Acoustical Design for Jazz Music

Apr 1, 2013 9:00 AM, By Matt Gallagher

SFJAZZ Works with SIA Acoustics


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photo of SFJAZZ Center

The Miner Auditorium has a Meyer Sound system comprising 32 MINA loudspeakers configured in two line arrays of 16 speakers each positioned at stage-left and stage-right, and a center cluster of five 500-HP subwoofers, with three firing forward toward the audience and two firing backward.

The Meyer Sound System
The speakers are from Meyer Sound Labs, and they have a relatively new product called MINA, which is a small line array. Line arrays are just speakers in vertical lines. The reason you put them in lines is that you improve the directionality of the array, that the ability of the array to control sound and push it in one direction and not another improves as the array gets longer. The left and right arrays are 16 boxes deep, which is, for me, a big deal. Sixteen boxes seems like a lot for a small room—they’re relatively small boxes—but we really like the way this box behaves both in terms of its super-smooth frequency response and its polar or directional response. And when you array them, sometimes boxes can do funny things, but the MINA is one of the best-behaved boxes we’ve ever used. It’s a product that I think Meyer should be very proud of.

There’s also a subwoofer array [comprising] five large [500-HP] subwoofers. There are three of them facing forward and two of them facing backward. We use the Meyer Galileo digital signal processor to adjust the signal sent to those five boxes so that they combine everywhere in the room except for on the stage, where they cancel. So when you’re standing in the middle of the stage you get almost 20 dB less low frequency sound than the audience does. It means that the stage is a place where it’s much easier for musicians to hear each other. I feel very strongly that for musicians to be able to interact and hear each other well—and hear the tone and the timing of other players clearly and cleanly, without the sound system filling the stage with low frequencies—makes it much easier for them to develop a flow and a groove to create improvisational music.

Low frequency devices tend to be the least directional. When you create an array of five of them and you send one signal to all of them, you end up with this giant omnidirectional bass sound. By using five different signals and altering them slightly in terms of time, and having the three boxes forward and two boxes backward, and adding delays, you can actually create a directional subwoofer array; we call it a cardioid subwoofer array. It cleans up the stage a tremendous amount.

At the opening [concert, bassist and vocalist] Esperanza Spalding was playing a duet with [drummer] Eric Harland. When you can really hear and feel a bass, and it sounds deep and rich, the subwoofers [are helping] that sound, but it didn’t overwhelm the stage. The [vocal] microphones don’t get that [low-frequency] energy, so everything is just much cleaner and sounds much better.

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