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PODCAST 218-2: Alpha Sound Upgrades Portland Center Stage Theatre

Alpha Sound’s lead design and installation technician Devin Sheets tells the story on the project Pt2




On this edition of the SVC Podcast, Contributing Editor Bennett Liles completes his conversation with Devin Sheets, lead design and installation technician for Alpha Sound in Salem, Oregon regarding the installation of a Nexo/Yamaha sound system in the Portland Center Stage Theater. Devin details the connections between the mixer and main racks. He also outlines the rigging of the arrays and how he set up the iPad control using Yamaha’s ProVisionaire Touch app.

Links of Interest:

· Alpha Sound in Salem, Oregon

· Yamaha ProVisionaire wireless control app

· Yamaha ID Speaker Series

· Nexo PSR15-R2 speakers

The wide variety of event spaces in The Armory makes it a challenge for their sound system to keep up with all the facility’s demands. Portland Center Stage needed new theater sound and building-wide paging system. Devin Sheets, lead design and installation technician with Salem, Oregon’s Alpha Sound is back this week to finish the story on how his company found the solution. Coming right up on the SVC Podcast.

Devin, glad to have you back this week from Alpha Sound in Salem, Oregon. We were talking about the Yamaha/Nexo system installation you did for Portland Center Stage Theater at a place called The Armory. The place has a lot of different event spaces in it and they can all be going at the same time. As far as controlling things in the main theater where are the mixer and the main racks located and how is the mixer output carried to the speakers?

Yeah, well it’s great to talk to you again. The mixer is located at the back of the house, out in the open air. And I’m a firm believer that the front of house engineer needs to be in the same acoustic environment as the audience. The equipment racks are located off to the side of the stage and there’s actually a Yamaha MTX matrix processor that the console communicates with through Dante and then from there goes to the NXAMPS analog. There’s some really cool Dante cards you can get for the amps, but that just wasn’t in the budget for now. [Timestamp: 1:29]

And for the installation, how did all of the rigging and flying of the speakers go? Was that one of the more time consuming parts of it?

Yeah. Actually the rigging on almost all of the Nexo equipment is unbelievably simple. We got the whole thing done in about a day, which is pretty normal for an M6 install. We built the arrays on the ground and pulled it up with a temporary motor and transferred it to the hanging point. We do a lot of church installations where we have to be done with an entire install well within a week because they have services. So this wasn’t a problem for us. [Timestamp: 2:00]

This place, The Armory, has so many different event spaces in it, two theaters, a lobby area so you would have to stay on top of it to keep things from backing up.

Yeah, absolutely.

They also needed a building-wide paging system which Alpha Sound installed.


So how was all that wiring run around the building? Describe the paging system for me.

Yeah, this is a big project. The theater has four different floor levels and each level has a dozen or so locations which need to hear some combination of eight different input sources which range from paging microphones to ambient microphones and music playback. And at each location what they need to hear changes drastically depending on what’s going on. For example, like some office room might be used by the director of a show in the main stage on Monday, but on Tuesday it’s being used by the director for a show in the basement. And next Monday it will be used by still someone else. So what we did is we put an MTX unit on each floor level to service the range of ceiling and hallway speakers that they already had throughout the place. There’s CAT6 cable running between each floor level to all the units connecting them on the Dante network, and we put an MRX-7 processor in the mix because it has an open design architecture as opposed to the fixed architecture of the MTX-5. So all eight in put sources initially passed through the MRX-7 because I can really get in there and twist the thing into a pretzel and set up all manner of routing and ducking procedures and pretty much anything you need. And then the finalized audio then gets piped out via Dante to the other units around the building which then are controlled with iPads running the ProVisionaire Touch app from Yamaha so that anybody at any time can grab an iPad and adjust exactly what they need to hear in their corner of the building. [Timestamp: 3:50]

And can they do this in the main theater?


That would come in so handy in the bigger theater so that in setting things up and tweaking the sound you wouldn’t have to run to one place to listen and run back to the mixer to adjust it and back and forth. How does the wireless iPad control work with Yamaha’s ProVisionaire Touch app? That’s got to be fun to use.

Yeah. The iPad functionality is really what makes this system worth the money. I can design a completely customized app for every client. It looks amazing. You can choose your own backgrounds and pages and you have a wide range of faders and buttons and meters that have lots of different styles and layouts. And then you just hop on the Wi-Fi network and it goes and finds the units and away you go. You know Yamaha also makes physical wall panels and things you can use, but the tablet option is just so convenient. And now there’s even a mobile app which mimics the wall panel so it’s just amazing. [Timestamp: 4:39]

It has to be easy to use because I wouldn’t think that you would have the same person operating in all the spaces at the same time but there would be visiting sound people coming in. What’s been the reaction for visiting engineers coming in? Is there any initial concern when they see these small speaker arrays and figure it might not have quite the punch they need?

Yep. This has been a rather consistent thing for the past 20 years. We’ll come in with the Nexo line array and the client asks, “Uh, where’s the rest of the PA?” And we always tell them, “No, no. Just want until you hear it.” And without fail when we crank the thing up everybody smiles. It’s just so deceptive how much sound can come out of such a small package and sound bigger and smoother and more present and more dynamic than speakers many times their size. Casi loves it and she’s told us that the feedback from the guest engineers has just been really, really positive. [Timestamp: 5:32]

Always great when you relax about that. I noticed that the system includes a number of those very small ID24 speaker enclosures. How did you use those?

Yeah, those are fun little speakers. They’re smaller than a shoebox and they’re just perfect for front fill, side fills, even stage monitors. You can even rotate the horn dispersion patterns by turning a knob on the back. [Timestamp: 5:52]

That’s handy to have some small speakers that you can fill in places with and not have to get into a major operation.


With theatrical performances they’ve got to be using lots of playback so what kinds of Dante-enabled peripheral devices do they use?

Oh, they’ve got a bunch of Shure wireless units on the Dante and QLab. People can bring in their laptops and hop on the network and instantly have 64 input and output channels to play with. You know the network itself will support a thousand channels of audio between the devices. [Timestamp: 6:20]

That sounds like a hugely ambitious project that leaves them with the versatility they need for all those different events. Quick and easy reconfiguration would have to be the thing to keep up with events in all those different areas of the building.

Yep. Absolutely. And the thing is you have to be able to utilize the system whether you are a sound technician or whether you’re just someone working in an office. The system has to be designed to be able to be accessible to everybody and it is. [Timestamp: 6:42]

Alright so plenty going on in The Armory with Portland Center Stage so what’s going on at Alpha Sound? What all do you have coming up next?

Well, we’ve got a pretty regular schedule of Yamaha/Nexo installations, mostly houses of worship, and hopefully more theater work. This was a really successful install and there’s a lot of theaters in other buildings out there that could really benefit from this technology. We also continue to work on our proprietary methods. You know there’s a lot of free content that we put out on our Facebook page and web site and YouTube; industry tips and tricks. And I’ve written some articles which you can find in the Notes section on our Facebook page. Just search for Alpha Sound of Oregon. We have a really cool piano microphone system we’ve developed and some great videos on cardioid subwoofer technology. There’s all sorts of good stuff on there. One of the things to keep an eye out for is our involvement with classical music in Oregon. We’re working with a number of orchestras, choirs and other ensembles to really usher in the next great step forward for performance technology, which we believe will intimately include live amplification. So really exciting stuff. [Timestamp: 7:48]

Sounds like it so plenty of things happening at Alpha Sound and any time the folks at Portland Center Stage need any help they can always rely on your guys getting in there with anything they need. We’ve been talking to Devin Sheets, lead design and installation technician with Alpha Sound in Salem, Oregon. So keep up the good work.

Thank you.

The new Yamaha/Nexo sound setup and the building-wide paging system was just what Portland Center Stage needed for the wide range of events they hold at The Armory. Alpha Sound got it all done. Next week we’ll have another AV installation in our sights so get back with us for the next SVC Podcast.

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