Cooperation is keyA quartet of input created the ideal system for theLee Greenwood Theater.
Feb 20, 1997 12:00 PM,
By Jack McLeanMcLean runs a public relations firm in Iowa.
The word that best describes the audio system at the new Lee Greenwood Theater is one not always at the top of the list when one is discussing sound design: collaboration. But that word goes a long way toward defining the success of the system. Greenwood, his technical crew and the system designer-installer all played key roles in putting together a system ideally meeting its intended application.
One of the most enduring acts in country music, Greenwood built the theater to host his nightly live performances, providing a home base after more than two decades of continuous touring. The 1,776-seat venue rests at the foot of the Great Smokey Mountain National Forest in what is officially Kodak, TN.
“This theater is designed with a ‘customer is king’ philosophy,” said Jeff Nolte, front-of-house engineer. “We want everyone to be comfortable. There’s plenty of space between the seats, and the overall feel is plush and posh. Lee took all of the things he learned from years on the road, all of the hundreds of places where he performed, and applied it here.”
The size and shape of the room is fairly typical by live music theater standards, with a single level of seats divided into three sections fanning out from the 60 foot — 40 foot (18 m — 12 m) stage. The room is topped by a ceiling that maintains a constant height, with seating raking gently upward at about the halfway point to insure good sightlines.
Acoustic treatment was done independently of the sound-system team. Panels cover the back wall and the rear portions of the side walls; the ceiling is covered by absorptive insulation. The combination of these materials result in a fairly dead room, free of any noticeable anomalies.
Ken Porter of Spectrum Sound did the sound-system design; Spectrum Sound has served as Greenwood’s road production company for years. Porter worked closely with Mike Thamann, Greenwood’s long-time monitor engineer, and Nolte, who had been developing the overall system.
“Mike and I had all of the input you could want with regard to the design,” said Nolte. “We said, “We want this, this and this,’ and asked Ken to connect the dots. He did, and very well, I might add.”
Controlled energyPorter’s primary concern was keeping energy off the walls, despite their acoustic treatment. As a result, all loudspeakers fire downward. When it came to loudspeaker selection, Greenwood had the final choice.
Spectrum set up a “shoot-out” at their warehouse, with Greenwood singing through each, and listening, to make his decision. His choice was EAW; Porter chose the specific models used.
“We wanted very tight pattern control to further control energy and keep it off the walls and roof,” Porter said. “Wideband pattern control is a hallmark of EAW’s line. For this particular project, EAW recommended the MH662E as being best suited, and I concurred.”
EAW MH series loudspeakers were designed specifically for large-scale, permanently installed sound-reinforcement systems and are designed to be used with the SB, BV and BH series to build precision arrays. They provide control of horizontal coverage; the tightly controlled dispersion in both planes facilitates construction of arrays that provide high intelligibility and coherent music reproduction. In fact, despite the obvious importance of music in this venue, speech intelligibility was given a high, if not higher, priority than a high-SPL system, according to Porter. Because the fans are sometimes older, the focus is on intelligibility and music that is pleasant rather than just loud.
The EAW MH662E is a two-way loudspeaker system with a midrange subsection comprising dual 10 inch (254 mm) cone drivers loaded with Kenton Forsythe’s unique midbass horn/displacement plug technique, which provides a tight 60° horizontal pattern. The high-frequency section is made up of EAW’s CD5001 compression driver on a 60°—40° horn.
Porter designed two clusters, flown to the left and right of the stage proscenium about 10 feet (3 m) from the ceiling, each consisting of two MH662E systems flanking an EAW SB535iP vented low-frequency system. These loudspeakers form a tightly packed array that angles slightly downward. Immediately beneath these arrays is an EAW MH690 loudspeaker (90° horizontal coverage), angled downward more steeply and providing downfill coverage.
In addition, a single EAW KF650 Virtual Array series system, flown flush with the apex of the proscenium and firing sharply downward, provides fill to the center seating section. Sub-low frequencies are supplied by four EAW SB528 subwoofers tucked beneath the stage, two per side at the point where the two main aisles meet the stage. These dual 18 inch (457 mm) loaded, optimally vented systems are concealed with an aesthetic covering.
The clusters and center-fill loudspeaker were flown with ATM flyware from predesignated points in the ceiling. Spectrum used scaffolding to support the loudspeakers during attachment and then eased it out from beneath the arrays, making for a smooth, easy flying process.
Several compact loudspeakers are built into the stage to cover the first two rows. They add directionality, linking sound more tightly to the stage rather than having it simply cascade from the clusters high above. A row of delay loudspeakers is positioned about 50 feet (15 m) from the back wall. These loudspeakers, compact EAW JF80s, are flown vertically and angled down rather steeply to keep energy from the back wall.
Well poweredThe house loudspeaker system is powered by Crown Macro-Tech series amplifiers rack-mounted in a secured room located stage right. Crown MA-5000VZ amplifiers drive the subwoofers; MA-3600VZs power the midrange sections; MA-2400s handle high frequencies.
“One thing I really like about this system is that it’s very well powered,” Nolte said. “We’ve got a lot of headroom, so the noise floor is really minimal. You can’t hear residual hiss of any kind.”
Porter noted that he didn’t see any need for computer control capability in regard to the amplifiers because this portion of the system is set and left alone. BSS Omnidrives, located with the amplifiers, provide the loudspeaker with all of its crossover points and signal delay settings.
Loudspeakers are divided into seven zones variably controlled by different Omnidrive channels. House equalization is supplied by Klark-Teknik DN410 dual parametric equalizers, also located with the amplifiers. A great deal of attention went to final system tuning, with the SIM process used three separate times before the sound team was satisfied with the results.
According to Nolte, a 1/3-octave equalizer at the mix position was removed after this meticulous fine-tuning process to eliminate the temptation to alter settings – possibly for the worst – after the system setup was finalized.
He added that the main impetus behind the comprehensive final tuning was not to butcher the EQ but to fix any obvious frequency problems. More than anything, final tuning helped the seven loudspeaker zones operate as one cohesive unit. The goal was to distribute and tune the system so that the front row would be no louder than the back row.
“Obviously, that’s a bit farfetched,” said Nolte, “but that’s the effect we’ve gone for and have achieved to agreat extent.”
The house mix position is a bit further than halfway to the back wall, and it’s sunk into the floor a few feet to keep sightlines clear. The house console is a 48-channel Yamaha PM3500, which Nolte said is ideal for a venue of this type, where day-to-day reliability is more important than dramatic change.
The PM3500 includes onboard MIDI capability, with 128 different scenes available. Nolte uses this capability frequently in conjunction with two Yamaha ProMix consoles on hand. “Once the show is programmed, I just basically step through each song on the console,” he said. “All of the patch changes and scene changes provided by the ProMix are activated automatically via the PM3500’s MIDI.”
Uncluttered stageMonitor engineer Mike Thamann provides 22 individual monitor mixes, the majority of them in stereo, to Garwood M-Pack wired and Radio Station wireless in-ear monitoring systems. Most of the 18 performers who can be on stage at a given time use in-ear systems, which keeps stage levelsquite low.
Greenwood is the notable exception, preferring a traditional monitor mix. As a result, four EAW SM500 monitor wedges were built into the set for his monitoring purposes, concealed from view and making for an uncluttered stage. Compact full-range EAW JF560 loudspeakers provide stage fill, with one on each side. All stage loudspeakers are powered by Crown MA-36 — 12 amplifiers equipped with PIP crossover cards.
The monitor mix position at stage left is anchored with a Yamaha PM4000 console. All EQ is K-T digital (14 mixes) with Lexicon PCM reverbs and a Yamaha 990 on hand but used sparingly.
“We’ve got ‘wireless hell’ at the monitor position,” Thamann jokingly said. The wireless in-ear systems are joined by 12 Samson 900 MHz wireless microphone systems in almost constant use during Greenwood’s sets. Additional Telex systems are on hand for opening acts, and a Vega Q-Plus wireless intercom is on hand for use by thetechnical crew.
The right match”My biggest concern with the system, when the theater first opened, had to do with levels,” Nolte said. “I didn’t want to be running it too loud, because it’s definitely got that capability, and I also didn’t want to compromise too much on dynamic range.”
During the first few shows he formulated a mix that was pleasing, describing it as “somewhat aggressive and artistic, yet not offensive” to potentially sensitive listeners. Levels usually peak at 97 dB to 98 dB.
“The design was conceived to be simple in operation and clean in performance,” Porter said. “Mike and Jeff have so much experience that they can patch anything in and out to get the system to operate any way they choose. So beyond that, a lot of the design came down to finding the right match between the loudspeakers and the room and then arraying them correctly.”