NILES, IL, September 9, 2010 – One of the enduring maxims in the world of touring sound is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But there are times when breaking the rules is the best way forward. When Aron Mandelbaum, monitor engineer for Ben Harper, had the opportunity to beta-test a prototype of Shure’s new PSM 900, he decided to give it a try.
“We were filming a show in New York last winter, and the audio provider was a beta-test site for Shure and asked if I wanted to try it,” recalls Mandelbaum, who is better known as Aron M. Sound in touring circles. “I was pretty hesitant, because my artist liked the system we were carrying. One of the great things about working with Ben Harper is that he has solid, engineering reasons for choosing equipment, and when he finds something he likes, he sticks with it. Frankly, I figured it would sound like every other in-ear system I’ve heard, but because it was a chance to preview a new product, I decided to check it out.”
The product in question was the new Shure PSM 900 Wireless Personal Monitor System. Using the same earphones they normally do, Mandelbaum put the system through its paces.
“As soon as I put my earphones in, I immediately got the sense of hearing a wider spectrum,” notes Mandelbaum. “Other than maybe a Midas console, this is the first piece of gear I’ve been handed that literally made me go, ‘Wow, really? What changed?’ It’s been a long time since I reacted like that to any piece of new gear.”
The next step was to give a bodypack to Harper. “His response to me was immediate when he walked up to the microphone,” says Mandelbaum. “He just turned to me and gave me a wide-eyed ‘Wow’ look, and pointed at his ear. Big smiles and no requests for movement in his mix. I knew right then, we’d be switching to the new Shure system as soon as it was released for sale.”
That change had to wait until the PSM 900 production units began shipping in early May. Having now used the system, Harper summarizes his personal experience: “With the Shure PSM 900’s responsiveness and wide frequency spectrum, they are the finest in-ear monitoring systems I have ever used.”
With each successive show, Mandelbaum discovers more to appreciate about the engineering that went into the PSM 900 system. “The first thing I noticed, back when we tried the beta-test system, was the fidelity of the audio and the amount of headroom I gained,” he notes. “But it really goes far beyond that. I’ve got a very dynamic artist who uses a simple feed, basically guitar and vocal, so any compression or limiting effects are very easy to hear. And there are none whatsoever! It’s a very natural, full-range sound, and that, I believe, allows artists to be as dynamic and natural as they want to be.”
On an operational level, Mandelbaum said he is impressed by many aspects of the PSM 900, ranging from the accuracy and ease of frequency scans and sync, to the mechanical solidity of the P9R bodypack receiver.
“The moment you pick it up, it just feels like something special,” says Mandelbaum. “It’s got that balance of solid feel and light weight, like a well-built watch. When you hand artists bodypacks, you want them to feel free to jump around on stage, knowing the equipment has their back. The belt clip is very well built, easy to clip on, but very solid, so you know that receiver isn’t going anywhere. It’s just very well designed.”
The sound quality, ease of use, and physical design of the PSM 900 combine to fit neatly into the Aron M. Sound philosophy on monitor engineering. “I’m from a performing background, and I believe in the total show,” he relates. “I feel that a good monitor man is one who is a clear window for the band to present themselves through, to provide what they need to make the show rock, and to help keep them connected. Also to prevent any situation that can hold that kind of openness back. For guys who have worked as hard as they have to get to where they are, they deserve that.”
For Mandelbaum, the PSM 900 has instantly become an important tool for his artist-first approach. “It’s a great leap forward in wireless technology. I’m hearing a very even-tempered presentation across the full spectrum, what I would like to call the audio truth,” he says. “What I put into it is exactly what I hear coming out, and that’s incredibly rare in any system. Plus, I’m of the mind that it helps to make my performance as monitor engineer for Ben Harper, a better experience for him. The PSM 900 is just a very impressive item, plain and simple. I can’t say enough about it.”