My Bloody Valentine has a well-earned reputation as one of the loudest bands on the road. Faced with the problem of how to mix at the group’s excessive levels without doing long-term damage to his own hearing, front of house engineer Philip J. Harvey found a solution: Sensaphonics 3D AARO in-ears with Active Ambient technology.
“The fans get free earplugs with their tickets, but I’m out there every night and definitely at risk,” notes the Amsterdam-based engineer. “I’ve tried everything, including regular IEMs and custom earplugs, but the 3D system is really the only thing that lets me do my job effectively. It’s basically replaced my headphones out at front of house.”
Typically, My Bloody Valentine shows hit 110 dB, and can sometimes exceed 120 dBA SPL near the end of the show. “It’s sort of a trademark for the band, and definitely part of my job description,” says Harvey. “When I started with them, (bandleader) Kevin Shields was very clear on his expectations. So basically, I have to work in a punishingly loud environment, day in and day out. To conserve my hearing, I had to do something.”
Having known Dr. Michael Santucci of Sensaphonics from his work with other artists, Philip Harvey was familiar with 3D Active Ambient, which uses embedded microphones to enable the user to control the blend of ambient and direct sound, while providing superb broadband isolation with custom silicone earpieces. The system is also available with universal-fit IEMs (3D-U AARO).
Previously, Harvey used custom Musicians Earplugs, but found they weren’t accurate enough to mix in reliably. “While they are quite musical compared to other plugs, I found they attenuate the high end a little too much, and obviously, there’s also a loss of transients,” he explains. “Whereas the 3D actually replaces my headphones and fits well into my working environment.”
Philip Harvey took delivery of his custom 3D AARO during My Bloody Valentine’s Chicago dates this past summer. “I’m so glad I did it that way, because I had a little fit issue, and Claudia from Sensaphonics took care of it immediately,” he notes. “She was amazing. When I got them the next day, they were perfect, like taking the fit from usable, to comfortable, to desirable. Great customer service!”
On tour, Harvey starts his days by setting up the PA system, tuning the room, and doing line check. He usually puts in his 3D AARO about halfway through sound check, and works without them for the first few songs of the show. During the concert, he connects the 3D to the pre-fader listen (PFL) monitor send on his Midas XL4 console, allowing him to check individual mix elements just as he would with conventional headphones.
“I keep that fader down until I need to double-check a sound or the mix, then route what I need to the fader and bring it up so I don’t blast myself,” says Harvey. “On the 3D, I check to see where the ambient level is set. With 12 o’clock on the monitor send position being about the same as the nominal ambient volume, I roll it back two or sometimes three clicks [Note: -8 to -12 dB], and that’s normally where I mix the show.”
To keep everything time-aligned, Philip Harvey uses his PA system processor (usually a Meyer Sound Galileo) to feed the mix output back into the direct matrix sends of his console and delaying it as needed. “Basically, I delay the direct signal to my 3Ds. Otherwise, the direct mix in the 3D hits my ears about 60 milliseconds earlier than the PA. So I basically listen to the mix and the 3D microphones at the same volume, with the same delay times.”
Philip J. Harvey is quite pleased at how well his 3D AARO has worked to protect his hearing while still enabling him to mix effectively. He notes, “Obviously, I would prefer to work with my naked ears, so that’s how I start. But once things are dialed in, the mics are definitely accurate enough to mix with. With My Bloody Valentine, the 3D is the perfect tool for a difficult job.”
Asked about hearing health in the industry, Harvey notes, “Many engineers and musicians play the game of ‘I’m better off not knowing.’ And that’s a terrible perspective. With the right tools, it’s possible to get a great mix without injuring yourself, even for a band like My Bloody Valentine.”
When not on tour with My Bloody Valentine, Philip J. Harvey is also the FOH mixer for Lorde. Based in the Netherlands, he does production, mixing, and recording with Amsterdam Recording Company and his own firm, PilotLight Audio.
For more information on 3D AARO, visit https://sensaphonics.com/3d.