TAMARAC, FLORIDA – MAY 2010: The Palace Theatre for the Performing Arts is part of the Kings Point condominium complex in Tamarac, Florida, a community of some 8,000 over-55 residents just north of Fort Lauderdale. Its season runs from November to March, complementing the snowbirds’ yearly migration from points too cold for comfortable living in those months. The theatre books A-list acts such as Tony Orlando, Peter Nero, and Pat Cooper and seats 1,000 people without a single stair. Its acoustics are excellent, with appropriately upholstered seats, no parallel walls, and judicious wall treatments. The Palace Theatre’s sound system was passable, but hardly excellent, until the recent addition of an Ashly ne8800 8×8 DSP and a long-deserved alignment.
Veteran sound engineer Anthony Ezzo has loyally served as the Palace Theatre’s production manager and FOH and monitor mixers since 1998, when he gladly said goodbye to life on the road.
Ezzo’s credits include work with Julio Iglesias, Duran Duran, Boyz II Men, Mark Chesnutt, Daryle Singletary, Michelle Branch, and dozens of other artists, including numerous thrash metal acts.
When Ezzo arrived, the house had a single mono PA cluster based around the Altec Lansing Acoustic Engine, with an Electro-Voice 18-inch subwoofer to extend the low-end. Acoustic Engines sandwiched the subwoofer to provide coverage to the left and right sides of the audience. A single horn at a lower angle provided front fill. A now very much discontinued Peavey Architectural Processor served as the cluster’s crossover. “The coverage wasn’t very good,” said Ezzo. “There were lobes everywhere. Some seats were too loud, others too quiet, and still others too dark or too bright.”
Over the years, Ezzo used his connections within the live sound industry for the betterment of the Palace Theatre. When the Julio Iglesias tour parted with several Meyer Sound MSL-3 full-range powered loudspeakers, Ezzo snatched them up and placed them in columns on either side of the stage. He got a few more when Carnegie Hall divested some of its stock. But with the Meyers on either side, and no DSP to organize the system as a whole, the original center cluster was badly out of alignment. Ezzo simply shut it off.
It was a fateful evening of comedy that triggered a series of events that led to the purchase of the new Ashly ne8800 that reinvigorated the system. Comedian Sal Richards came to the Palace Theatre on the tail of a cold that, combined with years of smoking, gave him a nasty cough. His best jokes were so funny that even he started laughing, which led to coughing, which led to bad mic technique. He told several punch lines off-mic, which caused tremendous confusion in an audience eager to know what was so incredibly funny. “The issue was really with Sal, but the theatre wanted me to get the system tested and certified that it sounded okay,” recalled Ezzo.
He made several calls and sent several emails, and each response contained the same line, ‘we’ll bring in our equipment, tie into your DSP, and time align your system.’ But the Palace Theatre had no DSP to tie into! Ezzo did some research, recognizing that his higher-ups were very budget conscious, and came up with the Ashly ne8800 8×8 DSP. It had all the inputs, outputs, and processing power the system would require at a price point that was unbeatable.
As it turned out, the company that did the original installation, Peerson Audio (West Palm Beach, Florida), was an Ashly dealer, and they were willing to upgrade and tune the system at the Palace Theatre. Peerson sent Kevin Varnadore, who Ezzo thought was entirely too young to be working with audio. “I told him that I had socks that were older than he was,” Ezzo laughed. “But he was incredibly sharp. He spent the day blasting a rainbow of noises through the system and making adjustments to the Ashly ne8800 remotely with a stylus. He went through time alignment of everything and reconfigured the crossovers.”
At the end of the day, they fired it up with music, and Ezzo claims the difference was both obvious and astounding. With everything properly tuned and working in concert, the system now delivers much greater SPL without any increase in the amplifier output. The Altec Lansing cluster has come to life in a way that belies its age. The room’s uneven coverage is now gone. Ezzo claims that there is no more than +/- 1 dB variation at any given seat and that the frequency response is ruler flat.
A self-professed ‘analog guy’ Ezzo was relieved to see how easily he could make changes using Ashly’s Protea software. “When Kevin left, he accidentally left the brick wall limiter almost completely closed for the right stack,” he recalled. “The next day, it kept shutting down. So I went online with my Mac, downloaded the software, booted in Windows, and was into the system without a glitch. I went into the limiter and opened it up. If I can manage it, any engineer can manage it!”
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