Upward Mobility in the Club World

Mar 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Steve La Cerra



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The Memorial Auditorium features a Neo GEO array, courtesy MSM Systems’ president, Kent Clasen, who designed/installed the upgrade.

The Memorial Auditorium features a Neo GEO array, courtesy MSM Systems’ president, Kent Clasen, who designed/installed the upgrade.


Halfway across the United States, the Memorial Auditorium (Pittsburgh, Kans.) recently received a system overhaul, which had not been updated since 1984. The new system was designed and installed by MSM Systems Inc. in nearby Lawrence, Kans. According to MSM president Kent Clasen, “The community is very active in theater, and now they can increase the level of their music productions. We're very pleased with the Nexo loudspeakers, and the Yamaha M7CL-48 [board] with the digital CobraNet transport works extremely well and has the lowest noise floor of any system I have heard.”

The 16 Nexo GEO S8 line array speakers are powered by three QSC PL380 amps. “The small size of the GEO S8 is conducive to the sensitive nature of the aesthetics in many performance spaces,” he explains. “They are only 16 inches wide, so usually the first time people see them, they say, ‘Are those little things the new speaker system?’ Then when they hear them, they are amazed. We still specify a long enough array to get reasonable vertical control of the lower frequencies.”

The main stereo L/R array comprises seven 5-degree vertical cabs with a horizontal pattern of 80 or 120 degrees. One 30×120 cabinet provides downfill, and two high-power QSC PL380s provide amplification for the main arrays. Signal processing for the mains is via the Nexo NX242; a QSC PL380 provides amplification for the existing EAW SB1000 subs. CobraNet was chosen to reduce ground noise between the console and amp room on the second floor, as well as to lower costs of cable runs.


Boasting a digital audio system that can be used with equal success for sound reinforcement, digital recording and digital radio simulcast is the Fox Theatre in Redwood City, Calif. This system was spec'd by Steve Bauer, owner of Audio Video Innovations (also in Redwood City) and is built around a 48-channel Digidesign VENUE augmented by a Pro Tools HD3 Accel recording rig with an extensive set of plug-ins.

Bauer explains that he met with a bit of resistance to installing a digital system in the theater. “I design and install audio distribution systems on a daily basis, so the benefits of digital technology are clear to me,” he says. “But many sound engineers had the attitude of, ‘This will never fly. I learned on analog and that's what I'll continue to use.’ In two years, what a change. Now, 92 percent of the acts coming in here embrace the technology once they see what it can offer them.

“The Pro Tools HD system gives engineers the ability to record a soundcheck and play it back while the musicians are off having dinner,” he continues. “It allows the opportunity to experiment with different plug-ins and compare them for sonic attributes. When Randy Newman came in here, we used two vocal microphones and four piano mics. Once we got his wedges to where he was happy, soundcheck was over. Recording the soundcheck gave us the ability to sit there and try different plugs, like tape saturation or various compressors for his lead vocal mic. It sounded fantastic, and at the end of the night Randy said he felt like he was performing in his living room — a great compliment to us. We had the ability to really fine-tune the sound, but he didn't have to sit around for hours waiting for us. It's a tremendous advantage.”

That's not the only muscle that digital audio is flexing at the Fox Theatre. “The theater has a complete digital infrasructure,” continues Bauer. “By interfacing the VENUE with a wireless Ethernet router, engineers can mix their show via laptop from any seat in the house. Location of the front-of-house mix position is somewhat of a compromise. Do you give up those prime seats for a visiting engineer? Or do you compromise the position of FOH so that the best seats can be sold to patrons. Now, there is no compromise. You can take the laptop to the sweet spot and do anything you need to correct the mix.”

Bauer has also observed that when it comes to providing content, “Digital is king. The Fox has the capability — while doing a show and mixing — to send a 2-track feed through the VPN [Virtual Private Network] so that a truck from a content-delivery company like XM or Sirius Satellite can park nearby the venue and pick up the VPN. They can send a simulcast for a national act performing at the theater without laying down a cable to access the audio stream. In addition, recorded audio can be transferred via DigiDelivery for acts who want to have their tracks instantly delivered digitally to the studio of their choice for remix and mastering.

“Many of the acts from the late '70s and earlier do not have much material in digital format,” he continues. “A house system like ours can create content for them while performing a show. House mix CDs or USB sticks could even be sold after the show to the audience. In the near future, we see this expanding to cell phone delivery, as well as e-mail delivery. Digital technology is here to stay, and to be an early adapter to ‘digital content delivery’ is really great. I feel it gives us an edge as the front-runners as more and more acts embrace the future.

“We also rent the Fox to acts that are rehearsing for upcoming tours. By using the VENUE board, Pro Tools and a USB stick, the engineer can tweak via virtual soundcheck and create snapshots of all the mix settings on a per-song basis, including effect and MIDI triggers, as well as all EQ and gain structure. Once satisfied with the overall mix, the engineer can create a snapshot and save it to a memory stick. With the VENUE applied to the act's rider, they simply take the memory stick to each show and load it in. The amount of pre-show work required is basically reduced to stage setup and room EQ.”

Of course, the Fox also incorporates a first-rate P.A. built around 16 JBL VerTec VT4888 line array boxes and four JBL 4880 subs for the house. The monitor system features a Soundcraft MH4820 console, and EAW SM200s and SM500 monitors. All power is supplied by various vintage Crest amps.


It's clear that the future of live audio lies in the digital realm. It's taken a long time for that technology to trickle into the club and theater market, but now that we're seeing digital consoles in the $10,000 to $15,000 range, we can expect that those old analog workhorses will be replaced with their PCM counterparts, enhancing audio quality and making the lives of traveling engineers easier. We'll also see a “retrofit” of smaller venues with digital infrastructure, facilitating digital networks akin to the one at the Fox Theatre. Technology will not only raise the quality level, but will make the audio datastream more accessible for storage, transfer and delivery to content providers.

In addition to being Mix's sound reinforcement editor, Steve La Cerra mixes front of house for Blue Öyster Cult.

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