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Tacoma’s Spanish Ballroom

Yu Howe • InstallationsSeptember 2019 • September 11, 2019

The Melvins rock the reborn Spanish Ballroom

Landmark Sound for a Historic Venue

When venerable grunge-rockers The Melvins played the Spanish Ballroom at the McMenamins Elks Temple in downtown Tacoma, WA, in early May, just two weeks after the opening of the seven-story hostelry and music venue, the SPL meter at FOH hit 110 dB. That no one in the guest rooms heard the band comes down to great soundproofing, but nobody in the venue complained either, reveling in the performance delivered through a new ShowMatch line array system from Bose Professional installed by Gresham, Oregon-based design, sales, and integration company Tone Proper AV.

Tacoma favorites Champagne Sunday perform

‡‡         A Grand Re-Opening

A former Elks Lodge that was built in 1915 in the second Renaissance Revival style and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Elks Temple is the latest location to be opened by McMenamins. The family-owned group operates dozens of pubs, restaurants, hotels and music venues throughout the Northwest. After an extensive nine-year renovation of the building, which sat abandoned for two decades, the company opened the doors on April 24, revealing 45 hotel rooms, a restaurant, multiple bars and a seven-barrel brewery in addition to the 750-capacity venue.

Nick Moon, owner of Tone Proper AV in Gresham, Oregon, had previously designed and installed one of the first ShowMatch systems off the production line at another McMenamins venue, Portland’s Crystal Ballroom. That entire sound system, not just the Bose speakers, provided the template for this new venue. “They’re nearly identical systems,” says Moon. “You could do a show at the Crystal Ballroom, save your front of house settings on your thumb drive, go to the Spanish Ballroom and it should be a pretty good translation. It’s a slightly smaller space, so the P.A. is a little bit smaller, too.”

ShowMatch’s ability to deliver asymmetrical coverage through its customizable waveguide system was critical at the Crystal Ballroom, where one wall is predominantly windows and the stage is in a corner, says McMenamins music director Jimi Biron. “We were really satisfied with it. We don’t have the same issues in the room in Tacoma, but we still wanted to go with the system,” he says. Moon’s service and the support from Bose Professional was also a factor, adds Biron. “We’ve enjoyed the relationship and are delighted to use the system.”

‡‡         The Setup

The Tone Proper AV team installed left and right hangs each of six DeltaQ ShowMatch array modules, configured with three 5-degree vertical dispersion boxes at the top with a single 10-degree and two 20-degree boxes below. The horizontal dispersion defined by the waveguides from top to bottom on each array spans from 70 to 120 degrees, generating consistent, even coverage across the venue floor from front to back. Supplementing the array are two Bose Pro RMU208 Utility Series stage lip fills.

Moon initially planned to fly some of the eight SMS118 ShowMatch subs, but height limitations scotched that idea. “We have four subs stacked on the stage and four bunker subs, under the stage,” he says, a similar setup to the Crystal Ballroom rig. The four subs positioned below the new venue’s stage were originally designed to be fed from a single FOH console aux send, but the house engineer has since reconfigured it slightly. “So all the subs, which are time aligned, are all together on an aux.”

McMenamins locations have a consistent design aesthetic, and Biron reports that he called in the same contractor who built the stage at Crystal Ballroom, River Hawk Construction. At the previous venue, “They developed a technology where they used sand, a certain soundproof rubber matting, and each speaker is isolated in its own box that’s isolated from the floor and the stage,” he says of the below-stage subs.

‡‡         Audio Challenges

Located on the building’s second floor, the Spanish Ballroom is surrounded by hotel rooms — on the same level, the floor below and the two upper floors — so soundproofing and isolation were key to avoid disturbing guests. “We also have an HVAC system that’s located under the stage,” says Biron. “They had to take it to a whole new level, not only isolating each speaker, but also isolating the subs from the HVAC system so we didn’t end up with unintentional sound going to all the hotel rooms.”

The entire Bose speaker system is optimized using a Dante-enabled ControlSpace engineered sound processor driving nine PowerMatch PM8500N amplifiers fitted with AmpLink cards. Moon also integrated a building-wide Dante distribution network to feed audio from the stage to every bar area. “They have Dante-to-balanced output boxes under all the bars where they can take a live feed from the venue or just play whatever they wish.”

During installation, Moon recalls, “There was no working elevator, so we had to carry everything up four flights of stairs — all the subs, the arrays, the chain motors. I originally had a 42U amp rack for the entire ecosystem of all audio, but we couldn’t fit it in. Two days before the install, we had to dismantle everything and put it in a 32U rack. But that’s part of the job: Adapt and overcome.”

‡‡         Mixing and Miking

As the new system mirrors the Crystal Ballroom setup, there’s also a Midas PRO2C digital desk on stage to drive the monitor rig. “We have a traditional 56-channel Whirlwind transformer-balanced analog split. All the DL stage boxes, all the audio paths, live next to the splitter and each other, so there’s a short jump then just a Cat-5 connection to front of house.”

The PRO2C drives 12 mixes via four Powersoft 4804DSP+D amplifiers to new Fulcrum coaxial cardioid stage monitors. “The new Fulcrum FW15 is really phenomenal,” says Moon.

Completing the rider-friendly sound system, Moon supplied a microphone package to cover all eventualities. “It’s a wide range of all the classics that everybody usually wants to see,” he says, from Audix through Sennheiser to Shure. “We tried to provide whatever any touring guy wants to come in and grab.”

‡‡         Optimizing the Sound

Moon had measured the venue well in advance of the installation, he says, enabling him to test a variety of system configurations in the Bose Modeler software. “I got a chance to walk through the building before they even started renovating,” he says. “We were able to dial in the model to keep the sound right where we wanted it. Like at the Crystal, the pattern of each box is a little bit different in order to shape the pattern to the floor. From a FOH engineer’s perspective, it’s nice to know that we’re not wasting energy by hitting the walls. Energy is being used effectively and consistently. When you stand at the back, the front, the sides, it all sounds really good,” says Moon. “It translates into a great experience for everybody. After we applied all the tuning and stuff that we did in the computer, we turned it up, walked around and, man, it sounded awesome right out of the gate. It did exactly what we predicted it would do and required minimal tuning. It sounds great.”


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