For a-ha fans the world over, 2010 marks their last opportunity to see the band perform together. a-ha’s farewell tour, aptly named “Ending On A High Note,” will have covered four continents and fifteen countries when it wraps up. Indeed, the band’s final three shows ever, slated for early December in their home-country of Norway, sold out within days of their October 2009 announcements, well over a year in advance. The tour is travelling with a full complement of Sennheiser wired and wireless microphones, including a Sennheiser SKM 5200 with a Neumann KK 105 capsule for lead vocalist Morten Harket, as well as Sennheiser wireless personal monitors. Ready support from the Sennheiser Global Relations Team has mitigated many of the travails of the road for tour manager Kleo Tuemmler, FOH engineer Sherif El Barbari, and monitor engineer Kursten Smith.
“Morten is incredibly sensitive to the performance of his microphone and wireless personal monitor system,” said El Barbari. “In fact, I’ve been an engineer for close to thirty years now, and I have never met someone who is so spot-on regarding what he hears, what he feels, and what he expresses. He is a perfectionist who is capable of delivering, and that has really raised the bar for Smith and myself.” The talented and demanding singer is very much attached to the sound of the Neumann KK 105 capsule. On occasions where he uses something else, Harket returns to the KK 105 as if it were a homecoming. “That Neumann condenser sound is so clear and clean. It rings clear and true when he hits the incredible high notes for which he is known.”
Harket only recently went wireless. “He has always been a very focused vocalist,” said Tuemmler. “He’s never been one to work out any kind of choreography. Having a reliable, excellent-sounding wireless mic has opened up his performance, allowing him to move without fear of tangled wires. He performs in a different way.” His long-time band mates, Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen, use Sennheiser e 935 wired dynamics for backing vocals. El Barbari likes the e 935 both for its excellent off-axis rejection and for its tailored response, which he claims does a better job – even with no processing – than the other industry-standard “vocal mics” – even with liberal EQ.
The tour uses eight wireless personal monitoring systems with twelve packs and a Sennheiser A 5000 CP antenna. Depending on where they are in the world and the availability from suppliers, the systems are either ew 300 IEM G2 or G3. Each tech carries a duplicate pack on the channel of the performer they are responsible for. “I carry a spare pack in case of any RF trouble, but so far I haven’t had any need to use it,” said Smith, knocking on wood with a smile so as to avoid a jinx. “From what I have experienced in RF land, Sennheiser’s equipment performs as advertised, provided you have decent frequency management. Of course, massive video walls complicate things, but the Sennheiser gear is robust enough to deal.” For his overall frequency map, Smith relies on a well-worn spectrum analyzer.
The tour is out with a number of Sennheiser wired mics, as well. The TEC Award-winning Sennheiser e 902 picks up kick drum with thump and authority. Because touring drummer Karl-Oluf Wennerberg’s kit is adjusted to a very low profile, El Barbari uses a combination of Sennheiser e 904 microphones on toms with transducers to trigger gates. Sennheiser e 614 small-diaphragm condensers decorate the kit to cover stereo overheads and hi-hat. In addition, an e 614 captures the rich harmonics of a sometimes-used glockenspiel.
Support from Sennheiser’s Global Relations team has been timely and complete. “The folks at Sennheiser are great and very responsive,” said El Barbari. “At the same time, they check in and make sure we’re okay without overdoing it. I don’t feel like I’m being pestered.” Smith agreed, “The support I have received from Sennheiser, both with a-ha and a lot of other acts, has always been fantastic. If I ever need to troubleshoot something, they are right there with a solution. They provide real support that never leaves us in the lurch.”