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.

Conclusion

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.

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