When it comes to monitoring, Soundgarden is one of the few wedge-based bands remaining. Front man Chris Cornell is the only band member using in-ear monitors, and recently switched from conventional custom IEMs to the Sensaphonics 3D Active Ambient system.
Monitor engineer Martin Strayer is familiar with the 3D Active Ambient from his work with R. Kelly, but the driving force behind the change was Cornell himself. “I was actually doing another gig when it happened, but I was pleased when I heard about it. Chris had heard about the 3D from a friend and made the decision after he heard a demo system from Sensaphonics,” he says. “It’s worked out great.”
Fresh off the band’s acclaimed winter U.S. tour, Strayer assessed the positive effects of the 3D Active Ambient on Cornell’s performance. “Chris is always looking for the best sound, and it has really stabilized things for him” he reports. “The 3D gives him the control he wants. It lets him hear his amp outside the mix, like he did back when he used wedges, and just add that to the monitor feed from my board. So in a way, it’s almost like a return to an old-school stage for him, which is kind of interesting.”
The Sensaphonics 3D system uses a high-resolution binaural miking system embedded in the earpieces to pick up ambient sounds and add them to the monitor mix as desired. The performer can hear their instrument or amp acoustically, have conversations with other band members, and hear the audience response with both earpieces in place. By placing the microphones at the entrance to the ear canal, all ambience is captured with accurate directionality, something that cannot be achieved with conventional audience mics.
As for how the 3D affects his job as monitor mixer, Strayer says, “To be honest, I really haven’t changed my mix at all; there’s no need. The only thing I changed was the vocal mic. We went to a Telefunken M-80, which gives us less bleed when Chris moves away. I give Chris the same monitor mix as ever, and he just adds the amount of ambience he wants from the 3D, which can change from gig to gig. He seems to like everything about those ears – the way they feel, the way they sound. Overall, he’s been really happy with it.”
Strayer feels that the stage sound has come together nicely. “It’s still Soundgarden, so it’s loud, but compared to the way they used to be, the stage is actually noticeably quieter. The only loud parts are Ben Shepherd’s bass rig, which is stage left, and Matt Cameron’s drums, which are right behind Chris at center stage,” he says. “Kim Thayil’s wedges and sidefill are not that loud. He and Chris are both very conscious of keeping their guitars at the same level. Ben, too, but by the end of the show, it gets louder and louder. It’s an energy thing; Ben feeds off that, and so does the band. Hey, it’s Soundgarden.”
Soundgarden has just hit the road for a solid run of U.S. dates this May, and monitor engineer Martin Strayer is confident that the band has hit its stride. “The winter tour was fantastic, so I’m looking forward to going out again,” he says. “This band is an absolute pleasure to work with. I’ve never enjoyed mixing so much. We’re a happy bunch these days.”
To learn more about the unique 3D Active Ambient IEM System from Sensaphonics, visit www.sensaphonics.com.