ClearSonic IsoPac A Review

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As seen earlier in the blog, we received our drum isolation booth.  I figured I would put up a review on it here.

At North Ridge Community Church we have a very nice acoustic Pearl Custom drum set.  The kit sounds really great and with our drummers they can really make it come alive.  The problem is, that our drum set sits so far forward on the stage, the congregation gets a full ear of drums.  Also to make this a bit more problematic, we mic the drums and put them through the PA.  So when listening to the worship set while in the room your ears hear not only the kit sound but also the sound from the PA.  This makes the sound a bit muddy and hard to decipher where to listen.

Other issues of the acoustic set, is that the stage monitors had to be loud enough to let the musicians hear themselves.  Adding into this, we have a choir that sings in our traditional service.  The choir microphones picked up a LOT of drums and not much choir.  Because of this I had to place 6 microphones onstage to close mic the choir, as you may know, every mic added lowers your gain before feedback in a live situation.  This was problematic for us as we couldn’t get enough volume out of the choir before feedback would induce.

Enter ClearSonic IsoPac A!  This shipped in via 8-9 boxes, the heaviest being 116 lbs!  After opening up all of the boxes and recycling those it was time to build the booth.  The clearsonic panels come assembled and ready to fold out to surround the drums.  They ship with a paper protective cover that you need to peel off.  The manual states that once the paper is removed from the panels you cannot return it anymore.  After removing the paper from the main shield and the upper set of shields you need to place some plastic connectors to attach the upper to the lower set of clearsonic panels.  I got an extra helper to aid me at this point.

After getting all of the clearsonic panels built it was time to setup their “sorber” panels that go behind the drum set.  Once those were in place I moved the drum set into place.  Following the drum set was to wrap the clearsonic shield around the front and sides of the drums.  The sorber lids go on top being supported by two telescoping metal support bars.  Sorber panels attach via Velcro stickies to the clearsonic panels.  After adding the final touch of a fan to keep the drummer cool you are finished!

 

There is plenty of space within the booth.  It is quoted to be 7 ft wide, 9 ft long and 6.5ft in height.  Because it is a booth that you setup yourself you can fit it into any shape you need to.

Aesthetically it is beautiful.  This is the nicest looking booth I have seen.  Most of the booths that you see are pretty atrocious.  ClearSonic offers this in a light grey and a dark grey version for the sorber panels.  I decided the dark grey to match our color scheme of the church.

 

Cable routing is easy, there are small 45 degree cutouts between each clearsonic panel.  Also there is the space between the sorber panels and the clearsonic shield.  Along the same topic with cable routing, depending on how much stuff your drummer has setup in there, I found there is plenty of room for normal microphone stands.

Cooling is a large problem and concern with drummers and isolation booths.  The IsoPac A is NOT fully sealed off.  The back part of the booth has about a 1.5ft gap between the roof and the rear sorber panels.  This space as well as a fan makes it quite nice inside.  I added one more fan sitting on the ground to point up towards my drummer.

Upon walking into the booth and closing the sorber panel behind you, it gets very quiet, to the point where if someone is talking outside the booth, you can’t hear them unless they yell.  Playing drums inside the booth is pleasing, the sorber panels do their job of absorbing a lot of the reflections inside of the booth.

Volume savings are amazing.  Before the booth our drum set in the congregation and onstage would get to 95dB easy.  After installing the IsoPac A the dB level is at 70-75dB.  AMAZING!  Onstage we had to put the drums into the monitors for the musicians to keep on time.  Overall stage volume lowered as we were able to drop the volume on the stage monitors.

The choir no longer complains about the drums being too loud on stage.  And I have been able to reduce to 4 microphones for the choir which has allowed me to get 6dB more gain out of the system for the choir.  The bleed into the choir mics has reduced tremendously.

My only complaint about the booth is that it is dark.  To compensate for this we added a small halogen parcan inside to light up the drummer.

Overall for less than $2k getting the benefits of this drum isolation booth was amazing.  Very much worth the cost for this.  Aesthetically pleasing and with huge volume savings are the biggest pros with this.  ClearSonic makes other sizes and products to aid in lower stage volume and isolation of instruments.  Check them out online at http://www.clearsonic.com.

 

Drum Isolation Booth Installed

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Yesterday some goodies arrived at the church for me. We ordered a Clearsonic Isopac A drum isolation booth from John at Muzeek World. It shipped in multiple boxes the heaviest being 116 lbs!

Setting it up was pretty simple, the most tedious part was removing the paper protection on each of the clear panels. It took two people to get the main shield upright to attach the vertical riser parts. It took us a total of about an hour to get it all setup including moving the drum set in there.

Overall space inside is great. Plenty of room to get the drums setup in there as well as a bit of room to squeeze around to place microphones.

I will be taking some dB readings today at practice to see how much different the drum volumes are on stage and in the congregation. I will revise this post after I get those readings. I imagine there will be a significant lowering in dB on the stage allowing for lower monitor volumes. Drummer inside the booth will be on headphones.

One of the main complaints of our traditional service is that the drums are too loud, and that the choir onstage gets blasted with the drums. Before this booth we had a small drum shield which mildly helped. My complaint is that the drums bled so much into the choir mics that I would get more drum overhead going into the choir mics than I wanted. So I am excited to mix with this booth.

For now here are some photos. By the our church is just finishing up a food drive, so that is why there is a bunch of peanut butter and stuff on the stage.

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“Vocals are the most important, so I’ll start with the Drums”

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I heard this saying a long time ago and I love it and still say it to this day.  “The vocals are the most important part of my mix, so I will start with the drums.”  The way you approach mixing may differ from mine, but I think of audio as a triangle.  Just like the food industry thought up the food group triangle, I am going to make one for you here for audio.

First and foremost, we have the Drums & Bass at the bottom of the triangle making a very good – sorry for the pun – base.  Next the keyboard and piano would go, some of the other backing instruments for fills could either go in this level or the next up.  Then acoustic & electric guitar on the next step up.  Then at the very top there is the vocals, which is what most listeners are primarily hearing.  When someone walks away from a show, not many people (excluding drummers and sound guys) will say “that is the best kick drum I have ever heard” most of the listeners will say “man xyz vocalist was great today.  The idea behind this is if you have a bad mix on any one of these levels the one above it will not be supported correctly.

Enough theory; lets get into some changes.  At North Ridge Community Church, NRCC, we have an acoustic Pearl Session Custom drum kit, in front of that we have a plexy drum shield which helps a little for the front row of our worship center.

Next come the drum microphones… this is where it is lacking big time.  We had some off brand microphones that were made by Audio-Technica.  There is no data on the mics and they honestly sounded horrible the way they were set up.  We had a mic on the Snare, Hi Tom, Low Tom and Kick.  I started with the kick drum and pleaded for two microphones to be purchased, working with a budget that was far too exhausted for the year is tough when trying to get funds for microphones.  I settled on the Shure Beta 91A and the Shure Beta 52A and they got approved.

From http://www.microhone-data.com. Here is the specs of the Shure Beta 91A.

From http://www.microhone-data.com. Here is the specs of the Shure Beta 52A.

I place the Beta 91A inside the drum on a small towel and the Beta 52A is just inside the sound hole of the front head pointed a bit off center from the beater.  The combination of these two microphones is amazing.  You can really hear the body and natural sustain of the kick with these mics.  Here is a recording of a resent Sunday at NRCC worship song is called Happy Day:

Next, I grabbed an SM57 out of our amp room and switched out the no-name mic on the snare drum, this made a great difference as the SM57 is an awesome mic for the toms or snare drum.  My placement is having the rear of the microphone pointed at the hi hat to reduce bleed from the hi hat (cardioid microphone pattern).  I put the mic about an inch above the top head and an inch or two in from the rim pointed down toward the center of the bottom head.

From http://www.microhone-data.com. Here is the specs of the Shure SM57.

Next was the hi tom, with the old no-name microphone on there. I compared an SM57 with it, but I liked the sound of the older microphone there.  I just changed the placement a bit.  Placement is an inch above the top head, inch in from the rim, angled down pointed closer to the mic than the center of the bottom head.

Floor tom, we replaced with a Sennheiser e906 with the switches set to normal.  This is about two inches away from the top head about two inches in from the rim, pointed down toward the center of the bottom head.

From http://www.microhone-data.com. Here is the specs of the Sennheiser e906.

Lastly, there was no microphone on the overhead.  While in some venues you can get away with this, I want my main source of audio being from one point source.  We have a mono system so there is no use for stereo panning, but when your mind hears the same audio coming from two different places it does tricks.  So I added a AKG SE300B with the AKG CK91 capsule on it.  It is a small diaphragm condenser mic that we had in the back room which sounds really nice as an overhead.  Because we have a mono system in our worship center we do not need a stereo mic setup for the overheads.  I have the single overhead about 1/2 ft above the cymbals and equidistant between the kick and snare.

From http://www.microhone-data.com. Here is the specs of the AKG CK91.

Up at the FOH we have two DBX 1064’s which are quad channel compressors.  I decided to put two of the channels on the snare and kick running a pretty high compression ratio getting about 8dB of gain reduction on peaks of the snare with a limiter just incase our drummer decides to do a bunch of rim shots.  The kick drum is running about 8-10dB of gain reduction with no limiter.  I wish I had controls over the attack and release however the DBX compressors are doing just fine.

Overall, the drums have improved tremendously in comparison to before.  The drum set could use a new set of heads, our church budget is renewed in a month or so.  In the room, the kick drum is filling the room quite a bit more and really sounds great.

Spending a few practices trying different microphones out, changing mic positions, adding compressors and tweaking EQ settings can really make a huge difference.  I will say this time and time again, if you are coming into a church as a new lead engineer do not take anything for granted, check every mic cable, every microphone, just make sure that everything is setup the way it should be.

Drew Brashler