Jul 1, 1999 12:00 PM, Charles Conte
Diet, nutrition, exercise and physical fitness have been with us longenough now that it's safe to say that such concerns are not just a passingtrend. Likewise, the numerous health and fitness clubs that sprang up allaround us in the mid-80s show no sign of passing from the scene. In fact,they continue to proliferate. Last year at this time there wereapproximately 13,000 health and fitness clubs in the United States. At theend of 1998, the count sat at 14,100. 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 designed andinstalled A-V systems for Errico's first five Equinox Fitness Clubs, all inthe New York area. The sixth club, at 54th Street and Second Avenue in theMondrian apartment building, and seventh, in New York's West-chesterCounty, are on the drawing board, and they will also be fitted with A-Vsystems from Essential Communications.
Regarded 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 1998,occupies three levels, more than 40,000 ft2 (3,700 m2), in the recentlyrenovated Barbizon Hotel.
Built in 1927, the Barbizon was once devoted exclusively to domiciling ofyoung women new to New York. Men were barred from the premises, whichoffered affordable, respectable lodging. After the $40 million restorationand further renovation, the Barbizon's 300 guest rooms were upgraded to afour-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, a properdoorway plus access through Equinox's own sportswear retail shop and on63rd a doorway leading to the hotel lobby and club beyond. On the mainfloor are a juice bar, cafe and check-in desk. One flight up are spaces foraerobics and workouts as well as nutrition and fitness consultants. Justbelow grade-level are lockers and additional workout rooms. Underneath arethe pool, a first for Equinox, spa and salon. Like all the Equinox clubs,the 63rd Street club is a unique space.
"Designing and installing sound systems for the Equinox clubs," said DavidSchwartz, president of Essential Communications, "is not a cookie-cutteroperation. Each one is a process.
"First is size of the venue. Second is geographic location. With eachlocation, you have a potential clientele that is different both sociallyand economically. So each club provides different services, depending onits location.
"Not all the Equinox clubs have full-service spas. They may offer wellnessprograms, but not all have full-blown spa facilities with individualtreatment rooms like the 63rd Street club."
Sound for the newest clubThe sound system for the 63rd Street club does share many 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."
Said owner Vito Errico, "Audio plays a great part in the feeling and vibeof our clubs. It's as important to us as interior design. David has givenme a main system with dual music sources so that we can play two differenttypes of music anywhere in the club just by pushing a button."
In the main environments where people work out, music is a motivator. Inthe locker rooms and pool area, the music is slower-lite jazz, New Age, oreven classical, depending on the club's location and clienteledemographics. The foreground system is mono fed with program music from AEIMusic. It also supports the club's paging system.
The individual studios are stand-alone, stereo-fed systems. Instructorshave access to playback gear for their own program material, whether CD orcassette tape.
LoudspeakersSchwartz said that the sound system designs for the clubs are generally"budget-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 also added that Equinox as well as HLW are extremely sensitive tothe design of the spaces. Interior design for the clubs, therefore,dictates that loudspeaker placement be as unobtrusive as possible.
In keeping with both the imposed budgetary strictures and the freedom to dowhat's best for the space, Essential Communications has 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 from BoseModel 8 and Niles HD-650 also play specialty parts in the foreground musicsystem-in the wet areas (such as the locker rooms and pool), and some clubcommon areas. Driving the foreground system loudspeakers are three Rane MA6 amps outfitted with 70 V transformers and a CP-62 commercial processorfor 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, a 1 inch(25 mm) tweeter and a frequency range of 60 Hz to 18,000 kHz. TheElectro-Voice Sx100s are considerably larger, capable of high-powerhandling (200 W continuous), with a 12 inch (305 mm) woofer, a frequencyrange of 80 Hz to 25,000 kHz and constant-directivity coverage of 65degreesx 65degrees. The four Electro-Voice Sx100 loudspeakers in (aerobics) Studio1 are supplemented by two EV Sb120 12 inch, long-throw subwoofers.Electro-Voice model AP3200 and AP2600A amps power the EV Sx100 loudspeakersin the various workout rooms.
"We use products that are appropriate to the job," said Schwartz.
His preference for Electro-Voice loudspeakers and amps is based upon theirperformance in the Equinox clubs under some very difficult conditions, aswell as in other projects in which his company has installed Electro-Voiceequipment.
"In the past five years," he said, "in five Equinox clubs with more than 20studios and some 30 Electro-Voice amps pumping 20 hours a day, everyday ofthe week, we've had a total of two failures. In all that time, we've neverhad a single Electro-Voice speaker fail."
This is something that has certainly not gone unnoticed by the club owner,Errico, who said, "What I need is a sound system with high audio qualitythat's easy to operate, and that's reliable. David has definitely given methat."
The pool and the aerobics roomA couple of areas in the 63rd Street club provided Essential Communicationsthe kind of acoustical challenges that keep projects interesting. The firstpool area the company had done for an Equinox club, and only the secondpool area for which they had installed sound.
At one time in its history, the pool occupied a double-height space. Thenit was boarded over and for 15 years was off-limits to all, used as arepository for cast-off refrigerators and the like. As transformed by HLW,it has been made longer and shallower to serve as a 659x219 (20 m x 6.4 m)lap pool, also useful for hydrotherapy. At the back of the pool room arehot/cold plunges, a whirlpool, Vichy showers and a steam room. The moststriking design element of the room is the swagged-fabric ceilingtreatments above the pool, partially lit from behind, creating an unusualand 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 the water's surface. Essential Communicationsmounted 10 Bose flush-mounted loudspeakers in the ceiling around the poolfor soothing background music and four Electro-Voice Sx100s on two supportcolumns for use in aqua aerobic 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," said Schwartz, "and it's directly abovethe 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 actually began," said Schwartz, "we brought in anacoustical consultant [JRH Acoustical, New York]. We also brought in atemporary sound system 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, IanWolfe of the Acoustical Design Group, Mission, KS, who completed and signedoff on the job.
Video and audio for videoEssential Communications also provided a Cardio Theater digitaldistribution system for 16 27 inch (686 mm) Mitsubishi televisions-a systemwhereby treadmill and stair-master users can hear TV audio using individualheadphones. They can choose audio from any one of the 16 televisions, whichare fed signal from any of 14 cable channels. Two other channels supplypre-programmed music, at either 120 or 140 beats-per-minute, for exerciserswho prefer music alone instead of sound accompanying any of the TVchannels. A 900 MHz Cardio Theater transmitter supplies audio signals tothe exercisers' personal headsets via individual channel selector boxes.
Music and vocal instructions are the driving force in most aerobics andbody-conditioning classes, motivating both the instructor and theparticipants, but exercise studio playback systems are more likely to be ofboom-box quality, even in otherwise excellent facilities, rather than thequality of the systems installed in the Equinox Club. Rarely is a fitnessclub background music system conceived of as such an integral element inestablishing the identity of club.
"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.