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Smooth Performer: Sound Reinforcement For The new eTown Hall
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Recognized nationally as a premier radio music program and broadcast on over 300 stations in North America, eTown has recently completed the renovation of its own 17,000-square-foot specialty venue called eTown Hall, located in Boulder, CO.

The weekly radio broadcast heard from coast to coast on NPR, public and commercial stations is taped in front of a live audience and features performances and interviews with top musical artists.

The format has attracted former presidents and icons including Jane Goodall, Jimmy Carter, Sarah McLachlan, Bob Weir, Lyle Lovett, JJ Cale, Mavis Staples, Willie Nelson and James Taylor.

Founder and host of eTown Nick Forster has been working to create eTown Hall for many years.

“We’ve been dreaming of having our own space, one that could serve as a multi-purpose, media-making performance hall and community center – all powered by the sun – and now we have it. For a non-profit organization, the process of designing and building the space took some time, and we had to assemble an amazing team to get it right,” Forster explains.

The result is a space that meets the needs of eTown’s performance and broadcast criteria while paying heed to eco-friendly practices.

A recent performance at new eTown Hall.

The structure that houses eTown Hall was formerly a Church of the Nazarene built in 1922. Transforming the 90-year old building into a state-of-the-art music hall presented multiple challenges.

To meet the ambitious design requirements, which include not only the offices of eTown but also a live recording facility, multiple edit suites, a music cafe and the main performance hall, Forster chose Sam Berkow and SIA Acoustics, based in New York City, as acoustical engineers and consultants. 

“Nick had a very specific vision for this new facility. The scope of that vision included multiple spaces that required isolation in a number of areas.” Berkow explains. “We started with the structure – down to the new steel beams and all new walls and floors – and then we added treatment.

Sam Berkow of SIA doing the nitty-gritty work onsite, ironing acoustical fabric. (click to enlarge)

“Then, Nick and I listened to a few different speaker boxes. Not only did the live performance room require special acoustical treatment, but we had to choose a sound system that worked well with the size of the space and the more ‘rootsy’ type of music performed.

“There were also a number of other spaces to consider. In particular, isolating the recording spaces from the live venue proved somewhat challenging, but these are the types of projects where SIA excels. At the end of the day, every detail and design consideration had to mesh with all of the practical challenges presented by eTown as an organization.”

A look upward at one of the venue’s five-element Alcons LR14 arrays.

To provide even coverage throughout the space, Berkow and Forster chose Alcons Audio pro-ribbon based compact line arrays, with five full-range LR14/90 cabinets flown per side. The LR14 incorporates two 6.5-inch woofers joined by the Alcons RBN401 4-inch pro-ribbon drivers.

A stage monitor package and small café system also utilize Alcons loudspeakers, including six VR8 and two VR12 enclosures. Both are 2-way designs that are also outfitted with pro-ribbon HF devices.

Left to right, key contributors to the project, including Sam Berkow, David Rah, Marc Nutter and Preston Smits, also of Sound Sense.

The compact nature of the monitor systems worked well in the design due to sightline considerations, as well as the desire to provide the same level of fidelity for the artists as well as the patrons.

All loudspeakers in the project are driven by Alcons ALC2 class G amplifiers with integral DDP digital drive processing modules handle amplification. These amplifiers are designed by the company for exceptional low-noise and high-fidelity to ensure that the ribbon drivers are able to reproduce the original source faithfully. 

Alcons ALC2 class G amplifiers driving the loudspeakers on the project.

Sonic Sense of Denver performed the system installation, with owner Marc Nutter working closely with Berkow to measure and tune the system. On-site factory assistance was provided by David Rahn, North American sales manager for Alcons, to help achieve the final outcome.

“We spent a lot of time listening to a number of high-end systems but ultimately chose Alcons Audio for the smooth performance in the top end, which we all agreed did the best job of presenting the type of acoustic oriented performances that eTown is known for,” Berkow concludes.


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