Category: Sound

Sound Cue Playback Tools

When I asked on the Theatre-Sound List  for suggestions of software tools that permit playback of sound cues for Theatre, I received lots of suggestions. I was asking specifically about tools that work under Windows. My primary laptop runs Mac OS and I use QLab from Figure 53, but I have a secondary laptop that runs Windows and I wanted to put it into service for playback as well. I occasionally run into situations where I need my primary system, but also have a gig needing playback. So I gathered together all the suggested products (and a couple comments from folks) for reference.

  • Richmond Sound Design’s SoundMan-Server: Charlie Richmond just about wrote the book on Theatrical sound playback technology, I recall reading a paper of his presented at an AES conference on Sound Reinforcement in 1986.
  • SFX
  • CSC Show Control not be confused with
  • SCS Show Cue System
  • CueMaster: developed by a Theatre-Sound List subscriber because he could not find a system that did what he needed.
  • Black Cat Systems Sound Byte: this is more of a “cart machine” than a cue stack, but it does have some MIDI automation. It is available for Windows, Mac OSX, and iOS.
  • MultiPlay: as of Feb. 2016 this is not under active development, so no new bug fixes and as new versions of Windows come out there are likely to be driver issues. As a note, MultiPlay was mentioned by more people than any of the others, but that may be because of the cost, FREE.
 Free Version (channels)Demo / Trial Version (channels)Price Range (outputs)
Windows Software
SoundMan-ServerYes (2)No$0 (2)
lots of steps
$7554 (999)
CSCYes (2)No£0 (2)
£84 (8)
£399 (32)
SFXYes (2)Yes (upon request)US$ 295
to
US$395
including support and updates
SCSNoYes (4)US$58 (2)
US$100 (4)
US$149 (16)
US$199 (32)
US$249 (512)
+ annual support
CueMasterNoYes£139
MultiPlayYesNo0
Mac OSX Software
QLabYes (2)Yes, 20 minutesUS$0 (2)
US$199 (8)
US$399 (48)
+ rental options
iOS Applications
Go ButtonYes, 1 ShowYes, 1 ShowUS$0 (1 show)
US$99
Windows / Mac OSX / iOS
Sound ByteNoYesUS$39 (1 rack of carts)
US$79 (5 racks of carts)
US$149 (50 racks of carts)

Loudspeaker Death ?

A local community theater I volunteer at is having trouble with the main speaker cluster. I am one of two Sound Coordinators for this company, so I get called for problems.

Some background, the main sound system consists of a flown cluster of four speaker cabinets: a Main covering the bulk of the audience, a Front Fill (FF) covering the first 4 or 5 rows, a Subwoofer (Sub), and a Stage Monitor (SM) covering the vast majority of the stage. All are ElectroVoice EVF series speakers. The Main is a 15″ 2-way, the FF is a 12″ 2-way as is the SM, all are 90 degree by 40 degree. The Sub is a single 18″ driver. The crossover and house processing is handled by a Rane RPM-88 driving QSC RMX series amps. We are not currently bi-amp’ing the Main, FF, or SM cabinets, but that is the long term plan.

The other night I get a call from the current production’s Sound Designer (who is also the A1 Mixer) and his A2 Deck Sound. They tell me that the Main has distortion compared to the FF or SM. They swap various parts and narrow the problem down to the wiring, passive crossover, or drivers in the Main. I am out of town and can’t stop by immediately.

When I get back into town I stop by on a dark night (they are having auditions for the next show in the season so I can only make noise and work on things for about an hour). I capture the following response using the test oscillator built into the Soundcraft K2 FOH desk. I am using StudioSixDigital’s Audio Tools on my iPhone 5 with the built in microphone.

Main 155 Hz.

Main 259 Hz.

Main 543 Hz.

Just look at all those harmonics!

Just to sure I am not seeing some weird room effect (as I sweep the frequency I can hear the drums in the pit getting excited) I mute the Main and run the same tests on the FF, see below.

Front Fill 543 Hz.

Front Fill 319 Hz.

Front Fill 153 Hz..

That is more like what I expect to see out of a loudspeaker in terms of harmonic content. Just to be certain the problem is with the 15″ cone and not an amp channel I test the horn in the Main.

Main 1 KHz.

Main 2KHz.

Main 4 KHz.

Main 8 KHz.

That all looks reasonable.

So I am thinking that we damaged the 15″ cone at some point. This is the first show that has noticed any issues and is the second production of this season. So something happened in the past few weeks to degrade that driver.

I will continue to update this post as we learn more. We can’t get up to the speaker until after this production closes in another week.

While I had my phone out and the FFT running I stopped in the Equipment Room and grabbed this spectrum. This is with all the gear running but the fans in the lighting dimmer packs were not running as there were no theatrical lights in use.

Equipment Room

I am really curious at the spike at 163 Hz. which is clearly audible in the room. Power line is 60 Hz. three phase, but that should get me 60/120/180 Hz., not 160.

I also sat in the middle of the house (it only seats about 250) and grabbed this spectrum of the noise floor.

House Noise Floor

Who am I

When meeting someone new, an introduction is in order, so here is my introduction.

I am a “Geek” and I mean that in the sense that I seek to understand how everything works. Not just what buttons to push, but what the buttons do and why I might want to push them.

I went to a major technical institute in the early 1980’s and failed out after 2.5 years as a Physics major. I then leveraged my experience at the school’s student run radio station into a string of jobs in Broadcasting on the engineering side of the house. UHF TV stations on channels 67 (1.5 years) and 62 (6 weeks) and then 7 years at a VHF TV on channel 6. During this time I worked on everything from video cameras, audio equipment, video tape machines (2″ quadraplex, 1″ SMPTE C, 3/4″ U-matic, and even Hi-8), RF transmitters and receivers (55,000 watt UHF and VHF, 2 watt microwave, among others), and anything else that might break. I then spent 6 months as Chief Engineer at a small AM/FM (50,000 watt clear channel AM, not the company, but the class of AM station) fixing everything and even doing a full asset inventory and valuation (for the bankruptcy court, a long and different story). At about this point I finished the Associates Degree I had been working on at the local community college in Math & Natural Science, with a 4.0 GPA. I then spent about 2 years doing Sound professionally; systems design and installation, repair and maintenance, loading shows in and out, mixing, just about everything in the realm of sound.

It was at this point that my career changed directions from audio / video / RF systems to computers. I worked for 6 months part time as a Technical Writer editing class materials for a Unix Administration Class. That led to a full time job offer and I started down the path of IT in 1995. I have worked at or with three different “High Tech Startups” since then, typically on the systems management side, but I have also spent time doing web and other application development as well as managing a storage system of 250 TB (back when that was a lot of data) for a group of 800 lawyers.

Today I am no longer an independent IT Consultant, but a full time employee of the third high tech startup I was involved with. We aren’t really a startup anymore, but we are transitioning from being a small group of people working together to a small company working together. I mention all of the above so you know the diverse technical background I hail from.