Lucinda Williams is spending the first half of 2011 touring North America in support of her tenth studio album, Blessed. With roots deeply planted in country music and branches arcing gracefully into rock, blues, and folk, the multi-Grammy winning singer/ songwriter and uncontested master of her craft continues to captivate audiences with live performances that rend hearts and uplift souls. Behind the scenes, monitor engineer Doug Kimball evaluated Sennheiser’s latest ew 300 IEM G3 wireless personal monitoring systems with an AC 3200 antenna combiner. The results were stunning and earned the unsolicited praise of Williams herself, who delivers studio-worthy vocal performances on stage with a Neumann KMS 105 condenser mic.
“We were looking for some top-of-the-line personal monitors for this tour, so I called Sennheiser Global Relations Manager Kristy Jo Winkler,” said Kimball. “True to form, she came through immediately. Literally overnight, the show upgraded to eight ew 300 IEM G3 wireless personal monitors and an AC 3200 combiner. And not only was the gear there, it was already connected, tuned, and ready to play.”
Upon hearing the new system, Kimball remarked, “My jaw hit the ground. The G3 and AC 3200 represent a substantial step forward in wireless monitor fidelity. The experience was like taking off earmuffs that you had forgotten you were wearing. Everything sounded breathy and open, the stereo field was noticeably wider, and the imaging was solid and tangible. All that, and I hadn’t done a single thing to the console: everything else in the system was exactly as it had been the night before.”
Williams has been gracing stages for over three decades now, and Kimball explained that after they worked out her mix in pre-production, she trusted him to get it right. “She’s a seasoned pro, and she doesn’t do soundchecks,” he laughed. Therefore, Williams would hear the new wireless personal monitoring system for the very first time in front of thousands of electrified fans. “She looked over at me after the first song and flashed a huge smile and an enthusiastic ‘A-OK’ sign,” he said. “At one point during that show, when she was wrapped up in the emotion of the performance, she even remarked to the crowd about how nice it sounded in the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, not quite putting it all together that what she was hearing – and what sounded so fantastic – were the ears.”
Just recently, when engineers Kevin Madigan and Seth Kendall were at the helm, Williams switched to a Neumann KMS 105 condenser vocal mic. That decision benefits Kimball and current FOH engineer James McCullagh, as the KMS 105 captures all of the breath, nuance, and artistic imperfections that make Williams’ delivery so captivating. During the first performance with the new Sennheiser G3 wireless personal monitor system, Kimball found the clarity of Williams’ vocals made mixing the monitors feel more like mixing a studio album. “I found I could pull back on instruments because everything had dimension,” he said. “I could rely on the imaging to provide isolation of each instrument, instead of simply boosting the raw volume.” McCullagh had similar feelings. “Lucinda’s style demands air and space in order for it to fully form. Even though she has played some of her songs for decades,” he added, “she still feels them, and you can hear the emotion in her voice – which is never the same from night to night – with the Neumann KMS 105.”
During the last tour, for Lucinda’s mic channel, McCullagh and Madigan had bypassed the stage-to-console digital snake and ran a traditional analog cable, converting the signal to digital, after passing through an Avalon preamp, at the FOH console. Due to the additional hassle and not-infrequent noise issues this was not pursued for this tour. This season, McCullagh is bringing her mic in digitally via DiGiCo, and processing it with analog Avalon compression and EQ via a group insert, thereby also addressing her backup Neumann KMS 105 should she ever need it.
Except for the drummer, the wireless personal monitors go to everyone on stage, as well as to Kimball and the techs. Kimball was pleased to use the automatic frequency scan feature, which took the tedium out of frequency tuning and yielded a robust wireless system. Sennheiser’s streamlined technology included not only the frequency scan, but also instantaneous wireless synchronization of beltpacks from the transmitter. “I was able to complete my wireless set-up in half the time and with much less stress and strain,” said Kimball. “And the new system made me look good, too. Oftentimes, the sound engineers are the last to know about last minute changes, and with Sennheiser gear I can be ready in a split second."