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New England Conservatory Selects Fulcrum Acoustic For Jordan Hall

Parsons Audio works with Incendiary Arts to design and install a custom sound system in the historic National Landmark.

Built in 1903, Jordan Hall has become the heart of the New England Conservatory (NEC). Both NEC and Jordan Hall were declared National Landmarks in 1994, making the conservatory the first music school in the nation to receive such a dual designation.

The hall’s acoustics perform magnificently for traditional orchestral music, but due to the building’s historic status a sound system was never integrated. That changed with the recent installation of Fulcrum Acoustic loudspeaker array that features AH65 high-efficiency, full-range coaxial horns and RX699 coaxial loudspeakers.

“Jordan Hall hosts classical music concerts, as well as performances by our Jazz Contemporary Improvisation and Electronic Music programs,” explains NEC director of audio visual services Lisa Nigris.

“The acoustics are ideal for instrumental music but challenging when a singer was part of an amplified group, or when a symphonic work included a narrator, particularly in the balcony. We needed a high-quality sound system that could reach all areas of the hall.”

Nigris assembled a strong team for procurement, design, and installation via a collaboration with Rick Scott of Parsons Audio in Wellesley, Massachusetts, as well as Ean White of Incendiary Arts and Fulcrum Acoustic’s Rich Frembes. Nigris worked with Frembes to design a system for Jordan Hall based on a horizontal array of three Fulcrum AH65 high-efficiency, full-range coaxial horns, flown from the proscenium in a center cluster. To install the system, Scott brought in Ean White of Incendiary Arts was recommended as an expert in rigging sound systems in historic buildings.

“The AH65 is the right speaker for the room,” says White. “The hall has a very high ceiling and long reverb times, and we needed broadband pattern control. It was a good match.” Fulcrum Acoustic AH Series loudspeakers are bi-amplified, 2-way, high sensitivity, arrayable, coaxial horn systems that provide precise pattern control to below 400 Hz, low frequency extension to 75 Hz, and extremely high output with modest amplifier power. They are particularly effective in acoustically challenging spaces where broadband pattern control is necessary and in applications requiring high acoustic output and high fidelity-as with Jordan Hall.

“You would never know these loudspeakers have horns,” observes White. “There’s no honk, and they are very smooth and open sounding, thanks to Fulcrum’s coaxial loudspeaker and Temporal EQ technology. They really sound great.”

“The center cluster really solved our articulation issues in the main space, but due to our limited rigging options, it could not be flown to cover the front rows or any of the under-balcony seats,” adds Nigris. “So we designed the system to include four Fulcrum Acoustic RX699s at the lip of the stage to cover the front seats and shoot under the balcony. They’re small, powerful, and sound terrific. In fact, I was so impressed with those boxes that I’ve since purchased four more to use as monitors.” RX Series coaxial loudspeakers provide output typical of a much larger loudspeaker and are an excellent option any time moderately high SPLs are required but limited space is available. Spoken word sounds very natural, and the coaxial design assures that this remains so even off-axis.

“Of course, how it sounds is of the utmost importance,” comments Nigris, “but when you’re talking about a national historic landmark, the sound system has to be visually unobtrusive. We needed the speakers mounted as close to the ceiling as possible to avoid blocking the view of the organ pipes and cherubs. The decor is very ornate, and the idea of cutting a hole somewhere almost gave me a heart attack. Fulcrum Acoustic’s willingness to work with us on color matching was huge, and Ean did a magnificent job in the installation. Most people don’t even notice the speakers.”

Concertgoers might not notice the speakers but they do marvel at the sound. “I’ve received so many positive comments about the new system,” says Nigris. “Personally, I’ve attended 27 commencement exercises at NEC, and this was the first time I could hear every word from my seat in the balcony. It sounded amazing.”

Of critical importance, the system fit NEC’s budget. “We’re a nonprofit organization,” notes Nigris, “and it was key for us to find a system with great fidelity that was still affordable. That’s surprisingly hard to do. Thanks to Rick Scott at Parsons Audio, Ean White, and Rich Frembes at Fulcrum Acoustic, NEC, our patrons, students, and faculty are very happy.”

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