Mastering Feedback Control in Live Sound Mixing

Preventing Feedback

I want to address a common challenge in live sound environments: feedback. It’s an inevitable phenomenon, but with the right knowledge and tools, it can be effectively managed. 

Understanding Feedback

What is Feedback?

Feedback occurs when a microphone picks up sound from a speaker, sends it back through the system, and creates a loop. This often results in a loud, high-pitched squeal that can disrupt any live event.

In a feedback loop, sound continuously cycles through the microphone, mixer, and speaker, each time gaining intensity and often resulting in an uncontrollable screech.

How to Stop Feedback?

Because the feedback is a loop, the only time to stop it is to break the loop at one of those points (microphone, mixer, or speaker). The easiest way to stop the feedback loop is to lower the volume of the channel that is the feeding back until the feedback stops. But when you return the volume back up, it’s likely to feed back again.

Preventing Feedback in Live Sound Mixing

As we can imagine, feedback can disrupt any live performance. But fear not, as there are several strategies to prevent this from happening. Let’s dive into some of these methods:

Strategic Speaker Placement

Avoid Direct Paths: Ensure that speakers are not directly facing microphones. The direct path from a speaker to a microphone is the most common cause of feedback.

Positioning on Stage: If you’re using stage monitors, place them in front of and angled towards the performers, not the microphones.

Audience Considerations: Adjust the speakers to cover the audience area effectively while minimizing the sound directed towards the stage.

Room Acoustics and Reverberation

Understanding Room Dynamics: Each room has its unique acoustic characteristics. Identify areas where sound is likely to bounce and cause buildups of frequencies and ringing.

Acoustic Treatment: Use materials like foam panels, bass traps, and diffusers to absorb and scatter sound, reducing reflections that can lead to feedback.

Testing and Adjusting: Experiment with different room setups and listen for changes in acoustics. Small adjustments can have significant effects on sound quality and feedback control.

Microphone Choice and Placement

Directional Microphones: Opt for cardioid or supercardioid microphones, which are less sensitive to sound coming from behind or the sides, reducing the risk of picking up speaker output.

Headset Microphones: Consider using a headset microphone such as the DPA 4266 CORE Headset. Using a headset will keep the microphone a consistent distance from the presenters mouth and will have more direct volume from the presenter in comparison to a lapel microphone.

Correct Microphone Handling: Educate presenters and singers about proper microphone technique. Holding the microphone close to the mouth increases the direct sound, allowing for lower gain settings and reducing the chance of feedback.

Mic Placement Relative to Speakers: Be mindful of where microphones are placed in relation to speakers. Even directional microphones can pick up feedback if pointed directly at a speaker.

More Considerations

Monitor Levels: Keep monitor levels in check. Higher volumes on stage can increase the likelihood of feedback.

Frequent Sound Checks: Regular sound checks can help identify potential frequency and ringing issues before they become a problem during a live event.

Ringing Out a Microphone

“Ringing out” a microphone is a critical skill for live sound engineers. It involves identifying and reducing the frequencies most likely to cause feedback. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you through this process:

1: Initial Setup

  • Position Your Microphones and Speakers: Set up your microphones and speakers as they would be during a live event.
  • Sound Check: Perform a basic sound check to ensure all equipment is functioning correctly.

2: Identifying Feedback Frequencies

  • Increase Gain Slowly: Start with your microphone’s gain at a lower level. Gradually increase the gain until you begin to hear the onset of feedback.
  • Note the Ringing Frequency: Pay attention to the pitch of the ringing. Each pitch corresponds to a specific frequency that is being overly amplified.

3: Adjusting the Equalizer (EQ)

  • Access the EQ Settings: Use the EQ section on your mixer or sound console.
  • Locate the Problematic Frequencies: Use a Real-Time Analyzer (RTA) if available to visually identify which frequencies are spiking.
  • Make Narrow Cuts: Reduce the identified problematic frequencies with narrow bandwidth (Q) settings. This helps to minimize the impact on the overall sound quality.

4: Fine-Tuning

  • Re-test and Adjust: After making adjustments, test the microphone again by slowly increasing the gain. If feedback occurs at a different frequency, repeat the EQ adjustment process for the new frequency.
  • Balance Between Clarity and Feedback Control: It’s essential to find a balance where feedback is controlled without overly compromising the natural sound of the microphone.

5: Repeat for Other Microphones

  • Individual Attention: Each microphone may have different feedback issues depending on its type, position, and the acoustics of the room.
  • Document Settings: Keep a record of the EQ settings for each microphone, which can be a starting point for future events.

Step 6: Additional Tips

  • Avoid Over-EQing: Too much EQ can degrade the sound quality. Aim for minimal cuts to maintain the integrity of the original sound.
  • Use High-Pass Filters: Engage high-pass filters to eliminate low-frequency rumble, which is often not needed for vocal microphones and can reduce feedback risk.

Feedback can be a nuisance, but with the right approach, it can be managed. I encourage you to apply these techniques in your mixing practices to create less distractions in your services.

For More Info

If you want to delve deeper into audio engineering and master the Behringer X32, I invite you to check out my X32 Fundamentals course. This comprehensive course is designed to elevate your skills and confidence in managing live sound setups. In this course, I break down complex concepts into easy-to-understand video and written lessons.
Visit the X32 Fundamentals Course for more information and enroll today!