Surround on the Dance Floor

With an ever-increasing number of home theater systems, settop players, surround-capable game consoles, and computer DVD-ROM drives going into consumers’ homes, and with factory-installed 5.1 car audio systems just months away, it seemed only a matter of time before the 6-channel format was adopted in the live music environment. Sure, there have been tours featuring quad sound systems during that formats heyday, but, apart from large-scale cinema reinforcement systems for the occasional gala film premier, 5.1 sound has not been heard regularly in any music venue.

Until now, that is. Over the last 12 months, two U.S. nightclubs have sprung onto the scene featuring cinema-style 5.1 audio systems. On the West Coast, on Ventura Boulevard in North Hollywood, CA, Platinum Live features live performances in 5.1 several nights a week. And in Manhattan, on East 151st Street, Club Vue has opened with a 5.1 sound system on the main dance floor, complementing a 360-degree, constantly changing video panorama projected on the walls and domed ceiling.

Platinum Live

The man behind the regular 5.1 entertainment at Platinum Live is engineer/producer Greg Ladanyi, a name familiar to many music fans, not least for his recent remixing of Jackson Browne’s classic Running on Empty for DVD-A release. Ladanyi, also known for his work with Don Henley, Fleetwood Mac, and Toto, had been watching as renovations at the club, which is on his daily jogging route, neared completion. Finally, the doors opened in May 2002.

Ladanyi recalls, “I decided to just go in there.” He reports that owner and CEO Dennis Morgan, who acquired the club three years ago, sank over $3 million into the revamp. “I told him about my background as a record producer and where I came from. From there, we started talking about the club and what it was about. The light bulb went off and I said, ‘Why don’t we turn this into a live surround sound music venue?’ ”

First opened in the ’40s, the club has offered a variety of entertainment, from burlesque to cabaret to disco music. During the ’60s, as Bob Eubanks’s Cinnamon Cinder Club, it hosted the presentation to the Beatles of their first gold disc and, later, performances by the Doors, Ike and Tina Turner, and the Righteous Brothers.

Frustrated with the record business and eager to investigate new avenues in the industry, Ladanyi put calls into a number of manufacturers, assembling a cutting-edge digital sound system for the club. “I called Steinberg and we put Nuendo in the club as the recording platform,” says the man behind the Nuendo Producers Group. “Yamaha came with the DM2000.” One console mixes house sound and monitors while another is used for recording.

Five channels of JBL’s three-way EVOi.324 intelligent loudspeakers, plus two CSP82 subwoofers, cover the main 1200-sq.-ft. show room, with additional, smaller JBL units installed as sidefills and rearfills. DTS, QSC, Shure, Audio-Technica, Korg, Marshall, and Line 6 gear round out the equipment complement.

Surprisingly, says Ladanyi, since it was not exactly designed for its current purpose, the only treatment required other than a few ASC acoustic panels was “getting JBL to analyze the room and pick the right system that would work the best. The acoustics in this club are amazing. They have a dome ceiling with about two feet of drywall in the ceiling, so when the sound goes up, it doesn’t come back down.”

Featuring local bands as well as major acts such as Little Feat, Angie Stone, Stevie Wonder, and Ambrosia, the club is doing brisk business. That’s given front-of-house engineer Joe Byrne, a 15-year performance sound veteran, plenty of opportunity to dial-in the 6000-watt system.

“I’ve walked the room so many times that I know what works,” explains Byrne. “Most people ask me, ‘What do you put in the rear channels?’ Instruments that are strong on stage, like guitars and horn sections, I pull back and put in the rear speakers. You get the energy off stage and the energy from the rear speakers and it balances out without being overwhelmingly loud.”

He continues, “I lay the vocals up in front, strong. If I have my effects pulled too far back into the rears, it sounds dry, so I’ve learned to push vocal effects stronger in the front. Solos I pan in the front, behind, or around in circles.”

Ladanyi reports that the definition and impact of the system has stunned patrons and performers alike. “We’re a very high-tech, cutting-edge club that is trying to provide a space for music to be performed in that is unlike anything you’ve ever heard. Some day you’ll see concerts in big arenas doing this, because it’s just so cool to listen to music like that.”

Club Vue

On the opposite coast, in a building with a similarly stellar history that includes supper club performances by Desi Arnaz, the concept for Club Vue’s 5.1 sound system was developed after club owners George Iordanou and Zane Sellis decided to install a hemispherical video system from San Francisco’s Obscura Digital. Surround video required surround audio, so long-time collaborator, design consultant, and integrator Chris Obssuth, of Musically Yours in Rochelle Park, NJ, was called in.

“We wanted to depart from regular club sound and get into a real high-end sounding club system, which is what led us to SLS speakers. They’re amazing; I never would have thought you could get that much output out of ribbons,” says Obssuth of the 15,000-watt system, which is powered by over two dozen QSC CX and MX Series amplifiers.

“They have the best vertical dispersion pattern of any speaker that’s out there,” he says of the system. That was a critical feature on the main dance floor, where the 42 feet by 40 feet space features a domed ceiling with a rear opening into a second floor dance area, lounge, and VIP area, all of which, as well as the bar areas, receive audio via SLS speakers. “They’re projecting video onto painted walls, so we couldn’t do any acoustic treatment because they didn’t want to disrupt the video image.”
The controlled dispersion, he continues, helped keep a lot of the reflected sound out of the dome. “What made the system hard to equalize is that they essentially took the domed ceiling and, during renovation, continued that arch to make it into a hemisphere.”

The system is set up like a high-end home theater system, he reports, with four SLS T3RH/FT speakers left and right with a single center SLS 112RT-1. “The speakers are being projected on, so they’re behind speaker fabric, matched to the color of the projection surface.” Four additional SLS speakers offer rear and side coverage.

“What is different from a home theater system is that you lose all the mid-highs in the audience, so you have to position them high enough up. There’s a bit of a sweet spot in the middle, but, as you walk through the dance floor, it’s a good sound.”

A dance club is nothing without serious bass, and Club Vue is no exception, with six SLS T218/4K double-18-inch subs on the main dance floor. The five main channels are crossed-over at 80 Hz. “The SLS speakers come alive at around 40 Hz, so it just shakes the whole house — it’s unbelievable.”
DSP in the Ashly Protea 4.24 processors optimizes the speaker system and prevents anything getting out of hand. “As far as the DJ knows, he’s at the max, but the system’s not even hitting the limits. The Protea has one of the best sounding limiting systems, because it does it very transparently. With the DSPs you can limit each channel individually, so you can start limiting your subs before you have to start limiting the mid-highs. And the system has enough headroom that it does not run into limiting.”

Surround recordings released to date have included a heavy concentration of classic rock catalog material, which means that there is not much 5.1-channel dance music available to play in a surround-capable club. “Up until this time they’ve just been playing CDs,” admits Obssuth. “But we’ve now got the okay to put in a Lexicon MC-8 digital processor, and we’re putting in two of the new Pioneer Elite DV45’s, which will run SACD and DVD-A. It’s still up in the air who’s going to win out,” he says of the so-called war between the surround formats.

In a city where clubs vie to be the latest, greatest, and hippest, Club Vue has Obssuth optimistic about his future. “It’s good thing for us in the industry because surround sound gives us the ability to upgrade all the systems that are out there. Once it hits, every club owner is going to want it.”

The same is true of the creative talent, he says. “It’s going to be amazing what these guys are going to come up with.” New dance music in the 5.1 format is on its way. “I spoke to a promoter for a new artist. They’re in the studio now and want to do their record release at the club because they’re doing multichannel DVD club music. So the interest is out there in the music community.”

Surround Professional Magazine