And yes, it was the best sounding SPAR gig ever!
Thinking about it afterwards, MLA Mini exhibited all the qualities of the ideal system for any organisation involved in the corporate world. Apart from sounding really beautiful, it flies, it goes on a stand, it's light, it's small, it looks really tidy and you can guarantee great coverage and masses of gain before feedback. Problem voices will be a thing of the past as you can open up mics like never before, even with some of the top end conventional small format systems. I would recommend it to anybody who takes their corporate work seriously.
However, there was one other thing I came away with, which for me was really exciting. It left me with the desire to use MLA Mini on a classical or an acoustic show. So well voiced is it that I can imagine some truly stunning results in theatres and smaller halls. With a few proper mics and some quality musicianship, this system will really blow people away.
So get down to your local SPAR shop now – they'll be stocking up for Christmas!
Simon Honywill is Front of House Engineer for Jose Carreras, Katherine Jenkins and Chris Rea, and is a long term user and advocate of Martin Audio's MLA.