[Callers] How to "Ring out a (microphone) channel"

Mark R Dobyns Jones markrdjones at gmail.com
Thu May 7 21:00:28 PDT 2009

Speaking as a dance producer and sound mixer...

Everything is in proportion to the need of the moment and the current set-up.

It is worthwhile and fundamental to ring out a hall for rock concerts,
where the voice is often competing with extremely loud instruments,
and the producer/sound engineer needs to have as loud as possible
voice amplification, and feedback is a genuinely limiting factor in
voice  amplification.

It is not so common that contra dance sound approaches the limits of
feed-back levels, hence adjusting for the hall, by ringing out the
channel may or may not be all that significant, and it can be that the
contribution of either the hall or the speakers toward emphasizing
some particular set of frequencies is less significant than figuring
out the relationship between the current caller's voice,  microphone,
and sound system at hand.

And it can be quite useful to ring out channels for troublesome halls.
And even for non-troublesome halls. It matters in relation to many
other things too. Placement of the speakers, if they can be adjusted,
for example; also placement of the caller in relation to the speakers.

For Contra dance it may well be that adjustments made for a turned-up
channel and speaker system are helpful, but also may not be that
important. Further, it's an artistic and producer standard for the
music to be turned down in relation to the caller, when desirable, as
in a no-walk-through contra and for squares.

Can there be value in ringing out the hall and the caller's mike? Yes.
You can also end up with strange sounding vocals, because you may be
adjusting for a sound level you will never approach during the show.

Intelligibility, which can involve ringing out the channel, yet mostly
involves appropriately, as-needed reducing low-intelligibility
fundamentals, especially but by no means exclusively for male voices,
somewhere below about  700 or so hertz, and potentially slightly
boosting higher ranges, 1,500 hz to 4,000 or so, depending on the
voice, caller, hall, speaker location, monitor (if any), type of
speakers, the pointing of speakers, sound system, humidity, and so on.

The typical caller doesn't have a monitor, and the relationship with
the monitor is a primary starting point for feedback for musicians,
where ringing out the channel can really matter.

Caller technique, though, can have much more influence on intelligibility.

Does the caller have his mouth on the mic the whole time? Then the
bass-proximity effect of directional cardiod microphones will
emphasize the base end of the caller's voice, to great detriment of
intelligibility in higher frequencies, even if the caller's lows are
turned down radically.

If the same caller spoke from a foot away from the mic,
intelligibility can be improved many-fold, by reducing that
bass-proximity effect, and this alone can be far far more important
than adjusting the channel for the hall's reverberation on certain
frequencies, and a god deal quicker. Indeed, this could aid the caller
in challenging halls, if the sound person is not able to change the
difficulty, for whatever reason. Step back from the mic and speak up,
can be a useful strategy in such cases. (Recognizing the caller must
save her voice for the next performance too.)

Is the caller consistent in volume?
I can say that some callers are wildly inconsistent, by spurts loud,
and by spurts soft, or maybe they are punchy in voice, or perhaps
worse, loud on a walk through and soft when the music is played.  A
punchy voice which is loud and soft from phrase to phrase is quite
challenging for a sound person to adjust for. If turned up, then the
loud is booming. If compressed, by the sound system to squash the loud
and bring the soft up in volume, then the vivaciousness of the voice
can be quite flattened.

Does the caller enunciate clearly, with verve, enthusiasm, melody and joy?

Are words well chosen, and few in number so that the audience hangs on
every sound, instead of ignoring the caller because he talks too much,
or a conversely a challenge to understand because only every 3rd word
"counts" informationally?

These non-sound amplification aspects of the caller performance too
can be more important than technical sound efforts.


On Wed, May 6, 2009 at 9:42 PM, Will Loving
<will at dedicationtechnologies.com> wrote:
> A very knowledgeable pro audio person just gave me a mini-course on how to
> do basic sound setup for a mike, something I¹ve always wanted to know more
> about. At many dances there is a sound person who will do this for you but
> sometimes there isn¹t and this little bit of info may be of help. It
> certainly demystified things for me. I wrote this up and then edited it a
> bit more after getting his feedback. Others may have additional comments.
> How to ³Ring Out a Channel² for a microphone
> You overall goal is to adjust the sound coming out of the house speakers to
> get as much volume as you can without any Œringing¹ sound. Every room is
> different in terms of what frequencies it absorbs and reflects, so the
> necessary settings will differ from place to place. Different mikes will
> also require different settings. The adjustment described below can be done
> systematically and in just a few minutes.
> 1. Setting Initial Gain from the Mic (aka input level or ³trim²)
>> * Turn house volume (for your mike) completely down ­ usually the last knob or
>> slider
>> * Set all EQ controls to flat (middle position)
>> * Turn up Gain - usually the first control knob or slider for your microphone
>> Œchannel¹ - while speaking into mike until you see levels on the meter or the
>> clipping light flashes. Adjust gain to just below clipping or 0db (same thing)
>> depending on what kind of feedback ­ level meter or clipping light - is
>> available on the sound board.
> 2. Setting EQ (balancing the sound for the room by getting rid of the
> ringing)
>> * Turn up house volume on the mic channel until you hear a ringing along with
>> your voice
>> * Reduce level on first EQ slider/dial (often labeled Œhighs¹) to see if it
>> reduces or eliminates ringing. If it does, increase house volume again until
>> ringing is again apparent. If no change, reset to flat and go to next EQ
>> range.
>> * Reduce level on next EQ slider/dial to reduce/eliminate ringing. Increase
>> house volume again until ringing occurs.
>> * Repeat for each subsequent EQ range available on sound board ­ some may just
>> have highs, mids and lows, others may have multiple mid-range adjustments. You
>> may not need to adjust all the EQ¹s, e.g. the low frequency in particular,
>> just keep running up the volume and adjusting out the rings until you have
>> plenty of volume. Your objective is to get as much volume as you need for the
>> performance without ringing.
> 3. Fine-tuning: If time permits after you¹ve rung out the channel you can
> then play with the EQ to adjust for sound quality. Keep talking into the mic
> and make very subtle adjustments to the EQ until you get a smooth natural
> sound.
> Will Loving
> Amehrst, MA
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