Heavy Sound, Traveling Light

by Thomas S. Friedman
in Tips & Tricks
Swedish rockers HammerFall. Pontus Norgren is second from right.
Swedish rockers HammerFall. Pontus Norgren is second from right.

Rockers HammerFall find a portable monitoring solution

Heavy metal fans need no introduction to HammerFall. Founded in 1993 in Gothenburg, Sweden — the country’s second-largest city — this powerhouse has been delivering melodic metal ever since. Now, 10 albums later, the band shows no sign of slowing down.

Supporting HammerFall’s 2016 Built to Last release, the recent “Built to Tour” world tour of mid-sized venues kicked off in Quebec on April 20. The U.S. leg wrapped up on May 18 at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse, and this month the band moved on to a new string of shows in Europe.

Guitarist, backup singer and programmer Pontus Norgren came onboard in 2008 and added considerable technical experience, having served as FOH engineer for Thin Lizzy, Europe and Yngwie Malmsteen.

The entire monitoring rig fits within a 4U shock-mounted case. The stage router is Nowsonic. The console is Mackie DL32R.

‡‡         Issues and Answers

So when HammerFall wanted a compact, high-performance in-ear stage monitoring system, Norgren was positioned to make it happen. After considerable research, he selected the Mackie DL32R rack-mount digital mixer to serve as the heart of the system.

“The DL32R was right for us for several reasons,” Norgren asserts. “Our monitor system uses the KLANG:fabrik 3D personal monitor mixing system, which supports Dante. I went through more or less all the rack mixers with Dante to find the right one, and the DL32R had everything we needed.”

A colleague in Sweden with 10 Mackie DL32Rs insisted that Norgren check it out. “He said, ‘just try it because it sounds great,’” Norgren relates. “He’s using the DL32R for front of house and monitors and claimed it was rock solid and never failed. So I went to his shop, and we went through the features. When I saw how easy it was to patch and use the processing, I realized the DL32R was it.”

HammerFall’s monitor rig is deceptively compact, fitting in one 4U, shock-mount rack built by Sound of Silence, a Stockholm-based firm. The entire system, with cabling, weighs 57 pounds and is flyable. “We have to fly everywhere, and now we can always bring the monitor setup and have the sound we want,” observes Norgren. “We load the presets, we connect the monitor system, and it sounds the same each time.”

On the rear of the rack, the band’s drum mics, vocal mics and guitar and bass DI outputs connect to a pair of single-space 8-channel analog mic splitters. One split feeds the FOH console; the other goes to a Mackie DL32R with optional 32x32 Dante expansion card. The DL32R sends its outputs via Dante to the KLANG:fabrik, which feeds 3D-processed output to the in-ear transmitters.

The KLANG connects to a wireless router, allowing it to be controlled from several iPads. The DL32R can also be controlled from the iPads, using Mackie’s Master Fader app. All of the band members have iPads to mix their own monitors. Typically, they control monitor mix levels and 3D processing with the KLANG app and manage the DL32R’s EQ, compression, and effects with Master Fader, but they can manage levels with Master Fader if desired.

The KLANG:fabrik 3D monitoring processor mounts on the rear of the mixer rack case.

‡‡         Field Results

“Master Fader makes it easy for the band to mix their monitors,” Norgren confirms. “Joacim Cans, our singer, knows how to change the reverb and delay and tweak his compressor for different shows. He just does it; there are no questions. Oscar [Dronjak] didn’t like his guitar sound, so I opened up the EQ and told him to fool around a bit. I had saved his preset, so it didn’t matter if he messed up. Now he knows how to do it, and his guitar monitor sounds good. I told him, ‘You made it feel good, not me.’ He was so happy. Now the band has started to understand the signal flow and can help themselves. And the built-in RTA/Spectrograph is a great tool.”

Master Fader has made life easier for HammerFall’s techs, too. “On the recent tour, the main guitar tech was on stage left with the main iPad,” recalls Norgren. “On the other side, the other guitar tech and drum tech had his iPad. During soundcheck, we adjust our monitor mixes, and if something happens during the show, either tech can fix it.”

Another strength of the DL32R, per Norgren, is the complement of inputs and outputs. “We connect the KLANG and DL32R with Dante, so we still have all the DL32R outputs except the L/R mains, which I use for sidefills,” he says. “That gives us more than enough for wedges when we play huge stages at bigger festivals and need extra power. If we have guest artists, we can give them a wedge or stereo in-ear, and they get a great stereo mix from the DL32R. We also have all the inputs we need, with one channel left over.”

‡‡         The Verdict

The DL32R’s audio quality and reliability were clinchers for Norgren. “When I did my tests, the DL32R sounded the best when it came to effects, compressors, and gates,” he says. “And it really has been rock solid. We just turn it on, and it works. I’m blown away by how well it works. It’s amazing!”

Norgren is equally jazzed about the KLANG:fabrik 3D and the new territory it provides in terms of creating spatial awareness within monitor mixes, especially with the ease of using iPad control. “With the KLANG:App, you get to ‘move things around’ in your personal in-ear monitor mix. It’s not stereo, you move it somewhere else.”

Now having used 3D in-ear monitoring, it’s unlikely that Norgren will return to “old style” stereo. As he describes the experience, “It’s a new world. It’s not stereo — it is something else. Boom! I can hear. It becomes wide. It’s like I’m in the room!”

The HammerFall Setup

The HammerFall Setup

Guitars are sent to Kemper Profiling Amplifiers and the direct outs (along with the bass and drum feeds) are sent via analog XLRs to the Mackie DL32R mixer’s preamps. Analog splitters before the DL32R preamps send a split to the FOH console, which is not connected digitally to the monitor system and does not interfere with the monitor sound. A Dante out from the DL32R is used to send pre-processed signals with EQ and dynamics out of the rack mixer via Dante audio over IP to the KLANG:fabrik processor. A Wi-Fi router connects iPads running KLANG:app to KLANG:fabrik for instant remote control of the band’s 3D in-ear mixes.