It’s a cheeky moment in the film. The band’s manager, Jim ‘Miami’ Beach, sidles up to the sound controls at Live Aid and removes the limiters so that Queen upstaged everyone else. The story was already one of many urban legends about the band, except it was their actual long-time engineer Trip Khalaf at the desk in real life. But did he really ‘cheat’ with a sneaky trick? Even Brian May said: “We sent our brilliant engineer to check the system, so he set all the limiters for us. We were louder than anyone else.” The man in charge of the sound desks on the day says it was completely impossible anyone could actually go over the legal sound limit imposed by the authorities. So, what really happened? The truth is, Queen stole the show because they were better than most bands on the day in two major ways.
Malcolm Hill’s company Hill Pro Audio was in charge of the sound systems at Wembley Stadium for Live Aid. His company even received a formal letter from the Greater London Council commending them for maintaining the strict sound levels put in place.
He told Express Online: “Nobody on or around the stage would have had any control of, or even knowledge of, the sound system operation… The system was controlled by a ‘processor rack’, 100 metres away, in the middle of the pitch, tucked out of the way, to the side of the mix platform.”
Basically, it was impossible for anyone to increase the sound limit.
Hill says: “The SPL (sound pressure level) is the objective measure for sound level, rather than the subjective sense of ‘loudness’. It’s measured in decibels, being a logarithmic scale where 0dB is the threshold of hearing for a normal human being. A typical rock gig is frequently hitting around 100dB, which is 10,000,000,000 times more powerful than the smallest sound you can hear.
“Trip deserves full credit for his skilful and optimal use of the system, but not for any ‘tricks’ or favouritism.”
In layman’s terms, Queen weren’t actually any louder, but they sounded louder. Queen did sound better than most of the other bands at Wembley for two very impressive reasons.
Firstly, Queen’s talented sound engineer was one of the few who knew how to properly maximise the output within the limits so Queen sounded clearer and louder. Brian May was correct when he said Trip made them sound louder.
Hill explains: “Trip Khalaf from Queen wasn’t phased by anything. He just walked up to the mixing desk he’d never seen before in his life, set it all up and the rest is history. You wouldn’t be able to launch Bohemian Rhapsody if their set (sound) hadn’t been massive.”
Hill told Express Online The Who, Status Quo and Dire Straits were really good for the same reason. But many other acts blatantly weren’t as well prepared and didn’t have their own skilled engineers: “The lack of a soundcheck really seemed to throw them and then they panicked.”
There was one other factor, of course, which really set Queen apart and above the rest.
Hill adds: “Queen didn’t come on and do their normal set, they rehearsed a specific set that would work with no soundcheck and a 15-minute slot.”
Live Aid organiser Bob Geldoff and Brian May have both acknowledged Queen’s precise understanding of the importance of delivering a hit-packed set tailored to the event and the time limit.
Piled on top of the extraordinary talents of the four men on stage and the calibre of their material, it all perfectly combined to prove Queen were the supreme live stadium act of the time.
It’s fun to imagine a little bit of cheeky trickery – and plays well in a movie – but it’s much more satisfying to know Queen sounded so good purely and simply because of the sheer talent involved.