Failure: Sub Mulan


It was for this production that had I spent a few nights into the wee hours of the morning, trying to get maximum low-end out of 4 impressively terrible Nady Systems loudspeakers. A few years prior, I had purchased a pair for way too much money. Later I bartered building someone a custom [mixer rackmount] for another pair, all 4 of which now had blown out [tweeters]. So I decided to re-purpose the ever-so-much-more-resiliant 15″ woofers and their enclosures into being some sort of subwoofer-array.

After the raging success that was Aladdin Jr., the theatre company decided that musicals using recorded tracks was the new (and discounted) sliced bread.  I can’t say that I didn’t agree, since musicians are often less predictable than poorly behaved machines… that is, if they aren’t already the same thing.

As a bonus failure, I include this little (and relative) anecdote about the Monster Power PRO 3500. No, it’s not an inconveniently large 1-ton truck, nor a disgusting energy drink.  I was given some extra budget to purchase this power conditioner to help eliminate the ground loop buzz that was ever-present in the sound system, only it didn’t actually fix the problem.  I sheepishly, and privately, realized that the buzz was actually an unavoidable artifact of sharing the same power grid as the lighting dimmers.  Routing power from another outlet is what actually fixed the problem. But honestly, we needed a power conditioner anyway – what would happen if there was an overload?!  We needed to protect our equipment against overloads!!  (and it did actually make the buzz a little quieter)

So as I said before, the show’s music was provided as recorded tracks, and I had invested quite a bit of effort and time into Jerry-rigging some low frequency response into the theatre.  Might as well take it to the limit. Right, Eagles?

I behaved myself for the entire run of the show.  (Well, I usually wasn’t there during the run – my job officially ended on opening night.)  But on the closing performance, I thought that the 600 audience members would appreciate some heightened bass on the final number.  In my late-night testing I had been successful in making the theatre shake with the underwhelming intensity of an amateur EDM concert – why should I starve this paying audience of that rich experience?

At the climax of that final number, I reached over to the Auxiliary 6 master fader, and turned it ever so slightly to the right, adding not quite 3dB to the subwoofers and


Something was different.
Something was wrong.
Me: “…oh, ßhˆ†”

The cast finished their song without any backing music, and without any vocal amplification.  Some bemused chuckles emerged from the audience.  The entire cast peered toward the sound booth.  I cursed Nady Systems, even though they weren’t in any way responsible for this particular atrocity, and felt my face flush.

The beep came from my somewhat newly incorporated UPS, thanks to Becca, and highlighted my blunder for all to hear.  Obviously I had done something stupid – there was BEEPING to prove it!

A few seconds later, I heard the familiar click of the first of 3 power-on stages from the Monster Power PRO 3500, to be completed a grueling 6 seconds later.  It finished powering on, and with it the loudspeakers, just a moment after the final song had ended… the exact same moment my board operator muted all the mics… the grand finale of my 19th sound design on that stage.

Okay enough of the dramatics – here’s what happened:
1) At some point after testing the subwoofers, I had accidentally bumped a switch on the rear of the Monster Power PRO 3500, putting it into “studio” instead of “stage” mode, meaning that it was much more sensitive to transients and potential overloads, and would shut off at the first sign of… anything.
2) When I ran all my subwoofer tests, not only had it been in “stage” mode – resistant to overloading, but mics and other elements were all powered off and not using as much current as the actual show would.  No way I could have popped it at that point.
3) The entire run of the production had been dangerously close to suffering that fate at any moment, but held just below the threshold… until I came along to push the Monster Power PRO 3500 over the edge.
4) Even though though the sub frequecies were at a reasonable level and the amplifier nowhere close to overloading, turning them up put the conditioner into “protect” mode, and it shut off the entire sound system, except for the computer which was kept alive by UPS battery power.
5) After the not-so-grand finale, my board op was able to immediately play the exit music, thanks to the Monster Power PRO 3500 finally turning itself back on after the dAnGeRoUs pOwEr iMbAlAnCe was sUcCeSsFuLly mItIgAtEd, with the computer still running.  So that part was a success.


In a world that is so complicated as ours, something will eventually go wrong that was never anticipated.  One can be calculated and avoid dumb mistakes, but time and volatility have some sort of destructive relationship – so eventually “karma” will catch up to everyone.  But when it does, those mishaps can become learning experiences that contribute toward future robustness.  For example, in my Wedding DJ business, I am incorporating a UPS into the ceremony music/amplification system because that is a situation where 10 seconds of power loss can ruin the whole wedding.  I’m very lucky to have and have had varied experiences like Sub Mulan, that continue to help me learn and create ever better outcomes in my work.


2 thoughts on “Failure: Sub Mulan

  1. Pingback: Failure: Becca-Proofing Aladdin | A Sound Engineer's Weblog

  2. Pingback: Failure is Ideal | A Sound Engineer's Weblog

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