Chicago Field Museum of Natural History’s James Simpson Theater, Part 1
And I think that you mentioned before that they had the new 3D projector and that was the main motivator for having a new sound system to go with it?
Yeah. Yeah, it was. We were subcontracted through Frost Chicago to do the audio and D3D who was contracted through Frost 3D cinema because that’s kind of a niche market there. Frost really wanted L-Acoustics in the room, which is why they contacted us and we worked with them and with D3D to find a placement that was going to work both aesthetically and for the integrity of both 3D cinema playback, which is much different from concert reinforcement, and the system will also work for their corporate meetings as well, providing better coverage than the previous system. So now they don’t have to bring their own audio production into the room when it’s rented out by a corporation. [Timestamp: 4:27]
So you went with the L-Acoustics ARCS and I believe a couple of models of their XT speaker series for this. What was the attraction with the ARCS gear?
Well, the ARCS we’ve used before and as far as size and the ability to place them in the space with minimal visual impact, the size was important, basically quality is important. With L-Acoustics you get great sound quality from their speakers. You know, with the combination of the needs of the space and the desire for really high-end sound quality in there that led us to choose the ARCS. And then the XT series, 12XTs were used around the room for surround because they provided enough punch and volume, and also they were small enough to blend into the space well. And we purchased the white version so it would blend into the room and not interrupt the visual continuity of the space. [Timestamp: 5:23]
Yeah, anything other than white in there would really stand out in that place.
Yes. It’s a wide-open room. It the kind, I guess you could say it’s naked. You put something that doesn’t belong in there and you’re going to notice it right away. [Timestamp: 5:35]
It’s interesting how you did the ten 8XTi enclosures. I think there are eight on the sides of the room and two in the back. I think those are only something like 16.5in. high so they can pretty well fit anywhere I guess.
Yeah, they’re pretty low profile, so that was really important to try to make them blend with the room.
And then I think you had four 5XT coaxial cabinets behind a grill on the face of the stage. How did that work? Those are something like a six and a half inch cube so they’re even smaller and they handle, I think, 85W but how did you get those into the face of the stage?
They’re tiny. You can’t tell from the pictures, but the face of the stage there is just a kind of metal, very open metal grille. There’s space underneath the stage where they had previously had some EAW boxes under there. We replaced them with the 5XTs to match the rest of the system because you can get incredible volume and clarity out of those little guys. And we wanted to be sure that the first few rows were well-covered for the cinema; we just sat the center channel through the little 5XTs to make sure that everything was clearly intelligible to the people in the first few rows and that they weren’t missing anything. [Timestamp: 6:51]
How are the acoustics in that place? Was there any kind of acoustic treatment done? I guess you can’t do a whole lot because the theater is very old but it looks like it may be carpeted.
It is carpeted, thank goodness. I mean one thing going for it there. But we were not allowed to do any kind of acoustical treatment on the walls or the ceiling, so it’s pretty reverberant in there. And for that reason it was very important minimizing bounce off the walls and the ceiling and kind of keeping everything focused to the audience area so at least when there’s people in there, it’s more absorptive and more intelligible since you don’t have as much bounce as with the previous system. [Timestamp: 7:26]
And they’ve got some pretty luxurious movie theater-style seats instead of the hard wooden pew-like seats that you have in a lot of those older theaters. So what was the general speaker system design? Was it a left, center, right?
We began with the left, center, right because in cinema applications, the center channel is so important because that’s where your dialogue comes through to kind of anchor the image to the screen so it sounds like the people on screen are actually talking. And pretty much any kind of cinema server you have is going to be set up with a main and left, right, center stops and then different configurations. We started there and we had discussions about how we could do this around that. It took a little while to work out, basically because of the aesthetics of the room and still make it work for surround sound cinema. We considered placement and the challenges of hanging speakers in that old stage and having its own infrastructure, and that’s when we came up with the idea of the little front fills underneath the lip because of the challenges of not being able to hang the cabinets to minimize impact and just providing equal coverage around the space. [Timestamp: 8:41]
I know they were fairly restrictive in that old building about what you could do with it and no acoustic treatment that would visibly alter the look of the place. But behind the scenes, did you have any special problems or have to reinforce anything to fly the speakers?
We did on stage, and we were subcontracted trough Frost. Frost is a dedicated provider of the field museum, so they’re very familiar with the stage. They partnered with us and provided riggers who had been in the space before to help bring the speakers on stage for the left, center, and right clusters of the ARCS. The museum personnel—maintenance personnel—helped us with rigging the surround speakers. Because of the construction techniques used, it was tricky to provide anchor points for those 12XTis around the space. So they helped us out greatly in that respect, crawling up through the ceiling. It took quite awhile to get in and get it right, but the end result was quite worth it. [Timestamp: 9:38]
It’s a great looking place and I know they want it to sound at least that good, so I know it was a big job. Thanks for giving us the technical look at that. Megan Henninger from Clearwing Productions and the James Simpson Theater at the fantastic Chicago Field Museum of Natural History. Thanks for telling us about it.
Well thanks for having me. I appreciate the opportunity.
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