A classic slice of New York City’s cultural history, the Kaufmann Concert Hall is part of the city’s the 92nd Street Y – itself opened in 1874 as the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA) and evolving into an institution. The Kaufmann Concert Hall opened in 1927 as part of its mission, hosting classical and other acoustic music genres, as well as lectures and performances. And, notably, Dylan Thomas’ last reading of Under Milk Wood two weeks before his death in 1953.

Today, the 92Y is part of the New York City landscape. The stage of the Kaufmann Concert Hall hosts regular panel discussions with former heads of state, government leaders, supreme court justices, members of the news media, movie stars, and celebrity chefs – all designed to enlighten and inform NYC’s populous. Combined with a rotating programme of musical theatre, cinema experiences, rock and acoustic acts, and special events, the 92Y has grown into a cultural beacon on the Upper East Side.

Kaufmann Theater

Finding itself in desperate need of an upgrade to a nearly 20-year-old audio system, which often worked against the naturally reverberant space and intimate programming of the hall, the theatre has installed L-Acoustics’ L-ISA Immersive Hyperreal technology. ‘The main challenge for this concert hall is that the interior is largely made of wood, and it’s very reverberant,’ explains its Technical Director, Sean Fogarty. ‘It was built in the 1920s and meant for classical music, so amplified music would easily overwhelm the space.’

L-Acoustics’ L-ISA was selected to solve these issues and bring the audio of the 905-seat Kaufmann Concert Hall into the current century. The technology has since reinvigorated the venue, bringing spacious, natural sound that is localised to the presenters onstage, while also blending into the notable architecture.

To match the historic venue, the L-ISA installation is in itself historic, marking the first US installation of L-ISA in a performing arts centre. A true collaborative effort, the system was sold through local rental and integration mainstay See Factor, and installed by the Kaufmann Concert Hall’s IATSE Local One technical staff, with guidance from See Factor’s Alex Jones, L-Acoustics and Hudson Scenic Design.

As part of a broader update of the venue’s sound, which included the installation of a Yamaha digital FOH console and recording and broadcast infrastructure also supplied by See Factor, Fogarty and his team, including house sound engineer Anthony Lombard, reviewed all of the needs and challenges to design a system that would allow maximum flexibility and ease of use to handle the variety of events in the hall, while ensuring clear, intelligible, and exciting sound. The large network of systems had one overriding aim – to integrate seamlessly and unobtrusively into the historic architecture of the venue.

A demo of the L-ISA system, at See Factor’s Queens, New York facility across the East River from 92Y, provided ample evidence of how it could address all of those contingencies. ‘We had gone to the venue for a site survey, and to speak with Sean and Anthony about what their needs were for a sound system,’ says L-Acoustics Application Engineer, Jesse Stevens. ‘The more we discussed the acoustic properties of the space, the design directives, and the varied programming, it became clear that L-ISA was the key to solving this puzzle. So we all hopped a cab to the L-ISA studio space at See Factor so that the Kaufmann team could hear and mix in L-ISA in real time.’

Kaufmann Theater

Stevens designed a system comprising five hangs of L-Acoustics' Kiva II – six enclosures per hang – across the width of the stage, and four SB15m subwoofers. This front system provides tha ability to localise the sound to the source onstage, improving intelligibility and creating a cohesive blend of live and reinforced sound.

For the immersive aspect of the system, a total of 20 X8 loudspeakers – four X8 coaxials per side and four in the rear for balcony and orchestra – allow the Kaufmann staff to use the entire venue to place sounds for cinema, or enhance the space using the L-ISA integrated Room Engine.

Additionally, 5XT under-balcony fill, six X4i ultra-compact coaxial front fill on the lip of the stage, and two Syva colinear loudspeakers as proscenium near fill complete the system, which is powered by 11 LA4X amplified controllers, fed via AVB from the FOH infrastructure. Finally, there are two L-ISA Processors (main and backup) located at FOH, and managed by the L-ISA Controller software, running on a Mac Mini.

Audio into the L-ISA system comes from a Yamaha Rivage PM10 console, which sends each audio channel post-fader and post-processing into the L-ISA Processors via a MADI stream. From there, the resulting objects are placed and layered in the L-ISA Controller – with the spatialised outputs sent to the corresponding loudspeakers. FOH Engineer Anthony Lombard notes, ‘The ease of use of the L-ISA Controller is so natural. I can place objects quickly, move them around, add width and depth, and create and recall snapshots, all from the same screen in the software. It just naturally integrates into the workflow, so while mixing with dimension might seem complex, it’s made to feel really intuitive. And the quality of sound is just amazing.’

Based on the comprehensive system design, the Kaufmann Concert Hall’s IATSE Local One technical team was able to install the L-ISA configuration on its own, with assistance from Hudson Scenic Design, which designed a second mini-truss for the subs to minimise low-frequency vibrations, as well as a reconfiguration of the lighting system, letting both sound and lights share the existing box truss.

From the very first show, the L-ISA technology has performed flawlessly and proved its worth. In fact, that first show – a performance by Shinedown –illustrated its capabilities as the band members discussed their music with the moderator, Chris Porter, followed by a three-song performance. ‘L-ISA has really changed the way we hear music here,’ adds Fogarty.

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