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THE SVC INTERVIEW: Randy White, O’Connell’s Irish Restaurant and Bar

One of the most popular Irish-themed night spots in the Washington, D.C. area needed a sound system that could cover the whole venue and handle everything from quiet family dinner time to live bands. Randy White at Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center, Wheaton, Maryland, set out to design the system for the Alexandria-based O’Connell’s and get it all working by St. Patrick’s Day.

O’Connell’s Irish Restaurant and Bar in Alexandria, Virginia is open and doing a booming business. They needed a sound system that could cover its winding, multi-level floorplan, work with vastly different ambient noise levels and not break the bank on power. Randy White from Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center came up with the solution using Powersoft amplifiers.

O’Connells Irish Restaurant and Bar in Rather than presenting the expected acoustics nightmare, O’Connell’s Irish Restaurant and Bar presents nearly perfect acoustics and benefits from a wealth of reclaimed wood from and 1800s-era church.

What sort of place is O’Connell’s? It looks like a nice family place but I hear they have some live music in there, too.

Randy White: It could be a family place during the day, and then in the afternoon and evenings, it becomes something completely different. It’s a traditional Irish pub and bar with prerecorded music and live music. And the level increases significantly in the place really after 9:00 p.m. Definitely as World Cup soccer comes on it does take on that other tone.

You had to cover this place with sound and make it work under all of these noise levels. From what I’ve seen, you have a lot of hard floors and a bending sort of winding floorplan with multiple levels so how are the acoustics in there? It looks like it could sound pretty live.

Actually, no. It’s amazing because all of the wood came out of an 1800 church that had closed—the traditional pews and the wood is all from the church. So because it’s an older building, the acoustics in there are almost perfect. We did very little tweaking to it. With the Martin speakers and the Powersoft power amps, it made such a difference that we were able to basically install and do very little tweaking. We didn’t have to do any kind of soundproofing. Everything worked out perfectly. Because of the amount of wood that was in there – the wood floors and the wood bars, and everything is really finely built—we didn’t have those nightmares that you would traditionally have. We were able to hide the subwoofers underneath the pews and they are also built into a seating area so they completely disappear. You don’t even see that the subwoofers are on premises.

You had to cover this whole place for live music as well as the dining crowd. I think among other things you used a dbx 640 digital zone processor?

Well, the 640 strictly is there for easy wall plate controls. They had an existing system that was a little bit older. It was pretty much maxed out. We didn’t really need a lot of extra controls so we gave them zone control around the bar area and also the seating area. So we’re not using any equalization processing out of it. Everything is coming through the Martin processor and the amplifiers.

Washington used the Martin CDD speakers around the perimeter because of their high quality, small profile, and great hardware to hang them. The F12s provided more of a controllable pattern and functions as BGM as well as ramping up to support bands.

And when they bring in live music, how much does the setup have to change?

Actually it was really easy because they had been using live bands and the bands would bring their own mixer in. We got them a nice Allen & Heath small, compact mixer. Because usually they just have trios. We built a wall plate where they plug the mixer directly into the wall plate. That feeds directly into the 640 and you can route it to where you want to route it. If you want it to go to all the areas, if you only want it to go to dining, or the main Martin system, you can select where it goes.

And for amplification you decided on the Powersoft amps with I think, three different models. Were you accustomed to using those or was it the low power consumption they’re known for?

We knew we were going to have limitations on power. A lot of times when you put in really high-end amplification you end up having a situation where you’re going to have to pull 20, 30, 40 amps additional power. And in an older building like that, the cost to bring in an electrician and even to be lucky enough to have a circuit available becomes a whole other thing. So we’re really pleased with the Powersofts—one, because of the power draw. Secondly, we had an amp rack that had a maximum of six spaces left because it was already full with previous amplifiers, security things, all of that. We didn’t have to add an additional rack. They were basically plug in. We also needed an amplifier that we knew was not going to have a lot of thermal issues. This is on a third floor loft where everything is centralized. There’s very little air in circulation in that room and we needed an amp we could rely on without fans or air conditioning. Powersoft amps run ice cold and they have them on every day, 15-16 hours a day. You don’t have these huge fans. You don’t have to worry about pulling a lot of dirt and dust inside the amplifiers. The final reason is that Martin Audio always puts in Powersoft. And we needed to have something that was going to be there for 10 years that we wouldn’t have to worry about down the road.

You got the M50Q and I think the M28Q and the M14D. What does that drive, the subwoofers?

The 14s are running the background. The 28s are running the subwoofers and the 50s are running various speakers around the zone.

And you’ve got some subwoofers actually installed in the church pews?

We cut one of them in right next to the seat. We were looking for really ideal places because when it’s a bar you don’t need to have big monster subwoofers and sometimes they’re not even on. But we needed them somewhere they would be up and out of the way and the perfect thing was the pews are kind of elevated. They built some boxes to get it up off the ground, and also so they could slide out and clean and things like that. We put them underneath two of the pews and then one additional one was put right next to a beautiful seating area. It just perfectly sat right next to the seats. The people that are sitting there, yes they’re going to get a lot of low end while they eat, but it’s a perfect location right next to where the band is playing.

You used some Martin speakers for this one so why did you go with those?

One of the reasons was the owner of O’Connell’s Irish Restaurant and Bar has two other locations in Ireland and he is a previous Martin owner in both of those locations.

Equipment needed to function in varying conditions while also remaining low profile to suit the older building.

Looks like there are some pretty tight spots in that place. Did you have any trouble getting the speakers into the right locations?

The only challenges you ever run into, particularly with older buildings, is fishing cables and what the construction on the walls is going to entail. Is the brick in good condition that you’re going to mount to or is it a little bit older where it’s crumbling? Also in that location you have 20-foot ceilings with a balcony. So at the one end of the location where the main part of the system is for the bands, it basically had to be built with custom hardware to be able to mount one of the F12 speakers. It wasn’t that easy because you couldn’t fly from the ceiling because you have the balcony where people look down. There were no other locations to mount one of the speakers so the other designer and installer, Prism Audio, came up with a custom bracket that enabled us to hang that speaker directly from the pole.

You would notice something like that in there but you don’t want to do anything that would mess up the sophisticated architectural theme the place has.

That was the thing, too. He didn’t want everything to be seen. We used the Martin CDD speakers because they’re really high quality, really small profile, great hardware to hang them. We used those around the perimeter and we needed something with more of a controllable pattern and kind of a step up for the band. So the F12s provided that.

That’s a lot of work to run cabling and test all that. When did you have time to get in there and work on this? Working all night after closing I guess?

Basically, yes. Most of that work was being done from let’s say 1:30 a.m. until around 6:00 a.m., 7:00 a.m. We were also running up against St. Patrick’s Day, their biggest day of the year. So we literally got everything done and completed at 6:00 a.m. the morning of St. Patrick’s Day.

Everything is controlled from behind the bar. There’s a touch screen there that allows them to select different types of music and they can select what source that they want, whether it’s going to be that music or the DJ.

And I would think they can control all of this from the bar. Are there multiple control points?

Basically everything is from behind the bar. There’s a touch screen there that allows them to select different types of music and things. And then there is a selection where they can select what source that they want, whether it’s going to be that music or the DJ – at events where they add a DJ – and the live bands.

We talked before about how the noise level changes dramatically. Are there some specific presets or do they just have a good old volume knob to adjust things as the crowd gets louder?

We decided we’re going to upgrade them from the Toyota to the Ferrari. So they can gradually increase the volume. When they don’t have the band on, they don’t necessarily have the F12s on, but when they’re busy they’ll turn that amplifier on and then they’ll have basically both the background CDD system, the CDD subs and the F12s will come on. We gave them a maximum volume level, whether it’s a band or a DJ, because one of the problems is that staff behind the bar often don’t pay attention to how loud it is.

The people behind the bar have got customers shouting at them all night long and it gets a little frenetic as the crowd picks up I’m sure. How was it testing all that? Did you have a chance to even run it at all with a crowd in there?

We got it prepared for that morning. We went through all the tests to make sure the amplifiers and everything were working. Everything was spotless. We went through and did some basic EQ and gave them some levels. And then the contractor went home, took a shower, came back. We had a band checking in at 10:00 a.m. We let them go through a basic sound check, gave them a little bit more volume level and we were off and running. It was really flawless. Ninety-nine percent of the jobs never go that easy. They’re never that you can just plug, shoot and boom, it’s ready. The acoustics were perfect, perfect boxes, perfect Powersoft amplifiers. The best thing I can say is it was a perfect storm because you never get all those things that always fall into place that easily.

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