Mike Grace, Grace Designs, Boulder, Colorado, takes his new surround sound "Spacebar" to Red Rocks Amphitheatre for four nights of tracking Phish in 5.1 surround using five Sennheiser MKH 8040 cardioid condensers feeding a Grace m802 preamplifier along with their A/D converters.
MORRISON, COLORADO - SEPTEMBER 2009: Phish concerts are legendary. With other bands, you go to the show to listen to them play your favorite album tracks. With Phish, you listen to the album tracks to remember going to your favorite shows.
After an extended hiatus, Phish surfaced for a hugely anticipated round of concerts this summer, including four days at Colorado's ethereal Red Rocks Amphitheatre. It was the perfect opportunity for Michael Grace, principal of Grace Design, to try out his prototype surround sound "Spacebar," a multi-channel version of the company's successful stereo Spacebar. To adorn his beloved prototype, Grace added three Sennheiser MKH 8040 cardioid condensers to his personal stereo pair and amplified them through a Grace
M802 multichannel preamp with A/D conversion. The fidelity and imaging of the resulting recording is worthy of the band's talent, their fans' ardor, and the beauty of Red Rocks.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre is located fifteen miles outside of Denver in Morrison, Colorado, and has been hosting concerts for over a century. The stage, built during the Great Depression with help from the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Projects Administration, is nestled between huge sandstone outcroppings that are as visually stunning as they are acoustically unique. "Red Rocks has its own acoustic flavor," said Grace.
"It's an ideal venue for capturing a unique surround sound image. And, of course, Phish is pretty much the ideal band to capture live!"
When he's not designing world-class amplification and conversion systems, Grace lends his multiple talents to sound system design, recording, and general tinkering with all things audio. A recent obsession has been precise stereo and surround sound image capture, with inspiration from the wealth of data collected on various techniques by Michael Williams at his website, www.mmad.info. The stereo Spacebar now offered by Grace Design is the first fruit of that labor. It uses precision components with integrated calibration that allow users to precisely set the distance and angle between any two mics.
The surround-sound (or Decca Tree!) Spacebar is a natural extension of the concept. It gives the user complete control over the angles and spatial positioning of five microphones. Calibration of those angles and distances makes the setup precise and repeatable. Grace suggested the idea of capturing Phish in surround at Red Rocks to Kevin Shapiro, the band's archivist. Shapiro was excited at the prospect and cleared the way for Grace to spend all four nights at an ideal location ten feet in front of the FOH position.
With the plan in place, Grace needed five cardioid microphones. "I'm a big fan of the Sennheiser MKH 800," he said. "For years, that's been my 'desert island' mic of choice. I was excited to hear that Sennheiser was coming out with the MKH 8000 series." He used the MKH 8050, a hyper-cardioid version, for a smaller concert hall as part of a permanent recording system and loved the results. He used a pair of MKH 8040s to record the summer music festival at Colorado College. He said, "I was so blown away! I hardly needed the highlight mics at all. After that, I went out and bought my own pair. They have all the great characteristics of the Sennheiser MKH 800, but in a small, affordable package."
Sennheiser loaned him three MKH 8040s to complete his set. Grace arranged the microphones according to the recommendations on Williams' website. For the first two nights the front triplet was spaced 95 centimeters with the left and right mics at +/- 70 degrees. The center mic was 24 centimeters forward from the left-right pair. The rear mics were facing rearward, 55 centimeters back from the center mic, and spaced 32 centimeters with a 60-degree angle between them. An alternate configuration was used for the second two nights. Had he relied on conventional mic clips and stands, his microphone arrangement would have been less precise and much more cumbersome to set up. With the Spacebar, the whole setup was easy.
Grace synchronized his Grace M802 preamp and A/D converter to Phish's Pro Tools system, which is used to archive all of the direct channels and which may be used for highlighting. Grace is more than satisfied with the results, which reveal detailed imaging and sonic purity that, on a good playback system, can transport the listener back to the very spot at Red Rocks where the Spacebar and its five Sennheiser MKH 8040s stood.
Sennheiser is a world-leading manufacturer of microphones, headphones and wireless transmission systems. Established in 1945 in Wedemark, Germany, Sennheiser is now a global brand represented in 60 countries around the world with U.S. headquarters in Old Lyme, Connecticut. Sennheiser's pioneering excellence in technology has rewarded the company with numerous awards and accolades including an Emmy, a Grammy, and the Scientific and Engineering Award of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.