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How do I mix a Simmons analog drum synthesizer to be loud enough?

Discussion in 'Live Sound [BG]' started by bovine mind, Apr 10, 2010.


  1. bovine mind

    bovine mind

    Jun 17, 2008
    San Francisco
    My loud three piece heavy psych / ambient / doom metal band uses an old Simmons SDS 400 analog drum synthesizer module. We trigger the kick, floor tom, and high tom. I can't think of many bands that have tried to use analog drums sounds in heavy rock oriented music. While intriguing, it's been harder than thought to get it to sound decent with everything.

    The kick is dialed in on the brain to add a very low, fat, subby punch to be tucked under everything. The floor tom is fairly low and deep as well, but set up to be a bit higher than the kick. The high tom is reminiscent of that classic Simmons "beeew!" sound. Think Phil Collins on a metal kit with a double kick.

    As for what it has to compete with, my bass is droptuned and my "clean" tone is midly overdriven and heavy on the lows and low mids, and I use octave down, low pass filter effects and copious fuzzs. We're aiming for the bass and drums to sound as synthy and huge as possible, meaning overwhelming, punchy low end. The guitar is droptuned to C as well and is fairly shoegazey. Of course this means we end up invading each other in the frequency spectrum from time to time, but in our rehearsals we've found a good balance between everything.

    In our practice space we run the Simmons 1/4" mix out into the preamp inputs of a powered mixer and send the outputs into the inputs of a power amp to 1x18 and 2x15 PA cabinets. It sounds pretty good and makes for a very dense, full body practice.

    Live, has been very underwhelming. We can't seem to get the Simmons loud enough to be heard in the monitors or in the house. The only sound we can hear is the high tom. The soundguys have used the mix out of the Simmons > DI box. We're also trying not to add anymore cabs to drag around, so bringing our own sound system to the venue is kinda out of the question. Anyone have any suggestions?
     
  2. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    There are a few approaches. One is simply boosting the output before it hits the DI box. A clean boost pedal is the ticket, or any small preamp.

    Another is to notch frequencies between you, the guitarist, and the machine. Obviously each of you wants to occupy as much range as possible, but for live projection sometimes sacrifices must be made. Bear in mind that the rap groups and techno tracks that rely on the 808 kick boom very often don't have a bass guitar, or at least no bass notes conflicting with the 808 boom.

    Another trick is something that has worked very well for me and for countless hordes of techno beatmakers: a distortion pedal. Distortion can make electronic beats sound huge, and they cut through a lot better too.

    One more? An expander. It's the opposite of a compressor, it increases the dynamic range of the signal going through it. Perfect for making those electronic beats more intense and punchy.
     
  3. bovine mind

    bovine mind

    Jun 17, 2008
    San Francisco
    I was thinking about the boost before DI idea. This is basically what we are doing in our practice space, I have to max both channels on my power amp going to the speakers in order to get the brain loud enough to be heard and felt over my bass, which brings me to the notch frequencies idea. Most of the songs are bass driven, and I have to admit I'm not too willing to EQ out the tone I've struggled so hard to nail, especially when every venue will be different than the practice space.

    Are there any small cheaper boost or expander pedals you'd recommend?

    As for distortion, given this is a metal band, I use a good helping of fuzz and OD as does the guitarist, and I'd like the drum sounds to be loud in as a clean a manner as possible. I understand there is only so much room in the sonic spectrum, so we might have to give up some the precious low end in order to achieve a good loud mix.
     
  4. kalle74

    kalle74

    Aug 27, 2004
    Sub-lows eat up a whole lot of headroom on any system, and are next to incontrollable in some acoustics, turning into mud. Maybe you should re-consider "overwhelming". It could be simply too much lows...
     
  5. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    For boost pedals, the market is flooded with them. The EHX LPB-1 is a popular cheap option, and you can also use many common EQ pedals as a clean boost by setting the EQ controls flat and only turning up the output level control. An added bonus with the EQ pedal is it could help you experiment with notching the frequencies.

    For expanders, the choices are more limited. EHX does make a bass expander pedal called the Steel Leather (how awesome is that?), but it only operates on a certain frequency range, so I don't know how well it will work with the snare and tom sounds. EHX has also made other expander pedals in the past, but they are a bit hard to find. Most of the expanders I know of are found in rackmount vocal channel strips. Actually, if you would be willing to live with it being rackmount (and not so cheap), a channel strip like that would be ideal, because it would incorporate expansion, EQ, clean boost, and hiss reduction.

    Another idea that came to me is gating. Not typical noise gating that sort of "fudges" open and closed, but a hard gate that snaps open and closed. One of the things about many analog drum sounds is they have kind of a soft attack, which can make them sound weaker in the mix. If you hard-gate them, they become aggressive and precise; it will sound weird and fakey by itself, but in the type of mix you are describing, it will cut through like sniper fire. Almost all pedal-format noise gates are not capable of this hard attack and release. The one exception I can think of is the TC Nova Dynamics, and it costs just as much as a rackmount unit. Instead, look for a used rack unit and make sure it has controls over attack, release, and threshold. Without those controls, you can't get the effect I'm describing. FWIW the threshold control might be labeled some other name--for some reason many manufacturers like to confuse customers by calling the threshold control some other random name.
     
  6. D.A.R.K.

    D.A.R.K. Supporting Member

    Aug 20, 2003
    Virginia
    in the world of sub bass production, often subtle distortion is added to achieve harmonic content that brings definition to the sub tracks...
    (not unlike like overtones being more powerful than the fundamental of the bass guitar).
    not necessarily super fuzz or anything, but something to add character to the overtones, or create more overtones....
    a clean sine can be easily lost in the mix described...
     
  7. bovine mind

    bovine mind

    Jun 17, 2008
    San Francisco
    Very true. I do this with my bass, My Boss OC-2 sounds better when fed a nice hot signal boosted from the limiter I put in front of it, as does my low pass filter. If I use a boost pedal the Simmons with probably benefit from the effects of harmonic overtones.
     
  8. bovine mind

    bovine mind

    Jun 17, 2008
    San Francisco
    On a similar note, is there anything the sound person should be doing specifically? Especially, should they be using a different input to their board besides a DI? What I can't figure out is why a synthesizer or vocals would be fine to amplify and sound perfectly loud, but my drum brain isn't.

    If I could suggest something other than a DI to use for the sound person, maybe I might have better luck?
     
  9. bovine mind

    bovine mind

    Jun 17, 2008
    San Francisco
    I just watched a clip of the Steel Leather [ name certainly applies to this band, hah ], I can see how this would would help the tone punch through, especially as the problems are amplifying the low tom and kick drum sounds, which occupy more of the spectrum of a bass guitar.

    I'd actually prefer a rack unit, I have some extra space in my rack and hate having to add more pedals with all the gear we drag around. A set it and forget rack unit would be great. Any user friendly "so simple a metalhead could use " units you could recommend for under $200 used?

    Also, perhaps I should add a power amp to the rack expander as a way to both amplify the signal and fine tune it?
     
  10. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    Is the DI you're using active or passive?
     
  11. bovine mind

    bovine mind

    Jun 17, 2008
    San Francisco
    I have no idea, and have never thought to ask. What effect would active or passive DI's have when connected to the mix out of the Simmons?
     
  12. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    Passive DI's drop the signal level by about 12 dB, which is a significant amount if (a) the output of the instrument is kinda low, and (b) the preamp in the mixer channel doesn't have much clean gain available. Passive DI's are only good for instruments with strong output, or feeding into mixers with powerful preamps.
     
  13. D.A.R.K.

    D.A.R.K. Supporting Member

    Aug 20, 2003
    Virginia
    i would think that the simmons would have plenty of juice for a passive di if it is running normally, at line level.
    i've had some limited experience with the vintage units, mixing bands who used them like ultra bide as well as playing with a drummer who had a single rack simmons mind unit he triggered with his kick.
    there should be nothing difficult about getting this in a mix properly,
    as long as the system has enough power....
    you do seem to be stacking up some pretty heavy signals on top of each other...
    perhaps you should try running the unit directly into a small mixer,
    just to see how much gain it's capable of, and to make sure it is working properly.
     
  14. bovine mind

    bovine mind

    Jun 17, 2008
    San Francisco
    Ah, makes good sense. I think I'm going to try the rack gate approach with a boost pedal, and request an active DI when avail. As this clip illustrates, the Simmons has to compete with quite a bit, although we're working on lowering our overall stage volume and adjusting the way we EQ around each other as we've just started playing out live:

     
  15. bovine mind

    bovine mind

    Jun 17, 2008
    San Francisco
    I run the Simmons into a powered mixer + power amp at our rehearal space to 1x18 and 2x15 PA cabinets. It sounds alright, but could use more juice, as I have to crank the levels on the mixer and the power amp.

    Should I use a powered or unpowered mixer live? If unpowered, how would that make a difference?
     
  16. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    "Powered" means it has a stereo power amp inside, for driving speakers. So the difference is in the power ratings of its power amp versus whatever other power amp you use. The powered output of a mixer does not get fed into an external power amp, ever--unless you want to let out all the magic smoke.
     
  17. bovine mind

    bovine mind

    Jun 17, 2008
    San Francisco
    It's the preamp outputs of the powered mixer that are going into the inputs on the power amp. I guess what I'm asking is if it's more beneficial to use a powered or unpowered mixer for this purpose at venues, and what output I should use on the mixer to feed into an active DI?
     
  18. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    Stop. Re-read what I wrote. Think about it.
     
  19. bovine mind

    bovine mind

    Jun 17, 2008
    San Francisco
    Not seeing what point you're trying to make.
     

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