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There’s Never Been Anything Like It – The Grateful Dead’s Wall Of Sound PA

Grateful Dead Wall of Sound on Bobby Owsinski's Production blogConcert sound systems have grown in scope over the years and are truly marvels in analog and digital electronics and acoustics. They’ve never been more powerful and more controllable, and our understanding of their use has never been better. That said, even the most sophisticated sound system of today still has a ways to go to catch up to the Grateful Dead’s “Wall Of Sound” used during their tour of 1973. It’s often been described as the finest sound system ever built, and those that heard it say that there’s still nothing that can touch it. In fact, many feel that it was the genesis for the modern line array configuration.

But how can that be? Given the level of development of audio gear in the early 70s compared to now, you’d think that anything from that era wouldn’t even be in the ballpark of an average system today.

The difference was that the Wall of Sound actually consisted of an individual sound system for every player in the band, and was positioned behind them so there was no need for monitors. Plus, the system was built for a throw capability of 600 feet to a 1,500 plus feet with no delay towers.

How did they do that? A simple trick of differential microphones, where the two mics were placed together on the stand and one was flipped out of phase to eliminate feedback. The top mic was used for the vocal vocals while the bottom created the difference signal that would cancel out anything else.

While there were several different configurations of the 75 ton Wall of Sound, one consisted of 586 JBL speakers and 54 Electrovoice tweeters powered by 48 McIntosh MC-2300 Amps (48 X 600 = 28,800 Watts of RMS power). The system might have sounded great but was too large and heavy, and took too long to set up, to make it practical. As a result, it was the centerpiece of that tour and then abandoned.

There is an along with a lot of pictures.

[Photo copyright Jerry Hogerson]
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