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With Deke's encouragement, I'm starting a thread regarding sound equipment recommendations for live performance. 

  • What sound equipment does an a cappella group need, from the most basic, standard must-haves to the newest, cutting-edge vocal effects? 
  • What brands and models do you recommend? 
  • And for the more experienced...How do you use that equipment to produce your unique sound?

To kick things off, Clearly Vocal is looking to purchase some equipment soon, but our funds are limited, of course.  We think we need a graphic equalizer and/or vocal effects processor of some kind.  We would like to enhance our bass's "boominess" on certain songs as well as produce a distortion guitar effect.  What are your recommendations? 

Some of the products we have looked at recently include:

  • Behringer FBQ3102 (equalizer)
  • dbx 231 (equalizer)
  • dbx DriveRack PA+ (loudspeaker management system)
  • Boss DS-1 (distortion pedal)
  • Boss OC-3 (octave pedal)
  • DigiTech Vocal 300 (vocal effects pedal)
  • TC-Helican VoiceTone Create (vocal effects pedal)

Does anyone have any experience with any of these?

John Hodges


How cheap is cheap?

Before finding the toys to fit your group, what can they do already? While it's nice to plug in some fancy things that do X,Y, and Z, has Clearly Vocal had any experience using this hardware?

You can do a lot of magic with a simple SM57 mic(for VP stuff) or an SM58 (which is industry standard vocal mic) and a sound board. Playing around with the dials on basic sound boards and the way that the voice enters the mic can make a lot of neato effects without the fancy toys. A piece of wax paper on a mic? Use a plunger like a trumpet? If you're looking cheap, go for the standard mic and board setup, practice, and innovate.

sounds like sound

Shopping for sound is always so much fun!  Buying, on the other hand, not always as fun... unless it's someone else's money!

Do you already have your PA?  Mixer and speakers?  If you are looking for good sound, you should make sure you have a great mixer first, and solid, reliable, great-sounding speakers second.  Get those cheap and your sound is always going to sound cheap.

I agree with newmini: play around with what you've already got.  If you are not terribly sure what everything does, hire a pro sound guy to come in for an hour or two and talk you through the basics of mixing and EQ.  Best money you'll ever spend!

There are many great mics, and yes, you can sound great with SM58s.  SM57 generally not used for vp, since it has very limited low end response.  If you want extra 'boominess' for bass, you might consider looking for a more bass-suitable mic: a Shure Beta58a gives a different sound than SM58; there are many options: best to have your bass try as many out as you can.

As for specific equipment you ask about:

Behringer FBQ3102 (equalizer): the first lesson I was taught in sound was 'don't buy Behringer.'  Now, I have come across a couple Behringer products that work, but I've tried mixers, EQs, and speakers, and I won't use them.  

dbx 231 (equalizer): I carry one of these around to gigs to use if the house doesn't have their own EQ.  Solid, does the job.  Because it's stereo, you can EQ house and monitor sound if you're running mono.  Great way to suppress feedback and to shape the overall sound.  If you bring a sound guy in, have him/her work with you on this unit.  Also do your research so you know what frequencies make vocals pop.

dbx DriveRack PA+ (loudspeaker management system): overkill.  You probably don't need it.


  • Boss DS-1 (distortion pedal)
  • Boss OC-3 (octave pedal)
  • DigiTech Vocal 300 (vocal effects pedal)
  • TC-Helican VoiceTone Create (vocal effects pedal)

Do you need a lower octave for what you're doing?  Sounds like you do mostly vocal jazz.  If your bass is a real bass, his natural voice will sound plenty huge and warm if you have a good mic that he knows how to use, and a good sound system _with subwoofers_.  It can be a little tricky blending the octave with vocal jazz; heavy vp and loud stuff in rock/pop covers it up better.  

I've just started playing with the TC-Helicon line.  Haven't used it on stage, so I don't know what to think of it yet.  

Many people swear by one octave device or another; I've used many, and they all have their uses.  If you don't have a sound guy who knows what to do, I'd go for the OC-3.  You can figure out settings that work for you, and the pedal usually works better than an effects unit or an inside-the-mixer octave effect if the sound guy isn't running it.

If you are going to go for distortion, I think the Vocal300 will be a better choice.  Generally single pedals sound great alone with a guitar, but alone with voice sound funny.  The Vocal300 lets you put things in combination and edit the sound until it's good.  It also gives you a lot of other options: reverbs, delays, phasers, flanges, all kinds of bells and whistles.  Use them sparingly, like good spice in a sauce, and you can add depth to what you're doing.  

You'll want to have reverb and delay option in your signal chain.  Some good mixers have decent basic reverbs that will work.  Any pro sound guy you work with should have a good unit, and any large venue you play at will have one, so you don't nec. need to buy one of your own.  Communicate with them and they can give you a refined sound.

Sound is one of those areas where there are a zillion different opinions, just as many ways to do things, and the final answer is always _whatever makes you sound best_.  Ask around, talk to as many people as you can in person, watch other sound guys, learn as you go.  Good luck!



comments guys!  Keep them coming.

Here's what we already have:

  • Yamaha MG166cx (mixer)
  • Yorkville NX300 (2 speakers)
  • QSC RMX 2450 (amp)
  • Audio-Technica 3000 series wireless systems (5 condenser microphones)
  • Sennheiser ew300 IEM G2 wireless in-ear monitoring system (1 transmitter, 5 receivers)
  • SKB Mighty Gig Rig

Please feel free to comment on your experience with any of these products or offer recommendations for alternatives.

While we have a vocal jazz emphasis, we have a pretty wide variety of repertoire, which is what led us to begin exploring ways to enhance our sound on certain songs.

Tim mentioned subwoofers.  We don't have any.  What are your thoughts about subwoofers and how to use them?

I'd love to hear from some of you sound guys out there.  What is the ideal basic sound system for an a cappella group?  What else would you add?

John Hodges

John R. Hodges
General Manager, SINGTexas.org
Ambassador for Texas, CASA.org
Founder, ClearlyVocal.com 

Octave Pedal

I can only really comment on the octave pedal question. I have a Boss OC 2 pedal and I recently got an EBS Octabass. In my opinion the EBS is hands down the better pedal. Ask Rene Ruiz and he will tell you he has used the OC 2 with great success over the years. I found that the EBS tracks your voice extremely well whereas the OC 2 often got that sound like a teenager who hasn't passed puberty yet, especially when you are higher in your voice and doing faster moving bass lines. The EBS handles it all like a champ.

As for the OC 3, I have no experience with this pedal but I have heard that it has some improvements over the OC 2. The EBS goes for $149.99 on Musician's Friend which is where I got it.

I agree with Tim on figuring out what you really need. When you say expanding your sound, how far are you planning on straying from the Jazz? If you're just playing around a little bit and getting your feet wet, I don't think it is worthe it to get the distortion pedals. It takes a good bit of experimentation to get it to sound just right and it can be a complicated set up. I also agree that when a single voice goes through a distortion pedal, in my opinion it sounds a lot like a kazoo. What I found that helps to give you that thick, rock guitar sound you may want is to run multiple voices through one single pedal or effect unit. It can also be a tricky set up but in my experience with pedals in and out of the studio, it makes a huge difference. Then on top of that when you add the other effects that Tim mentioned, you can really get a realistic sound.

For guitar solos, I agree with Tim that you really need a unit that allows you to supplement the sound with other things that help to thicken up the sound so you can really rock out. You probably wanna compress the overall sound a little bit too to tighten things up.


I'll second Del's vote for

I'll second Del's vote for the EBS octabass.  It's the best sounding octave pedal when compared to the BOSS options.

Your system seems pretty strong.  An EQ might be good to add as a tool to control feedback on your system.

Tim is right, Behringer's reputation is dubious, however, you can find some good value in their gear, especially for live sound.  I like to take a peek at equipment racks at Live Music venues when I can, and I've seen Behringer gear in lots of places.  I reallly like the FBQ3102 unit you mentioned because of the cool little LEDs that light up on the slider when a frequency is ringing.  It makes it super easy to ring out your system, especially for those of us who don't have the experience to pinpoint frequencies or have the time to hunt around for the correct one.  You hear a ring, look at your rack, see the little light and notch out the offending frequency.  And, it's way more exact than a "feedback eliminator" which often cuts too wide a swath in the frequencies than necessary.  So I say, thumbs up on the FBQ3102.

As far as distortion goes, we had a fair amount of success with a POD Pro rackmount effects unit.  The pro unit is nice, because it has lots of input/output options that make patching it in easy.  It's not often easy to take an effect deigned for guitars and get it to play nicely with voices.  It also has a ton of different cabinet types and effects so you can have control and get exactly the sound you're going for.  And finally, it's controllable by a MIDI foot controller or POD floorboard, so you can recall settings from a distance.

A subwoofer is a huge help if you want to get that vocal band thump out of your VP and bass.  In our set-up we feed the subwoofer from a subgroup on our mixer.  We only route the bass octave effect and the VP's bass kick signal (we split the VP signal into three separate channels) into the subgroup that feeds the sub.  That way  only the sounds we want to have that "thump" get it, and we can control exactly how loud it is.  The other alternative is to just run your subwoofers inline between your mixer's outputs and your speaker's inputs.   Usually works fine, but you lose a little control.

Another option that you might want to consider for your system is a nice effects processor.  I know that you have some effects built in on your board, but there's nothing like a really nice reverb (especially for vocal jazz).  I think something with a really good reputation for quality reverbs might be a nice add.  The M One from TC electronics is a nice unit that's not too expensive.

Mike Henrickson
Cartoon Johnny

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