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My personal bias is toward protecting the hearing of performers, technicians and the general public by reining in high SPLs, and treating sound reinforcement as an aid to intelligibility as opposed to merely making things loud. With regard to enhancing intelligibility, I tend to avoid using microphones that exhibit pronounced proximity effect, which tends to emphasize lower frequencies where the vowels live, and not the upper register where consonants are formed. Where vowels are emphasized at the expense of consonants, one tends to hear that people are speaking as opposed to understanding what they are saying.
Thanks for the kind words and helpful suggestions. Even in the absence of appropriate acoustical treatment in occasional performance spaces—which may be rejected out of hand by pub, club, and community center owners and facilities managers as being too expensive and, in their view, unnecessary—there are a number of things that sound reinforcement system designers and operators can do to enhance intelligibility. For example, keep SPLs below deafening levels: concerned patrons who choose to stay for the show wearing utility ear plugs or pieces of kleenex or cotton wool in their ears will experience loss of high frequency information and therefore articulation. Those who do not put a barrier in their ears may experience broadband hearing loss, which may be only temporary of they are lucky. Second, don't use cardioid microphones that exhibit pronounced proximity effect. Re the ubiquitous Shure SM58 "the overwhelming choice of professionals worldwide" according to Shure), the manufacturer notes that it will "progressively boost bass frequencies by 6 to 10 dB below 100 Hz when the microphone is at a distance of about 6 mm (1/4 in.) from the sound source" (SM58_guide_en-US.pdf). Note that 1/4-inch is often the maximum distance at which bar-band singers tend to address the microphone. If such microphones are used, then judicious use of low-frequency roll-off at the mixing console may restore the balance in favor of higher frequencies where consonants are formed, and which are critical for intelligibility. Fortunately, there are alternative microphone choices that do not exhibit proximity effect.Other individual equipment choices may each contribute an incremental improvement in the quality of the sound reinforcement system (e.g., intelligent feedback elimination in the house or monitor signal chain, Quad-Star microphone cables that cancel electromagnetically induced noise from SCR dimmer packs, fluorescent lighting ballasts and AC power transformers that populate such occasional performance spaces), but when taken together the increments add up.
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