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PODCAST 196-2: Chapman Theater gets Yamaha Active Field Control

McClelland Sound provides a intercom, Shure mics, Extron touch control and a Yamaha sound system featuring variable active acoustics Pt 2


On the SVC Podcast, Contributing Editor Bennett Liles continues his conversation with Rob Barton of McClelland Sound about the complete sound system installation in Kansas State University’s Mark Chapman Theatre. In addition to the Yamaha AFC3, the crew installed a Clearcom intercom system, Shure wireless mics, Extron touch screen control and a Yamaha QL5 main house mixer.


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This is the SVC Podcast from Sound & Video Contractor Magazine with Rob Barton of McClelland Sound. For more information check out the show notes and product links for this podcast on

Taking full advantage of a renovation at Kansas State University’s Mark Chapman Theater, McClelland Sound in Wichita came in with new mics, a new main house mixer, Extron control and variable acoustics with Yamaha’s AFC3 system. Rob Barton of McClellan Sound is back to finish the story on how they completely refitted the place. That’s coming right up on the SVC Podcast.

Rob, good to have you back this week for more on the Mark Chapman Theatre project at Kansas State University. Big project with a Yamaha AFC3 active acoustics control system. Very complex setup with 60 main house speakers all set up to work right together and vary the acoustics for such a wide range of activities there. Crew communication is got to be crucial on these shows so what did McClelland Sound install for their intercom?

Yeah, so you know, it’s 2018 and everybody loves their cell phone. However, in the theater that really isn’t a good medium. Obviously the lighting of the screen is very distracting and there’s a lot of people who do it because they simply don’t have adequate intercom systems. These guys have relied on Clear-Com for over 30 years in use and we weren’t going to change that. So we actually installed in this instance a hybrid wireless and wired Clear-Com system. Since the building was only undergoing a light remodel getting conduit and wire to some of the new locations that they really wanted to have really would have increased the cost and the timeline of the project beyond the original parameters that they had set out. They did have a lot of existing wired Clear-Com jacks and so we refreshed all that stuff, but where there were some limitations of getting wire from Point A to Point B, again around the parameters of the project, we installed the wireless Clear-Com system and that allowed them to have intercom wherever they would need to be. And in this theater, since it’s a thrust stage, they really don’t limit themselves to the stage itself. So they really need to have the ability to run the production anywhere in the physical building and the Clear-Com system, the wireless system, knocked it out of the park. So anywhere where there’s not a physical jack and anywhere we couldn’t get a physical jack, such as the ticket office for example, we gave them the wireless body packs and they’re able to really flexibly operate the intercom system and really take the leash off the technical staff where needed. [Timestamp: 2:49]

Well, one of the more creative aspects to this, once you’ve pulled all the wire and made all the connections, is to take as complex a system as the Yamaha AFC3 and make it all very simple to control. I think there’s an Extron TLC Pro 521M control panel in there somewhere. Does that control the AFC system?

Absolutely. One of the things that you want to do, of course, with variable acoustics is vary the acoustics. So yeah, we do have an Extron panel located in the sound booth. It actually serves a lot of functions. It will control the AFC presets that we set up. I think we set up maybe five presets as well as actually a live adjustment to the reverb time. So they’re able to quickly jump around for different settings, but if I do have to do something on the fly they can pretty well ramp it up within a few seconds. So if they need an effect – and explosion or something – it allows them to make that kind of adjustment quickly and intuitively rather than having to actually know how to log into a DSP and potentially edit the programming, which we certainly wouldn’t want that to happen anyway. It took a long time to commission that system. And so beyond controlling the AFC it will control program sources such as the CD players and announcement microphones so the transport of the CD player and the volume of the announcement microphones. It will also do routing throughout the theater space so if they want to send a CD player to the theater proper in between different changeovers or parts of a play, things like that, they’re able to route the CD player there. But if they don’t want it there they can route it to the lobby, they can route it to the other places within the theater. And beyond that it allows them to kind of split the system so if they only want to have something going on in the lobby they’re able to make that route. So they’re able to do that with the actual AFC overhead microphones, send those to different areas. They are able to do that with the CD players, the announcement microphones and the theater chime pretty flexibly and intuitively without having to worry about patch phase and a bunch of transformers and things like that. They just push a button and send it out there. And then other than that we actually control the theater chime with a touch panel. So they’ve got the ability to load different wave files on a compact flash card or they can FTP into it if they want to and set up a few different chimes for a show. [Timestamp: 5:21]

You know, I meant to get to this last week when we talked about the Yamaha AFC3 variable acoustics system. When you went into this project, how much experience did you have in installing these Active Field Control systems?

None actually. A lot of hopes and dreams. [Laughs] So this was our first AFC system. Hopefully it’s not our last. We love it. I mean everybody in the room was pretty well grinning from ear to ear after we finished up the commissioning and demonstrated it for a lot of the theatrical staff and performers. So we’re pretty well constantly looking for future opportunities. Obviously not every theater is a potential opportunity for this kind of technology and this type of system, but the ones who need a lot of flexibility but also have a very controlled acoustical space are a great candidate for this type of system. Worth noting maybe we have experienced a lot of the competing technology and it does what it’s supposed to do, but the trick of that is typically it’s a stand-alone system that really only reinforces the room. In this instance, since we have the dual use of the system – have the AFC system as well as the actual PA for the room – the integration between the Yamaha head end and the AFC portion of the Yamaha head end really allowed us to do anything that we need to do with this system and anything that you would typically expect out of a front of house system in a performing arts space. [Timestamp: 6:48]

And a big part of that of course is mics so what type of mics did you include in this setup for them?

Since this is what they call a dual AFC system this is an array of eight of the Audix SCX1C, which is the cardioid model. And we actually bought them in matched pairs just thinking that that would help make sure the frequency response of each of those was identical throughout the stage plot. Generally they use Omni directional mics on a lot of the instances, specifically when they’re trying to get reverb rather than early reflection. They usually do cardioid for early reflection, but this since system actually served as the AFC functionality as well as the house PA and the theater affects system, the cardioid elements actually gave us a little bit better pickup in the front and allowed us to run the system at a little bit higher SPL. And so if they have performances and they really need a dynamic range we’re able to ramp it up and not run into any weird artifacts or even worse, feedback. [Timestamp: 7:43]

And for the mics the performers use onstage you went with a Shure wireless system. I might think that with all of the stuff you had to put up above the house on this that setting up the RF antenna system for the mics might have gotten a little bit tricky. Which Shure mic system did you use?

We went with Shure ULXD primarily because of the Dante integration as well as the control and the monitoring integration built into the QL5 screen. So obviously we’re able to monitor RF and battery life directly off the console, which I think is great. And it’s really just a fine detail of the workflow. Yeah, of course I can look at a rack full of receivers and determine what’s going on if I have an issue, but it’s right there on the screen. It’s in my face. And it really allows a more consolidated workflow to make a production happen. They actually had quite a few channels of UHF-R, but a lot of them were actually in the 600 MHz band, which as you know was recently sold off in the FCC upgrade. So they do still have some that are in the 500 MHz range, but they’re also shared amongst a couple of the performing arts venues on campus and they just wheel them in as needed. So what we did is we actually provided a connection panel and an antenna distribution amplifier so they could take all of their existing wireless and just plug it into the connection panel and get into the house RF system. For the antenna we did the RF Venue DFIN which is a wide-band antenna. So they’re able to use any of the wireless that they already owned but obviously use the new channels as well and likely any channel that they’re going to rent if they exceed the capacity of what they already own. And since the theater will often have performers entering from backstage or the lobby, or maybe they even have an actual event in the lobby where they need one of the wireless microphones, the combination of the LPDA and the di-pole elements on the RF Venue DFIN do a really good job covering the theater proper as well as the extended venue for a lot of flexibility in how the polarized RF signals actually arrive. We really think the RF Venue products have been huge problem solvers, especially in theater and complex RF environments so we use them as frequently as it makes sense. And we actually purposely tried to have poor microphone etiquette, so we took one of the hand-helds, walked all four levels of the theater space, cat-walked all the way to the basement while covering the antenna on the transmitter and just walking around trying to get dropouts, trying to hug the thing and get it to cut out and we actually didn’t have a single dropout, including in the basement. And we were really impressed and were a huge advocate for some of the technology that RF Venue is bringing to the market. Also because of the existing portable wireless that they wheel from venue to venue around campus and other potential RF sources near a college campus, we actually used the Wireless Workbench software for frequency coordination which made it really quick and easy to deploy to the 24 channels of inventory that they had existing, plus the eight new channels that we installed. So it allowed us to scan the environment and with the click of a button pretty well deploy it and then make sure that there weren’t any anomalies or anything like that during the setup process. So really big advocate of doing your homework when it comes to RF because nothing is worse than white noise and static at 110 dB for an event. [Timestamp: 11:15]

Oh, well. That certainly gets everybody’s attention on the sound system.

Oh, yeah. It will wake somebody up. Right. Yeah.

The place has a thrust stage and the seating has to be flexible. I was thinking about one thing on this. I don’t know if they do a lot of stage plays in there but would that be a significant challenge for the AFC3 system?

No. So the seating in the room and the architecture, the only thing that made it difficult to do is an on-access measurement from each speaker. Mostly just around the perimeter of the building itself, but a lot of the speakers around the perimeter aren’t actually on axis with any listeners but they’re still required to actually fill the room with sound and process the AFC system to extend the reverb time. That was really the only challenge for any of the seating. The steel above the catwalk, if you’re not careful, just walking the catwalk you will hit your head on it. So for probably 90 percent of the speakers we could just bring all of them up to the catwalk and start installing them from the catwalk itself, which was really handy. The other 10 percent or so we had to get creative and we did bring some scaffolding into the venue. Of course this would be where there is no catwalk so it was easy to get free and clear access to install the speakers there. They’re basically in a grid pattern on eight foot centers or so. It made it actually pretty easy to install the speakers and one of the biggest advantages to the speaker that we chose from Yamaha – the SX8 – was that the low profile of the speaker, we were actually worried about (1) interfering with the lighting plot and causing shadowing and (2) people running into the speakers, hitting their head on it and completely ruining the aiming of everything. But they actually offer a pendant mount bracket which made the speaker even lower profile so they actually fit up above the I-beams of the theater. So it was a pretty good install and nobody’s going to hit their head on the speaker. They’ll hit it on the I-beam first. [Laughs]

There was a lot to get working and coordinated on the project, the wireless mic reception, the intercom and the Yamaha AFC3 system but you got it all in and done so now you do have AFC3 experience so what have you got coming up for McClelland Sound?

In 2017 we were pretty well dominated by higher education projects for both performing arts and classroom multimedia. We’re pretty well forecasting an equally busy 2018, but we’re actually thinking it’s going to shift back to sports stadiums and houses of worship. So I think we’ll certainly be talking with you guys again probably after the summer, but a lot of large format football and basketball arena systems are what we’re thinking are coming up. [Timestamp: 14:02]

Well, that’ll certainly be a different kind of project but it was great hearing about this one. I love to hear about variable acoustics systems because of the creative aspect to the design and the control of it. Rob Barton from McClelland Sound in Wichita, Kansas and the Kansas State University’s Mark Chapman Theatre. A brand new Yamaha AFC3 system and all the other things. Thanks for getting with me about this one, Rob.

You’re very welcome, Bennett. Thanks for having me on the show.

It was fun hearing about the complete sound renovation project by McClelland Sound at Kansas State University’s Mark Chapman Theatre. We’ve got more installation project stories coming up so get back with us right here next week for the SVC Podcast.

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