Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

In 2008, the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts (SBCPA) completed a renovation of its 95-year-old, 1,500-seat Granada Theater, a venue, regarded as ‘one of the greatest in California’ by Ocean Way Audio founder and record producer Allen Sides. The work saw renovations to stage, lighting, rigging and artist facilities.

Last month, the theatre unveiled a new sound system from Ocean Way, able to distribute 90° of audio in both horizontal and vertical planes, something not possible with a conventional line array. The system proved its worth at its Grand Opening and first post-pandemic public event, a Mariachi opera entitled Cruzar la Cara de la Luna by Los Camperos a week ago.

The new system replaced a split stack line array system that was adequate, but ultimately wasn’t able to serve every seat in the house. Its replacement was a joint project between the Ocean Way Audio team, including MIT-educated inventor Cliff Henricksen (Director of New Technologies), who created the system concept and design specification; Bruce Marien (Director of Engineering), who created the electronics and wiring configuration, Ernie Woody (Director of Production and Operations), who managed the construction logistics and Allen Sides (CEO/owner), who set the sonic parameters of the AeroWave system.

OWA AeroWave system‘This is undoubtedly one of the greatest venues in California,’ Sides asserts. ‘We believe we have created something here that is unique and sets this theatre apart from other venues of similar size.’

Aside from a full-bandwidth, response that is capable of delivering an even, stereo response throughout the venue, the new system is able to handle performances across many genres: ‘You could have the London Symphony followed by Brian Setzer,’ says Sides. ‘Getting the acoustics right for these two types of performances is not an easy task.’

‘When Allen came, he said, “What you need is more of a point source – the speakers you are using are fighting with each other and the engineer can’t hear what is happening or trust what he is hearing”,’ says the venue’s VP of Operations & Production, David Johnson. ‘While line array speakers are prevalent today, this set-up would not work for us.

‘With traditional line arrays, there was uneven sound dispersion all around the theatre and each of our patrons was having a different [stereo] experience. Allen’s idea was to create a system that could deliver sound from a single source, both wide and high, so everyone in every seat can hear both speakers at once.’ Rather than opting for an off-the-shelf line array, Granada collaborated with Ocean Way Audio on a bespoke single point design that would serve the venue now and for many years to come.’

‘In a very live venue, the more sources you have of sound that hit and create reflections from side walls, the less clear and less defined the sound is,’ Sides says. ‘And if there are many reflections in a room, it can reduce resolution and definition – even with dialogue. Our system is a point-source, constant-directivity system, so instead of being split into four separate pieces, it is a single system that sits in ideal positions. This eliminates tons of reflections from the four sources _ you only get one set of reflections from the point source.’

The AeroWave system also features complete directivity-control to 100Hz, so low frequency information goes out directly into the auditorium rather than creating first, second or third wave reflections. The net result is elimination of most unwanted reflections and a clear, more defined sound.

Granada engineer Jon Fowler was among the first to see the AeroWave system being implemented and tested: ‘We are the first theatre in the world to use this system, and when it came in the building it didn’t look like anything I’ve seen before, and I have been doing live sound and recording for 15 years,’ he recalls. Now that the new system is up and running, it sounds great and has made his job easier. I’ve been working on the old PA for about eight years, and with the new AeroWave I don’t have to do a lot of EQ work like I did before. You pretty much just pull up the faders and it already sounds good.

Cruzar la Cara de la Luna ‘The hall definitely sounds more like a control room than it did before, and the Ocean Way system really seems to control the frequency spectrum much farther down on the frequency range,’ he continues. ‘Also, the sound seems cleaner in both the house and on the stage. Because of that, the stereo imaging has just been fantastic. That was one of the things that Allen talked about in when he set his goals for this room, and one of the first things I ever learned about in audio engineering.’

The AeroWave system claims to be around 10dB more efficient than any conventional line array because of its efficient horn design, requiring a third the power to achieve the same level. This equates to lower distortion and a more natural sound even at high sound pressure levels.

‘Now, you can move around the room and hear great stereo imaging whether you are right in front, extreme right or left, or anywhere in between – it is really incredible. Even if you are playing pink noise, you don’t hear that comb filtering you normally hear in other rooms; is just completely even,’ Fowler reports.

The system was put to the test at a Grand Opening for invited guests in September, and then again for two public performances of the Mariachi opera by Opera Santa Barbara and Kostis Protopapas in early October.

‘We had a flawless run on both shows of the opera,’ Fowler says. ‘We had glowing reviews at the end of the show. It is reassuring to know that I can trust what I am hearing at front of house and know that it is going to translate well throughout the entire hall.’

‘The three things an audience will notice are incredible clarity and definition, no matter where you sit,’ Sides concludes. ‘The second thing is that everyone - no matter where they are sitting, will hear exactly the same sound. The last thing is that it is musical, fun to listen to and not harsh.’

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