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Behind the Scenes Blog

Personal semi technical musings, observations, experiences and opinions

  • Charity Rant Final
  • I'm giving up on reduced prices for charity & fund raiser events. The familiar p*ss up in a brewery scenario has struck again. A soft and sloping field where our stage truck was slowly sinking on one side, needing jacking to keep it stable. Help that was promised as part of the reduced price deal never materialising, a significant proportion of our fee going on over-priced food (£5 for a pancake and 50p each for tiny fresh doughnuts just to mention a couple of items) No time to prepare and sound check live performers so winging it to their detriment. Then to cap it all having to chase for over three weeks for a payment promised on the day. It's just not worth the bother trying to help people, they don't value it and don't realise this is a business and we're not doing it for fun.

  • More on Charities
  • I have yet again had a charity gig cancelled, this time it seems they did not appreciate the work and co-ordination involved in setting up their event so abandoned it. At least it was a month before the event. There are so many people with seemingly good intentions but utterly clueless. Why don't they get / pay for professional help and advice? They may avoid mucking potential suppliers about and make more money for their cause because they are acting professionally.

  • Charities & Good Causes

    Twice recently I have had gigs for charitable causes cancelled with less than two days notice. These gigs have been booked many months in advance and for at about a quarter of what we would normally charge as I believe in the cause. At this busy time of the year I have been turning business away (why do so many leave booking until the last minute) and in the case of the most recent cancellation had turned away a £750 booking for the same day as the £150 charity gig, less than a week before.

    They charity had apparently sold less than 30 tickets (for a venue with capacity of several hundred). A month previously they had told me all was going well with sales and the gig was definately on. Surely they could have given more than a day's notice. They must have realised they were not going to sell several hundred tickets in a week. The limit to the cancellation fee is the full charge where there is less than two weeks notice but I would have waived that if I had a replacement booking.

    This is our business, do they not realise how their actions impact not just on our cashflow and profitability but this translates into our ability and willingness to help charities.

  • eBay

    I never cease to be amazed by some of the things eBay buyers do. I am particularly amused by the number of secondhand items that sell for more than the same thing new!

    For example I recently saw a specific Lex lighting effect available brand new at a buy it now price - with free P&P - of £42.99. This was listed as used with a start price of 99p and I was interested. It eventually sold for £46.00 plus £7 P&P. Out of interest I watched another one, again well used, it sold for £56.09 plus £4.89 P&P. That means someone has paid £17.99 more for a used item with no warranty than they could have bought a brand new one for. Why???

    Please can you buy some of our used kit whoever you are! I'll even let you have used items at the new price and save you some money!

  • Tents, Marquees and Gazebos

    Throughout the summer we often have gigs in various outdoor venues, from a huge marquee to a small gazebo just big enough to give our equipment some protection from the elements.

    This summer was a bumper year as the weather was so good many people plucked up their courage and put on outside events.

    Unfortunately several of our customers failed to take heed of our venue guidance. In one event there was not enough height to put on any light show as the sides of the tent were so sloped we would have had to be in virtually the centre to get any effects heigh enough, we had to make do with uplighters instead which was a bit of a dissapointment.

    At another event they organisers failed to secure the tent edequately and it proceeded to blow away when the wind got up. We had raised this with them as a liklihood beforehand. Due to the nature of the event we agreed to go ahead so long as we were indemnified. We ensured our equipment would neither be harmed nor harm anyone although we did lose one small item which was smashed as a table was blown over but apart from this came away unscathed. The organisers also got away with it as no one was hurt. In their case it was more by luck than judgement.

    If you are going to have an outdoor party or function either leave the accomodation to the experts or at least seek and take their advice!

  • Behaviour really does matter

    We often book live artists, bands and groups, sometimes for our residencies and sometimes for private functions as part of a package. As we provide the PA and the mixing function, pay in cash on the night, take no commission and have the potential for future bookings we will generally be able to provide entertainment for a better price than if our customer went direct. We also check out all our acts by going to at least one gig and talking to them before making any booking.

    All this has, up until last weekend, meant happy customers, happy artists, good acts and great value for money with many repeat bookings not just from venues but also from the entertainers wanting to use our services again.

    It all went wrong last weekend though, through the behaviour of just one band member, which is such a shame for them. We'd seen them before at a pub gig and thought they were terrific, great music and good repartee, we didn't expect any issues just a great performance.

    All went well (or so we thought) up to the point the lead singer decided he was going to start swearing like a trooper, with children in the (admittedly small) audience. Immediately previously he'd made it clear that he was aware of their presence by suggesting that they put their fingers in their ears before he referred to a song as talking about making love, using those words not the colloquial expression. He then started to take the mickey out of the club and it's members and then went on to announce that drinks were free at the bar, again, and again, and again.

    I was motioning for him to stop it but I presume he didn't see but eventually he got on with the next number but by then the damage was done as I got a summons to see the head honcho of the venue. He, quite rightly, said he was inclined to pull the plug on them right away but I suggested we let them finish the first set so everyone could keep some face and this is what happened.

    At the end of the set I explained to the band what had happened and that they would not be needed for a second set and paid them off.

    The rest of the evening went well, with an impromptu Karaoke as well as the planned disco and several 'very last numbers' until we finished shortly after 2am due to licencing regulations rather than lack of happy party goers.

    The venue understandably refused to pay for the band so we were left substantially out of pocket for the night but that was our fault not theirs. We also found out a lot more about the offending band member's behaviour outside. He had apparently been, to put it politely, quite derogatory about his skills and competencies and was taking the Michael out of the fact he was getting paid for doing what he was doing. Basically he was calling us, the venue and the party goers mugs for paying to see him and his band. There's more but you get the general picture.

    To be fair he did apologise and was repentant but unfortunately this is no good after the event, what happened should never have happened.

    It is a real shame and has been a wake up call for us. It has never happened before and we will be doing everything possible to avoid a repetition. It is also a shame for the band since if this happens a few times they're going to have to clean up their act and change their name or they're going to get frozen out of the business.

  • Speaker Problems

    We had a speaker returned this week with a blown horn. It was a Peavey and despite what they say about their special protection (a light bulb) the horns tend to go on a regular basis, probably through misuse but it's strange it's only Peaveys that suffer this.

    Anyway that's not the point of this story, we replace the diaphragm and all seemed to be well but the next time the speaker was used, on a couple of tracks at a couple of places, there was a noticeable 'distortion' of the music. The speaker was swapped out and returned for checking.

    We set it up on the test bench, connected it to an amp and a signal generator and started going through the frequencies. Very soon we found a major vibration at about 70Hz, then another at 100Hz, then another and another so all was obviously not well, but each vibration was very tightly focussed on the frequency and a couple of Hz each side and it stopped.

    The front cover was removed to reveal a ply board on which the main speaker was mounted. The cone looked fine so we took it to a vibration point to start investigating. The first thing we found was the bottom of the Ply sound board was loose, and vibrating all over the place. We stuck a couple of G clamps through to stop this vibration and carried on with the tests.

    As we went through the vibration points we soon discovered that virtually every joint in the cabinet was loose. Apart from the front panel it was made of not very good quality MDF and on assembly it had been pinned and glued. Most of the pins (which would only have held it until the glue stuck as MDF doesn't hold pins very well) had been put in at strange angles and were sticking out into the cabinet and the glue had failed almost everywhere. There was no evidence of the cabinet having been dropped and there were no breakages. It would seem that the glue or the general method of assembly is faulty.

    We are going to brace the cabinet with some real wood at every joint and tension it with proper fastenings and this should fix the issue. But this sort of failure should never have happened and would seem to indicate how standards are slipping. For a small extra cost the cabinet could have been strengthened at manufacture in such a way this could never have happened.

    As a footnote this is nowhere near as bad as we've found with EV (Electrovoice) speakers, which have such problems with weak structures made from incredibly flimsy MDF breaking with the slightest knock that we no longer use their lower end kit at all.

  • New Year Bookings filling up!

    Well Christmas and the New Year are out of the way and we're into one of our quietest months, It was great that four of our New Year's eve venues re-booked and we already have a number of other bookings over the Christmas period. This is the earliest that we have had to decline bookings as we are fully committed for a date or the requested DJ is booked out.

    Hopefully this bodes well for a busy year

  • Things falling out of the sky!

    Well OK not out of the sky, from the ceiling.

    At a recent gig in a dedicated function room everyone was having a good time when suddenly a speaker came crashing down on to the floor, nearly missing the dancers and covering not a few with dust and debris. This wasn't one of our speakers I hasten to add, it was one of many mounted in the ceiling. Fortunately no one was hurt although the outcome could easily have been different since the ceiling was at least 5M high and the speaker fairly heavy (about 20cm diameter).

    Everyone laughed about it and the party went on with a lot of upwards glances for the rest of the night. This is a hazard we had not anticipated and short of carrying a huge pair of steps and checking them in future we are not sure how we could prevent a reoccurrence. We will be looking for them in future and if present will be checking with the venue management that they are secure, just to cover ourselves.

  • Band Mixing.

    Have you ever been to hear a band where you couldn't hear the lead singer? Or where one instrument or the drums drowned everything else out? Or where it was just too loud?

    We work with quite a lot of live entertainers, be they rock, pop, party or covers bands, heavy metal groups, country singers or solo artists. The first time we work with them it is normally at a function where we have booked them to perform. If they are the only artists, and performing for us the first time, they'll bring their own PA so they are using a familiar set-up and it gives us a chance to hear how they want to be heard.

    On subsequent occasions we may have them use our equipment since it is rare for us to be doing a function where there is one band and no other entertainment, even if it's only a disco. As we have to take a set-up anyway it's daft to have two complete PA systems at a gig.

    Where, on the first occasion, we feel that something is not quite right we'll offer our advice but, as some of you will know, not only are artists very fussy about how they sound but what they hear on stage can be dramatically different from what the audience hears. There's also the 'more me' syndrome where each performer wants to hear themselves louder. You even get requests from the audience for more him/her or this/that as each member of the band will probably have their partner and fan club there.

    It's great when you video a band when they're doing their own mixing and they can have the chance to see and hear themselves from the attendee's point of view and see the light dawn when they at last understand the importance of proper mixing from off stage. One band recently couldn't believe the difference between what they though and what was actually being heard. Having now done a second gig with them using our equipment they are seriously impressed by the improvement achieved by professional mixing.

    Very rewarding!

  • Badly Designed Function Rooms.

    We give advice on choosing your function room elsewhere on our site, wouldn't it be great if people took this on board before booking them?

    A recent function where we were employed to provide the entertainment was hosted in a function room at a hotel not far from Hull. The hotel is part of a national chain and not at the bottom end of the market.

    150-200 people were expected in the room and it was a nice size and shape (on paper) at about 7M x 35M but the entrance, the dining/seating area, the bar and the disco set up area are on the four sides of the dance floor. By on the four sides I don't mean they are on the boundary of the dance floor, they are actually on the dance floor!

    As you can imagine this means everyone getting a drink or standing by the bar is taking space on the dance floor, anyone going from anywhere to anywhere crosses the dance floor and all in all the dance floor is occupied by anything but dancers.

    This would be bad enough but when you add in a sound limiter set so low that the general chatter of 150 or so people congregated on the floor meeting people coming in and getting drinks etc. (and therefore standing on the dance floor) was putting the limiter firmly into the amber with occasional red peaks you have a recipe for an unsuccessful disco.

    At one point we had to go out to the dance floor to see if there was any music coming out! The limiter was nudging the third red (the one before the power gets turned off) and we were getting complaints that no one could hear the music and there was no room for dancing!!

    Music was coming out, and we asked people to try to keep the floor clear but it only lasted until the next drink top up was needed.

    The Amp we were using only just realised there was a signal, an occasional blip on it's signal indicators and a similarly occasional blink from the first LED on the mixer level graph, and this was at risk of turning everything off!

    A venue totally unsuited to use for discos. To be fair to the hotel it only recommends it as a boardroom, theatre, classroom or banqueting room.

  • Gemini Amps Again.

    I was a guest at a function the other day with an awful sounding system. Well you know how it is, no matter how hard you try to ignore it and enjoy the evening out I just couldn't resist taking a peek at what on earth was making the racket.

    Lo and behold one of my favourite offenders, a Gemini Amp. I had a quiet word with the poor DJ and offered an alternative as I had one in the car but he declined, the reason being the one I was offering was lower power than his at only 1200W (RMS mind you) his was a Gemini XGA 2000 which he assured me was 2000W. I backed off as it wasn't my place to interfere and I probably should have kept my mouth shut anyway, but the sound was so distorted and the bass so lacking I just wanted to help and a lot of people were complaining to me, although why complain to me not the DJ I don't know, I did explain I was a guest and had nothing to do with the DJ or sound system.

    The next morning I Googled the Gemini and found it advertised as a 2000W Pro Audio Power Amplifier designed to offer "maximum wattage and power to any speaker". If ever there was a nonsensical statement this has to be right up there, it is as far as I can tell totally meaningless. Any amp will give whatever it can give to whatever speaker it's connected to, however little that may be! It can also apparently "deliver deep, pulsating lows that rattle your insides". Worrying, I always thought that was the job of the speaker but maybe the insulation is so bad you get a 50Hz mains electric shock. That'd fit the description, or maybe it's when it fails to deliver on it's promises that you get that deep low feeling in your insides?

    Whatever, it was actually delivering a princely 90W RMS per channel into 8 Ohms, about a quarter what the Amp I'd offered to lend would have given. It's another of those current challenged amps, it'll only run to 125W RMS into 4 Ohms not the expected 180W. Why do people buy these things?

  • Rip off Britain.

    With the volume of equipment we have, coupled with hire customers who certainly don't treat it as they would their own stuff, we get our share of failures and breakages. Repairability and spares costs matter to us and manufacturer specific spares are unbelievably expensive here compared to elsewhere.

    We needed some Peavey 22XT+ compression drivers recently (we always replace in pairs even if only one has been blown) and after chasing round in the UK ended up getting them in the US, genuine items, including airmail shipping, for less than one third the best price here, needless to say we bought a couple of extras as the increase in shipping costs was negligible.

    The other thing is everyone's tendency to go to eBay. Now I know it's a great source for secondhand parts (except Peavey 22XT+s which even secondhand were much more than we paid new from the US), but for new spares it seems there are a lot of people trying it on big time. We needed some output transistors for a blown amp, best price on eBay was more for a single unit than the cost of two pairs from an electronics distributor. If you're looking for something don't assume eBay will be the best value, always check overseas for expensive items, we buy a lot from Germany, China and the US, delivery charges are not outrageous and even when you factor in all the other costs we reckon to save about 30-50% by shopping around.

  • Follow up from the Charity function.

    Apparently we didn't do anything wrong, they replied to my apologetic email saying they had compliments and would consider using us again.

  • We did a Charity function recently - Completely Free! Not even charging expenses.

    This was for a company about 35 miles away from us who were having an internal function to raise money for a children's charity and I felt it was a good cause and would also get our name in front of a lot of local people so we agreed to do it for nothing.

    It was being hosted in a large Marquee so, although we were going to use 'b' level equipment we still were aiming to put on quite a large show with a lot of equipment. We had a fairly full 3.5 tonner since we were not sure exactly what would be needed, and a local club DJ had agreed to give his services for the evening although as it turned out there wasn't really anything for him to do as we never got much of an audience.

    We were told there would be games etc. going on from about 5pm and it would be good if we could provide music from then, so we arrived at about 3pm ready for the set-up.

    Initially we could not even get access anywhere near the marquee due to a car being parked in the entrance to the area where it was pitched but this was soon resolved. There was still a manual run of about 100M across uneven ground and through narrow gaps that had to be negotiated. Fortunately they were good enough to provide a couple of helpers. But after this we had no further communication with the person who was ostensibly organising us/the event.

    We got set up in about an hour and a half with a 2400W rig (Tops, Mids and Subs weighing in at about 140kg a side mind you!) and a selection of lighting effects, and got started with the music.

    As it was a lovely day and there were tables etc. set up outside the marquee. Most people stayed in the sunshine so we felt a bit like we were playing to ourselves. It was difficult to get any 'read' from the party goers so we stuck with upbeat pop stuff and asked anyone we could if there was something they'd like. We do know that the bar people were jigging about as were some of those outside.

    The day progressed with no sign of any significant numbers coming into the marquee except for getting drinks, so again I made enquiries as to what they'd like and was told what we were playing was fine. So we carried on. We were told though that people would be coming in later for prize givings and announcements. They were going to be using our PA for this.

    Later came and the marquee filled up. The (I assume) MD/CEO did his thing and the prizes were handed out and at last we managed to get a few more people onto the dance floor.

    We worked hard to try to find out what got them going and responded quickly to the few requests we had but the only feedback we were getting from those in the marquee was that we were doing fine. So we carried on.

    At about 5 minutes to finishing time we were asked for the loan of the PA for a few announcements, the first of which was that the next track would be the last. Then a load of thank-yous for various people who had made the day possible, including the marketing team etc. with applause for all.

    There was however no mention at all of us. No thanks, no mention of our name, nothing! You can possibly imagine how we felt. 70 plus miles, loading a full rig, setting up, taking down, unloading back at base and giving that most precious commodity, our time - about 30 man hours all told. We were absolutely gutted. I almost made the decision there and then this was the last charity gig. It felt like we'd been slapped in the face. Never before had we not gotten any thanks, we felt we'd completely wasted our time and that we had obviously offended or failed to deliver in some way although with the complete lack of feedback it's difficult to know how. It's as if we didn't exist, or were just a tool to be used and thrown away.

    We did the tear down (without any help this time) and carted the stuff across the track back to the van and loaded up. Just as we were taking the last few bits we were asked if we'd like a bottle of wine. I was about to say no, I wanted nothing from these people, when the DJ's girlfriend piped up with a yes please and we were given three bags with a bottle of wine in each. We were also told they'd be giving us a ring on Monday. I hoped this would be to let me know how we'd offended them or at least to explain why we'd been ignored.

    Monday came and went and there was no call so I dropped our initial contact a brief email apologising for apparently disappointing them and hoping the evening had raised a lot of money. I know it was read since I attach a read receipt to all our mails. So far they have not deigned to reply. It would be great to know where we went wrong, how we let them down and why they feel they won't even correspond with us but we are completely clueless. You would have thought we at least deserved an explanation after all our effort. Or could it be they are just rude and took advantage? I guess we'll never know.

  • Don't you hate people trying to sell you things?

    Rather than being sold to, in general I prefer to choose to buy from someone or somewhere. And when an offer looks too good to be true I try never to make a decision on the spot no matter how pressurised I feel.

    I annoyed myself this month by breaking one of my rules, and was much annoyed by people who didn't know what they were talking about trying to sell me something so I'll share these experiences in the hope you don't get caught out the same way.

    The first instance was a last minute auction buy on eBay. It looked too good to be true, a "Used" RGY scanning laser with well under a minute to go for under £20. I got my bid in with about 8 seconds to go and won it. Result!!! Or so I thought until I read further.

    The P&P at £15 was exorbitant, and I suspected this may have put people off. On reading further however I discovered it didn't fit the eBay item condition of Used (An item that has been previously used. The item may have some signs of cosmetic wear, but is fully operational and functions as intended. This item may be a floor model or an item that has been returned to the seller after a period of use. See the seller’s listing for full details and description of any imperfections )

    The description stated (and I quote) "lasers not working so spare s only  evey think  else is working fine  so am sell as spares has dmx512 great little  project.  hi p&p due to weight" It should therefore have had the item condition as "For parts or not working" which eBay define as "An item that does not function as intended or is not fully operational. This includes items that are defective in ways that render them difficult to use, items that require service or repair, or items missing essential components. See the seller’s listing for full details."

    Anyway, given that both lasers were not working it was likely that the problem was either the laser PSU or more likely it had been allowed to cook the laser diodes. Either way the repair would be cheap. Diodes are about £4.50 and the PSU about the same, so worst case I was looking at about £15 and about an hour's work, so I went ahead with the purchase like the good eBayer I am.

    When I received the unit the first warning sign was a couple of wires in the box and broken seals. Further investigation revealed that someone had already taken it apart, one complete laser module was missing and the other had been damaged beyond repair so I went back to the seller as this was nothing like the description.

    To cut a long story short I'm going to end up out of pocket to the tune of (at least) the return P&P since eBay require you to pay return tracked postage even if an item is substantially not as described! Moral is, as ever, if it looks too good to be true it probably is! What a shame you can't trust eBayers to be honest.

    My second experience is related to advertising.

    We pay for the top spot in certain Yell areas, which is a complete waste of money and will not be repeated once the contract expires, but another online search site called to try to sell me their wares and wouldn't let go.

    They were offering a minimum number of leads or my money back if I went for top billing so I was potentially interested, especially once they had reduced their price substantially. Digging deeper however revealed the uselessness of their promise.

    We cover a pretty large area, and will take on gigs from well over a hundred miles away if they are economically sound. To travel this sort of distance means it's a large gig or we're already doing something in the area that offsets the travelling expenses.

    We recently did a DIY disco for peanuts a long way away, we were doing a biggie close by so it was pretty much money for nothing. Anyway back to the point. If we want to get the large gigs we have to advertise throughout the area we'll cover, but many of the gigs we are asked to quote will be passed on as they're uneconomical for us. About 19 out of 20 enquiries are for small parties of up to about 150 people and 30-40 miles is about as far as we'll normally go for these, unless of course there are good reasons for doing them.

    The nub was that this site would promise to deliver a number of leads but not that they would be in any way viable. 500 leads for small parties over 100 miles away is worth nothing to us so their guarantee was also worthless. We didn't spend our money.

    If you're thinking of advertising do pay attention to what you're being offered, what you are likely to get in return, what guarantees you can get and if they're worth anything in real life. Don't advertise unless you can afford to lose your money, there are no guarantees of lead closures with advertising!

  • My earlier blog about cheap amps and speakers has brought a lot of feedback.

    I like people to let me know what they think of my opinions, they are just that. Opinions. They are not cast in stone and I'm happy to have a reasoned discussion about anything, we've all got a lifetime of learning to accomplish. Being flamed and abused however does not make sense to me. You are all entitled to your opinions but if you cannot explain your reasoning in an objective way, and all you can say is I don't know what I'm talking about, I find it difficult to take you seriously.

    If I am wrong about something I like to know about it, but I need to understand why and how I'm wrong, that way I refine and improve my knowledge - and probably save money too.

    Unfortunately calling me a snob and a perfectionist don't cut it. I agree there's always room for improvement, I agree that at some point something's "good enough". But I also still think that paralleling a pair of cheap inefficient subs to a pair of decent tops with just a passive crossover filtering out the high frequencies from the subs (and with tops that already have a better low end frequency response than the subs) doesn't make a whole lot of sense. If anyone can explain to me why it does, without resorting to abuse, I'd love to hear from you.

  • Am I the only one who think the days of light bulbs are not over?

    I know with LEDs you don't have to carry spares and there's no duty cycle but the effects you get are, in my humble opinion, not a patch on a good traditional fixture. Sure you can mix the colours and you may be able to get a spectrum of colour but not all at the same time. Typically you'll get Red, Green and Blue as distinct colours and not much else except as a colour wash, there's no realistic chance of getting the multicoloured effects a decent set of colour wheels and gobos in a barrel scanner will give you.

    The other plus point of a LED light is the weight, but with today's switch mode power supplies there's no real reason why traditionally lit features can't be much lighter.

    For dramatic effect light bulbs still win it for me unless you go for the real top end LED fixtures which have a 20 or better still 50W white LED along with the traditional Gobos. At the moment these are still at a price point that pretty much rules them out for most people.

  • It's really strange how psychic some people expect you to be.

    I got two calls last night, both asking for a disco quote.

    The first one they said it was to be at a stadium we've done before so having asked the times they wanted us on I was able to give them a quick budgetary, but fairly tight estimate. The person on the other end of the phone audibly winced and gave a sharp intake of breath.

    "Have you had other quotes?" I asked. She said she had and they were hugely cheaper. Well I thought I'd gone in with a pretty good price so I questioned her further and it turned out that although she given the name of the stadium as the venue she'd only booked a small function room there for about 80 guests. Since I'd quoted to do the stadium I was a little overpriced.

    The second call was from someone asking for a quote for an unknown date in the summer, at an unknown venue somewhere in Hull, for an unknown number of people. How much would I charge? I gave them a pretty wide ranging estimate and again asked if they'd had other estimates. They had and they were allegedly around the £150 mark. These were quotes! The competition said they would do it for that price! I explained that I couldn't quote until I knew more details and if someone else had I would suggest they are a one solution one man band and they may not offer the best value for money. I don't think my prospect was impressed and I don't expect to hear from them again - unless perhaps their chosen provider fails to turn up, or they have another party and have learned from a bitter experience.

  • Am I the only one worried about semi-pro mobile disco operators and lasers?

    We have professional lasers, including full colour ILDA devices which are UK sourced with retail prices ranging from £1700+VAT upwards. These are fully compliant with the UK and EU regulations concerning safety and we adhere to the Health & Safety Executive guide (HSG95) and Control of Artificial Optical Radiation at Work Regulations 2010 requirements. So how do I feel about a competitor who has just bought some (allegedly) similarly powerful so-called professional lasers on eBay for a tiny fraction of the price we paid for ours?

    The simple answer is "not happy". He is putting himself and his customers at risk and devaluing our industry. The units he bought do not meet the most basic safety requirements, are illegal to sell or use in this country (or anywhere in the EU for that matter) and are downright dangerous far east imports.

    He has no training in the use of lasers, and was letting the beams scan people potentially causing instant and permanent loss of sight should the scanner fail. His lasers have no protection against this - or anything else, not even the most basic key switch. Both these functions are required by LAW but he'll be going ahead and using them I'm sure. He continued after he was advised of the illegality at the event we saw him at. In the event of a mishap I doubt his insurance would cover him - assuming he has any - as he is being blatantly negligent.

  • I was getting boring with a friend the other day talking about disco equipment (as one does) when he said he knew of someone who's son was thinking of starting up a mobile disco and would I be able to help at all? I said I would see what I could do, maybe I could give some advice or possibly hire him some kit for their first few gigs until he could afford his own. I said it would be OK to pass on my number. I didn't really expect to hear anything more and pretty much forgot about it until out of the blue I got a phone call from said friend of a friend's son, asking if it would be OK to pick my brains a bit.

    Well, anyone who thinks I've got brains worth picking gets my attention nowadays so I asked what he wanted to know. Oh the naivety of youth, all he wanted to know is what was the minimum set up his 'business' would need.

    There's a pretty stock answer to this, which as you can imagine includes a pair of speakers, an amp, a mixer, a means of playing music and a few lights and stands etc. which is a bit of a fob off. It's question one gets asked so often by people trying to make conversation it's best to have a curt reply that deters anyone not genuinely interested from going further, whilst leaving the door open for a more detailed discussion if they are.

    This kid though was interested in going deeper and we had quite a long discussion over what would make a good start up rig. what he would be able to handle with it and what I might hire him if he needed extra. I thought he should be off to good start.

    Next thing I hear he's bought a load of stuff from the Pro-Sound range, which as you'll know is sold by Maplins.

    They'd made a load of recommendations which conflicted somewhat with mine and he obviously had money burning a hole in his pocket. He'd bought a 1000W amp, a pair of speakers that were matched to it plus various other bits and bobs. I wished him the best of luck and said that at least by buying new he had a warranty so that was good.

    He phoned me again after his first gig (for family and friends to get him used to his kit) complaining that it wasn't very loud, the lights were pretty pathetic and there was no bass.

    I was sorely tempted to do the 'told you so' but bit my tongue and started making some enquiries into exactly what he'd got.

    His Pro Sound 1000W amp was 1000W MAXIMUM! It has a most peculiar specification that would have warned me off immediately even if I wasn't already familiar with Pro Sound kit. Into 8ohms - which his speakers were - it delivers the princely sum of 200W RMS per channel. Into 4Ohms it would deliver double that, which makes sense, but that's where logic stopped. The Amp can be bridged so it should then deliver 800W RMS (twice the 4Ohm power) into 8ohms as a mono signal, OK for a sub and then get a new amp for the tops. But no, when bridged it would only deliver 500W RMS into 8 Ohms and this is VERY weird!

    It turns out this amp is capable of delivering an absolute maximum peak of 1000W into 8Ohms so, without getting technical, it has no power reserves and very limited headroom. It has been impossible, although with the details so far it wouldn't make much difference even if I knew how awful the rest of the stats were, to find out any more information but basically this amp has no chance of cutting it in the professional arena. Possibly fine for the bedroom DJ or occasional party but that's it!

    I get really annoyed by makers giving edited highlights of specification and making claims that are at best misleading. I've moaned about Gemini with their amp watts being quoted at almost 10x their real RMS power but the Pro Sound spec plumbs new depths. Using RMS and then giving nothing in reserve.

    Anyway this brings me on to the speakers!

    The recommended speakers were 12" 8Ohm units, with a horn of some description for the treble. They're rated 200W RMS and 400W Max, a bit puzzling as most speakers double up along the way, a 200W RMS would be 400W Program and about 800W Max, but not these but never mind, his amp couldn't blow them....probably. Secondly there was the sensitivity which was a bit low at 95dB of some undefined sort at 1W/1M. In theory therefore this should give a SPL of 121dB @ 1M with the amp at full whack, which is not too bad, and somewhere between 105dB and 111dB at 6M depending on the speaker placement. Apparently the mid range was plenty loud enough so I started to look a bit further.

    I would not expect much bass performance from cheap 12" speakers, but it's not unheard of, but again the specs are revealing in what they don't say. They claim a frequency response of 60Hz to 18kHz but what they don't say is within what dB range. Is this +/- 3dB as any proper speaker would be or what? I suspected it was the range of frequencies the speaker would reproduce full stop, regardless of how faint the sound was.

    By now my interest was being aroused by the sort of kit that's being sold to unsuspecting DJs and I asked if he'd like to bring his set-up round so we could see what we could do to improve it. I think that's what he'd been hoping for since he said he could be with me in less than an hour as it was all in the car already!

    He arrived soon after and we set his amp and speakers up connected it to a music source of known pedigree (one of our system mixers and a 24bit professional sound card, and powered it up.

    Listening to some pop music was surprisingly not bad, although as he said the bass was a bit light compared to the sound I'm used to, but it really wasn't unacceptable. So we wound it up a bit and put a sound meter in front of the speakers. The dB A sound pressures were quite a bit down on those claimed with a test tone and the amp on full power and when we wound up the signal level to the amp it started noticeably clipping, not good, so we took it back down to just short of clipping then did some tests at different frequencies.

    Oh my, oh my, that 60Hz seems to be at about -10dB if I'm VERY generous and even going down there were a number of resonances which whilst possibly not so noticeable with music in a party environment definitely were not desirable. Higher up though, despite a bit of an all over the place response pattern they were not too bad at all. Playing a few bass heavy tracks really did show up how feeble the bottom end was.

    We hooked up an active crossover and set it to 125Hz and added one of our smaller amps (600+600 WRMS) and a pair of half decent subs (Peavey 15" Black Widows) which are not too expensive and give a fair thump for the buck.

    WOW What a transformation! Those speakers used as tops with his amp were really quite good. - I can't believe I said that! They would probably make great cheap speakers for a vocalist, maybe? The body contributed by the subs filled out the sound nicely and was very acceptable even with the heavy House music we tried, but then I suppose you'd expect it to be as we'd added kit worth more second hand than he'd spent on everything he'd bought for his Disco, including the lights etc.

    Next thing was to see if we could economically make his system sound better so, as his amp was allegedly happy driving a 4Ohm load we stuck a pair of passive crossovers into the speaker lines and ditched the second amp and active crossover.

    At low volumes this wasn't bad, not as sweet as the bi amped setup but OK, but as we turned it up some very weird sounds started to emanate from the setup, something was clipping very badly even on a bass beat, so in self preservation mode we turned it all off and concluded he would need one or a pair of decent subs and a second amp or a powered sub, as a minimum. Plus possibly an active crossover if going the second amp route. If he wanted to go louder he would have to replace the whole kit and caboodle, more sensitive speakers will increase the volume at the listening position directly in line with the increase in sensitivity but you need to DOUBLE the power of the amp to get an extra 3dB out. Most speakers these days are around the 98-99dB rating and some real Pro equipment is as high as 111dB. Positioning of the speakers can also make a lot of difference, shove your subs (depending on type) in a corner facing in a bit and you can get an extra 6dB bass without doing anything else!

    So the moral of the story is;

  • Decide what sort of music you want to play, if you're just Motown and a bit of 60's and 70s party for example you really don't need to have the real deep down lows demanded by the modern genres.
  • Decide how big a venue you want to be able to cope with and the volume you want to deliver.
  • Decide if you're happy carting around sub(s) as well as your main speakers or if you want one pair to do it all (this isn't really an option with modern music if you like to feel the bass unless you want to spend a lot).
  • Find the best and most sensitive speakers you can afford that will cope with the type of music you want to play and deliver the volume you want. Make sure they have a decent spec with frequence response given in a meaningful way, for example 55Hz-18kHz +2/-3dB, and ideally with a response graph. Sensitivity as high as possible but there's no reason to go below 98dBA (note the A) at 1W/1M and if possible with a graph showing the angular dispersion so you know where the sound is going to go! Check their SPL (sound pressure level) at their maximum continuous power (there will normally be a 3dBA difference) and the maximum SPL, assuming you're happy go with them.
  • If at all possible LISTEN to them playing the type of music you want at the volume you'll be using.
  • Work out how many watts you need to get the SPL you want from the speakers and double it. If this is higher than the maximum/peak power your proposed speakers will handle then start over and find some better speakers.
  • Unless you've gone for powered speakers then choose your Amp(s).
  • Your choice of speakers will dictate how much power you need from your amp to get the desired volume
  • Add at least 50% and any amp you choose should deliver this level of RMS power into the impedance of your chosen speakers (usually 8Ohm but sometimes 4Ohm.) In an ideal world you would choose the RMS rating of your amp to match the peak rating of your speakers, which will probably be double the continuous, and use a limiter to keep the RMS voltage to the speakers continuous rating.
  • Without getting too technical (as if I haven't already) you should make sure the amp has a decent slew rate and damping factor, if these are not shown on the specification the chances are you should avoid the amp, if they are shown damping > 200 at the speaker impedance you will be using and slew > 20v/μS will probably be fine. A good indicator is to look at a specification on, for example the Maplin's site, if it looks as sparse as this avoid the item. If you look at someone like EV - Electrovoice, Yamaha Professional or a similar reputable maker and see how much information you get, this is what you expect from someone with nothing to hide.
  • Find out what protection the amp has. Short circuit, overheat/thermal and overload are pretty much standard on any decent amp but you should also try to get over current, DC voltage and clip protection/limiters. And yes I do know that over current and overload should be the same thing but when you check the specifications, on some of the Chinese made amps at least, they are not!
  • Check the sensitivity of the amp, this should match that of the output of your driving device so you can use maximum gain on the amp and fully drive it from your mixer or whatever without going into clipping or running out of headroom.
  • Find out what the situation is with getting it repaired should it go wrong. Some amps use a lot of dedicated chips and surface mounted components and can normally only be repaired by their makers at exorbitant cost, We have a defunct Yamaha amp which was great whilst it worked but it was cheaper to buy a new (and easily repairable) amp from a good UK maker than get it fixed, never again! Technically brilliant, practically useless.
  • Well this started meaning to be a short piece about some poor thing who bought something not very well suited to his purpose and ended up being a long and boring article on amps and speakers. And I've only just touched the surface! Still if it helps one of you avoid some of the pitfalls I guess it's worth it. Running a Mobile Disco is not the easy task a lot of budding entrepreneurs think, and just choosing the right kit is an absolute minefield for the unwary. I always suggest a good rule of thumb is to look at what's on eBay and watch how many different people bid and what it sells for. This is a good indication of it's value. Some things will always buck the trend and there are bargains to be had, or lemons to be bought for over inflated prices, but in general if you watch long enough without being tempted you'll start to get an idea of what's in demand.

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