Punchman's tips
Prof. John Alexander

Some thoughts on sound for Punchmen

If you put your sound equipment together from parts off the shelf, rather than buy ready-made kit such as a Coomber, then there are one or two suggestions that might be worth passing on.

The jack plugs and other bits fitted to sound gear at our end of the market are pretty unreliable and the source of trouble. Trouble you want to avoid just before a show. Studio equipment is rugged and reliable, but jack plugs were designed for telephone exchanges in the distant past and the design has deteriorated ever since. The main problem is the lack of space inside the plug. To make them slimmer, they have become difficult to solder and short circuits are hard to avoid. A little piece of insulation tape to separate the bits is essential although fiddly to place. Buy the fattest plug you can find. The sockets are even worse and I have the complete answer. Forget the usual socket and make up your own. Well worth the minor trouble. The type of socket meant to be fitted to the panels of electronic gear with the gubbins inside and the socket showing at the front is reliable, so put one in a plastic film canister with the lead through a hole in the base and there is plenty of room for good connections and no short circuits. A word of warning; they can be wired so that the connection is broken when the plug is inserted, so wire to the correct side.

A Heath Robinson idea that works well is to keep all the gear in a plastic cool box. The largish rectangular boxes with a handle that picnics are kept in. No fitting required. The battery goes in the bottom with some self-adhesive Velcro to keep it from shifting. The amplifier is upended along one side. Any connections needed to the back are put in place and terminate in sockets. The amp can rest on sponge pads to make room for the protrusions or a better idea is to bolt short legs onto the fixing holes at the side so that there is clearance for the connections, usually to the speaker and battery. If the microphone socket is also at the back, then a short lead to that is needed as the back of the amp will not be accessible. Any space is filled with bubblewrap and the microphone, tape player and anything else goes on top of that. There is room for a horn loudspeaker in mine. There is a lid and a good handle so it is perfect for outdoor work.

Smaller amplifiers can be used in soft packs. Small knap sacks made for children work well. Mine is a Mr.Cheerful bag with the Eagle F-4 amp in the front zipp pocket and the battery in the large space. A little hole in the bottom allows them to be connected. Everything else goes into the big side and it all zipps up. Ideal for small halls and smaller events outside.

The best place for the speaker is high. A bracket on the show works well but can lead to feed-back. A stand a few feet away from the show is a good idea. A neat and practical stand is made for photoflood lamps and photographic suppliers have them. More rugged and much heavier are the stands sold with halogen work lights.

A horn speaker is perfect for outside although the frequency range is limited. For simplicity, it is used indoors as well but if you want better sound indoors, then a cabinet speaker is better. Difficult to arrange at the right height unless you buy one designed to go on a stand. Several of the horn speakers available have a line transformer built in. This is not likely to be useful but adds considerably to the weight. Get someone who knows about these things to remove it and your life will be easier.

The Eagle equipment we have relied on for many years is now known by the brand name of Adastra and much of it has been redesigned. A source is Rapid Electronics Limited at www.rapidelectronics.co.uk with a good online catalogue.

The 20 watt Eagle has been replaced with an amplifier, the Compact, rated at 25 watts. There does not seem to be any improvement in the volume delivered but the amplifier is bulkier, heavier and not very convenient or compact. Completely barmy idea; the on/off switch only operates when using mains supply. This means that you have to have a switch between the battery and the amp when you are outdoors. The connections are at the back and the controls at the front which limits the options for fitting it into a case. The auxiliary input is shared with the second mic, so, if you use a tape player you can only use one mic. This is not a big problem, but it is nice to have a mic for the warm up and another already in place for the show.

Shure are the Rolls Royce of microphones and I used them for years. Bought a Chinese mic from a cheapjack shop for 3 to use as a spare and now use it most of the time. Very little difference. Maplin have a good range of radio mics at reasonable prices. They work on 12 volts so they can be used away from mains supply. Not essential, but nice to have.

Don't forget that you need to have your equipment PAT tested every year to keep your insurance valid. It does not apply to 12 volt gear, but if it can be connected to the mains, then you need the sticker. The mains leads also have to be tested.

Various other Professors have added various bits of advice on the Punch Booth Message Board
Mikes, Speakers and Amps all available from
Complete integrated units are available from www.coombers.co.uk
Information on rechargeable batteries on this site, Prof Punch Tips.
Mr. Fizzo writes that he has had great success with the following:
952.419 - 12W RMS vehicle PA mixing amplifier
173.495 - dynamic microphone
952.234 - 10" round horn speaker 15W 8ohms
Currently (2003) this all comes to about 80 includin p&p and VAT and is just just a few clicks and a flexy friend away at www.henrys.co.uk.

You will, of course, need a battery. Detailed info in this area is availed in the "where to buy" section of the "Punch Prof tips"

Prof Twisty writes "I use a SPLX 2 Channel Amplifier 450 Watts 12v this gives great sound and very load if you want if need be.(From Motor World)
Also a Radio Shack wireless microphone system 12v from Tandy.
And two very good SPLX 6X9 car speakers.
The whole lot is mounted in a neat wooden box that I can put anywhere within 30 Meters of the booth.
You can power it from your car lighter or straight from a car battery.
ALSO check out the information in the Where to Buy section of Prof Punch Tips.

by Mr. Bimbambooozle
Cone style PA speakers are poor for music, but excellent for projecting speech over a distance and in noisy conditions. They are generally too tinny and strident for use indoors. They are the best choice for outdoor work if their purpose is to attract a crowd from a distance. For actually amplifying the sound for the people watching the show they are not the best choice.

Sound from all speakers travels in straight lines, in conical form, say about 30 degrees spread. If you imagine a giant ice cream cone projecting from the front of the speaker you will get an idea of where the sound is going. Usually, the way cone speakers are mounted atop Punch booths ensures that the sound is best heard at the back of the crowd and completely misses the seated kids at the front.

Choice of speakers, cone size, impedance, power rating etc all depend not only on what you are using them for but also with which amplifier, the performing conditions etc.

Probably a general rule should be that the loudspeakers should be as close to the proscenium opening as possible - so that the sound should appear to emanate from the puppets.

Additional Notes by Mr. Bimbamboozle:

The best speaker for attracting a crowd, which can be heard from a great distance, is a cone speaker mounted on top of your booth. If, however , your intention is for your audience to comfortably hear your show then that is probably the worst choice.

A cabinet speaker will deliver far better quality sound than a horn speaker, and particularly so if you are using music. This is because a horn speaker has no bass.

The best position for a speaker is just above head height – and two speakers are better than one. Whether people can hear you through the speaker is far more a matter of speaker positioning than of loudness. Think of speaker sound as emanating in a cone shape from the speaker, much in the way that a light beam does from a spotlight. Aim your speaker so that you "light-up" your audience's head area. Another thing to be aware of is that sound bounces off hard surfaces and can cause distortion, and sound is swallowed up by soft surfaces. A room with a lot of soft furnishings, or heavy curtains will need more treble and more volume. In a big hard room – a gymnasium perhaps – it is often better to set up diagonally to avoid facing a hard wall and getting a direct bounce back.

Speakers mounted on the booth, either side of the pros, are a possibility. But feedback can be a problem. I prefer a speaker on a stand, (or better two stand) - where height and angle can be adjusted to the conditions.

I heard of a theory that you needed 1 watt per person in the expected audience. This strikes me as nonsense. That would mean 100 watts for 100 people. I can address 100 people without any amplification whatsoever, and without strain. In fact I frequently do school shows where there are in excess of 200 pupils, and I never use a mike for the magic part of the show – nor do I need to bellow at them.

During the 2nd World War there was an outfit called ENSA , an entertainment unit that gave shows in the canteens, and tents, or airfields, wherever – to keep up the morale of the troups. Famous stars of the day, singers, comedians, what have you, did ENSA tours, as well as many lesser known who did their early training there and became the stars of the next generation. They played at times in well equipped halls and garrison theatres, at others in the most primitive conditions. For the battlefield work there was a standard ENSA sound outfit. These would be used for generally very large audiences. It was a very compact, although heavy unit, consisting of two 12inch speakers and a valve amplifier delivering 15 Watts. The two speakers and the amp ingeniously clipped together to form a strong box. Twin record decks (78 rpm records) where housed in a separate box. My point is that hundreds of these were used all over the world – and to audiences much greater than 15 persons!

Incidentally these units were available through Government surplus shops after the war and were snapped up by puppeteers of the day. They were the basic sound system of most of the puppet troupes, and were still in use throughout the 1950s. My late partner Eric toured the Variety Theatres for many years using this outfit, and in fact it was the sound system of this theatre (which seats 118) for the first few years – and we never had to turn it up anywhere near full volume.

Actually any sound engineer will tell you that wattage is pretty meaningless as a guide to volume. What matters is speaker efficiency, and positioning. All this nonsense about powerful amplifiers being needed is due to the rise of disco and pop groups where they not only want to hear a very loud noise, but also to "feel" the sound vibrations.

With a Punch show you don't generally need a powerful amplifier even outdoors. Most manage quite adequately with 20amps. Audiences for Punch are usually small. How many times do you play to 100?
If you've got a 30 watt amplifier and good speakers and a good mike you should be able to cope with anything. 50watts seems over the top to me and 100 watts pointless. And you've just got to have an amp capable of working off a battery. Depending on mains always being available is a no-no.

And to reduce your volume as much as possible should be the aim. Less sound is often clearer sound. The amplification in the Punch booth is only to compensate for the fact that your voice is muffled by being in the booth. Stand outside the booth and you should be capable of addressing the audience without amplification. If you can't then the audience is probably too big for a puppet show.

And even sound delivered through horn speaker is not too bad if you keep the volume down. Prof Geoff Felix uses a very low power amplifier - but his sound is usually pretty clear. It has that canned quality that a horn gives, and which some people actually like. That brings us to another thing. Is the purpose of your sound system to tell everyone that you have a big amplifier, that your sound is LOUD? Or is it to try and deliver natural sounding sound so that the audience can hear adequately without actually being aware that the sound is being amplified?

And remember that many of your audience are close to your speakers – and if they are delivering a very powerful sound then it will be very painful for the kids at the front.

As for the swazzle question. The swazzle doesn't need amplification. I find the idea of having separate swazzles with different tunings, for use with a mike or without, to be unconvincing. A tale for the gullible. It is like all this nonsense about swazzle tape that floats, herringbone patterns etc. and only winding a swazzle with your trouser leg rolled up and the wind from the East.

When using a swazzle with a mike you simply turn your head slightly off-mike when speaking through the swazzle. It's the same with a singer with good technique - when they hit their top notes they move the microphone - they increase the distance between mike and mouth.

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