This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Professional Sound magazine.
By Andrew King
Photos by Bruce Nelson
2018 marks a significant milestone for Dalhousie University. First established as a nonsectarian college in 1818, the heralded Halifax-based institution is celebrating its bicentennial throughout the year with a series of special events and initiatives.
Coincidentally, 2018 is also a significant year for the Dalhousie Arts Centre and, more specifically, the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, the stunning 1,023-seat multipurpose concert hall and theatre that’s home to Symphony Nova Scotia and the largest soft-seat theatre in its historic host city.
A quick scan of the upcoming productions set to take the Cohn’s 47-year-old stage perfectly showcases the diverse array of programming it welcomes. In addition to Symphony Nova Scotia performances, the summer calendar includes concerts from the likes of Feist, Joe Jackson, and Nancy Wilson of Heart; British comedian Dylan Moran presenting his Grumbling Mustard tour; and the annual showcase from Halifax Dance.
The vast majority of those and other shows throughout 2018 and beyond will take advantage of a brand new house sound system built around Meyer Sound’s compact-but-powerful Leopard linear line array solution.
The system, which was designed and installed by Dartmouth, NS’s Tour Tech East with support from Meyer’s Canadian distributor, GerrAudio, is configured much like a touring rig to simplify and enhance ease-of-use for visiting productions while also enabling a quick strike should one of them prefer to use a custom loudspeaker package.
The end result balances an elegance befitting the Cohn’s impressive architecture with the pristine performance and rider-friendliness of a robust tour-grade system.
“We’re always looking to upgrade our existing infrastructure and technology,” begins Colin Richardson, technical director for the Dalhousie Arts Centre and the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium. Richardson’s career at Dalhousie dates back to the early ‘90s, with his appointment as TD coming in early 2008. Prior to joining the university, he’d logged plenty of time on the road as a touring lighting tech.
He says that, at least by today’s standards, the Cohn’s previous system was somewhat underpowered for some of the productions that take its stage. “We wanted a system that was going to meet the needs of 95 to 99 per cent of our shows and clients, where we wouldn’t be in a situation as we had in the past where certain types of shows would come in and we’d have to augment our PA. We have such a wide variety of clientele that we needed something versatile that would sound good for different applications and at all volume levels.”
The decision to upgrade was of course dependent on budget, though in 2017, Dalhousie applied for a Canada Cultural Spaces Fund grant. “We were thrilled to find out we were successful,” says Richardson. “That grant was integral to being able to bring in the calibre of system we wanted.”
A stipulation was that the university match the grant’s total allotment, so the other half of the project’s budget – which also included an upgrade to the performance lighting package – was drawn from the venue’s capital improvement fund.
Richardson and his colleague Ian Fraser, the Arts Centre’s head of audio, worked closely to develop an RFP for the new audio system that went out in January 2018. Ultimately, the winning bid came from Tour Tech East.
“After being awarded the project, we went to their initial meeting and delved into specifically what they wanted in the way of a touring-type system and how we could realize that," begins Bruce Nelson, sales coordinator with Tour Tech. “It was an installed system, but they wanted a custom solution that could easily come apart and go back up if it had to, like a touring rig, and we’re certainly familiar with those.”
[Pictured: Meyer Sound Leopard main arrays with single LFC-900 sub cabinet on top.]
That’s where longtime Tour Tech team member Ken Ryan was a major asset. A veteran of the road, Ryan has crossed the country on several occasions with artists like Johnny Reid in addition to being an anchor of Tour Tech’s crew at large east coast festivals.
“From a touring point of view, you want something efficient, quick, and totally failsafe,” Ryan says about his guiding principles.
Tour Tech’s winning bid was based on Meyer Sound’s self-powered Leopard compact linear arrays – the third-largest of the company’s four flagship Leo systems – and complementary 900-LFC and 1100-LFC subwoofers. As Nelson reinforces, the Cohn presents a diverse range of programming through a typical season, meaning the system needed to accommodate “soup to nuts – light speech to standup comedy to full-on concerts.”
In fact, the legacy system that the Leopard was replacing was also installed by Tour Tech and based on Meyer Sound products – specifically, the company’s CQ-1 wide-coverage and CQ-2 narrow-coverage main loudspeakers and 700-HP subs in a familiar point-and-shoot configuration.
“This time, with the way the technology has evolved for these kinds of rooms, they were considering line arrays from day one,” Nelson says about his client, though with the significant advantages associated with array technology came a few new potential concerns.
[Pictured: Dalhousie Arts Centre Technical Director Colin Richardson & Head of Audio Ian Fraser.]
As with virtually any performing arts centre, sightlines and overall aesthetic were a key factor, though that was especially the case for the Cohn considering it’s a university venue and thus hosts convocations and other ceremonies and presentations where the system could be particularly obtrusive.
As Richardson notes, it wasn’t just a matter of the array elements being discreet, but also the hardware that might accompany it. “Space at the Cohn is very limited, so while we didn’t put in the RFP that it had to be a powered system, as that would have limited our range of options, we were definitely mindful of minimizing the footprint on the deck as far as front fill and low-frequency cabinets. On that note, not having amp racks in our wings also frees up a lot more space.”
Ultimately, the Leopard product checked all of the right boxes. “It’s a powerful rig,” Nelson puts bluntly. “We were looking at the [slightly smaller Meyer] Lina for a while and contemplating offering that, but for the SPL they needed and just to have a really good amount of headroom, the Leopard is still very compact and came out as the optimal solution.”
Tour Tech had put a Leopard system into Sydney, NS’s Membertou Trade and Convention Centre a year prior, and Nelson says that company Founder and Director of Touring and Business Development, Peter Hendrickson, had spoken highly of his experiences with the Leo series.
The Rebecca Cohn Auditorium’s system is comprised of arrays of 10 Leopard cabinets per side with a single 900-LFC sub atop each so that, should the pair of 1100-LFCs on the deck need to be removed, the system can still provide good low-end reinforcement. The arrays are suspended from one-ton motors so they can be raised and lowered as necessary.
“The main thing for us was we had to get the hangs as high as we physically could, because a lot of the shows and applications in there are affected by sightlines,” Ryan reinforces about a key component of the design. “Had we gone with a slightly larger box, we just wouldn’t have hit that trim height, but because the Leopard is so compact, we got everything up with 15 ft. of clearance between the stage and bottom cabinet, which is great because they were actually hoping for 12.”
A complement of four Meyer UPM-1P ultra-compact, wide coverage cabinets provide front fill and a single UPJ -1P is tucked in by the two 1100-LFCs to push a bit more mid and high end out in front of the subs.
[Pictured: Meyer Galaxy control & networking units located stage right.]
Ian Robertson, GerrAudio’s manager of technical services and industry training specialist, came up with the initial design of how many cabinets to propose and how they’d be configured, and then Ryan took over from there in terms of networking and connectivity.
Meyer’s Galileo Galaxy control and networking platform is integral to the overall design and performance, and based on Ryan’s insistence, there’s actually a second processor for full redundancy. The units are located stage right with the remote monitoring system (RMS) server and network switch.
“One of the components that Ken insisted on for redundancy was that we offer both analog and AES, so they got a new AES out card for the [Digico] SD8 at FOH so they can go AES into the Galaxy and take advantage of it, or if anyone else brings in a different console, they can go in analog if they want,” says Nelson, referring to the digital console that Tour Tech had provided the venue as part of a previous sale.
Redundancy was central to Ryan’s design and striking the desired balance between an installed and tour-ready rig, as was the unique connectivity solution.
Ryan’s idea was to connect the entire system with five-pin connectors and cabling, with three pins dedicated to audio and the other two taking advantage of Meyer’s RMS capabilities. Typically, in a fixed installation, there’d be a signal cable and second RMS cable running to each cabinet, “So it could be like a science project,” he jokes.
Tour Tech tapped Montreal’s Theatrixx Technologies to fabricate the custom cabling and five-pin panels to accommodate the cross wiring. Throughout the process, Ryan was interfacing with Philippe Laframboise, Theatrixx's sales support and technical advisor, to bring his vision to life.
The timing was less than ideal, as just at the outset of their collaborations, Ryan had to head out on a national tour with Johnny Reid. That led to him doing up drawings during rehearsals, taking pictures on his phone, and sending the images to Laframboise. Despite the circumstances, Ryan says he was more than pleased with the end result.
“It’s a pretty complex set-up, but the way it is right now is really clean, and it’ll be very easy to troubleshoot going forward,” Ryan says. “You have your RMS network, so the signal comes out of the server and terminates at XLR at that point and goes straight into the five-pin from there.”
He’s quick to give credit to Laframboise and Theatrixx as well. “In some cases with a project like that, you’d really need to explain every step,” Ryan shares, “but [Philippe] is an expert when it comes to unique connectivity designs and knew exactly what I was after pretty quickly.”
The auditorium’s new package also included four channels of Shure Axient Wireless, which Nelson believes to be only the second Axient system in Atlantic Canada.
“Wireless frequency band traffic has been and still is a constantly-changing frontier for production companies and venues alike, mostly affected by the demands of the telecommunications industry,” offers Nelson. “Choosing a product with longevity in terms of frequency band and performance within that band is a big considering for an investment like this, and Ian felt the Axient system covered all of the parameters.”
The package, sold by SFM’s Atlantic Canadian rep, Jodi Rhuland, also included a kit of belt pack and hand-held transmitters for various uses.
The Cohn’s existing monitor package includes a Digico SD9 with an accompanying D Rack with 32 x 16 I/O, feeding a complement of 10 JBL STX 812M wedges driven by five Crown XTi 4002 amplifiers, along with a QSC KS212C cardioid subwoofer.
Again owing to its wide range of programming, including some reinforced symphony shows, the venue’s microphone collection is quite extensive and includes offerings from AKG, Audio-Technica, Crown, C-Ducer, Sennheiser, and Shure.
Ryan was out with Reid until late April, and actually came off the road just over a week before the system went in. “So the timing couldn’t have been better to have Ken back and able to oversee the installation and last steps of his work,” Nelson enthuses.
Robertson flew back to the coast in early May to assist with tuning and commissioning, working closely with Fraser throughout the process. “It was great having the Galaxys to get really precise control of the delays on the front fills, the way the two Ians liked it,” Nelson says with a laugh. “They spent a lot of time on that. Ian [Robertson] was very insistent that it not sound like they stick out when you’re out in front of them, so the tonality curving was really important. They spent the better part of the day tuning the front fills alone.”
Nelson explains that they’d originally intended to take advantage of the recently-introduced enhanced Precision Toolset in the Galaxy’s Compass control software for the Leo family, which offers proprietary low-mid beam control for uniform front-to-back coverage. The prospect was especially attractive considering the Cohn’s asymmetrical interior, with one side of the balcony extending further into the hall than the other. In the end, though, Nelson says they forewent the step because “the room was just sounding so good.”
Ryan says he’s particularly impressed with the system’s musicality. “I was blown away by the power and tone. The quality is just incredible,” he says, “and it’s just perfect for a room that handles everything from spoken word to acoustic performances to the symphony to full rock shows.”
Richardson was more than pleased with the integration process, though he expected nothing less with the way he’d engineered the timeline.
“It was very collaborative, and we kind of tailored the install around the schedules of the people that I wanted to be a part of it,” he says, referring specifically to Ryan, local freelance engineer Robb Hall, and Robertson. “I knew they’d have the best interest of the venue at heart, because many of them have worked in the Cohn before, and it felt right having them be part of this new system and help usher in the future.
“I can’t say enough about them,” Richardson adds about his collaborators. “I just knew it was going to be done right. I trusted these people implicitly as we’ve worked together for a long time and they’re great at what they do.”
He also acknowledges his heads of department who were integral to the installation process – particularly Fraser and stage carpenter M.J. MacLeod, who was running cable through walls, coordinating the power distribution runs, and more.
“The Cohn doesn’t have this kind of change very often – it’s once every 15 or 20 years, and I'll have retired the next time the system gets replaced, so I wanted to make sure it was done right,” concludes the TD. “It was very much a team effort, not just with co-workers, but with friends. In my 41 years in this industry, this is probably one of the best experiences of my career.”
Andrew King is the Editor-in-Chief of Professional Sound.