It is rare for a design tool to make a quiet and subtle entry into the Broadway marketplace, especially for loudspeakers! But sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction.
From London's West End To The Great White Way
Broadway sound design trio Acme Sound Partners heard about a new speaker manufacturer whose products were being used on London's West End. Nevin Steinberg of Acme Sound Partners explains, “We found out about LDS via our friends at Autograph in the UK [Acme partner] Mark Menard traveled to London to visit with Autograph and Andrew Bruce. Autograph had been using LDS in installations and, together with the manufacturer, was developing the line for use in theatrical reinforcement, and they decided to use it on the recent reworking of Les Mis. Bruce had also used LDS on the recent Broadway production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Mark came back from the trip saying, ‘These are great speakers; they really work.’ It was clear from his response that something really good, interesting, or unusual was going on.”
Menard adds, “The clarity in the mid and top end was astounding. From my first listen, I knew Acme would be adding these speakers to our repertoire.”
Freedom To Experiment
Intrigued, Acme arranged for an LDS (LjudDesign Scandanavia AB) demo on American soil at New Jersey's Masque Sound & Recording. Acme Partners Tom Clark, Menard, and Steinberg got to work with the speakers and put them through some early listening tests. “We put up two different models of the LDS speakers and listened to them with program material in the warehouse,” says Steinberg. “We got to noodle with them and to really experience the line-source together as a group.” Steinberg adds that one of the most interesting things about LDS as a manufacturer is that “usually, you don't get a lot of play time with the components. The LDS demo was, from the get-go, a set of components that we were encouraged to play with. I, for one, got a really big kick out of that. That was the first big signal that this was going to be a different experience. So we were again able to consider, change, and play with crossover points and filters — things we were not used to being able to deal with on a daily basis, because we'd become so accustomed to black box solutions.”
Something Old Is New Again
Among Acme's first responses to the LDS speaker line was the obvious visual aspect the product line has — that as an array design, it is a vertically shaped box, instead of horizontally wide, and when deployed in stacked arrays stays thin, yet tall. Steinberg notes, “The shape of the cabinetry and the design of the enclosure itself is very ‘everything old is new again.’” Looking past the physical dimensions of how the speakers are deployed, he says regarding the first aural impressions of the LDS speakers, “There is something about the ribbon driver in the high end that seems very linear through the higher frequencies. There is a definite openness in the high end of the frequency spectrum that is very appealing when amplifying the human voice or, for that matter, any of the instruments in the orchestra. Our initial response was much like Mark's response in London: that it feels very open, very extended.”
Steinberg explains the way that Acme Sound Partners look at speaker choices and what qualities they look for: “In our minds,” he says, “We talk a lot about linearity being important. Almost any sound system sounds pretty good within a certain dynamic range, given that you find the proper pocket. But the question is how it will sound over a wide dynamic range. How is its linearity? If you change it over time, dynamic, and frequency ranges, does it still perform? One of the things about the LDS speakers we like is that they seem very linear over a wide frequency range, and that translates into being quite predictable, which is a very desirable quality as well.”
First Use Of A New Tool
So how did Acme arrive at the decision to make its first use of the LDS speakers on the sound design for Broadway's The Drowsy Chaperone? Steinberg answers, “In the case of the LDS, they suggest themselves first based on their size. It's a pretty unique architecture for a loudspeaker. Sometimes, we're looking for something to fit the theatre's architecture, but it obviously also has to be appropriate to the material. [LDS] is not on every one of our shows, ultimately, it comes down to if it's appropriate for the material, for the theatre, and for the entire sound system. It's another piece of the puzzle, and we're always excited to have more options when we are developing a sound system design. It's not an accident that we put the LDS on Drowsy to start, and not on, say, The Boy from Oz. Drowsy lives in two worlds: first, the world of the solitary man in an apartment, the narrator who addresses the audience directly. You don't get more stark and transparent than that. When the show within a show lights up, the narrator begins to describe his favorite Broadway show. When that second world of the musical begins, it is played out within the confines of his apartment. It's an adorable vintage Broadway musical, with a nod to the 1920s in its orchestration, more of a tin pan alley or a Gershwin era sound. so the strain on the sound system is less than if you were trying to reproduce a modern pop score or a disco era show.”
“On Drowsy, we did not use LDS at the out of town tryout at California's Ahmanson theatre,” Steinberg continues. “We knew Broadway was imminent, but the entire production team was waiting to find out what theatre we'd be playing in New York. The show ultimately got to the Marquis Theatre very late in the process, so the span of time from when we were awarded the theatre to the time we did the installation was very compressed; it was one of those integrated, collaborative production designs when we're adapting to a space we didn't expect to have. As soon as we were talking about the New York theatre possibilities, Acme started talking about using LDS. We knew there were architectural issues, that real estate was going to be at a premium, and this would be a good approach to solve that problem, too. All the design teams did site surveys together, so as soon as we were all in the room together, we started talking about LDS, with [scenic designer] David Gallo, and [lighting designer] Ken Billington. It was our first production visit to this theatre together, and we flew this idea out: to use LDS in the proscenium, and we figured out what it meant from a lighting point of view and from a scenic point of view. In Drowsy, the proscenium LDS speakers are literally adjacent to the proscenium and just downstage of what would be the smoke pocket.”
Steinberg explains that the LDS speakers have an unusual vertical dispersion. “Every one of these enclosures is nominally zero,” he notes, “so if you're not within the vertical height, then you aren't within the coverage of that component. Because the show deck on Drowsy is four or five inches high, we ended up having to notch it for two reasons: to get the LDS as low as possible to cover the front seating, and ironically, to get the full height of the coverage and fit the components within the architecture to the grid steel. We needed those four inches to allow us to have the complete floor to ceiling approach.” Menard adds that the actual stack from bottom to top is one LDS400 for fill, one LDS800 for low coverage, then two LDS800s for mid, and two LDS800s on top.
“We break up the cabinet coverage as close as we can as to where audience seating breaks are, so we could apply different amplifier power to different audience seating areas,'' Steinberg explains. “We found ultimately that those differences are very minor. It was certainly less than I expected.
“One of the biggest indicators that we really like LDS is that we've decided to use them again. We were convinced enough on Drowsy to specify them for A Chorus Line, so we're bringing them in again with high hopes,” he adds.
The response to the sound on Drowsy from the very beginning was a good one from the creative team and from the producers. “One of the producers made specific mention of things sounding particularly good particularly early,” Stenberg says. The Marquis has a reputation as a difficult acoustic space, and we had our own concerns about it, so that was a pleasant surprise. We also got great comments from the composer and orchestrator early in the process.”
Steinberg shares that, for Acme, “the goal is to make the audience forget the show is amplified as quickly as possible, so they get comfortable and get immersed in the production. Because of its low profile, certainly LDS can help, as they physically disappear more convincingly than conventional speakers will on a lighting boom.” When asked if Acme has considered other uses for LDS, Steinberg muses, “We've considered running an LDS sideways, along a truss as a cluster. It hasn't happened yet, but it's a fascinating idea. That's the kind of thing that makes the job fun!”
LDS speakers are distributed by Autograph A2D (AutographA2D.com), a distribution company in the international theatre capitals of London and New York, which was started to promote the sales of select products specifically aimed at the theatre market. The partners of A2D are Nigel Olliff , Andrew Bruce, and Lew Mead.
Dealers for LDS Loudspeakers in the United States are Masque Sound and Recording (Masquesound.com), Sound Associates (SoundAssociates.com), and PRG Audio (PRG.com).