Monday, April 20, 2015

ACS Custom – Ambient Pack review (Part 2)

Some 4 months passed between my Evolve Live!s arriving and the ambient pack being ready. Whilst a touch frustrating, I would rather wait for the pack to be made to the usual ACS Custom standard than have it rushed. With the new products (including the George Martin limited edition) it’s understandable that it took longer to get to this point.

I would note that ACS took the time to contact me when one was available and serviced my Evolves as part of the order, so my experience of their customer service is very positive.

 The day came and the pack arrived. My Evolve’s were re-cabled and re-packed in a new, larger pelicase with the pack plus a 3.5mm link cable and a 3.5mm adaptor cable. Also included is the pack case which slides over the pack when you want to protect it. The aluminium case is so nicely finished; you are going to want to protect it!

Obviously I did the only thing possible in that situation and donned my Evolve Live!s  and plugged the pack in. Before I get to testing these in loud environments I wanted to see just how good the ‘wideband, natural response’ microphones were. So I just got on with life, boiled the kettle, talked to my kids, watched a few minutes of TV, listened to the radio,  etc.

The Pack

The controls are pretty intuitive. On the top with the 2 sockets is a volume/mix control that sets the level for the mics. On the side is a multiway encoder for navigating the menu for PADs , auto volume control and gain control. You can also switch the mics on/off from here, which is handy. On the opposite side is the sliding power switch.

In a low volume setting I found the mics to be outstanding. I was slightly fearful that they would sound compressed and a little dull, with some higher frequencies missing. I’m pleased to say that I needn't have worried and, apart from being able to turn the volume down they sounded extremely natural. Sources sound as they should and you can quickly forget that you’re listening to them rather than the source directly.

Probably my greatest hope for these was the promise of binaural sound. If you've ever tried to use a traditional setup for ambient micing on stage, you’ll know that it’s really flawed; you can never quite hear what you want and often hear lots of things that aren't near you. With these, the sense of space is restored and, with my eyes closed, I could still place sounds properly in 3 dimensions. 

Again in low volume settings this felt so ‘normal’. In fact the best thing about this setup is that there’s just no learning curve. It’s far less of an adjustment than you’d usually have from wedges to IEM’s for example.

Using it Live!

Having got used to it all it was time to use it live; both whilst drumming and on monitors.

On drums I found myself playing with the ambience to add to the monitor mix which gave both space, and the ability to hear band members talking (I’m no fan of having to take your IEM’s out to talk to people and not everyone has a mic!) I’d certainly advise setting up monitors without the ambient mics then mixing them in, or you’ll get a distorted idea of what you’re listening too.

On monitors I found probably the biggest surprise of all though. These days it’s normal to mix multiple IEM feeds with wedges across the stage, so listening to the mixes on either a listen wedge and IEM’s, as appropriate, is essential to get a good job done. It’s also pretty normal to be on stage with musicians working on the mixes with a tablet and hearing protection is always high on my priority list. Being able to keep my Evolve Live!s in pretty much all the time was a revelation.  

Listening to wedges using the ambient mics might not be quite the same as listening directly but it is pretty close and more than workable. Besides, you always have to mix for someone else’s hearing and we all hear things differently. Using the benefit of the isolation from the moulds to protect my ears but being able to mix in enough ambience to talk to musicians on stage was so helpful. I’d not really considered working that way, but I suspect I will be doing that more & more.


I looked at this setup as an investment in my hearing but it’s already opened my eyes (ears?) to new and better ways of working.

If you’re looking for high quality, well supported, custom moulded IEM’s then look at ACS Custom. 

If you want to go the extra mile and look at the future of IEM’s then look at ACS Custom Live!

I’d recommend this setup to any musician or engineer who’s serious about the sound they hear and serious about their hearing.

Note I should add that I do not work for ACS Custom and bought my Evolve Live!s  and my ambient pack as a normal customer.

ACS Custom - Evolve Live! (T1 Live! ) Review (Part 1)

It’s true that I am fussy. I only trust a few people with my hearing, mostly just me. I first came across ACS over 15 years ago and enjoyed my original ER15’s very much (still have the little green rucksack to prove it!)

So, when it came to custom monitoring, I took great confidence in choosing the guys that were there at the beginning with Garwood when good IEM really started. With my ear impressions and sent off to ACS Custom, I waited.

At the end of 2014, the custom moulded 3 way IEM with the Live! Feature was called the T1 Live! It’s now the Evolve Live! And that’s what I’ll refer to them as for simplicity. The full spec  is on the website (insert link) but the Evolve uses 3 drivers with a passive crossover network all packed in to each ear, to deliver a sound akin to sitting in a studio control room but where you can’t hear the person next to you.

I use mine both as a drummer, and as a sound engineer, especially when on monitors. As such I speak drummer and tech, not hifi, as you’ll see from the following description. I've also tried to avoid too much technical language and jargon.

They are a very true and natural sounding monitor where you get out what you put in. Checked with my Sennheiser IEM system and various other headphone amps on digital desks etc, I found them to sound good whatever they’re running on.

I was particularly looking for more kick drum in my mixes without sacrificing clarity on other instruments and the low end is strong and clear. In fact, the separation on each instrument is very clean.

Vocals sit nicely across everything and, if monitoring in stereo, the image can be massively wide.
One area I really notice the quality is when using effects. On a recent gig using 3 reverbs and a delay (drums, brass, vox & vox respectively) I was genuinely surprised that I could hear and identify each reverb, even though the differences are quite subtle.

The sound isn’t particularly ‘shaped’ but neither is it flat and clinical. I find it particularly natural and not at all fatiguing. From punk and ska through to grand pianos and string sections, they have faithfully reproduced it all so far.

Comfort is of course really important. If I’m drumming I might be singing as well, so there’s lots of movement going on, plus you get hot or sweaty. If I’m engineering, I’ll be taking the monitors in & out whilst I swap between them and my listen wedge.

I loved my original ER15’s and I love these too. I will never understand someone who wants to put a hard acrylic shell in their ear and the medical grade silicon is superb. Genuinely comfortable enough to forget you have them in.

Whilst their Linum cable isn’t yet available for these, the black multicore cable you do get is great. Given how may cores it has (including the Live! Feed) it’s still low profile and pretty tough. The multipin plugs are Neutric and are a good solid fit and won’t pull out, but the ears end will do with enough force, saving your ears & monitors from damage.

I had mine supplied in a pelicase, which has kept them safe whilst working and you can fit the accessories in there too. I have dry ear canals (apparently) so having the lube with me is very handy.

For me the attention to detail from ACS is exactly what I need from a high end supplier. From the 3.5mm adaptor, to the support from the team in Banbury; from the wax guards to the 1st class sound. This is why I trust them with my hearing.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Spiritual Disciplines

We can be deliberate about being better at following Jesus.

Sometimes, we need to train to be better; to fill in our gaps. We can choose to train ourselves away from these things and towards God but it takes discipline.

Though discipline is often seen as a negative word nowadays, discipline is also what propels elite athletes past their competitors.

For hundreds of years, disciplines like these have helped people to develop in their relationship with God. What follows is not a checklist for salvation (you are no more saved by these than by eating a cheeseburger) but they can help you to build your relationship with God, tune in to His spirit by them.

Disciplines of Abstinence (The don't do's)
These are ways of denying ourselves something we want or need in order to make space to focus on and connect with God.
Solitude: Refraining from interacting with other people in order to be alone with God and be found by him. (Solitude is completed by silence.) Luke 5:16 Prioritising God by removing ourselves from ‘noise’

Silence: Not speaking in a quiet place in order to quiet our minds and whole self and attend to God’s presence. Also, not speaking so that we can listen to others and bless them.  Goes with solitude.

Fasting: Going without food (or something else) for a period of intense prayer — the fast may be complete or partial. John 4:34 Matt 6: 16-18

"Fasting is a purgative or cleansing discipline that surfaces inner sin, immaturity, and stress points. For instance, when you’re learning to fast you’re likely to have problems with hunger, fatigue, headaches, low frustration tolerance, or feeling deprived. You may discover that you’ve been relying on food — more than Jesus — to provide comfort, fullness, rewards, energy pick ups, or simply having something to look forward to."

Sabbath: Doing no work to rest in God’s person and provision; praying and playing with God and others. 

Secrecy: Not making our good deeds or qualities known to let God or others receive attention and to find our sufficiency in God alone. Matt 6:6

Submission: Not asserting ourselves in order to come under the authority, wisdom, and power of Jesus Christ as our Lord, King, and Master. (Can include submitting to a person as unto Christ.) 

Dallas Willard says “Abandon outcomes to God.” To submit to God in any given situation is to refuse to try to get anyone to do anything or to make things turn out a certain way, but instead simply to be responsible (which mostly means to love God and neighbour) and to trust the Sovereign Lord.
Disciplines of Engagement (the do's)
These are ways of connecting with God and other people, conversing honestly with them in order to love and be loved.
Bible Reading: Trusting the Holy Spirit-inspired words of Scripture as our guide, wisdom, and strength for life. 

Worship: Praising God’s greatness, goodness, and beauty in words, music, ritual, or silence.

What we do with ourselves, our time and our resources is our worship.

Prayer: Conversing with God about what we’re experiencing and doing together. 

Soul Friendship: Engaging fellow disciples of Jesus in prayerful conversation or other spiritual practices.

Personal Reflection: Paying attention to our inner self in order to grow in love for God, others, and self.

Service: Humbly serving God by overflowing with his love and compassion to others, especially those in need.

So the question is: where do you want to grow? Pick the discipline that will help you grow the most in the area you want to grow most in.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

I Am Amazing

I Am Amazing.

Truely and undeniably amazing.

Not because I am talented, good looking, skilled, rich or powerful.

I am beyond worth.

There is no value high enough that you could name, or write a cheque for, that could match my worth.

The exciting thing is are you!

You see, I, and you, are created by God. Not as clones but unique individuals and we are soo loved.

When we freeze water, we make icecubes. When God freezes water he makes snowflakes.

Do you know Him in your life?

Friday, February 03, 2012

5 Loaves and 2 Fishes. Really?

Lets get this straight: the feeding of the 5000 (John 6) or 5000 men plus all the women and children. That could be around 15,000? some estimates are even higher.

So from all of the men women and children, all the disciples could get is the 5 barley loaves and 2 small fish? Oh, really????

From this story we learn that God is so mighty and powerful that he can perform a miracle and provide for so many with such a small offering. We learn that we cannot out give God. We learn that we can give whatever we have to God and he can use it.

What we don't learn, and maybe we should, is that even amongst those who are happy to watch Jesus, listen to His teaching, follow Him even, it's still easy to hold on to whatever we have.

It's easy to settle for security but it can cost us obedience.

Even those blessings He has already given us need to be given back to Him. This giving cycle should not end with us holding on to anything too tightly because the blessing goes on. Somewhere in the region of 14999 people were blessed , and blessed abundantly, because of that little guy and the food he handed over. Is it your turn now?


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Movember! Movember! Movember!

Movember is all about 'changing the face of men's health'. Conceived 12 years ago the movement has grown (!) to include both raising money and awareness of men's health issues - particularly the male cancers.

And so, in 2010 I finally heard about it (too late) and then...completely forgot about it until October this year. A few social network reminders prompted me to think about doing it. Not for the money, but to get some conversations going. Believe me it worked!

If you're a guy and you've mentioned my mo' (AAC excluded) then you've already had a conversation about health.

At the risk of my marriage, and having learnt that I don't want to grow a mo', I embraced the silly and ploughed on. The result.....?

Actually there's something to add before you get the picture.....

The Men's Health Paradox

The biggest problem with getting guys to look after their health is the paralysing paradox we are stuck in; damned if you do and damned if you don't.

One one hand there are stacks of statistics showing that men don't go to doctors soon enough or pickup on their health issues or even talk about them openly enough. So we want guys to talk about their health more, right? Women want it, the medical profession want it and it's a message you can find in every type of media from magazines to TV.

But on the other, we have 'man flu'. A singularly divisive bit of humour. Used throughout the media and in general conversation, this one 'joke' may have been funny. It may even be funny, but it's also emasculating. If you get nothing but hastle and derision for saying how you feel, you're going to learn to keep quiet very quickly. Right?

So there you have it. You either promote the paradox or you have to actively chose not to. Maybe it's true that whatever you don't condemn, you condone. Whose side are you on?

Women, make your minds up, this is genuinely life or death stuff. Are you going to help us promote men's health issues or hinder us?

As for me, well, I have an appointment with a man and his cut-throat razor!

Picture to follow.......

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Vision: Don't leave the house without it!

Why is it that the best people, really good, wise, amazing people don't know why they do what they do? How is it even possible? When did we move from vision to routine?

I've recently asked some leaders I know what their vision is. Active, loving people. They could not tell me straight away.

I asked some others what their churches' vision was. They could not tell me.

If I asked you what your church or company's vision was, could you tell me? how close to what was written on your website would your answer be?

Bear in mind I'm not comparing how well your day to day activities relate to your vision; if they don't then you MUST STOP: the vision is not working!

Ignoring people abilities to communicate clearly, which may be a factor in telling me, these are all people who would only have taken on a role, responsibility or task with a good reason. So where did that reason go?

Anyone who's ever been any where near Willow Creak or Bill Hybels will know the phrase 'Vision Leaks'. Usually, Bill will draw a bucket on a flip-chart and then draw holes in the bottom to illustrate this. What he usually does is leave the remaining space blank but I wonder if that's right. Maybe, just maybe we fill our 'Vision buckets' with something else. Something more mundane, and less God filled. Maybe routine and comfort start to scale up our buckets. Perhaps even if we do get our vision topped up, there's not quite as much room there as there used to be. Do our visions start to get smaller too? or does a tension start to build albeit subtly at first?

I don't know about you but I want to be led by people with clear vision and I want to lead with clear vision.

God I pray that I would never leave the house without it!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Me and My Obsession

Two moments have combined in the last few days to create and interesting effect in my life; a question and a description.

To start with the description: I was reading a blog post by Mark Tuma and as I read it, I just recognised myself. I have thought myself obsessive for some time and I wonder if my life had been different just how easy I would have found addiction. I can easily listen to the same album for literally months as I bike to and from work.

Yet, that obsessive (focused) behaviour does not cover all aspects of my life and indeed just like Mark, does not cover my faith (at least not often). In fact it can often be a distraction. I can obsess over all the areas of my gifts rather than focusing on the God who gave the gifts.

The second (which was actually the first) was a theological question posed to me; classic apologetics.

Only, I didn't know the answer. I postulated a little, but I didn't know. Now, I have been a Christian for as long as the person asking the question has been alive (!) and yet they prompted in me an urgent need to know and so I did went to the only source of information left on the planet and exercised my Google-fu.

However it's not enough to just have the answer, I needed to understand the answer and so, my obsession was focused on my faith and my theology. My in-built preference and style was aligned with what I want to be at the centre of my life.

I am grateful to the person who asked me the question and I am reminded of an phrase:

The Gulf Stream can pass through a straw; if the straw aligns itself with the Gulf Stream

I want to use my gifts and skills to know God more but that means it must be my way and my journey. I have to discover and develop that relationship myself, with God, and I cannot rely on other peoples experience alone. Of course, this effort must not be solely for my benefit alone though.

Brother Lawrence writes, "Let us often remember, dear friend, that our sole occupation in life is to please God"

God, I pray that you would be my obsession.