Photo above: Salt Shed has very quickly established itself as one of the city’s premier live performance halls (Bush concert for the venue’s soft opening, February 25; photo credit: Catalina Florea)
For nearly a hundred years, Chicago’s Morton Salt warehouse, sandwiched between the Kennedy Expressway and Goose Island, has been a familiar fixture on the city’s north side. With its long roof emblazoned with the iconic Umbrella Girl mascot and famous When It Rains It Pours slogan, the facility has been an enduring landmark for those driving into the downtown area. Now, thanks to the vision of 16″ On Center (16OC), along with local developer Blue Star Properties, the former Morton Salt facility has metamorphosed into a new entertainment complex known as the Salt Shed, with live music as its bread and butter and a new L-Acoustics K2 professional audio system, designed and installed by local L-Acoustics Certified Provider integrator (CPi) OSA International.
The renovated $20 million Salt Shed is the latest venture from 16OC’s Bruce Finkelman and Craig Golden, the team behind some of Chicago’s most iconic music venues and restaurants. The new complex, which now represents the city’s largest independent multi-venue music site, features two primary spaces: the Fairgrounds, a 5,000-capacity outdoor concert area on the Chicago River that began hosting shows last summer, and the newly-opened Shed, a 3,500-capacity indoor performance hall in the historic Morton Salt building that is home to the L-Acoustics concert speaker system.
According to Salt Shed Production Manager Tim Schoen, who previously served at 16OC’s Thalia Hall in the same capacity for nearly a decade, L-Acoustics was in the new venue’s DNA almost from the get-go. “Early on, Craig and I were chatting about the project, and one thing that he said really stuck with me and helped dictate the gear decisions I was making,” Schoen recalls. “He said that we had to make the Salt Shed a truly world-class venue, which meant that everything had to sound better than just ‘great.’ There are a lot of great-sounding rooms and rigs all over this city, but he wanted to up the ante and bring in a world-class system for a world-class room, which, for me, made L-Acoustics an easy decision.”
To accomplish this, Schoen turned to OSA and L-Acoustics to create a Soundvision model of the Shed, which proved to be a challenging environment to control sonically. “The Shed is basically a long, skinny shoebox, a couple hundred feet deep, with a trapezoidal roof and tons of reflective surfaces,” he describes. “We brought in acoustician Steven Sockey of Truephonic, who made some excellent recommendations about installing lapendary panels across the ceiling and other sound absorption treatments throughout the space, but the adjustable directivity of the K2 arrays and A15 delays proved to be equally important to the room’s success.”
Brandon Gardner, OSA Director of AV Integration – Professional Systems, agrees: “Being able to adjust and refine the directionality of the PA with L-Acoustics’ Panflex feature was immensely helpful. The top enclosures of the K2 arrays are set to 70 degrees, some of the middles are at 90, and the bottoms are at 110, which was instrumental in keeping sound off the walls. And with a premium balcony at house left, we could easily custom-tailor the arrays onsite to avoid those potential reflections.”
Installed in January, Salt Shed’s concert sound loudspeaker complement features left and right main hangs of nine L-Acoustics K2 over three Kara II downs, with a flown center-fill comprised of one A15 Focus and one A15 Wide. Four KS28 subs are flown behind each main array, while another four enclosures are on the ground in front of center stage. Half a dozen X8 spread out across the stage lip deliver front-fill, while stage left and right pairings of a single A15 Focus and KS21 provide side-fill. Thirteen X15 HiQ wedges and one KS21 sub offer stage monitoring, and at the far end of the room, two hangs of A15i Focus and A15i Wide serve as delays. The house and monitor systems are each piloted by DiGiCo Quantum338 consoles paired with SD-Racks loaded with 32-bit I/O modules, and the entire loudspeaker setup is driven via AVB with a P1 processor and eight LA7.16i and three LA12X amplified controllers.
The project notably represented the first major US deployment of L-Acoustics’ new LA7.16i amplified controller on a system of this size. “We’re using three LA7.16i per side on the left and right hangs, so each amplifier is driving four K2 or Kara II and providing individual box control, greatly improving the response across the room,” shares Gardner. “We would have needed twice as many amplifiers for each hang if it wasn’t for this product, which packs a lot of channels and power into only 2U. We’re using just one of them to drive the fill speakers, so it’s doing all the X8 and X15, which was really easy and saved us rack space.”
“I’m probably pretty biased, but I’d say that this is now the best-sounding system in Chicago,” he continues. “Audio-wise, there’s not a bad spot in the room, from the stage all the way up to the balcony’s back row, which can be a surprise because it’s a cavernous venue. I’ve heard people say that they were expecting the room to sound brutal with lots of reflections, but the space is well controlled. 16″ On Center paid a lot of attention to detail in preserving the visual aesthetic of this historic structure, but it only looks like a big shed—it doesn’t sound like one.”
“The clarity and low-end representation throughout the room is fantastic,” Schoen adds. “We’re a rock venue first and foremost, so we wanted that visceral sound experience, but not at a tradeoff to fidelity. Being able to walk around the entire venue and get the same clarity and punch everywhere is just surreal. And when I’m at front-of-house with my SPL meter reading that we’re at 105dB, yet it seems like 90dB, and the system isn’t even sweating, that’s also amazing. It’s like looking at the speedometer in a Lamborghini and thinking, ‘I didn’t realize I was going that fast.’ With K2 in the room, I sometimes wonder if my meter is calibrated properly, but then I realize it must be because I can’t talk to the guy next to me.”
Schoen goes on to say that the system’s rider-friendliness has also been a tremendous benefit: “Salt Shed is 16″ On Center’s first L-Acoustics system, and I have to say that it’s dramatically cut down our advance times. Production managers and touring engineers take one look at our tech specs and say, ‘Okay, what time do you want us to be there?’ With the combination of K2 and Quantum, we’re giving them the best of the best. There’s no need to convince anyone that they should use our setup. They already know they’ll spend zero time tweaking the room and have a fantastic show. I can’t even tell you how many smiles I’ve already seen on the engineers’ faces who have had the pleasure of working on this rig. And this summer, we’ve decided to fly K2 for our larger Fairgrounds shows outside, so engineers, artists, and fans are all guaranteed an amazing experience no matter where they are on our property.”