Nov 1, 1998 12:00 PM, Charles Conte
Diet, nutrition, exercise and physical fitness have been with us longenough now that it is safe to say that such concerns are not merely apassing trend. Likewise, the numerous health and fitness clubs that sprungup in the mid-1980s show no sign of passing from the scene; in fact, theycontinue to proliferate. Last year at this time, there were approximately13,000 health and fitness clubs in the US. As of the fourth quarter in1998, the count sits at 14,100. No doubt, club owners have sharpened theirmarketing skills in the past decade, learning to offer consumers more ofwhat they want.
Essential Communications (New York) specializes in design and installationof A-V systems and acoustical treatments for restaurants, health clubs,retail stores and other commercial environments. The company also designedand installed A-V systems for Errico's first five Equinox Fitness Clubs,all in the New York area. The sixth club (at 54th Street and Second Avenuein the Mondrian apartment building) and seventh club (in New York'sWestchester County) are currently on the drawing board, and they will alsobe fitted with A-V systems from Essential Communications also.
A look insideRegarded as one of New York's leading health and fitness clubs, Equinox isa family-owned business; sister Lavinia and brothers Danny and Vito Erricoopened their first club in Manhattan's Upper West Side in 1994. Their fifthclub at 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue, which opened in January of 1998,occupies three levels-a total of more than 40,000 square feet (3,716 m)-inthe recently renovated Barbizon Hotel.
Built in 1927, the Barbizon was once devoted exclusively to domiciling ofyoung women newly arrived in the city. Men were barred from the premises,which offered affordable, respectable lodging. After the $40 millionrestoration and further renovation, the Barbizon's 300 guest rooms wereupgraded to a four-star, luxury status.
The design firm of HLW (New York) transformed the multi-leveled space intothe newest Equinox club. To accommodate shoppers from Bloomingdale's,Barbizon guests and the business crowd from nearby offices, HLW createdthree street-level entries to the club. On the Lexington side, there is aproper doorway in addition to access through Equinox's own sportswearretail shop; on 63rd Street , there is a doorway leading to the hotel lobbyand club beyond.
On the main floor are a juice bar/cafe and a check-in desk. One flight upare spaces for aerobics and workouts and nutrition and fitness consultants.At just below grade-level are lockers and additional workout rooms.Underneath are the pool-a first for Equinox-with a spa and salon. Like allthe Equinox clubs, the 63rd Street facility is unique.
"Designing and installing sound systems for the Equinox clubs," DavidSchwartz, president of Essential Communications, pointed out, "is not acookie-cutter operation. Each one is a process. First is size of the venue.Second is geographic location. With each location, you have a clientelepotentially different both socially and economically. So each club providesdifferent services, depending on its location. Not all the Equinox clubshave full-service spas. They may offer wellness programs, but not all havefull-blown spa facilities with individual treatment rooms like the 63rdStreet club."
Distinct soundThe sound system for the 63rd Street club does, however, share basiccharacteristics with the systems in the other Equinox clubs.
Schwartz said, "Actually, sound for each club is divided into two basicsystems-the background sound system and the individual sound systems foreach facility in the club (the boxing studio, the pool area, aerobicsstudio, yoga/aerobics studio and the spinning room)."
For what is in the foreground at Equinox clubs, Schwartz insisted thatcharacterizing the sound system as "background" was inappropriate. Saidowner Vito Errico, "Audio plays a great part in the feeling and vibe of ourclubs. It's as important to us as interior design. David has given me amain system with dual music sources so that we can play two different typesof music anywhere in the club just by pushing a button."
In the main environments where people actually work out, music is amotivator. In the locker rooms and pool area, the music has a slowertempo-light jazz, new age or even classical, depending on the club'slocation and clientele demographics. The foreground system is mono fed withprogram music from AEI Music. It also supports the club's paging system.Individual studios are stand-alone, stereo-fed systems. Instructors haveaccess to playback gear for program material, whether CD or cassette tape.
The sound systemSchwartz said that the sound system designs for the clubs are, "verybudget-driven, but, as long as we can meet the numbers, Equinox gives uscomplete creative control to do whatever we think is right, whatever'sappropriate for the space."
Schwartz added that Equinox as well as HLW are extremely sensitive to thedesign of the spaces. Interior design for the clubs, therefore, dictatesthat loudspeaker placement be unobtrusive.
In keeping with both the imposed budgetary strictures and the freedom to dowhat is best for the space, Essential Communications specified andinstalled mainly Electro-Voice loudspeakers in all five Equinox clubs onwhich they have worked. Electro-Voice S-60 two-way loudspeakers and S-40sare the mainstays of the foreground audio system. The larger Electro-VoiceSx100 two-way loudspeakers are used throughout the individual room systemsas they have been in the previous three clubs. Some loudspeakers, such asthe Bose Model 8 and the Niles HD-650, also play specialty parts in theforeground music system: in the wet areas (such as the locker rooms andpool) and some club common areas. Driving the foreground systemloudspeakers are three Rane MA 6 amps outfitted with 70 V transformers anda CP-62 commercial processor for dual zone sourcing and paging.
The Electro-Voice S-60s and S-60Ts (60 W transformer model) used in theforeground system are small boxes with a 6.5 inch (165 mm) woofer and a 1inch (25.4 mm) tweeter and a frequency range of 60 Hz to 18 kHz. The largerSx100s are capable of high-power handling (200 W continuous) with a 12 inch(305 mm) woofer, a frequency range of 80 Hz to 25 kHz, andconstant-directivity coverage of 65 degrees x 65 degrees. The Sx100loudspeakers in (aerobics) Studio 1 are supplemented by two Electro-VoiceSb120 12 inch (305 mm) long-throw subwoofers. Electro-Voice AP3200 andAP2600A amps power the Sx100s in the various workout rooms.
"We use products appropriate for the job," said Schwartz. "In the past fiveyears in five separate Equinox clubs with more than 20 studios and some 30Electro-Voice amps pumping 20 hours a day every day of the week, we've hada total of two failures, and in all that time, we've never had a singleElectro-Voice loudspeaker fail."
"What I need is a sound system with high audio quality that's easy tooperate and reliable, said Errico. "David has definitely given me that."
A couple of areas in the 63rd Street club provided Essential Communicationsthe kind of acoustical challenges that keep projects interesting, such asthe first pool area the company had done for an Equinox club and only thesecond pool area for which they had installed sound. At one time in itshistory, the pool occupied a double-height space. Then it was boarded over,and for 15 years it was off-limits to all, used as a repository forcast-off refrigerators. As transformed by HLW, it has been made longer andshallower to serve as a 65' x 21' (20 m x 6.4 m) lap pool, which is alsohandy for hydrotherapy. At the back of the pool room are hot/cold plunges,a whirlpool, Vichy showers and a steam room. The most striking designelement of the room is the swag fabric ceiling treatments above the poolpartially lit from behind, creating an unusual, airy effect.
The ceiling may have helped alleviate the room's acoustical problems too,which were just what one might expect-highly reverberant with soundreflecting off tile and water surfaces. Essential Communications used 10Bose flush-mounted loudspeakers in the ceiling around the pool for soothingbackground music and four Sx100s on two support columns for use in aquaaerobic classes.
The Studio 1 aerobics room, however, presented an altogether differentchallenge.
"The aerobics studio is the only room in the club that has a directboundary with the hotel itself," explained Schwartz, "and it's directlyabove the hotel dinning room."
The hotel, quite naturally, was so concerned about possible noise andvibration from above that the viability of the entire club project wasdependent upon solving this problem.
"Before construction," said Schwartz, "we brought in an acousticalconsultant [JRH Acoustical, New York]. We also brought in a temporary soundsystem and an entire aerobics class with an instructor."
While the aerobics class pounded away above, Schwartz and the acousticconsultant went downstairs to the hotel dinning room and performedmeasurement tests for sound and vibration. The upshot was that a secondfloor, isolated from the sub-floor, had to be installed. For this,Essential Communications worked with a second acoustic consultant-Ian Wolfeof the Acoustical Design Group (Mission, KS)-who actually completed andsigned off on the job.
The videoEssential Communications also provided a Cardio Theater digitaldistribution system for the 16 27 inch *686 mm) Mitsubishi televisionsets-a system whereby treadmill and stairmaster users can hear televisionaudio using with headphones. They can select any one of the 16 televisionsto listen, all of which are fed signal from any of 14 cable channels. Twoother channels supply pre-programmed music at either 120 or 140 beats perminute for exercisers who prefer music alone instead of the soundaccompanying the television channels. A 900 MHz Cardio Theater transmittersupplies audio signals to the exercisers' personal headsets via individualchannel selector boxes.
Music and vocal instructions are the driving force in most aerobics andbody-conditioning classes, motivating both the instructor and theparticipants, and it therefore stood to reason that the Equinox Clubs havea sound system capable of fulfilling those requirements.
"I get comments all the time in our suggestion box about the music and thesound system in our club," said Errico. "People compliment us and ask wherethey can get a certain piece of music they heard playing in the club."
The Equinox Clubs may not be successful because of their music systems, butthey might not be as successful without them.