MLA MINI'S 'FLYING START' 180 METRES ABOVE GROUND
Bluefish rig new array at Searcys, on the 40th floor of the Gherkin
Martin Audio's MLA Mini loudspeaker array made another high profile appearance at a recent private party, when Production and Event Agency - Penguins, staged an 'invitation only' gathering at Searcy's at the Gherkin, for around 200 prime donor/sponsors of the British Airways/Comic Relief UK Flying Start charity.
Special guest Katherine Jenkins delivered a stirring operatic performance - as Matt Manasse's company Bluefish Audio faced the inherent reflections of the glazed dome roof in this landmark London skyscraper, and the difficulty of manually humping all the gear 180 metres up to level 40.
Fortunately for Manasse's team, the MLA Mini is both lightweight and portable. A top line sound engineer in his own right, he was already familiar with Martin Audio's compact philosophy when he became the first sound engineer to air the W8LM Mini Line Array - on tour with Katie Melua way back in 2004.
By the time he attended this year's PLASA Show and saw MLA Mini at first hand he had already spoken to Martin Audio's Andy Davies about the prospect of using the system. 'We do a lot of work with Penguins, and had the Katherine Jenkins date in the diary - so this seemed ideal.'
Matt Manasse's arrival on the PLASA stand fortuitously coincided with that of Simon Honywill, Jenkins' regular sound engineer and a huge advocate of MLA. 'And the fact that the former had already undergone MLA technology training for the larger system further underpinned the decision.
'I specialise largely in corporate events and wanted to move on from my old point source system,' he explained. 'I could have invested in conventional line array, but was waiting for something new to capture my imagination. The fact that MLA Mini was about to be released made it a lot more attractive; the technology behind it is just so interesting.'
The decision to deploy it at the Gherkin was also born out of the fact that the room had 'appalling acoustics,' he added. Having had prior experience of the larger MLA Compact, further assurances provided by Andy Davies provided all the confidence he needed. 'The first time I heard it was in the warehouse the day before the gig - and it sounded brilliant,' he reports.
Arriving on site at Searcy's the first thing he noted was the curved, reflective building - with sound travelling effortlessly from one side of the room to the other.
With only a brief window to set up, there had been no facility to programme in 'hard avoid' areas, so on Davies' recommendations - and with physical dimensions such as the 18-metre head height taken into account - they predicted the splay angles using an optimised preset back at base. And it worked to perfection.
Also helping to overcome the near impossible timescales was the fact that the four MLA Mini top boxes could be pole mounted straight into the MSX sub station. 'The whole rig went up extremely quickly,' noted Matt.
The show itself was expertly mixed by the experienced Steve Carr, who was effervescent in his praise. '[Martin Audio's] new cellular array products impress me the more I use them. MLA Mini produced nice rich controlled lows with stunningly even coverage in the highs in a very difficult space and I easily managed to produce clarity and intelligibility of the voice. Any EQ'ing at the desk was very responsive in the system despite the acoustics of the space being incredibly lively. Minimal (if any) leakage off the back of the boxes meant the foldback mix was cleaner and more precise. Finally, neat rigging and smart box design makes it very inconspicuous and tidy.'
Penguins production director, Richard Bowden added his own praise. 'From a production viewpoint it was always going to be a tough challenge to provide a top spec audio system, for a hugely discerning artiste in a glass dome, with a one-hour prep time! However the speed of set-up and the ability to focus the sound so precisely made the Martin Audio system the perfect choice.
'Aesthetically, the box design is smart and compact - so for a venue such as the Gherkin, where the view is so important, it was a win.
'A number of guests commented on the sound - saying how they had expected the audio to resemble a busker in a train station. But the sound system was stunning and faithfully reproduced the classical vocals from Katherine Jenkins, who produced a memorable performance in front of this celebrity audience.
'I can see a wide range of applications for the system with our projects and I would definitely look forward to using the system again.'
But the final endorsement came from Matt Manasse himself. 'People with whom we have worked before were amazed at the quality of the sound, which was beautifully clean with even pattern control.
'In many ways this is the system I have been waiting for,' he said in conclusion. 'I feel I am buying into progress and that this steerable technology will be the next big step for audio. The whole MLA concept lifts so many of the problems for system engineers and bands, and I think it's fantastic.'