The private members club, a mainstay of the English professional class since Victorian times and the epitome of Hollywood’s Golden Era, is back. The embodiment of the modern American iteration of that—a nexus of private work and social spaces for creators, innovators, and thought leaders to gather and connect—is NeueHouse, a growing network of hubs in key US cities.
Its New York City outpost is NeueHouse Madison Square, in the heart of Manhattan, which recently reopened after a complete renovation. But no matter whether members come for entertainment (recent performances include Lee Ranaldo and Phillip Glass), edification (talks on diverse topics by thought leaders such as Arianna Huffington, Ndaba Mandela, and Diane von Furstenberg), or simply to work in its edgy-yet-elegant, etched-concrete atmosphere, the sound of the place is literally part of the carefully curated vibe. This is thanks to a highly customized sonic environment comprised of L-Acoustics speakers and amplified controllers, designed and installed by AV systems integrator See Factor.
“Members come here to work and to experience interesting shows and talks, but mostly they come here to feel at home,” says Anthony Farina, NeueHouse Madison Square’s genial Assistant General Manager and Head of AV Technology. “We strive for a balance in all of that, and sound is a big part of it, whether it’s direct sound like speech or music, or ambient sound as you work and network. The sound has to be as unique and dynamic as everything else here. The L-Acoustics audio definitely delivers that.”
Members and visitors are greeted at the lushly planted reception desk, and beyond are working and relaxing areas. To the left, there are bistro-type tables and chairs along the windowed wall that fronts East 25th Street, across from the Beaux-arts Lexington Armory, home to the storied “Fighting 69th” US Army infantry regiment. The far wall has a curved and comfortable bar, around a corner from an elegant buffet.
Oddly, but by design, it takes a moment to see that the largest part of what is a huge central space is actually raked seating—known affectionately as “the Spanish Steps,” an ode to Rome’s Piazza di Spagna—enclosed on either side and where members take in those performances and talks.
Just as understated but powerful is the PA system. Two L-Acoustics X12 speakers form a left-right array, with an X8 speaker in the center, all flown. A pair of SB18 subwoofers are available when needed, such as for DJ nights, and can be patched into floor pockets fitted below window columns. Four more X8 cover the upper part of the seating and adjacent floor areas. Five ultra-compact 5XT speakers add delay zones around the main space, while even smaller X4i systems provide intimate audio for a pair of compact cabañas facing the buffet area.
Farina points to a tech closet where a rack holds two LA2Xi and two LA4Xi amplified controllers. “We have the entire space carefully zoned, with the speakers chosen for what each area needs, from the X12 for the performance space to the X4i for ambiance,” he explains. “Again, it’s all about balance. For instance, we can pull the rear zones down in volume even as we increase it on the X12 and X8 in front. The speakers have excellent pattern control.”
Mark Friedman, Managing Partner at See Factor, says the creative team at NeueHouse Madison Square expressed equal emphasis on sonic performance and interior esthetics when they began discussing the venue’s sound system. He invited them to See Factor’s facility in Woodside, Queens where they have an entire space devoted to L-Acoustics products.
“Sound quality and esthetics were equally important to them,” he says. “The system had to have great fidelity but also disappear. We were able to show them the small-format speakers from L-Acoustics, like the 5XT and X4i, which are incredibly compact but still deliver substantial SPL. Multiple short-throw speakers were the way to get impact and coverage throughout this multi-use space.”
At the same time, See Factor Installed Audio Supervisor Alex Jones says that Soundvision modeling software from L-Acoustics was critical in determining exactly where to place each speaker to assure proper coverage and imaging. “Soundvision creates the sonic map we need for speaker placement,” he explains. “But in conjunction with the X12 and X8 speakers, whose pattern signatures match each other exactly, we had the perfect solution to keep the sound on the seats and off the walls and floor.” In fact, sound dispersion was so precise that the X4i speakers, which hadn’t been specified initially, were added to the cabañas because they were so well isolated from the rest of the room’s sound.
“The space sounds so good, and it works for speech and music and everything in between,” says Farina. “It has all the horsepower we need, yet you’d never know it was there if you didn’t hear it. It’s exactly what we wanted for a very special place like this.”