Almost every touring band of the past 50 years – as well as local artists including Alison Krauss, REO Speedwagon, Dan Fogelberg and Michael McDonald – has passed through Champaign, Illinois, many performing at the Virginia Theatre, the town’s vintage venue that marks 100 years of entertainment this year.

Keeping itself up-to-date, the Virginia recently installed an L-Acoustics Kara II sound system designed by Threshold Acoustics – purchased through L-Acoustics Certified Provider Distributor Mid-America Sound, and installed by Knox-Array Event Production.

VirginiaSteadily renovated over the past 20 years using nearly US$10m in state grants, private contributions, commercial sponsorships, and large donations, the venue now sports completely updated power, infrastructure, and trim that extends to its ornate plaster and the 700-pipe Wurlitzer organ installed in 1921 to live-score silent movies. Reopening this summer, following pandemic downtime, the Virginia Theatre will return in style.

‘It was big undertaking,’ says Technical Manager, Stephen White. ‘It wasn’t just putting in racks and stacks but also infrastructure like a new catwalk and bringing the house power up to date with new conduit, cabling, and even a K-rated transformer, which gives us incredibly clean, quiet power. We had had to add more steel and I-beams to make everything work, but that’s because the sound system is really the centrepiece of it all for a music venue like this.’

The theatre now has 20 L-Acoustics Kara II line source array enclosures, flown ten per side, with four SB28 subs stacked in the orchestra pit. The coverage is extended by two X12 coaxial speakers per side, wall-mounted far left and right under the PA hangs, keeping the first three rows of seats on either side of the fan-shaped 1,463-seat auditorium covered. A dozen short-throw X8 enclosures are used as fill – eight across the front of the stage and four to fill in areas under the theatre dome – while eight compact 5XT are used to cover the under-balcony seating. Everything is powered and processed by a single LA12X and eight LA4X amplified controllers.

‘The back corners of the balcony were always the problem children of the house; it was impossible to get clean sound in there consistently,’ White says. ‘The L-Acoustics fill speakers, which are now covering the last six rows up there, have solved that problem for good. With all the decorative plaster and the odd seating shape, it was a tough room to conquer, but Threshold Acoustics and L-Acoustics did it.

‘The SB28 are in the orchestra pit, which is lined with concrete and stone,’ he continues. ‘When we put some Boz Scaggs on high-res Spotify through the system to test it out, we found that the pit really amps the low end up beautifully. It also revealed that we had to reinforce the decorative stained glass lighting fixtures in there because the low end was so powerful that it made them rattle.’

The venue’s two main arrays are comprised of ten L-Acoustics Kara II enclosures (Pic: Katy Denight)The installation of the Kara II arrays was supported by L-Acoustics’ wide range of integration solutions. Brian Knox, owner of Knox Array Event Production, says the trick from an integrator’s perspective was finding exactly the bracket he needed for some of the delay speakers.

‘You know, you’ll have a great design for a system on paper, but when you actually get into the room, you inevitably will discover spots where there’s a beam or another obstacle where a speaker is supposed to go,’ he says. ‘That’s especially the case in an older theatre like this. We needed to adapt to work around not only the structure but all of the ornamental plaster decor to find both an aesthetic placement and a functional location for the best distribution of the sound. While climbing around in the venue’s nooks and crannies to run wiring, we found that we needed to change the brackets for out fill so that we could aim them appropriately because we couldn’t mount them in their original locations. Fortunately, L-Acoustics has multiple rigging accessories that we could choose from to find the exact one that fit perfectly.’

Knox also found that the design of Kara II’s rigging connections made it easy to hang and adjust: ‘Each of the main speaker hangs was pinned together with a one-point hang using a Polar Focus system and one chain motor per side. That allowed us to adjust it left and right and up and down to more accurately aim the speakers to effectively cover the room,’ he explains.

‘Also, the way that the amplifiers and processing network together with the integration software makes the entire process so much easier. The system sounded really good right out of the box using the factory presets and Autofilter results from Soundvision, and with some fine tuning, it’s now perfect. All of the speakers work so well together with the processing; they make the sound come alive precisely the way it was supposed to in this wonderful old theatre.’

The new Kara II system will be used for everything from the legacy rock shows to performances by the Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company, which appeared at the theatre from 1992 to 2019 and is slated to start up again once the Covid restrictions that have kept the theatre dark since last year are lifted in August.

‘This is a true community theatre, and it hosts a wide variety of shows and events, as well as music and spoken word performances,’ says White. ‘The Kara II will cover all of that, with power and clarity.’

In the meantime, he’s happy to be there while he waits for more normal times to return, pumping his own playlists, featuring lots of classic P-Funk and Bootsy Collins bass lines, through the Kara II and SB28 subs. ‘It’s my own personal stereo system for the time being,’ he says, ‘and it is awesome.’

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