Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Sound systems

There's a kind of rumour that sound systems in BsAs are not that good. Does this suggest that sound systems elsewhere, in London, say, are far superior? Because I don't think they are necessarily.

Many of the halls that are home to milongas in BsAs are home to nothing else: they have milongas night after night, with different Djs and organisers, so it's likely that the systems have evolved to give the best possible sound. Sadly, this is never the case in London, where organisers can face the trouble of setting up speakers and amplifiers, and removing them at the end of the evening. The set-up might be adequate or not, even if the equipment is excellent.

Salon Canning is an interesting example of a hall which functions as both a milonga and, because it is so extensive, as a place where people sit and chat. There's never room on the dance floor for everyone who is there: you dance in shifts, so to speak. The square dance floor is at the centre of a massive square room, and the speakers are on a rig over the floor itself, so the music is angled down onto the floor from all four sides. This works well: the dancers have sufficient volume of music, while people sitting around the sides of the floor aren't so deafened that they have to shout at each other. Moreover, the system delivers excellent bass, so the dancers get a strong rhythm. It may be that the equipment in Canning isn't the best, but it's certainly well organised. The upper register of music is much the same pitch as conversation, and if people can't hear themselves talk because of the high notes, they simply shout louder. As people drink their voices get louder anyway, but this may be less of a problem at Canning, where you might have to wait half the evening for the waiter to deliver your drink!

Some smaller halls in London have built-in speakers which aren't necessarily focused on the dance floor, but so long as the bass is strong and clear the volume doesn't need to be high, and a strong bass conflicts less with conversation. It tends to be larger venues that are more difficult to organise for good sound.


jantango said...

Salon Canning is considered by many to be the best floor for dancing in BsAs. Dario Rodriguez has organized there for 30+ years. The last time I was there (on a Wednesday) I found that the dancers could drown out the music with their chatter between dances. If the sound is amplified, they just talk louder.

Lo de Celia holds about half the number of dancers as Canning with about the same size floor. Four tilted speakers are hung in each corner of the floor for maximum quality of sound. It's the best sound system for my tastes. El Arranque is another one where the talking doesn't overtake the music.

La tanguera said...

For me the best sound system is in Circulo Apollo - but it's a club de barrio, in Vincente Lopez (apparently a bit dodgy) and probably not a place to go to alone. If you go make sure you dress appropriately - before we even got our tickets the organiser approached us and said that we can't enter without proper shoes (ie in trainers we wore to get there).
I'm surprised people complain about the sound in BsAs, in general I thought music there somehow sounded better, more alive, than here. There are some exceptions, like Canning esp on Monday (Parakultural) - but it's a night to avoid anyway.

Charles Long said...

As a DJ & Milonga organiser, I tend to notice the quality of the sound system more than other people might, but I am shocked by the lack of attention that London Milonga organisers give to their sound equipment and how they are using it.

Organisers seem content to use poor quality speakers, badly positioned and badly balanced (Pavadita, Corrientes, Crypt, Negracha).

Even if the venue has equipment already installed, this can be adjusted and supplemented to give good quality sound all around the room.

I have left a Milonga early before now because excessive volume on cheap equipment was hurting my ears, and it was impossible to be hearn when talking.

There is no excuse for poor sound; good equipment is not expensive if it is going to be used regularly, and specialist retailers will be able to help with advice on installation & positioning etc. The Yahoo tango DJ forum also has plenty of helpful assistance.

Tangocommuter said...

Many thanks for the comments. I agree with La Tanguera that the music generally sounds better in BsAs than in London! Better and much more alive.

& I'm inclined to agree with Charles Long that organisers in London should be more attentive to sound quality. I too have found poor sound quality varying between painful and inaudible. You go out dancing to have a pleasant evening! But I must say that I've found the sound at Pavadita reasonably good, certainly better than the other milongas mentioned.

La tanguera said...

Another potentially easy way to improve the sound is cables. When I tested some interconnects on my low-end hi-fi set I was shocked by the difference they made. I am now on a hunt for a good cable to connect my computer to the amplifier. As most DJs now use their laptops I hope this is a cable milonga organisers have spent some time researching!

Julian R said...

I wonder if the quality of mp3 transfers has some bearing on this? Also older recordings often need the EQ adjusting before they can be put through a modern PA without unpleasantly high levels in the upper registers.

La tanguera said...

Music can be stored on the computer without any loss of quality with formats such as flac or ape. ITunes has it's own lossless encoder (preferences/general/import settings/import using Apple lossless encoder). Files are a bit bigger but for a professional DJ that shouldn't be an excuse. In any case it's worth checking the settings as the default in my case was quite low quality.

Chris, UK said...

Charles wrote:
"Organisers seem content to use poor quality speakers, badly positioned and badly balanced (Pavadita, Corrientes, Crypt, Negracha)."

I've found organisers who use the house system suffer most. E.g. Negracha's - certainly the worse I've DJed on in London. The HF units were totally fried.

Organisers who use their own systems do best. e.g. Carablanca's is excellent.

Chris, UK said...

"Even if the venue has equipment already installed, this can be adjusted and supplemented to give good quality sound all around the room."

Sadly not in my experience. One London venue at which I DJ has house speakers only at one end of a long hall. I know no adjustment that can overcome this, and supplementary speakers are ruled out by the fact the venue (understandably) doesn't allow access to the house system beyond the input jacks.

"good equipment is not expensive if it is going to be used regularly

It's expensive to use - most London organisers are hiring the venue for the night, and so would need someone able transport and set-up a non-house system each time.

BA (where incidentally I find the sound systems generally good, albeit run overloud) of course has the advantage that house systems are used only by milonga DJs.

Charles said...

I believe that the sound quality is very important. If the in -house system is not good enough, or cannot be adjusted or supplemented, then perhaps the Tango organiser should use their own.

We use 4 different venues, but find it worth the effort and cost of transporting and setting up our own equpiment each time. That way, we know the equipment that we are using, and it is confugured to suit each venue (set up takes 20 minutes maximum).

Yes, it also needs financial investment, but a regular milonga can justify it more easily.

Shame, then, that a more long-running London Milonga (El Once @ The Crypt) has not yet invested in better in something more suited to the venue (IMHO).