Open Mic Season at the Station?


It’s open mic season at the station. You have jocks constantly goosing the mic processors to get that big voice at the expense of everything else. Double the fun if they’re setting the mic processor to the studio monitor instead of off-air. Even if what’s coming out the other end is halfway decent, you can be sure all that will change by the end of one announcer’s shift and into the next.

Not that you have to wait, because between shifts, the music is running hotter than it ever has now that it’s butting hard up against the now default 0 dBfs reference. Which means your jocks only want to up the ante more and, well, you know what a vicious cycle it is.

We feel your pain. We talked to our own Steve Dove, Wheatstone’s Minister of Algorithms and all around cool guy who’s been a soundman for bands such as Jethro Tull, about the M1, M2 and specifically our new M4-IP four-channel mic processor and how it can help with these problems.

For starters, he said, all internal processing in the M4-IP runs at 96 kHz, so the audio quality comes through despite heavy-handed compression settings, especially at the higher end of the vocal range. Processing at this “super-rate” essentially bypasses all the heroics typically required of the processor to accurately calculate for the digital filters in the top octave (say, 10 kHz up). By running the internal processing at 96 kHz (and then stepping down to 48 kHz), the MP4-IP effectively blows right past the problem. Or, as Steve puts it, “The nettlesome top octave is now in inaudible-land, without affecting EQ characteristics.”

Particularly with peak-sensing detectors such as in limiters or fast compressors, certain spot frequencies, sub-multiples of the sample rate, can suffer serious detection inaccuracies to the point of rendering the protection limiter useless.  “Running these dynamics at a super-rate forces the worst of these 'black holes' an octave up and generally out of harm's way, with any remaining stragglers far easier to contain,” according to Steve.

And speaking of protection limiter, there’s one on the outputs of all four mic processors in the M4-IP.  “So if you do end up with a screamer in the studio, you have another 12 dB of headroom that’s under the control of dynamics – it’s peak limited, to keep things nice and smooth and under control,” commented Steve.

As for compression, underlying the M4-IP’s compressor itself is a slow-rate AGC, which allows both level correction and more rapid compression effects simultaneously.  The sidechain is subtly filtered to avoid bass build-up, pumping, and other sonic undesirables.

Any slightly sibilant voice won’t get past the M4-IP’s de-esser, either. Far from just a button on the unit, the de-esser in the M4-IP has a full range of control, including threshold (where it decides enough 'ess' is enough), the center frequency, and the recovery time.  The M4-IP’s de-esser attenuates only the frequency range sensed, unlike the wholesale broadband attenuation of many other units; this makes its action much less obvious.

To do all this and more requires tremendous headroom, and the M4-IP has it in spades. Each of the four mic processors in the M4-IP has 32 dB of input headroom  - comparable with the best recording consoles and more than enough for any processing you need to do, and then some.

It’s worth noting that all this starts with a very quiet preamp. (You can actually put a ribbon microphone in front of the M4-IP, it’s so dang quiet.) Actually, that’s four very quiet preamps. The M4-IP is four separate mic processors in one rackmount unit, each with EQ and dynamic features such as expansion to help control room noise, for example. It has all the important features, like phase inversion and phantom power for condenser mics, and individually switchable in high-pass and low-pass filters to boot. A phase rotator helps the peak-to-average ratio for downstream processing. In fact, Steve suggests that you do phase rotating at the mic processor rather than in an air-chain processor for better overall consistency.

These are just a few reasons why the M4-IP won a Pick Hit award at NAB 2013. You can see Steve’s presentation video here.

And the thing is, this small unit holds four mic processors for all the jocks on your list. Did we mention this is all inside a 1RU WheatNet-IP box, or BLADE, which means the signals automatically enter the WheatNet-IP audio over IP network to be picked up anywhere? Any other signals in the system can be routed in, too. As a BLADE, it has two software mixers, which allow you to, say, bring up the principal microphone on one fader on the console and still be able to do a sub-mix of another three coming up on another fader or even another console.

We can’t promise the M4-IP will solve all your jock problems, but it’ll take care of a few anyway.

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