- by George Petersen
Bringing High Performance Audio to Every Seat in the House
Throughout the world, live theater — once considered a dying art — continues to blossom and rise in popularity. This phenomenon is not strictly by happenstance, but through the evolution of live theater, which incorporates all forms of technology — lighting, staging, visual effects and state of the art audio — into creating reality on the stage.
At the same time, audiences everywhere have demanded increasingly higher standards with expectations of high-def clarity, vocal intelligibility and punch from live music and theatrical presentations. A beat-up horn cluster delivering mono audio doesn’t cut it anymore, especially in an era of multichannel and high-res stereo delivery systems that can impart every nuance of a performance to every seat in the house.
Given an upswing of interest in live theater and performing arts facilities, there is plenty of activity in new construction, renovations of historical buildings and transformations of existing structures into new venues. Unfortunately, in determining what sound system is best in any particular performance space, the answers do not come easy and can be as varied as the architecture, seating and decor. Many of these were never intended for either high-SPL music programs or even for the needs of contemporary theater or performing arts. However, a well-designed, modern sound system can meet these challenges, given the right components, the right design and a professional installation.
With that in mind, we looked into some recent theater/performing arts center projects — all successful examples that reflect the state-of-the-art.
David Geffen Hall, New York City
Built in 1962, the David Geffen Hall (formerly the Avery Fisher Hall) is a 2,738-seat venue in New York City’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts complex and is the home of the New York Philharmonic. WorldStage recently created a new in-house audio system for the iconic facility.
“This represents a major upgrade to the concert hall’s in-house sound system,” says WorldStage audio designer Kate Brown. ”WorldStage has supplied David Geffen Hall with current technology, including loudspeakers, amps, digital consoles and wireless mics.” The upgrade also included replacing some rigging and installing cabling and fiber for audio networking.
The concert hall’s new L/C/R speaker system features d&b audiotechnik V7P and V10P point source loudspeakers, which cover the large area without the need for a giant line array. ”d&b speakers were chosen specifically for their capabilities in this type of concert hall setting,” notes WorldStage project manager Susanna Harris-Rea. “They are small and unobtrusive with custom covers that blend into the ceiling. No one wants to sit in a concert hall and see speakers.”
WorldStage also added d&b E8 loudspeakers for balcony seating and d&b T10 speakers for front fill, plus d&b D20 and D80 amps/processors. The new gear includes the hall’s first digital consoles, a Yamaha CL1 and a Yamaha CL5. Yamaha’s Rio series I/O racks operate over both Dante and fiber. In addition, Shure ULX wireless mics were installed.
“Perhaps the greatest challenge of designing a new audio system for David Geffen Hall was having to satisfy many disparate requirements,” said Randall Etheredge, Lincoln Center senior director, production. “The system had to provide superb clarity to fill the house at low and high volumes while remaining as unobtrusive as possible. Lincoln Center is very pleased with what World Stage delivered.”
Bergen Performing Arts Center, Englewood, NJ
Originally built as the Englewood Plaza movie theater in 1926, the venue re-opened, after several iterations, as the Bergen Performing Arts Center (BergenPAC) in 2004. Today, the 1,367-seat auditorium hosts 200 shows a year by major artists, as well as being home to performance classes offered at The Performing Arts School at BergenPAC.
Up until now, the venue rented P.A. systems for major shows. But, BergenPAC now features an L-Acoustics Kara sound system designed and installed by Boulevard Pro, a leading NYC metro area audio systems and backline provider supplying L-Acoustics systems for over a decade.
“We have a long history with BergenPAC and having supplied our Kara rental system there for the past couple of years,” says Boulevard co-owner James Cioffi. “Being intimately familiar with the space and the customer’s needs, L-Acoustics Kara was the obvious choice. BergenPAC knew its form factor and output were a perfect match for the room, and that its rider-friendliness was equally important.”
The venue’s new Kara line array system has 13 Kara boxes per side, with four SB18 subs per side flown behind the arrays. L-Acoustics 8XT are installed as front and under-balcony fills, and 16 self-powered 112P coaxial modules are deployed as monitors. It’s “our favorite L-Acoustics box,” says Cioffi, noting that the company has more of them out on rental than any other model in Boulevard Pro’s 200+ L-Acoustics inventory. Four LA8 and three LA4X amplified controllers power all of the theater’s new PA system components.
Boulevard’s familiarity with BergenPAC was fortunate because the project had a tight deadline: the new sound system had to be in place in time for the venue’s Spring Gala event on June 7 featuring Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band. “We had the system up and tuned in nine hours,” says Cioffi.
“We built the amp racks off-site and came into the venue with L-Acoustics consultant Vic Wagner to do the system calibration and with BergenPAC technical director Joe Feola and CEO Dominic Roncace, who made sure that everything was ready on the venue’s end. It went smoothly, and now it’s a tight-sounding room,” he adds.
So tight, in fact, that Ringo Starr commented positively on the sound quality from the stage, both at sound check and during the show. “Hey,” quips Cioffi, “when one of the Beatles likes the way it sounds, you can’t ask for anything more.”
J.E. Broyhill Civic Center, Lenoir, NC
The J.E. Broyhill Civic Center features a 1,000-seat auditorium and large conference facility which together host over 600 showcase, community and corporate events each year. Auditorium events include numerous musical, dance and theatrical performances. Broyhill Civic Center director Jeff Bentley worked with Myron Surber of ONAVS, who designed an updated sound system to support the auditorium’s diverse array of performers. The system is based on Fulcrum Acoustic’s FL283 dual-8 subcardioid line array module.
The project presented a number of acoustical challenges. Rear LF rejection from its loudspeakers was crucial to keep sound from radiating off the proscenium and bleeding onto the stage. Additionally, high-output yet compact speakers were required to provide the requisite SPLs and LF output, yet not interfere with the auditorium’s sightlines or aesthetics.
The solution was a simple, yet flexible sound system based on two flown Fulcrum FL283 eight-module arrays, supported by stacked RCF subwoofers and driven by a Powersoft X8 amplifier platform — all installed by Imagine Design & Production Services, Inc. “The auditorium presented mounting position challenges which could only be solved by speakers with significant low frequency rejection,” Bentley explains. “Fulcrum’s unique passive cardioid approach was a huge selling point, as it delivers the cardioid effect we need in half the footprint of an active cardioid array. “
Fulcrum FL283’s full-range passive operation at 16 ohms allows up to eight speakers to be driven from a single power amplifier channel, while its LF performance down to 54 Hz minimizes the need for subwoofers. “The FL283’s single amp channel operation saved us money and simplified processing, and its surprising low end output supports most of our events without using subwoofers,” Bentley says. “The FL283 line arrays deliver seamless, full-range coverage throughout the auditorium with all the sound reinforcement and vocal intelligibility our diverse programming requires. We couldn’t be happier with our new sound system.”
Radio City Music Hall, New York City
Manhattan’s famed Radio City Music Hall now has a permanent Meyer Sound LEO Family system, which has already supported performances by the renowned Radio City Rockettes and is slated for the upcoming Christmas Spectacular this holiday season.
The new system is concealed behind a false proscenium scrim. “The main P.A. had to go in a very specific location and be hidden from view,” says Andrew Keister, a partner with Steve Canyon Kennedy in SCK Sound Design. “The spectaculars do projection mapping all over the front ceiling and false proscenium, which precludes use of large, flown arrays that would cast shadows. The LYONs, with their extraordinary power-to-size ratio, were a perfect fit and significantly out-performed the previous solution.”
The mains consisted of left/right arrays, each with 16 LYON line arrays and center downfill with eight LEOPARD line arrays. Bass support is via 30 900-LFC low frequency control elements, deployed as 18 in a cardioid pattern on the side proscenium, six in a center cardioid and six on a rear truss. Eight additional 900-LFC’s were purchased for use with anticipated rock-style concerts.
Supplied by PRG New York, with sale facilitated by Bob Rendon, the system includes Galileo Callisto speaker management with three Galileo Callisto 616 and six Galileo 616 processors. For immersive surround effects, this summer’s New York Spectacular system also incorporated four arrays, each with eight LEOPARD line arrays. “Most of these LEOPARDs were rentals,” notes Keister, “as the requirements for surround systems will change from show to show.”
The new system also incorporates a complete D-Mitri digital audio platform equipped with SpaceMap 3D panning and Wild Tracks multi-channel playback. “The power of the D-Mitri platform enabled us to program innovative, multi-dimensional effects that perfectly complement the video mapping,” adds Keister. “The result is a truly immersive audio experience.”
Radio City Rockettes shows are mixed on a pair of DiGiCo SD7 digital consoles, with staff engineers Patrick Healey and Michael Jenkins handling the live orchestra, vocal, playback and supplementary sounds — including 80 channels of wireless dedicated to the special microphones built into the 80 Rockettes’ tap shoes.
Hakata-za Theatre, Hakata, Japan
Located in Hakata city, the Hakata-za Theatre in Fukuoka prefecture is one of Japan’s most famous musical theaters. The three-tier, 1,454-seat venue opened in 1999, and was recently renovated to meet the complex acoustical demands for events such as kabuki, musicals and theatrical shows.
Several premium systems were tested over a nearly five-year period before Martin Audio’s MLA family was given approval. As a result, 11 MLA Compact elements are hung left and right of the proscenium along with DSX subs, while eight MLA Minis have been deployed as an L/C/R center cluster. To cover the remaining areas (including under the two balconies), a further 73 Martin Audio DD6 have been specified.
The sound engineer, Mr. Noguchi from Music Reserve Inc., stated, “Our top priority is delivering perfect sound to the entire audience. In the Hakata-za Theatre, we have to cater for many kinds of programs and in the past we have experienced shortcomings in the sound with some productions and presentations. The MLA family has overcome that and given me an innovative way to deliver consistent sound throughout the auditorium.”
The MLA Compacts deliver sound evenly into the theater’s three tiers of seating. With the elements optimized in groups to cover top to bottom tiers, Mr. Noguchi stated that the Preset function was very useful when changing the optimizations depending on the production. “The distributed DD6’s then not only help to cover the audience area but also maintain the character of sound. The DD6’s Differential Dispersion horn delivers high clarity from the front to back seats, and there is no compromise whatsoever in this new system.”
Another of the theater’s engineers, Mr. Tsubone, added: “The choice of this system was extremely important for us. It means we now have the ability to control the sound pressure level for whole audience area, suited to every type of program. No matter where each member of the audience is seated, consistent sound will be delivered. I have never experienced anything like this degree of functionality ever before. It is overwhelming.”
Orpheum Theatre, Galesburg, IL
When the Orpheum Theatre opened its doors in 1916, it was described as “a veritable house of enchantment.” Now, 100 years later, it is hailed as the “Jewel of Galesburg.”
Originally built as a vaudeville house, the Orpheum then operated as a cinema, but like many large urban movie palaces, it eventually closed due to high operating costs, and in the early 1980’s, the venue was donated to the Knox County Civic Center Authority. After a local fundraising drive and a $2.5-million grant, a restored Orpheum reopened in 1988 as a center for performing arts. It draws audiences from around the central and northwest Illinois region, with plays, concerts, symphony performances, and it even serves as a house of worship on Sunday mornings.
Now, in celebration of its centennial anniversary, the theater has again been upgraded to bring it into modern standards.
“The main sound system was not even being utilized anymore,” noted installation manager Dave Plunk of Music Makers of Galesburg. “For the last 15 years, we have been servicing [the theater] with a piecemeal patchwork of sound equipment, and there was no headroom left.” Theater management also noted complaints of inconsistent volume levels throughout the venue.
The modernization included networked audio and video systems spec’d by Advanced Audio & Light of Peoria, IL. “We were contracted to provide a design for upgrading the audio visual components of the space to modern standards, while still observing the traditional aesthetics and minding the budget,” says company principal Trent Keeling.
“Given that the venue is a wooden building with some structural steel, we looked carefully at what load distributions and budgets we were working with,” Keeling adds. The solution was a center hang of RCF HDL10-A lightweight, compact, active line arrays, with ground-supported SUB8004-AS single-18 subwoofers that could be deployed during events requiring additional LF extension.
During the planning stage, there were some who had a concern that the line array design would impact the appearance of the proscenium arch and the stage as a whole. “As a historic theater, we strive to preserve as much of the old architecture and aesthetics as possible, however concessions must be made to keep the theater’s systems up to date with modern technologies,” says Orpheum tech director Ross McIntire.
“We were able to hang the line array below a large decorative ceiling medallion, which kept it visible to the audience on the ground while still installing new equipment that will drastically improve the quality of audio in the theater,” McIntire states.
The entire space including side areas and a second balcony, minus a mezzanine overhang, were completely covered by a nine box solution of HDL10-A cabinets and provided “plenty of SPL for the types of events that the theater hosts,” says Keeling, noting that it was also “a truly cost-effective solution.”
In system tests after installation, “we are within 1 dB everywhere in the house,” says Music Makers’ Plunk, except for a mezzanine balcony overhang where eight Martin C4.8T ceiling speakers were added for intelligibility in that area.