Electro-Voice stars in sound upgrade for historic Hawaii Theatre
Built in the Golden Age of elaborate movie palaces, Honolulu’s Hawaii Theatre is an exquisite example of the gilded glamor that characterized its era. The Hawaii opened its doors in 1922, decades before Hawaiian statehood, making a strong statement that Honolulu was no backwater.
Technically and aesthetically, the neoclassical theater was state-of-the-art, reinforcing the notion of the movie house as a sort of temple to the gods of cinema. Among the innovations that delighted patrons were the double-cantilevered balcony and the cooled-air vents under every seat. The interior featured scenery created by a leading set designer and was decorated throughout with intricate plaster work created by local artisans. Presenting not only films but also plays, musicals, and vaudeville, “The Pride of the Pacific” was the most elegant public entertainment venue for thousands of miles.
Today, the Hawaii Theatre is as elegant as ever, with an ongoing series of plays, concerts, comedy, dance, and screenings that contributes to the cultural life of Honolulu. It’s a remarkable turnaround for a building whose gradual decline, starting in the 1960s, led to closure and abandonment in 1984. Local citizens formed a non-profit corporation to save the building from the wrecking ball and, with financial help from the State of Hawaii, convert it into a performing arts center. According to the theater’s official history, “Every inch of the interior was restored and renovated... Art work was restored, gold grill work was refurbished, electrical systems were replaced, all termite-damaged wood structures (e.g. seats, stage) were removed and new ones were installed, and the roof was replaced.”
In 1996 the restored facility re-opened as the Hawaii Theater Center, a 1400-seat, multi-purpose performance venue. The restoration work earned the center an Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Listed on both the Hawaiian and National Registers of Historic Places, the building has also been recognized by the League of Historic American Theatres as an “Outstanding Historic Theatre in America.”
Historic authenticity notwithstanding, the center’s goal of providing a state-of-the-art performance space requires a sound system capable of performing to the highest modern standards. At the time of the mid-1990s restoration that meant a system built around Electro-Voice’s DeltaMax series of loudspeakers. But as sound reinforcement technology advanced over the last decade-and-a-half, it became evident that a new sound system could provide even better sound while meeting the more demanding requirements of today’s touring shows and concerts. The challenge was to upgrade system performance while respecting the preservation requirements of the historic interior. Once again it was determined that Electro-Voice offered the best solution for meeting the Center’s technical, aesthetic, and budgetary needs.
A collaborative effort
The Hawaii Theatre sound system upgrade had its genesis seven years ago when the venue was the site of Electro-Voice’s first ever EV Road Show in Hawaii. The task of locating a venue for such an event was put on the shoulders of Buck Tallman of Quantum Sales & Technology, the regional Electro-Voice representative for Hawaii. “Although we had several options available for our show, the Hawaii Theatre had that WOW factor that we needed to help highlight the products offered by Electro-Voice. Great location plus great sound equals great show! That’s exactly what this was – a great showing products that no one had ever done before in this territory, and all at a location as great as the Hawaii Theatre,” says Tallman.
Hosting the Road Show also gave the theater’s Jude Lampitelli, who was stage manager at the time and has since become production manager, to hear what newer Electro-voice systems could do. As time passed, Lampitelli kept in touch with Tallman and Quantum helped provided the theater with sales and service for EV and Telex intercom systems. “We always try to involve local support for the sales and service of our product offerings,” says Tallman. “Local communities benefit when sales or service is kept within that territory.” It was four years ago that Lampitelli informed Tallman that the venue was considering a sound system upgrade and requested a sample design be drawn up for budgetary purposes. A year later, center manager Burton White began seeking grant money for the project, and a year after that a grant was approved for about half of the needed amount. The center’s members launched a fundraising campaign, and after another year they had raised enough to match the grant.
With funding assured, the design and installation process began in earnest, eventually involving Custom Audio of Kaneohe, Hawaii. Custom, an installation, rentals, and event sound company, was Quantum’s key local partner on the job. “Quantum did a lot of groundwork to specify the current system as installed, from acoustical predictions to keeping within the theater’s historical and aesthetic parameters,” says Custom’s Jeff Kang, the systems engineer who oversaw the installation. “They designed an excellent system that really fits the space.” Going along with the philosophy of always involving local support, Custom will provide ongoing local support for the system.
“The biggest design challenge came from the fact that it is a historic building,” says Tallman. “Most of the room is covered in plaster handcrafted by local artisans, and it looks spectacular. Because of the historical value of the venue there could be no altering to the existing hang point. The system had to go up in the exact same spot where the old system was hung, which was a single, center rigging point about five feet in front of the proscenium, over the front part of the stage.”
The old center cluster was a horizontal array of six boxes, three wide and two tall. It was supplemented with a pair of single-18 subwoofers, and a set of barely-functional in-ceiling speakers for under-balcony fill. “Sticking with a single hang in the same spot as the old cluster limited our choices,” Tallman says. “We had a few options on what we could put in that would perform well from that predetermined point in the room. We also had to take into account the size of the proscenium, and the aesthetics,” Tallman continues. “When you looked up, were you going to see a big behemoth, a monolithic array, or was it going to blend in seamlessly to the architecture?”
Another consideration was that the center already had a clear vision of the type of system they wanted. “The customer definitely wanted to see a line array in there,” Tallman says. “Given that we had a single hang point with weight limitations, our options were narrowed down to a few possible speakers for the centerpiece of this install.”
As in any installation, the acoustic properties of the room itself were also a factor in shaping the system design. “The room is very conducive to carrying sound from the stage,” Kang says. "The trick in there is dealing with the walls absorbing a lot of that sound.” With that in mind, pattern control was a key concern in choosing the array.
Lastly, the system had to be versatile, able to handle a broad cross-section of performance types. So they had a wide variety of needs for the system. It couldn’t be just a point source, theater-oriented type system that was for voice and prerecorded music. It had to be able to achieve the SPLs that a rock concert would normally want in that room, and also have enough bottom end too,” says Tallman.
The main hang
Weighing all these factors, Tallman found the ideal box around which to build his design: the very compact and lightweight Electro-Voice XLD281 dual 8-inch line array element. Designed for biamp or triamp operation, the XLD281 is a full-bandwidth 3-way box in EV’s XLVC series of installation-focused arrays. With EV’s Coverage Control Technology (CCT), the box maintains 120-degree horizontal coverage down to 250 Hz. “The XLDs fit all of our design criteria,” Tallman says. “I’ve used them in live situations, and I’ve used them in multiple installs. They handle the right amount of horsepower and they are able to cover the room evenly from a single point hang.” Both Tallman and David Brown, CFO and lead engineer for Quantum, had worked extensively with the XLD281 and both had zero doubt it would do exactly what the theater wanted – both sonically and aesthetically.
“The XLDs come in both 90- and 120-degree horizontal patterns,” Brown adds. “We looked at using 120s more toward the bottom and 90s up top. I did a full EASE analysis on the room, looking for any anomalies of energy and phase from things like multiple reflective points or corners coming back and hitting certain seating areas. When I ran the numbers, we got a smoother overall response with just the 120s than with a mixture. The 90s would definitely have given us a little more oomph in the back, but it just didn’t look like we needed it. So we ended up going with 120s all the way, and it worked well. Everything falls off right where I wanted it to. When a person in the last row of the balcony stands up, they’re still just within the pattern… unless they’re over seven feet tall!”
“We designed it to be something that a touring artist would sign off on,” Tallman says. “The number of boxes was influenced by what it took to get control down to the breaking frequency that I thought we would need after having been in the room and knowing where the problems were. But we also had to avoid interfering visually with the proscenium arch. The bottom of the array should never intersect the arch of the proscenium by more than a foot from the upper rows or any other viewpoint in the theater.”
The final design is a ten-box hang with a hard break in the middle to avoid bouncing sound off of the balcony lip. “We wouldn’t normally have done a hard break,” Brown says, “but EV’s new FIR filter presets for the XLDs make the array behave so well that we can decouple those two sections more than normal, and the break takes the energy off of the lip like we want. The pattern picks back up on the other side and still sounds great. They’ve done such a good job with these final presets – they are fantastic.”
Tallman chose four Electro-Voice Xi-1082 2-way full-range loudspeakers for front fills. Another six Xi-1082s are used for under-balcony fill. “We like the size of the box and its value,” Tallman says. “It’s very affordable for its output and overall sound quality. And it blends well with the main hang because EV keeps the overall tonality very similar from box to box. The consistency of EV’s speaker voicing makes it easy to get a smooth transition between coverage zones.”
The system is equipped with two different models of Electro-Voice subwoofers. Two EVF1181S single 18-inch front-loaded subwoofers live in what Tallman refers to as a “bunker” built for the old system’s DeltaMax subs. “We had to find a sub that fit in the bunkers that were already there,” he explains, “because we weren’t going to be able to put subs under the stage or install them near the stage.”
“If the show is just talking heads, or there’s not a whole lot of low-end material, then they can run with just those loft-mounted subs,” Tallman continues. “When it gets a little more pumping and it needs more low-end punch, then they have four dual-18s that they roll out onto the stage right next to the proscenium. Those are EV’s QRX 218S compact dual 18-inch subwoofers. I chose that model because it’s a high-output, low-profile, sub that fit within the budget. I’ve used them over and over again. Four of them provide enough low-end to keep up with the mains and the overall SPL requirements for the low frequencies.
Also used on a situational basis are the theater’s eight TX1122 12-inch two-way full-range loudspeakers, which serve primarily as floor monitors. “They pull them out when they have concerts,” Tallman says. “We chose this model for its output and its quality; it was the right price-performance ratio. But footprint was also a concern. The enclosures are compact. It’s a radical design that really takes up less space on stage without sacrificing performance.”
Power and control
Designing the entire system around the XLD281 was made easy with the use of Electro-Voice amps and DSP. “My design philosophy follows that if DSP, loudspeakers, and amps can all come from the same manufacturer then they should,” Tallman explains. “I’ve done installs with amps from other manufacturers behind EV speakers and those installs sounded very good. But knowing that EV amps are over-engineered and built really well, I knew they would enhance the experience we were looking for. From the output power to the very low failure rate and power consumption, the performance-to-cost ratio makes them more than affordable. EV amps are competitive with anyone on the planet in terms of power and value.”
Fifteen CPS amps are used in all: five CPS2.9s, nine CPS2.12s, and one CPS8.5. “The CPS2.12s are used for the LF drivers in the main array and the subs,” Kang adds. “The CPS2.9s are used for the HF on the XLDs and also for the Xi-1082s. And the CPS8.5 is used for the monitors.”
Each amp is equipped with an RCM-810 card that functions as an IRIS-Net remote control module. “The RCM-810 allows you to monitor your system and see what’s going on without having to get on a ladder or pull out test equipment,” Brown says. “You can see in real time if your drivers are in good shape, and check things like the impedance of the rig. Also, if you use the RCM-810 card on a digital amplifier like the CPS8.5, 4.5, or 4.10, it allows you to control the output stage based on your calculated load. You can adjust your output impedance and stabilize it, so that it matches the overall impedance of the load that you’re actually driving.”
While the DSP on the RCM-810 cards is used for supervision and load matching, the audio processing is handled by a NetMax N8000-1500 digital matrix controller. “There is no better sounding audio processor,” Brown says, “and it does everything. It’s just a powerhouse in terms of DSP – crossovers, compressors, and all of your limiters are in there.”
Kang agrees with Brown’s assessment. “The capability to process FIR filters in real time makes the N8000 the ultimate configurable processor,” he says. “It is very versatile in how it programs and can do quite literally almost anything you ask it to do. It’s also great sounding and roadworthy too.”
Given the NetMax’s capabilities, it was the obvious choice for running the theater’s Electro-Voice amps and loudspeakers. “It just makes sense to use the same manufacturer’s DSP box,” Brown says. “EV has spent a lot of time coming up with those loudspeaker presets and FIR filters, making sure that everything in the system is gain-structured properly and all of the frequency responses line up. So when I load in the speaker parameters, they’re going to be correct. If we’d chosen a different brand of processor, I would have had to do transfer functions for a 10-box rig, which is a lot of work.”
Brown also points out that NetMax is “not just a loudspeaker processor. It’s also a 32 by 32 digital matrixing device that you can use to do all of your routing. So it’s a fantastic front-of-house box, but it can also take care of the rest of the venue with things like matrixing background music and routing your paging. It also can run CobraNet modules and Dante. So you get your choice of networking and how you talk to other devices.”
Once the system was designed, it was primarily up to Kang and his Custom Audio team to get it up and running. “The first part of my job was to analyze all aspects of the installation and the logistics of the project,” Kang says. “We figured out what parts of the existing system could be re-used and what needed to be removed. Custom input panels and floor mounts for some of the front-fills needed to be designed and manufactured. Laser-engraved name tags needed to be laid out for etching. Rigging hardware needed to be sorted out and ordered. Speakers needed to be disassembled and painted. And I had to decide what would be the most efficient use of the NetMax processing power – what was both practical and useful for the theater to have – so that I could program an initial IRIS-Net file for the controller.”
After these preliminaries came the installation itself. “We tackled the loudspeakers first,” Kang says. “The EVF-1181S subs were fit into the existing bunkers with fractions of an inch to spare. Then came the six Xi-1082s for under-balcony, which were painted to match the ceiling color. The locations were spiked to within inches of the designed placement and approved by the theater before mounting. The four Xi-1082 front-fills were simply placed, but custom speaker cable was built to allow the orchestra pit to move freely behind them. The QRX subs in front of the proscenium arch also needed custom speaker cable to allow the fire curtain to close without obstruction. The final part was to hang the XLD281 array on an existing frame suspended from a permanent hoist. We gained an additional foot of clearance for sightlines by re-engineering the existing frame and tucking the XLD grid right up to it.”
On the electronics side, Kang says, “the first order of business was to remove all the old equipment from the racks without damaging or disrupting the existing patch bay or wiring. We had to patch around an existing patch bay designed for analog EQs and crossovers and incorporate the NetMax controller while still leaving most of the patch bay 100% functional. This was not an easy task, as most of the wires in the back of the rack were not labeled correctly or had been changed over the years. Then we loaded the new amplifiers into the existing amp rack, and remoted one additional amplifier to another nearby rack. The final test was to pass noise to all of the components and verify that everything was wired correctly.”
All in all, Kang says, “the system was well designed and has excellent coverage. The XLD281 is a great-sounding full-range box, very intelligible with a very smooth midrange, and not a lot of hassle either to rig or to EQ. Having made a couple of pre-site visits, there were not a lot of unforeseen issues during the install itself.”
In addition to the main loudspeaker system, Custom also installed various ancillary audio systems, including a Bosch Integrus wireless infrared language distribution system with a four-channel NT-TX transmitter, 24 pocket receivers, and two medium-power radiators capable of transmitting 20H to 20K audio. The Integrus, which is rackmounted in the sound booth, is used as an assistive listening system for ADA-compliance as well as to transmit surround sound to remote speakers.
For wireless, Custom installed a four-channel Electro-Voice REV system composed of REV-D dual receivers and REV-WTs bodypack transmitters. “The RE-V wireless is a professional-level system that has tour-grade durability and also the sonic quality that a lot of today's artists and engineers demand,” Kang says.
Four new REV-HD767s, which combine an REV-H handheld transmitter with an N/D767a microphone head, were purchased for use with the wireless system, as were four RE97 lavalier microphones. “The N/D767a is a great-sounding capsule,” Kang says, “and the REV-H is durable and also compatible with Shure capsules. As for the RE97LTx lavaliers, they are great-sounding microphones not just for speech but for performance as well.”
A happy ending
With the system installed, Custom and Quantum commissioned the room, comparing actual performance to the response predicted by EASE modeling. “We had done a very extensive EASE analysis before we put that rig in the room,” Brown says. “The system performed as expected; the coverage was what EASE had said it would be. The delays voiced well to the mains, and after we time-aligned the subs and Smarted the room we did about five presets, and they all sounded very, very good: high intelligibility, nice smooth coverage, good balance. It was interesting to hear how well the line array performed as a single point source, maybe better than we could have pulled off with stacked three-wide horizontal arrays. We have way more control with the line array.”
Pleased with the results, Tallman, Brown, and Kang demonstrated the system’s capabilities for the local live sound community. “We not only trained the theater’s own techs, we also invited all of the local techs so they would know what they had when they walked in the room,” Brown recalls. “And we also made some slight adjustments based on their input, so we involved everybody.”
“You could tell that the locals engineers were thinking that the room hadn’t sounded that good in a long, long time,” Tallman adds. “So I was happy, Custom Audio was happy, and more than anything, the theater management was very happy, with smiling faces all around. We knew that everyone—the owner, the facility manager, the front-of-house guys, the production managers, and the audience—each has their needs, and we wanted to make all of them happy. That’s exactly what we achieved with this system.”