Sound designer Brian Ronan chose Meyer Sound's M2D loudspeakers and 600-HP subwoofers to rock the house for Broadway's RENT.
"When we hear a rock tune for the first time, live or on the radio, we’re not worried about understanding every word because we know we can hear the song again or download the lyrics. In theatre, however, unintelligibility is not an option," explains Ronan, which sums up his attitude toward vocal reinforcement, and explains the chief hurdle he faced in designing an all-new sound system for the musical, which he characterizes as a “rock opera.” To ensure that the audience enjoys vocal intelligibility over a driving rock band, Ronan put self-powered loudspeakers from Meyer Sound at the heart of the show’s sound system.
Achieving the required clarity is fairly straightforward on the orchestra level of the 1,200-seat Nederlander Theatre, but not as easy in the steeply-raked 500-seat balcony. “The Nederlander is a room with two very different sounds upstairs and down,” Ronan explains. “It's fairly predictable and consistent on the orchestra floor, a nice combo of reflective and absorbent surfaces. But the balcony is a very reflective space, which is subject to drastic changes in response due to humidity.”
Despite the differing needs of the upper and lower parts of the hall, Ronan had little time to experiment on the long-running show, currently in its tenth year on Broadway. “It’s very unusual to replace the system on a running show,” Ronan explains, “because producers face the expense of lost ticket sales, labor, and increased weekly rental. However, they had always felt they could improve the sound, so when the musical director brought up the subject they decided, to their credit, to take the hit.” Ronan was allotted one week to strip the old system, install the new one, rehearse with the band and cast twice, and then reopen. His only hope was effective planning and smooth execution.
“I had taken a class this past summer on Meyer’s MAPP Online Pro acoustical prediction program,” Ronan says, “so I knew that Meyer Sound would be able to help me analyze the room and make logical choices based on the MAPP predictions. I contacted (design services manager) Todd Meier at Meyer Sound on a Friday, and by Sunday evening Meyer’s (technical support representative) Mike Maxson had visited the theatre to hear what would be expected of the system. Monday we ‘MAPPed.’ We knocked it right out, and by Tuesday I had a rental order together. That kind of service is truly priceless; I would not have been able to turn the system around on such short notice without Todd’s and Mike’s help. Additionally, I found MAPP invaluable; I plan to make it a regular part of my survey routine.”
Design in hand, Ronan turned to the Mt. Vernon, NY office of Production Resource Group (PRG) to provide the equipment he needed. The system Ronan settled on was based around a center cluster design with a main array of eight M2D compact curvilinear array loudspeakers. “I knew I wanted a single array in the balcony to cut down on reflections, and I chose M2Ds for their power and size. The 90-degree spread took care of the whole balcony.”
The cluster was augmented with two 600-HP compact high-power subwoofers, one on either side of the array, with another four 600-HP cabinets used for floor subs. “The new 600-HPs tucked under an overhang in the stage for a perfect fit,” Ronan says. “They gave much-needed bottom to the balcony, and added punch to the orchestra level.”
Ronan also used four CQ-1 wide coverage main loudspeakers for some of the stereo effects and to act as mains on the orchestra floor. The cabinets were hung on the proscenium, two at about the height of the actors’ heads and two higher up for the balcony. “The CQ-1’s 80-degree (horizontal) spread filled in the orchestra level with nice smooth coverage,” he says, “and I know and love that horn.”
With the show up and running, Ronan now has time to savor the results. “The efficiency of M2Ds in the midrange is very useful whenever the words are critical,” he says. “The CQ-1s add warmth, and they require very little EQ. I also find the system very responsive to fader moves and to any additional channel EQ I use. I definitely got the results I was looking for.”
As for the response of both insiders and audiences to the Meyer system, Ronan describes it as “overwhelmingly positive. The comments from the audience have been great, and the producers are reassured that their investment was worthwhile.”