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Dear folks:

I have my own design of on-site talkback, but now I have a relatively classy gig coming up and I am thinking I need to upgrade.

Until now, I have used a Shure SM57 sent thru a Mackie pre (so far, so good enough), then sent to a cheap Radio shack amp hitched up to a boombox speaker set at the podium. To achieve perfect silence during takes, I just turn the amp off. This has been OK, but:

It doesn't have much power or decent tone, and it has no class for a 'big' session.

Apparently the producer for a session I am preparing for is used to a (momentary) button he can push. As with any real TB system, the speaker needs to be completely silent during takes. The system has to have enough power to address the orchestra if needed. And, lastly, it can't say Radio Shack.

So, here I am at a forum of classical engineers, some quite accomplished. Can you folks tell me what kind of TB system the big boys are used to? Is there a standard? Is there a company that makes a 'standard' system that is expected at a gig?

Your thoughts are appreciated!



Thomas W. Bethel Tue, 03/28/2006 - 03:57

Our talk back system consists of a KLH speaker I salvaged from an old portible record player, a McMartin 15 watt PA amplifier that has a paging function so you can play music though it and when you want to "page" by a simple N.O. switch it mutes the music and you can speak into the microphone. I rigged up a PACO paging microphone with a switch to do the switching on the amplifier. It all looks very nice but was basically made from salvaged parts. The only tricky thing I had to do was to install a relay in the McMartin amp to mute the output when no one was talking since the McMartin is a bit noisy. Radio Shack use to make a paging microphone but it is discontinued.

I think with a little thought you can "home brew" something that will both look pro and sound good. The Radio Shack Minimus 7 speakers work GREAT and sound good for talkback and you can buy them one at a time.

Our system is all set up with XLR connectors so it is easy to take apart and store in its own container.

Best of luck!

You might want to check out they have lots of stuff you can use to home brew your setup. Also check out and
and and it looks like Radio Shack has stopped setting the Minimus 7s but there are quite a few around and you could substitute this one and use a preamp micropnone combination to drive them.

Hope this helps!

FifthCircle Wed, 03/29/2006 - 23:26

Using a Presonus Central Station here... Not the worlds greatest build quality, but certainly does the job (and the remote is nice for a producer).

I have a Yamaha powered monitor that I use as my speaker. Other folks I know use a little Anchor powered speaker. Any kind of powered speaker should do the job. Heck, in one session where my speaker died, I ended up patching into a church sound system and used one of their monitor speakers.


Exsultavit Sun, 04/02/2006 - 00:34


Thanks for your thoughts! I have some fussy producer types (me, too) who want NO sound coming out of the speaker during takes, and so have a non-powered speaker in the player's room and an amp in the CR that one would power up and down. Another guy has installed a relay that disconnects his powered speaker's speaker when he flips the switch.

Are you sure that your powered system is really totally silent?



FifthCircle Sun, 04/02/2006 - 13:04

Absolutely. I use it in sessions all the time. The CS allows you to choose the source of the sound coming out of the cue system. If you choose a source with no input, you won't have output (as long as your speaker/amp doesn't have any buzz, etc... from bad grounding). I find in the worst of situations, I'll just run an extension cord from the control room (where I always have power conditioning) for the speaker and that will always fix any buzz issue. When you press the talkback switch, you engage the microphone in the talkback unit (either the rack unit or the remote if you have it).

Similarly, if you are in an overdub situation and your tallent is on headphones, you can feed the headphone system from that box and still communicate through the talkback button.


Cucco Mon, 04/03/2006 - 07:50

I'm with Ben on that one.

The Central Station is actually a halfway decent box.

I use it with the remote and feed out to a pair of Audix PH5vs monitors. The stereo pair helps me when the conductor would like to hear a playback of the ensemble (as they actually sound pretty darned good, it's usually a good representation of what we have).

They also get loud enough that, if necessary, I can crank the volume and get the entire orchestra within earshot.

Since they have a current sensing amplifier, they turn themselves off when there is no signal coming into them. IOW, they run totally silent until I need them.

You can mount them on standard camera tripods ($20 WalMart variety works great) and you can then set them flanking the conductor's podium.

Works like a charm.

I also send the signal from another output to a headphone amp on stage and a simple light. When the light goes on, that means the conductor is to put the headphones on. This helps when you need to say something like...
"That FAT hippo of a piccolo player needs to either learn how to tune her instrument of death, or she needs to be swinging from the rafters."

You typically want a little more privacy than a loudspeaker can provide.

If you use a stage box, the great news is that all the cable runs are taken care of for you.

If not, I would suggest getting a custom snake (make it yourself or buy it from ProCo or someone). A simple 4 channel TRS and maybe a single XLR (I use the XLR with a mixer light as my indicator lamp. I can take one of those cheap ass mic pres or a simple phantom power supply and light it up over a long cable run. It and a little red gel material and you've got a very classy looking lamp) will do the trick.

Let us know what groovy ideas you come up with.


Exsultavit Mon, 04/17/2006 - 15:16


Have priced the Audix speakers you mentioned- excellent!

One thing- there's no mention in the Audix info about a 'current sensing amp". When I Google the speakers by model name, I get mucho hits. When I add "current sensing" to the search, I only get this thread- so I'm thinking there is another name that Audix uses for this feature. Can you tell me more? Perhaps a link explaining the thing? I just want to be sure that the current model has this feature.

Also- Is the camera tripod mount screw-hole on these speakers already? Again, no mention in the lit I found, but I'll keep looking!



Exsultavit Fri, 05/05/2006 - 00:14

Just an update- I took delivery of a pair of Audix PH5vs speakers today.

Before I go to the silence/ not silence part, let me just say that these are an excellent sounding speaker for the $$$! (152.00- including tax-- at GC). Pretty balanced, not too boxy, not too boomy. A great addition to my collection! But...

Sorry to say that they are NOT silent! I guess I am fussier about this than some folks. While I may get away with this admittedly low noise level onstage with a full symphony orchestra, if I had used these on the solo classical guitar session I did last week, there would have been an issue, as my client was a total noise finder and the hum is absolutely audible in a quiet room.

The thing is not buzz or noise coming in on the line-- though there might be buzz at a given session in certain conditions-- it is the amplifier itself which hums when it is on. For those of you who don't know, this is a powered speaker system that uses an amp in the right speaker that powers both channels- that is, both speakers are powered by the amp that resides in the right speaker. While there is very minimal line hiss in the left speaker (pretty darn quiet- though not silent), the right speaker-amp combo is humming. I would have been really happy and suprised if it was really quiet enough for critical TB applications, but as it is, I'll have to do one more step to get this right.

I have a 120v extension cord with a switch at the end. I have tested it with the PH5s, and it powers the speaker system up or down pretty fast with no popping. Unfortunately, it is another extension cable to run. Hopefully, my fussy, 'no-AC cables between the stage and the CR" clients will accommodate me on this issue if they want true silence onstage....

I'll keep you posted!


FifthCircle Sat, 05/13/2006 - 11:35

I use a Yamaha MSP 5 speaker as a talkback. Amps in it don't make an acoustic sound and there is virtually no hiss coming out of them. I've never had a complaint about them for this use.... I don't think much more of them than a NS-10 in terms of sonics, but you don't need great fidelity for a talkback.

The little Fostex powered monitor works pretty well for this too, but I prefer the Yamaha as it has a bit more power.


0VU Mon, 05/15/2006 - 13:54

I use several different systems dependent upon the size and complexity of the job. These may also be combined to form larger systems when necessary.

At the speaker end I have:

3 x ASC Powered Monitors (aka singing bricks) which are small die-cast boxes containing a mic/line level input (with loop-through output for daisy chaining) driving a 30W amp, into a small two driver speaker. The inputs are transformer balanced and floating - helpful in avoiding ground loops though I have a bunch of Canford Audio line isolating transformers which by default get rigged on talkbacks. My ASCs are 2xMk3 and one Mk5. They're the same thing but the Mk5 has it's gain control on the front and the Mk3's is on the rear.

There's an ASC visible at the base of the tomb (being on the floor behind the conductor) in this picture from a session I was on last week; it was plenty loud enough to stop half a dozen professional singers giving their all in a reverberant acoustic and is all but silent in standby (I've never had to move it/can it due to noise:

2 xFostex SPA11A Active PA speakers; line input only. These are only really suitable for covering relatively large areas but they do a good job on large orchestral/choral sessions where hundreds of people need to hear the talkback.

1 x Genelec 1031A I bought a cosmetically rather beaten up one for a good price on eBay. It's good for covering a chamber group or where a better quality signal is needed for playbacks e.g. when the group needs to clearly hear a past take to get a tempo or check on some musical issue. I wouldn't choose one as a reference monitor but it's nice for talkback :wink:

2 x Fostex 6301XT. Line input only, transformer balanced and floating. OK for small scale stuff or as a backup or augmentation to larger systems.

At the control room end I have various switch boxes, both home made and off the peg:

For a really simple talkback it's possible to use a dynamic mic straight into the mic input of the ASC speakers; if the mic runs via a switch box for the producer this will do a perfectly passable job. I've got a home made desktop box containing a PTT switch and an XLR mounted gooseneck mic together with a DC input to allow for illumination of the switch and a repeat of the red cue light so the producer has it clearly visible in front of him. The only irritations are that you have to use it via the level control on the back of the speaker as the mic doesn't have one and that it doesn't dim the monitors to avoid feedback. Not usually a problem as the monitors are normally dimmed anyway whilst we're working as most producers seem to prefer working on headphones and I don't mind doing the same so the speakers are pretty much onlyused for artist playbacks.

If I'm using my Studer 962 mixers then I have a proper Studer talkback remote control/mic box for the producer. This is fitted with a gooseneck mounted Beyer mic (I think it's a M422 or something like that) and has an illuminated PTT button, repeaters of red and green cue lights, call button (for the conductor's talkback), outgoing level control and return talkback speaker with separate volume control, all linked to the talkback and signaling system in the desk. It's also built by Studer so it looks the part with nice solid metalwork, big smooth switches and pretty wood side cheeks.

Recently, I've been using a Grace m904 monitor controller on location and this has a decent talkback system built in with remote switching which works with my existing boxes. It caters for remote dimming, phantom powering/amplifying the mic signal, and has a button to route playback to the cue speaker(s) whilst allowing talkback over the cue signal. Very useful for letting the artists hear a quick playback.

I normally work with a producer rather than doing it myself, and I try to go for a system that's cosmetically smart (so they feel loved) but (importantly) still simple to use. Ime, most producers over here tend to be academics or musicians and they don't like more than one nice big button - too much technology confuses the poor dears :shock:

If there's no separate producer then I'll run the talkback off the desk's talkback feed but I never do it when there's a producer who'd need to fumble around for the right button when he wants to talk - there's far too much risk of getting every other button on the mixer pressed before the right one is found!

For anything more than a chamber group, or wherever there's a conductor/musical director, I also setup a telephone so that the producer can have private conversations with the conductor when he needs to.

On really large sessions or big live broadcasts, I can also setup multichannel 4-wire/IFB, 2-wire and simplex/duplex wireless comms - or a combination of all of these. The only reason I have all this stuff is that I've amassed it over about the last 15 years or more and for much of this time I've done broadcast work for one of the UK national radio stations. The average CD session is fine with a simple PTT mic to speaker(s) and perhaps a conductor phone; live broadcasts can use huge comms systems almost as complex as the recording setups and, on large jobs, I'll quite often end up hiring one or more people who do nothing but rig and look after the comms. On a bad day, I could have two or three times as much comms gear as recording.

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