From Outdated to Outstanding: Clair Brothers Updates Audio System at NYCB Theatre At Westbury with HARMAN’s JBL Professional Loudspeakers and Crown Amplifiers
31 March 2014, WESTBURY, New York
The NYCB Theatre at Westbury is one of Long Island’s best-known music venues, growing from its less-than-glamorous origins in 1956 as an unheated outdoor tent to the premier Live Nation-owned concert hall it is today. Formerly the Westbury Music Fair, the current 3,000-seat venue was built in 1966 and has since undergone multiple renovations—the most recent being an upgrade to its audio system with HARMAN’s JBL Professional VERTEC® line arrays powered by Crown I-Tech HD amplifiers.
“The former audio system was 30 years old, was underpowered and had significant issues in many areas,” noted Dustin Goen, system designer and project manager for systems integrator Clair Brothers. The venue is a theater in the round with 360-degree seating surrounding a circular stage that rotated during most performances. The main loudspeakers, lighting and video screens were mounted on a truss ring hanging above the stage, with fill loudspeakers placed around the front of the stage and at other locations in the hall. The main loudspeakers were pointed downward but because of the design of the truss ring, they could not deliver adequate coverage to all the seats.
“To supplement the main loudspeakers, a kind of patchwork arrangement of fill loudspeakers was installed throughout the venue in an attempt to get adequate coverage,” Goen noted. “As a result, no matter where someone sat they heard a mixture of up to four different loudspeakers, all with different timings and sonic characters.” Patrons in the first row might have scored the best seats to see the show but they heard the worst audio mix—almost no sound from the PA and too much from the stage monitors and amplifiers. The low-frequency reinforcement was inadequate—only four subwoofers mounted on the overhead truss. There were a number of nodes in the room where the bass was almost inaudible.”
“On top of all that,” Goen commented, “the old system didn’t actually cover the front of house mixing position. The engineer had to walk out of the sound booth and down the aisle to hear the mix! You basically had to use your imagination to figure out how things sounded.”
It was no stretch of the imagination for Live Nation’s Dan Schartoff to know something had to be done. As vice president of production for House of Blues/Clubs and Theatres, Schartoff spearheaded the audio system renovation effort and determined that not only would an all-new sound system have to be installed, the overhead cage of trusses would have to go. Goen and crew had to complete the job in two weeks start to finish, from tearing down and installing the new truss to mounting the loudspeakers, lighting and six 80-inch video monitors.
Goen worked with Schartoff and Chris Barbee of lighting contractor Bandit Lites to design and build a new truss ring over the stage with six hangs of six JBL VERTEC VT4887A compact line array loudspeakers, powered by Crown I-Tech 4x3500HD multichannel amplifiers.
Because the theater is in the round, Goen realized distributed cardioid clusters of subwoofers weren’t going to work. “You’d get a response plot that looked like a raspberry instead of an apple,” he said. In response, Clair Brothers opted for a central cluster of six JBL STX828S subwoofers in a triangular stack, driven by three Crown I-Tech 12000HD amps.
Clair Brothers was able to use the existing front and stage fill loudspeakers, which are linked to the main system via a BSS Audio BLU-160 signal processor with digital audio bus. The VT4887A clusters can be used either as three alternating stereo pairs or in mono depending on the preferences of the FOH mixer and artist. An added benefit is that the new truss ring is smaller and doesn’t block the sightlines across the venue, making the hall seem bigger than it was before.
“We wanted every listener to hear one clear and coherent sound source no matter where they were sitting, and that’s what the VT4887A line arrays deliver,” Goen stated. “Thanks to their smooth, controlled dispersion pattern, the coverage is seamless from the first row to the back in 95 percent of the room.”
Goen considers VERTEC and Crown I-Tech HD amplifiers to be a perfect combination since the amps’ DSP incorporates VERTEC V5 preset tunings. “The V5 presets really bring the VERTECs to life and make them sound like a whole new loudspeaker.”
JBL HiQnet Performance Manager™ software is in place to calibrate and control the system. “Performance Manager helped us get everything up and running fast,” Goen said. “We had to be ready in time for a show by Lee Brice so there was no slack. We didn’t get a chance to test the wiring until two days before the show.” The system didn’t require a lot of tweaking—Goen noted that the VERTECs sounded great out of the box and that tuning was more a matter of gain shading than applying EQ. “We had two days to ring out the system, tune it and train the house engineers, and we did it.”
“Horizontal coverage is seamless all around the ring, the low end is solid and even around the room and yes, it sounds great at front of house,” Goen concluded. “In fact, front of house engineer Charlie Trantum has been working at Westbury for more than 20 years and he was very impressed when he first heard the new system.”