Electro-Voice brings state-of-the-art sound to historic Minneapolis theaters
Built in the heyday of ornate design and lavish detail, vaudeville theaters and movie palaces are often among the few remaining landmarks that bear witness to the history of their surrounding communities. As redevelopment threatens these icons of a bygone era, non-profit groups may step in to stave off the wrecking ball. But to win more than a temporary reprieve, these organizations must sustain community interest by presenting engaging events in spaces that offer a top-notch experience at all levels, including the quality of the sound.
That's precisely what's been accomplished by independent non-profit group the Hennepin Theatre Trust and their managing partner the Historic Theatre Group. Together these entities operate three historic theaters in downtown Minneapolis’ thriving cultural district. With the recent installation of Electro-Voice line-array loudspeaker systems in both the State and the Pantages theaters, this partnership has left no doubt of its commitment to maintaining both the highest possible production values and the character of the places it preserves.
The State and the Pantages have each been through multiple incarnations over the years, at various points hosting movies, vaudeville and other types of live performances. The Pantages, designed in an Art Moderne/Beaux Arts style, first opened in 1916, followed by the Italian Renaissance-themed State, just down Hennepin Avenue, in 1921. As with many theaters of the time, each began as a proud, even awe-inspiring architectural gem, but after several decades they’d both become run-down shadows of their former selves, and by the mid-1980s neither was in operation. The Hennepin Theatre Trust was later able to gain control of and painstakingly restore the two theaters, with the State reopening in 1991 and the Pantages in 2002.
At just over 1000, the capacity of the Pantages is half that of the State, but there is nonetheless a lot of overlap in the types of material presented in the two venues. “Both rooms are used for all types of concerts, comedians, plays, musicals and dance performances, as well as receptions, graduations and corporate meetings,” says Steve Olson, Operations Coordinator with the Historic Theatre Group. “The system we installed in each room is intended to cover all those types of shows without needing to bring in additional reinforcement.”
The existing system at the Pantages was based on Electro-Voice XLC127 line arrays that had been regularly upgraded since their initial installation in 2002. “The HF drivers were upgraded as soon as the 127+ change was available, which made a nice improvement in the smoothness of the highs,” Olson says. “As subsequent component upgrades and design changes became available – like DVX woofers and FIR optimization filters – we implemented them as well. Every time we upgraded it was like we were getting a completely new PA, increasing the sound quality for our patrons. EV’s approach to upgrades definitely extended the value of our original investment at very low cost and kept our system meeting today’s standards of excellence.”
The twofer solution
The Pantages is somewhat tall and narrow, but at the time of the XLC system’s purchase no one was making compact line array elements with 90-degree horizontal coverage. At the State, meanwhile, two decades had passed since the venue’s reopening, and the aging (non-EV) sound system was in desperate need of replacement. “We were already familiar with the great sound quality of EV products, and we’d had excellent support from EV over the years,” Olson says. “So we spoke with George Georgallis of EV technical support about our situation, and he came up with a great solution.”
Working with EV technical support, Mike Doucot of EV sales and Chris Vnak of local EV dealer Metro Sound and Lighting, the Historic Theatre Group purchased a brand-new system for the Pantages that is built around XLD291 line arrays, which offer 90-degree coverage. At the same time the like-new XLC127DVX Pantages system, with its 120-degree horizontal coverage, was moved to the wider State, where it was paired with new TG series amplifiers and X-Line subwoofers.
“EV’s solution not only helped us achieve the price point we needed but also improved the sound quality at both venues,” Olson says. “The 90-degree box is better suited for the Pantages environment, and because it’s more compact it takes up less space next to the proscenium opening, so even the lighting techs are happy with the sound. How can you go wrong upgrading two venues at once when it seemed like upgrading even one was almost out of reach?”
Electro-Voice provided the Historic Theatre Group with a complete design for the Pantages Theatre that utilized existing amplifiers and subs. “The design was very closely matched with what was already there,” Olson says. “We were coming into a very busy holiday season, so our time frame was really tight and ease of installation was paramount. But it ended up taking more time to get the speakers out of the packaging than to get the system operational. We literally flew the PA, wired it up with a few extra jumpers, installed a new program into our IRIS-Net system, and began to play music.”
The new Pantages system uses 32 of the XLD291s in L/R hangs of 16 each. “We really like the pattern control,” Olson says. “And the size has definitely helped out, since we are so space-conscious in this theatre.” For under-balcony and front fill, the tool of choice was the Xi-1082 8-inch two-way full-range loudspeaker. “The size for front fill and under-balcony fill is excellent,” Olson says. “Output and coverage make this box a great choice for these areas. We wanted a speaker that had some punch, and this speaker does.”
The system’s subwoofers are XLC118 high-output single 18-inch elements that are installed four-per-side on the main floor just below the arrays. “The XLC118s have a nice tight sound and carry throughout the venue very well,” Olson says. “We own eight additional subs for when the need arises, like during heavy bass shows, but the main XLC118s have done such a great job that so far we’ve only used the supplemental subs three times.”
The subs are powered by a set of four P3000RL 1800-W per channel remote control amplifiers, while the mains are powered by 16 P1200RL 850-W per channel remote control amplifiers. Another four P1200RLs are used to power the fills and the monitors. Filter and control functions are provided by a pair of Dx46 sound system processors. “We are primarily using them for FIR filters,” Olson says, “but the system monitoring function through IRIS-Net is pretty slick as well. And the sound of these units is incredible.”
The biggest challenges Olson was anticipating at the Pantages were related to the balcony, both reflections from the front of it and coverage at the back of the main floor under it. “The front of the balcony can certainly cause reflection problems if the PA is not aimed correctly,” he says. “But the EV design avoided balcony reflections and made sure that the overall SPL level of the PA would be consistent throughout the venue, even at the furthest reaches of the balcony and under-balcony seating areas. The EV modeling program was spot-on, which made it possible for us to get the system aimed in a very short time.”
State of the State
The balcony was also a concern over at the State. “The area under the balcony, which is where the engineers mix from, narrows down very low at the back,” Olson says. “George Georgallis did a tremendous job of designing and implementing the main speaker hangs to address this issue. And he complemented the mains with Xi-1082s under the balcony, which proved to be just the right combination to properly cover this area.”
In all five Xi-1082s are used at State for under-balcony fill. The same model is also used for front fills, with four installed and two more for special situations. For mains the 24 XLC127DVX elements are flown in L/R hangs of 12 each just outside the proscenium, and eight Xsub subwoofers are stacked directly underneath, four per side. “The Xsubs have high output, and their size was a great match for the limited space we had to place them in,” Olson says. Subs, mains and fills are all powered by Electro-Voice Tour Grade amplifiers, with four TG-7s and 14 TG-5s. All 18 amps are equipped with RCM-26 cards, which enable FIR filtering and system monitoring via IRIS-Net.
While the XLC system was more complex than the system it replaced, Olson says, “the historic nature of the building meant that we were essentially stuck with the State’s existing rigging points and previously-installed wiring. Luckily the rigging points worked out just fine due to the compact nature of the XLC box, and we were able to keep the sightlines unimpeded despite changing the speakers.”
For wiring, the group worked with Scott Cummings of Pro Audio Services in Lakeville, MN, who had actually worked on the previous installation. “It goes to show how thinking forward in your design can translate into less work for future installations,” Olson says. “Because what saved us was the over-sizing of the wiring in the previous installation. Luckily a little extra room was available within the existing conduits to pull some additional runs and the old break-out boxes could be modified for the new system. So we were able to come up with a wiring and patch plan for the new system which worked mostly off of already installed wire.”
Throughout the installation process, Olson says, “the team at EV was definitely around whenever we needed them. Plus whenever we had a question we could call anyone at EV and get an answer right away so that we could move quickly to the next task. And EV was also present for the tuning of both rooms.”
With both systems now up and running, Olson is excited about the “clarity and intelligibility” of the final result. “The response to our PA upgrades has been overwhelmingly positive. Our regular clients have been impressed with the increased intelligibility the system has brought, and the improved sightlines that the compact XLD arrays have provided at the Pantages.”
Olson is also pleased with the way that visiting engineers have been responding to the new systems. “The engineers who come to our venues expect a top notch system,” he says, “and with our new EV arrays we’re able to provide that. Just this morning we had a band engineer walk into the Pantages and say, ‘these are my favorite boxes.’ Everyone knew right then that it was going to be a good day.”