CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – MAY 2009: Having entertained and educated over 175 million visitors since opening in 1933 on the former site of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) has long stood at the vanguard of museum programming. Forever reinventing itself, the museum built an OMNIMAX(r) theater – the city’s only five-story, domed IMAX venue – in 1986. While it has continued to draw capacity crowds in recent years, the theater was due for a overhaul, both because equipment was failing and because its technical specs were falling behind the times. Today, a fresh set of Danley loudspeakers and subwoofers have revitalized the sound system with impact and truthfulness that were simply unimaginable even ten years ago.
The IMAX experience is one of immersion, and the OMNIMAX variant (recently rebranded “IMAX Dome”) is its fullest realization. A standard IMAX theater, of which there are more than 300 in the world, features a screen that is at least 72 feet wide by 53 feet high. The OMNIMAX concept uses special recording lenses that distort the captured image and a playback system that reverses this distortion to project on a wrap-around dome. As a result, the screen takes up the viewer’s entire field of vision.
But as any intro textbook on sound for film will tell you, viewers consistently rate the overall quality of a theatrical experience more by sound quality than by visual quality. For some reason, our brains are more forgiving of visual distortions than of auditory distortions. On this score, MSI was struggling. Only four of the six audio channels were working. The components of the once-high-end loudspeakers were tired and inaccurate, and the playback system would intermittently drop audio entirely, requiring the projectionist to make a frenzied run downstairs to reseat antiquated sound cards.
MSI hired MediaMerge, of Chelsea, Alabama, to tear out the old audio and control systems and replace them with forward-looking technology that would move the OMNIMAX theater from “behind the times” to “ahead of the times.” Since MediaMerge is the largest servicing agent for IMAX technology, the decision was logical. Their expectations for audio performance were exacting, and an exhaustive search of the “latest and greatest” in loudspeaker technology led them to Danley Sound Labs. Danley’s patented Synergy Horn (SH) loudspeaker and Tapped Horn (TH) subwoofer designs obviate the fidelity-compromising tradeoffs that are inescapable using traditional approaches and thus deliver more natural, phase-coherent reproduction – even at high SPLs.
Noted Mike Hedden, Danley president, “When Tim Olgetree at MediaMerge called, he requested a loudspeaker with the sonic characteristics of our flagship Danley SH-50. But instead of the SH-50s 50 by 50-degree dispersion pattern, he needed a 90 by 60-degree dispersion pattern to fit the theater. Tom Danley and I discussed the details and ultimately the SH-96 was born with pattern control down to around 100 Hz together with a flat phase response and flat magnitude for three pass bands. From the initial request to shipping the initial SH-96 was only six weeks.”
The new speakers replaced the six old speakers in a one-for-one swap. In addition, four new Danley TH-50 subwoofers generate the low-end rumble for avalanches and the like. Hedden summarized, “The TH-50 actually challenged the sample rate of the FFT analyzer being used in the final testing in that due to the combination of cabinets and room gain we are flat to 10Hz! Additionally our loudspeakers, especially ones as large as the SH-96 have tight pattern control don’t energize the room like other systems. We deliver extremely high direct to reverberant rations that translate into clear, phase-coherent sound to the audience, and to the audience only. The fidelity is truly remarkable, so much that, to the listener at the OMNIMAX, the speakers effectively disappear.” Lab.Gruppen amps power the system.
MediaMerge also gutted the control room and replaced its contents with thoroughly modern control equipment, fronted by their proprietary ShowSource3D media server. ShowSource3D replaces an old, multi-channel, phase-locked CD system with a computer-run output that allows flexible (pre-show) video and audio selections. For such pre-show and special event presentations, they installed a Digital Projection Lighting 40isx+ 22,000 lumen DLP projector. Whereas the old technology felt a bit like a high-tech house of cards, the new system feels solid, easy-to-use, and reliable.
Remarkably, the entire renovation put only a minor bump in MSI’s OMNIMAX schedule so that very few visitors were inconvenienced and very few ticket sales were lost to the down time.
ABOUT DANLEY SOUND LABS Danley Sound Labs is the exclusive home of Tom Danley, one of the most innovative loudspeaker designers in the industry today and recognized worldwide as a pioneer for “outside the box” thinking in professional audio technology.
PHOTO CAPTION Danley SH-96 loudspeakers positioned behind the screen at the OMNIMAX(r) theater at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry deliver pattern control down to around 100 Hz giving viewers the awesome cinematic thrill audio provides.
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