The Granada Theater in Santa Barbara, CA, a 1,500-seat venue that serves eight resident companies and hosts a diverse range of performances throughout the year, recently received a new sound reinforcement system utilizing AeroWave point source loudspeakers from Burbank, CA-based Ocean Way Audio.
The new stereo system is designed to distribute 90 degrees of coverage in both the horizontal and vertical planes while delivering direct signal throughout the coverage area with minimal boundary reflections. The project was a collective effort by the Ocean Way Audio team, including Cliff Henricksen (director of new technologies), who created the system concept and design specification; Bruce Marien (director of engineering), who created the electronics and wiring configuration; Ernie Woody (director of production and operations), who managed the construction logistics; and Allen Sides (CEO/owner), who set the sonic parameters of the AeroWave loudspeakers.
“This is undoubtedly one of the greatest venues in California,” says Sides. “With this audio system, we believe we have created something here that is unique and sets this theater apart from other venues of similar size.”
David Johnson, vice president of operations and production for the theatre, explains, “When Allen came in, he said, ‘What you need is more of a point source — the speakers you are using are fighting with each other and the engineer can’t hear what is happening or trust what he is hearing. While line array speakers are prevalent today, this set up would not work for us. With traditional line arrays, there was uneven sound dispersion all around the theater and each of our patrons was having a different (stereo) experience. Allen’s idea was to create a system that could deliver sound from a single source, both wide and high, so everyone in every seat can hear both speakers at once.”
The new loudspeaker system replaced a split-stack line array system that was adequate that wasn’t able to deliver a stereo signal throughout the house. “Allen explained how line arrays have narrow and uneven coverage,” Johnson says. “For instance, if you sit in the middle, you can hear both the left and right speakers but not on the sides.”
Granada engineer Jon Fowler was among the first to see the new AeroWave system being implemented and tested: “We’re the first theater in the world to use this system, and when it came in the building it didn’t look like anything I’ve seen before, and I have been doing live sound and recording for 15 years,” he recalls. Now that the new system is up and running, it sounds great and has made his job easier: “I’ve been working on the old PA for about 8 years now. But with the new AeroWave system, it’s almost like I don’t have to do a lot of EQ work like I did before. You pretty much just pull up the faders and it already sounds good.”
“The hall definitely sounds more like a control room than it did before, and the Ocean Way system really seems to control the frequency spectrum much farther down on the frequency range,” he continues. “Also, the sound seems cleaner now in both the house and on the stage. Because of that, the stereo imaging has just been fantastic. That was one of the things that Allen talked about in when he set his goals for this room, and one of the first things I ever learned about in audio engineering.”
The system was put to the test at a private Grand Opening event for invited guests in late September and then again for two public performances of the new Mariachi opera by Opera Santa Barbara and Kostis Protopapas in early October: “We had a flawless run on both shows of the opera,” Fowler concludes. “We had glowing reviews at the end of the show — a lot of people were coming up to front of house and saying things like, ‘It’s so nice to hear a show with perfect sound.’ It is reassuring to know that I can trust what I am hearing at front of house and know that it is going to translate well throughout the entire hall.”