Live Sound for Trombone Players

Anytime we play for a large audience anywhere but inside an orchestra hall, things like microphones, monitors, and more, start getting involved. I eventually found myself busy playing a lot of commercial work and needing to use a lot of this gear, so I started taking note of what equipment I liked, chatted with some audio engineer friends to get a better understanding of it all, and ended up buying gear of my own.

I should preface by saying that I prefer to have an audio engineer supply and operate as much of this as possible… but you’ll occasionally find yourself in situations where owning a few of these things will benefit you.

Microphones

The microphones we use in live performances are rarely what we would choose to use in a recording studio, and we typically need to use a much closer microphone position in order to isolate more from the other instruments on stage. The go-to microphone of so many brass players on stage is the classic Shure SM57… They can be found for under $100, and can take a beating! If the gig deserves something better, it is likely being supplied.

Clip-on microphones

Some people prefer clip-on microphones because you get a very consistent mic placement, meaning a more consistent sound gets out to the audience. It’s also a must if you find yourself in a setting where you need to be moving while playing! If you want a little of this freedom, but don’t need a fully wireless system, two good options are the Audio-Technica Pro 35 & Shure Beta 98H/C. *Note that these clip-on microphones are condenser mics and need phantom power to work.*

Clip-on microphones are not without their downsides. For one, the consistent mic placement also means you can’t quickly adjust your relation to the mic for volume/tonal purposes. It also means you can’t just point away from a mic and check a pitch, etc. If you use mutes or trombone stands, it also can get in the way.

Wireless Microphones

If you need to move a LOT while playing trombone, then you need a wireless microphone. If you’re playing something like a production show, odds are that these will be supplied. However, if you find yourself playing in a band that isn’t a big production, you might need to pickup your own. Note that most wireless microphones still need to be plugged into a transmitter pack, which sends the signal to a receiver that gets connected to the board. More about the complications of wireless systems below…

Two fantastic, but expensive, wireless microphones for trombone are the AMT Q7-P808 (transmitter built into the mic/clip!)& the DPA 4099. The two clip-on mics I’ve already mentioned also come in wireless versions and are still good while being much cheaper: Audio-Technica Pro 35 & Shure WB98H/C. It’s important to factor in the transmitter/receiver before you purchase a wireless microphone on its own, as they are not all compatible.

In-Ear Monitors (IEMs)

(Revised from my “Headphones for Trombone Players” Post)
These are a blessing and a curse… Great for things like extremely loud bands on stage, when you’re playing along to click-tracks, relying on talkback microphones in live performance, etc.

Universal vs. Custom-fit

In-Ear Monitors for brass players can be a little tricky. First, they come in a variety of forms.

The cheapest are “universal” fit, which means they have a variety of foam/silicone/rubber tips that will fit all ears. Obviously, this is convenient and, for guitarists, pianists, etc. is often good enough. However, for brass players, we can experience a pretty obnoxious sensation called the “occlusion effect.” Basically, the space between the ear-tip and eardrum causes low frequencies to be dramatically increased, causing a boomy sound in our head that makes it extremely difficult to play with any sort of nuance/awareness of tone, dynamics, articulation, etc. If you don’t want to shell out for the much more expensive custom-fit below, I recommend trying to use ear-tips that fill as much of the ear canal as possible, such as a triple-flange. If physical comfort is more important to you than minimizing the occlusion effect, you may find some other foam & silicone tips more comfortable.

What you really want though are custom-fit IEMs. By molding the case of the monitor to your ear canal, they minimize the occlusion effect and optimize the sound/feel while playing. Unfortunately, custom-fit IEMs are a significant investment. If you go this route, I highly recommend you get the molds made by an audiologist who has worked with musicians before.

Drivers

Each driver (~speaker) in each IEM handles a different frequency range, so it’s a notable improvement to get a pair with dual or triple-drivers. Some brands use even more but, having talked with many other musicians and some manufacturers, I don’t feel going beyond 3 is a noteworthy upgrade for the typical trombonist’s use.

Ambient Ports/Mics

These are some newer features that are specifically aimed to remedy the typical brass player’s complaints with IEMs. Ambient Ports are holes in the monitor that vent the ear canal and allow some ambient sound in. Since this reduces the overall noise reduction (and hearing protection), I only recommend this feature if it can be plugged. Ambient Mics are the next-generation – they require a separate device to power/mix things, but they actually have a microphone built into each IEM to perfectly balance your ambient sound at your ears with what you have in your mix. Pretty cool, but expensive!

Monitor Mix

This is a bit of a tangent but, when playing with in-ear monitors, the quality of what is going INTO your monitor mix is extremely important. Think twice before assuming in-ear monitors are the best and using them with an inexperienced audio engineer… At best, you can suffer through a bad mix and, at worst, suffer hearing damage! I highly suggest anybody using in-ear monitors have at least a rudimentary knowledge of live sound… it will greatly increase your experience using them when you can actually talk with the audio engineer about what you’re hearing/would like to change.

1 in, 1 out?

It is never recommended to leave one IEM out while performing. A lot of musicians do this to easily & quickly get a balance between their monitor feed and natural, ambient sound. We’re all guilty of it every once in a while… Unfortunately, studies have shown that this actually causes people to crank up the monitor mix and can lead to even worse hearing damage. Fortunately, if you get a good fitting set, dial in your monitor mix, and adjust to playing with them in, you can absolutely be happy without this stopgap.

Recommendations: Shure SE215-CL (Budget Universal)Shure SE425-CL (Universal)Sensaphonics (Custom), Sensaphonics custom sleeves for Shure Universal-Fit IEMs

Wired vs. Wireless IEMs

Unlike microphones, the same set of IEMs can be used interchangeably in wired and wireless settings. When wired, you’ll need something like the Behringer P2 to convert from XLR to your 3.5mm plug and give you a volume knob. But, if you need to move around the stage (*and still hear your monitor mix), you need a wireless system… One common system I’ve used and liked is the Shure P3R Bodypack Receiver & PSM300 Transmitter.

(*I say this because many people can save a lot of money by just using wired monitors and loosing your monitors while you’re moving around the stage, playing that one solo, etc.)

More About Wireless Systems…

Wireless microphones and monitors are some of those things that sound great in theory, but are quite expensive and, even worse, very complicated to ensure will run smoothly. There are a few key details to consider while shopping. First and foremost is the range. You want a system that provides a reliable signal transmission over a significant distance, ensuring that you can move freely without any dropouts or interference. Another crucial factor is the frequency range and compatibility. It’s important to ensure that the wireless system you choose operates in a frequency range that is legal and compatible with your region. This will prevent potential conflicts with other wireless devices or local regulations. Also, not all wireless transmitters are compatible with all receivers.

Comments/Questions?

As always, don’t hesitate to contact me or comment. If you’re a trombone player who enjoys using some gear that isn’t mentioned here, I’d love to hear your recommendations below!

One Response to “Live Sound for Trombone Players

  • Skabone Stan Middleton
    4 months ago

    Nice article! As a trombonist who uses a wireless mic extensively, I’d like to add a couple of comments. I use the Shure BLX14R/B98 wireless/mic combination. Over 8 years of use it’s proven to be very rugged and reliable, and the B98 is a fantastic high SPL mic, imho. It’s worth mentioning that it has a multitude of channel options if there are any frequency or interference problems at a given venue. At $540 currently, I wouldn’t consider it cheap. But do your research and be aware that you do get what you pay for in terms of quality. More budget friendly options tend to be inadequate in real life. The mobility factor is important also on small crowded stages, so you don’t have to feel stuck in a spot where you can’t move your slide freely. Also it’s nice not to worry about bumping a mic stand and denting your slide. Pro tip: using elastic bands or Velcro, attach your transmitter to the tuning crook and coil the mic wire down and around the bell to clip it in place, then you don’t have to worry about having the wire dangling or having the pack tethered to your belt. Lastly, the B98 mic has adjustable positioning on the clip. This allows me to have it positioned off center enough to be able to use a horn stand. As long as the mic is anywhere within the radius of the bell it will pick up your sound perfectly. Hope all this is helpful!

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