Seoul’s MCube venue is compact but its influence is felt across Korea and beyond. As Barney Jameson discovers, its audio system was all-important.
As K-Pop continues its international rise in popularity, so Korea’s media companies are finding new ways to bring it to the widest possible audience. One of the most recent concepts is MCube, an online streaming service delivering K-Pop themed programming courtesy of music channel MNet. Crucially, much of the programming hosted on both MNet and MCube is filmed in a dedicated live venue located in Cheongdam, one of the most fashionable parts of Seoul.
Also named MCube, the 450-capacity venue is owned and operated by leading Korean media company CJ E&M, and plays host to some of the highest profile pop music programming in the country, including hugely popular talent show Superstar K. Also hosted within the space, meanwhile, are high-end corporate product launches, fashion shows and more.
With so many prestigious events taking place at the venue, sound engineer Kim Kyung Han is quick to explain how important it is that the technical production is flawless. ‘I have a lot of pressure on my shoulders,’ he says, ‘The correct sound is very important.’
The venue’s audio system also needs to be flexible to support the varied acts and events that pass through it. ‘To support fashionable acts we required the kind of system that is suitable for groove and beat-led music,’ says Mr Kim. ‘Flexibility is the key. This is very important for us because we have such a wide variety of events.’
The company that provided the solution for MCube is Seoul-based Meyer Sound distributor Avix Tech, whose engineer Jang Seok Hwan and director Jae Youn Chung designed the system.
‘The Cheongdam area is part of the Gangnam district, which is now very famous,’ says Mr Jae, explaining the importance of the project to Avix Tech. ‘This area is the trend leader and this studio is also a part of that, which is why it is a very prestigious project for Avix Tech.’
Though relatively compact in size, the room still presented challenges during the design and installation process. Notable among them was the time limitation placed on the project. ‘It was completed in a very short period of time,’ recalls Mr Jang. ‘The wiring took around one month and the tuning and optimisation process took about three months.’
Adding a further complication, meanwhile, was the physical location of the theatre that would ultimately become MCube – the basement of a popular leisure and cinema complex. ‘At that point there was no elevator here so we had to carry the subwoofers downstairs by hand!’
Considering the subwoofers to which Mr Jang is referring, that was no small undertaking. Delivering low-end for the MCube installation are four Meyer Sound 700-HP high-powered subs, ground-stacked two per-side at either side of the main stage area. Full-range performance is via six Meyer Sound JM-1P enclosures flown three per-side. On-stage sound is delivered by two MJF-212A wedge monitors.
The front of house system covers the main floor of the venue, but during particularly busy events coverage is also required for a large balcony area positioned on the venue’s left side. ‘In that case we use Meyer Sound UPA-1P loudspeakers,’ explains Mr Kim. A total of four of the wide-coverage speakers ensure no corner of the venue is missed.
The ultimate choice of Meyer Sound fell to Mr Kim, who describes himself as a fan of ‘the low frequency of the 700-HP and the mid-to-low frequencies of the JM1Ps. It’s all about the sound – it’s very suitable for today’s fashionable music.’
Meanwhile, for Avix Tech, the decision was simple. ‘Based on our knowledge and this venue’s multipurpose use we believed that Meyer Sound was suitable. The other reason is that this studio should be very flexible – the installation and disassembling of the system needed to be very easy.’
Adding an extra touch of flexibility is the inclusion of a Galileo 408 processor, handling all speaker management for the FOH rig. ‘In the initial stages we use the Galileo to make the sound flat,’ explains Mr Kim. ‘But later it depends on the kind of show – whether it’s a gala show, a hip-hop concert, an electronic concert, a party or a musical launch event which needs more reinforced, lower frequency sound. In that case we reset the Galileo via a laptop interface.’
At the rear of MCube and to the right hand side of the main entrance is the front of house mix position, within which resides a 32-channel Yamaha M7CL digital console. ‘Most of the sound engineers in Korea have the impression that the M7CL is easier to operate, which is why I chose it,’ says Mr Kim. ‘Engineers come in here for the broadcast shows and this is a console that they comfortable with.’
However, some productions bring their own consoles in. ‘Sometimes a DiGiCo SD9 or an Avid console will be required depending on the requirements. But most of the time the venue and the equipment are used as they are.’ Also housed within the small sound booth is a Pioneer DJM-900 plus three CDJ-2000 CD turntables for visiting DJs, who also have a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-M50 headphones to hand.
Audio-Technica is also responsible for MCube’s wireless microphone systems with its 5000 Series. Included are two AEW-R5200 receivers, four AEW-6100 handheld transmitters, two AT899cw omnidirectional lavalier microphones and two AEW-T1000 belt-packs. A single antenna covers the room. ‘It’s different from other brands in terms of sound quality,’ reasons the sound engineer. ‘It’s good for the host when he’s introducing the show and for the kinds of events that we have here. It’s a very good system.’
Acoustically, the space is well-treated, though Mr Kim points out that the off-centre location of the mix position is unusual. ‘Mixing is not difficult in here,’ he stresses. ‘From the perspective of the mix position, it’s not exactly even but in the overall ratio of the room it is exactly right for balance.’
Not even the large glass wall at the rear of the venue presents a problem, despite initial concerns that it might cause reflections. ‘At first I thought that the glass might be a problem but the angle of the speakers means that they focus inwards, avoiding the glass,’ says Mr Kim. In addition, a curtain can be drawn as required.
Finally, reflecting an admirable attention to detail are two Leem NS-8S power conditioners. ‘To achieve the correct SPL and sound we need to achieve an average voltage,’ Mr Kim explains. ‘Because we have this power system you cannot hear any noise – or only a very small amount – even though all of the speakers are turned on. Without the power system we wouldn’t be able to pursue the quality that we want. The power conditioners make sure that nothing abrupt happens – there are no spikes.’
Having now been enjoyed by K-Pop fans lucky enough to attend MCube in person plus millions more watching around the world, the system has more than proven itself. ‘There have actually been some interesting cases where visiting engineers who have not seen the system in this room think that they should bring their own,’ reflects Mr Kim. ‘Then they find out that we have Meyer Sound here and they send their system back.’ There is, he adds: ‘no better compliment. We have never had a negative comment.’