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KLANG: A Real-Life Fairy Tale

Suzi Spangenberg • Company 411June 2019 • June 17, 2019

KLANG founders in 2019: CMO Dr. Pascal Dietrich, CEO Dr. Roman Scharrer and CTO Benedikt Krechel. Photo: Suzi Spangenberg

Once upon a time there was a German metal guitarist who wasn’t satisfied with the sound of his in-ear mix, so decided to fix the problem. He went to college, partnered with some fellow students, and together, they created KLANG. Audio was never the same. The End.

By now, it’s likely you are aware of KLANG:technologies, the company that developed a 3-D immersive in-ear monitoring system (I-IEM) that has been generating a buzz since it first hit the market in 2015. That buzz intensified when audio giant DiGiCo acquired KLANG in December 2018 making it clear that KLANG’s future was secure. Less than six months later, DiGiCo announced that KLANG is now fully integrated into its SD series of consoles.

‡‡         Beginnings

The development of KLANG’s I-IEM system does sound a bit like the stuff fairy tales are made of. Our hero — in this case KLANG CMO Pascal Dietrich — went on a quest to solve the puzzle of how to make his muddy stereo in-ears mix sound more… real. While he had a strong understanding of acoustics and signal processing, he knew he needed more electrical engineering education to solve the problem. He went to RWTH Aachen University in Germany to develop those skills, which is where he met fellow music lovers and future KLANG CEO Roman Scharrer and KLANG CTO Benedikt Krechel, whose strong interest in hardware, circuit design and audio processing was exactly what they needed. Along the way, Dietrich and Scharrer earned their PhDs.

The three rented a small office at the University where they started assembling and testing prototypes of what would become the first KLANG:fabrik unit. It was out of an inability to fulfill the demand for demo units that their much-lauded user interface was born. “We didn’t have enough demo units to ship around,” Dietrich says. They knew there was going to be a lot of interest, and by creating the KLANG APP, anyone interested could preview it. “We sat together with musicians, showed them the APP and using their input, refined it and made it very easy to use.” (You can experience the demo for yourself at www.klang.com.)

‡‡         What It Is

KLANG’s technology must be heard to be believed. In the October 2015 issue of FRONT of HOUSE, Vince Lepore said “KLANG:fabrik is one of the most unique pieces of equipment that I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing.” For those not yet familiar with KLANG:fabrik, quite simplified, it is a Dante-enabled hardware unit that runs proprietary software that takes incoming digital or analog audio signals and applies sound object modeling to provide panning, creating binaural hearing result. As long as each ear is isolated (via headphones), it can provide an excellent representation of 3-D audio. The difference between an IEM stereo mix and KLANG’s immersive mix is profound. KLANG’s I-IEM does an impressive job of recreating sound the way we naturally hear it.

“It works instantaneously and gives you the feeling like you’re surrounded by sound rather than [it being] inside your head where you can’t distinguish what it is,” says Dietrich. “This is what musicians want. They want to have a full mix. They want to be immersed. But you want to have control over it.” KLANG provides that control, allowing you to place instruments based on priority. “For example, with drummers, it might be important to have a click track and bass line prioritized. For a singer, other instruments might be important. With our technology, we can place something in front of you and it appears important and you can easily listen to it and focus on it without it having to be louder. So rather than mixing with levels, it becomes mixing in terms of placement. You get a very transparent and full mix.”

KLANG CTO Benedikt Krechel is constantly pushing the envelope of immersive performance tools.

‡‡         Fringe Benefits

Audiotonix CEO and DiGiCo managing director James Gordon agrees, saying “I think the software is really easy to use and also obviously, there’s the audio difference. What we weren’t expecting was that the mixes were on average getting turned down 6 to 10 dB, which is huge if you’re working for an hour and a half to two hours. That’s a massive reduction of sound pressure on your eardrum.”

Monitor engineer Becky Pell, who is currently out on tour with Westlife, confirms this. “When you’re listening in stereo — no matter how good the mix is — by the end of the night, you’re ready to take your in-ears out as there’s a level of fatigue both on your physical hearing and on your brain. It’s just not there when using KLANG. [With KLANG] there’s nothing for your brain to sort out… it has heard everything as if you didn’t have in-ears in.”

Pell talked about using KLANG while working with Jeff Wayne on his musical adaptation of The War of the Worlds. “It was a huge amount of inputs with an orchestra, nine-piece band, and various guest artists, as well as a lot of track effects. A hell of a lot of stuff to get into the mix. KLANG arrived at the right time. The spaciousness of the experience allows a huge amount of information in the form of inputs and never feels crowded because you have this huge sphere of space around your head instead of it being crammed into the linear space between your ears. I knew immediately that I wanted it for Jeff’s mix because he wants to hear his creation as faithfully reproduced as possible. I knew KLANG would allow me to do that and he absolutely loved it. There was no way I could have done it without KLANG.” Pell goes on to say, KLANG is “as much of a game changer as the evolution from analog to digital decks. That’s a big statement to say, it’s a real bold claim, but I really think it is.”

Parnelli award winner Kevin “Tater” McCarthy has used KLANG on tours with Linkin Park, Stone Temple Pilots and Mike Shinoda — among others. McCarthy calls it a “really significant innovation in audio” and a “huge game changer,” stating KLANG is “not only a great way to add separation, space and width to your IEM mixes, it is also the most versatile personal mixer I have ever used.” McCarthy also cited the reduced ear fatigue as a top benefit, saying “I was able to bring the levels way down and [artists] all like that. Definitely everybody likes a quieter mix. It also helps to bring consistency, which is important in being successful at mixing monitors.” When asked about reliability, McCarthy states “No matter how great any product is in the live audio field, pieces have got to be reliable and you’ve got to have great service. KLANG delivers that. To me that’s number one and these guys are passionate about their product.” In terms of KLANG’s impact on audio? McCarthy emphatically states “Stereo is the new mono. When you listen to KLANG mixes in your IEMS, it is that dramatic of a difference.”

Like McCarthy, Hammerfall guitarist Pontus Norgren (also an FOH engineer who’s worked with (Thin Lizzy, Twisted Sister and others) jumped on board early. “The first time I heard the immersive in-ear mix with KLANG I thought ‘Wow! This is amazing!” Calling it the “most ‘wow’ situation he has ever experienced in audio,” Norgren says that Hammerfall have used KLANG for three U.S. tours, three European tours, and three festival tours. “It’s reliable and rock-solid all the time. Prior to KLANG, we used to have phase shifting issues. Now we have none,” he states. “KLANG makes you a better musician. With stereo, the sound got mushy. It became so compressed. With KLANG, our backup vocals are on pitch and the vocals don’t collide. You hear everything perfectly. The sweet spot follows you wherever you go.”

Norgren then spoke about an unexpected effect of using KLANG “We’ve never sounded this good — ever,” Norgren said emphatically. “We don’t waste energy after the show dissecting what was bad about the mix. Normally when you go off stage, you’re angry with yourself about the way something sounded and talk about all the problems and what went wrong. With KLANG, instead of putting energy into finding problems, we put energy toward what’s working and being more creative. KLANG has improved the actual relationship of the band. It has revolutionized audio.”

Beck and System of a Down monitor engineer Pasi Hara making a few pre-show tweaks to his KLANG rig.

Pasi Hara, monitor engineer for Beck and System of a Down cites KLANG’s flexibility and ease of use as reasons why it is now a go-to piece of gear. “With KLANG, there’s no fighting frequencies like guitars and vocals. [Before KLANG] Slash singer Myles Kennedy had a full band mix up with vocals on top, but it was so loud on stage that we could hear his mic everywhere he went. We used KLANG and put everything behind him and the vocal in front and he said ‘Right, you can turn that vocal down.’ I was like, ‘hold on, you’re the lead singer. You’re not supposed to say that!’ He went down 9 dB. That totally cleaned up the mix.”

Hara goes on to say “It’s up to you how you design the system. You can have multiple users controlling their own mixes and you can also move the whole group. I can allocate the DSP, so I can have up to 16 users with 12 inputs and go back to one user with 56 inputs. It is really flexible. It will work on any iOS device, Android, Mac or PC. You can have multiple controllers in the system — as many as your network Wi-Fi supports. They haven’t found a limitation yet.” When asked if he could think of any reason an artist would want to go back to stereo after using KLANG, Hara paused, and then slowly shook his head. “I don’t know. I can’t think of any.”

But don’t fairy tales need a dragon? Not one person I spoke with could cite a single thing to be critical of. The one very slight exception, if you could call it that, was Pell who stated “The only thing I’ve wanted was to be able to give it to more than one user in a completely seamless way. Now with this new integration you’re able to give it to anybody on the stage and you’re not going to have to set it up because it’s ready — just ticking in the background, so there’s really nothing I don’t like about it. It’s fantastic.”

DiGiCo offers full integration of KLANG processing into its SD series consoles.

‡‡         New Directions

I asked if the technology was now exclusive to DiGiCo consoles. Gordon replied, “I think the level of integration with DiGiCo will always be slightly better because the two platforms are now very closely linked. [However] we’re not trying to make this exclusive to DiGiCo. There is an OSC connection between DiGiCo and KLANG as well as some dedicated S/W at both ends to make it integrate seamlessly. There are connections to other console brands via MIDI and we are always open to discussing more. Clearly, the relationship with DiGiCo is very special, but that doesn’t exclude others.”

Perhaps the dragon is adapting to the new technology. How long does it take for artists? The answers were consistent “Sound check,” says Dietrich. “As soon as they hear it,” reports McCarthy, who goes on to say “they are sold on it after the first time they use it and demand it be used all the time. I have to make sure it’s on the rider.”

Team KLANG at Prolight+Sound 2015, (L-R): Benedikt Krechel, Markus Ganzmann, Roman Scharrer,
Phil Kamp, Markus Pesc, Pascal Dietrich, Rolf Hering, Malik Dirim, Bernd Kopin, Robin Müller

‡‡         Happily Ever After?

And so while the story of KLANG does sound like a fairy tale, their products are very much rooted in reality. And what of future quests? Gordon hints that there will be many more chapters to come, calling Krechel a “Jr. Mr. Stadius” and that their plans likely will be to “widen the products and the brand out to a wider audience.”

I suppose in this case it is fair to say that everyone using KLANG gets to live happily every after.

 

KLANG:fabrik Tech Details

The flagship KLANG:fabrik hardware, shown here with KLANG:app remote controller running on an iPad.

  • Analog Outputs: 16 balanced line-level outs
  • Inputs: Up to 56
  • I/O Options: MADI BNC (64×64); 64×64 channel Dante; 32×32 ADAT lightpipe
  • Word Clock: Input/Output
  • AC Power: two redundant supplies 100-240 V
  • Latency: Less than 3 ms
  • Sample Rates: 96/88.2/48/44.1 kHz
  • Resolution: 24-bit

 

Company Snapshot

KLANG:technologies

KLANG:fabrik is a professional rack-mount monitoring mix engine designed for use with in-ear monitors. The technology offers individual, natural, three-dimensional sound.

  • When Founded: 2014
  • Headquarters: Aachen, Germany
  • Ownership: Acquired 12/2018 by Audiotonix, parent company of Allen & Heath, Calrec, DiGiGrid, Solid State Logic and DiGiCo
  • Main Products: KLANG:fabrik (creates 3-D mixes for up to 16 musicians); KLANG:vier, a simpler version that creates simultaneous 3-D mixes for four musicians; KLANG:APP remote control software supporting iOS, Mac OS, Windows and Android (Google, Amazon and .APK)
  • More Info: www.klang.com

 

Suzi Spangenberg is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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