Sound Advice: Club Wars Heat Up
Oct 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Dan Daley
Nightclubs battle for supremacy by using sheer amplified power.
A nightclub used to be judged on nuance as much as bombast. Jazz aficionados can tell you where the sweet spot is in the Blue Note on West 3rd Street in Manhattan or where Harry James would hang out at the old Roseland Ballroom, looking for hot new players for his orchestra. In today's mammoth danceterias, you're more likely to lose your hearing while also risking organ damage from high SPL.
A seemingly endless procession of new dance clubs in cities, resorts, and casinos are engaged in an arms race — each one has to have a sound system louder and bassier than the one before. It's driving more than the neighbors crazy. “It's insane, the [sound] levels that club owners can ask for,” says Dan Agne, principal in Sound Investment, which has done systems for clubs such as the Cielo in New York and the Red Rock Hotel's Cherry Nightclub in Las Vegas. “It's a challenge enough getting an incredibly loud system to sound good with high-quality music playing through it — try it with MP3s some time.”
TAKING ON THE CHALLENGE
At the Lava danceclub in the Turning Stone resort, a swank vacation spot in upstate New York, the owners asked Nathan Powell, president of integrator PTC Group of Philadelphia, for a loud sound system that not only sounded good but would also be virtually invisible to patrons. After shooting the room with EASE Focus modeling software, eight JBL PD5322 loudspeakers were placed in soffits in a balcony that rings the circular dance floor. This positioning helped achieve the goal of invisibility and kept direct sound from surfing the focused, domed ceiling. But the downward direction of the loudspeakers meant that direct sound could hit the hardwood dance floor, creating reflections.
“We had covered the walls and columns in the space with sound-deadening material, using battens and other treatments, to the point where you could not have a conversation across the room, it was so dead,” Powell says. “But the dance floor was still a challenge.” The solution was to aim the loudspeakers, sitting 12ft. above and 4ft. back from the dance floor, at a virtual point 4ft. above the raised 25ft.-diameter floor. “That way, the pattern is just barely skimming the floor,” he says.
The circular nature of the array also meant that direct sound waves could intersect. The solution was to send a left/right signal to alternate loudspeakers, and to use the BSS Audio Soundweb London processor programmed by noted acoustical analyst Steve Dash using an EAW SMAART (System Measurement Acoustic Analysis Realtime Tool) system, to create a phase-canceling effect.
JBL ASB6128 subwoofers were positioned inside the perimeter wall around the floor and focused on the dance floor, with delays applied to the PD5322 loudspeakers to ensure coherency. This configuration also creates a kind of sonic curtain around the dance floor that is dramatic and allows the overall volume level to be kept sane while still giving patrons the perception of very high volume. The system has been run at 110dB, but it is optimized for about 105dB to 106dB. Another way to rein in volume was to acoustically isolate the DJ booth and give it its own separate sound system using a pair of JBL PRX518S subs inside the booth. “DJs are notorious for turning up the level, so we gave them their own system that's set to ride up to 5dB above the rest of the room,” Powell says. “The DJs get the energy they need without blowing out the room.”
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