McPherson Opera House‘They wanted a sound system that performers would find not only adequate, but impressive’ – one that would provide not only good, natural sound, but achieve a look in keeping with the building’s legacy.

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Sounds Great Music designer and installer Michael Dunn is talking about the McPherson Opera House project, one of the most prominent buildings in the downtown core of McPherson, Kansas. The venue is known for its acoustics and has hosted everything from Vaudeville shows and films from the golden age of cinema through to political rallies and suffrage meetings. The refurbishment of the 1888 opera house was virtually a complete rebuild, Dunn explains, the final phase of which was completed with the installation of a new lighting rig and an audio system featuring Tannoy QFlex array loudspeakers.

Tannoy wasn’t the first solution considered, Dunn says, but after a closer look at the initial concept – based around a conventional line array system, with the inherent bulk and significant architectural impact that such a system would bring to the space – QFlex swiftly became a better option. ‘We started to look at the lines of sight and the 3D models the architect had, and we realised that more than half of the audience would not be covered by the traditional line array concept, and would have to be covered by additional under balcony fills,’ he says.

Beyond offering a solution that would enhance the experience of both patrons and visiting performers without detracting from the venue’s elegance, QFlex overcame other challenges presented by the build. Specifically, in providing clear, even coverage without forcing users to resort to thumping levels of volume. ‘It’s very close,’ says Dunn. ‘The front of the balcony is about 25-ft from the stage. The farthest corner balcony seat is only 65-ft from the centre of the stage.
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Dunn installed one QFlex 32 on either side of the proscenium to cover the main floor and the first balcony, while another pair of QFlex 24’s – mounted above the proscenium arch – cover the second balcony.

 ‘When Sounds Great first proposed Tannoy’s QFlex and showed us how small they were, we were highly sceptical,’ says John Holecek, Executive Director at the McPherson. ‘It actually created a bit of a crisis there for a minute, but you either trust your vendors or you don’t.’

To flesh out the bottom end Dunn specified two Tannoy Power VS 15BP subs and hung them from the second floor of the Juliet balconies to either side of the stage. ‘You can’t see the subs, can you?’ Dunn asks. ‘We ported them through the wall and then sealed the ports, so that even in the Juliet balconies, while audible, they aren’toverwhelming.’

The McPherson auditoriumCare had to be taken to avoid damage to the venue’s fragile leaded glass windows or to the plaster and lathe fresco above the proscenium during the install or subsequent performances. Overall, the low profile, self-powered QFlex arrays were a perfect fit for the 550-seat venue’s needs. ‘Aesthetics were critical; equally as important as the desire for good, natural sound,’ Dunn continues. ‘In the end, QFlex made for both far less visual clutter, as well as substantial gains in terms of coverage and overall clarity.

‘The fact that the speakers are so unobtrusive is a huge plus in an historic theater,’ Holecek summarises. ‘I can’t emphasise that enough. They blend in wonderfully well. The acoustics were always good – now they’re magnificent.’

The clarity of the system is enhanced by key recent developments in QFlex’s digital connectivity as the install coincided with Tannoy’s development of digital audio input cards and digital audio break in boxes for QFlex systems –testing had only just been completed when the parts were shipped from Tannoy in Scotland to McPherson.

‘We’re running to the QFlex system using AES 110 digital audio,’ Dunn explains. Thus achieving even cleaner sound by maintaining the digital signal throughout the system, eliminating any additional processing and minimising distortion. It’s the first full digital installation of QFlex in North America, and a second technological first for the McPherson, which, in its infancy, became the first ‘electrified’ venue between St. Louis and Denver.
 The digital configuration provided an added layer of quality – always important, but particularly so when doing business in a small town of 17,000 like McPherson (‘where things aren’t always based on price but on quality, close personal relationships, and whether you’re going to be here ten, 15, 20 years to service the product’
).

This is reflected in the level of support Dunn received from Tannoy, in the care that both Dunn and Sounds Great owner Chuck Vetter took to provide the venue with the system they required, and, most critically, in the experience the Opera House has offered audiences for more than 120 years.

More: www.tannoy.com
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