The Orpheum Theatre, a 1,364-seat performance space located in downtown Phoenix, recently underwent an audio overhaul with the implementation of an Audinate Dante-backed network providing the backbone for the new system,
Opened in 1929, the ornate construction of the Orpheum was adorned within by murals and moldings that set the stage for Vaudeville and motion pictures. After serving several other functions over the decades, the venue branched out in the 1980s to offer live performance, hosting acts such as The Ramones, Metallica, Nirvana and REM.
However, it was then, in the 80s, when folks started to notice the venue had fallen into disrepair. “It needed a lot of work after years of use for different performances,” says David Cruse, theatrical venues manager at the City of Phoenix – the governing authority that oversees the Orpheum Theatre. “The proscenium arch had cutouts in it where a larger movie screen had been installed. The murals had been painted over with black paint so as not to detract from the film. Luckily, the citizens of Phoenix really took notice and asked the city to step in, which it did.”
The theater underwent a $14 million renovation and reopened in 1997, with Carol Channing’s last performance of “Hello Dolly.” It has been in operation ever since. However, the improvement of the Orpheum Theatre didn’t stop there.
“When I joined the team about three years ago I started speaking with the promoters in town and asked why they weren’t booking the Orpheum,” Cruse says. “I wanted to know what wasn’t working and why they weren’t doing shows here. One answer that came up a lot was the poor audio.”
He adds that the sound system was “very dated.” When touring shows wanted to use the Orpheum they had to haul in their own gear – from speakers to consoles – because of the old technology. “What we needed was a complete redesign of the audio from the ground up,” Cruse explains. “We needed it to be reliable and flexible so promoters knew they could rely on us. We also wanted it to be impressive to the point that those in the audience would walk away saying ‘that was amazing.’ For these reasons, we went with Dante.”
Dylan Dube, venue audio production coordinator for the Orpheum, adds, “Being able to use standard Ethernet networks and switches greatly reduces the cost and complexity of analog cabling. That was huge for us. Having the extra money that we normally would have spent on cabling go to other parts of the installation just makes the system that much better.”
The full Dante network went into place in April of 2019, with Cruse noting, “When we heard it for the first time it really did sound like the final piece was in place.”
The theatre currently has a redundant Dante network with a Yamaha RIVAGE PM7 at the front of it all. Of the 120 input channels, 96 are patched via Dante to three Yamaha 3224D-2 Rio I/O stage boxes through the building.
The theatre also has an ability to use Dante as a digital split snake by having two Audinate HY144-SRC cards in the PM7. With the cards in place the theater can use any of its other audio consoles (a Yamaha CL5 mixer, a Yamaha PM5D-RH mixer with three MY16-Aud2 cards, and an Allen & Heath SQ-5 with a Dante card) to control any position in the facility. All the devices are linked on the Dante network, meaning the system can be quickly reconfigured for individual user preference – such as monitor desk, recording or both.
The main PA system is fed from the Dante HY144D-SRC card in the Yamaha Rivage PM7 at a 96 kHz sample rate. It is then converted in to AES3 using Dante AVIO adapters. While the Dante-backed network provides the backbone for the system, Dante Domain Manager adds a level of observability, management and security that provides the Orpheum’s technicians with added control.
Domain Manager organizes a network into zones called “domains” that each have individual access requirements, making it clear and easy to know who can access any area of the system. All activity is logged, tagged, and date-stamped so problems can be quickly identified and solved.
“The ability to jump subnets is just fantastic,” Dube says. “Our PA systems go from Dante on a DHCP network to our d&b audiotechnik network that is static. What Dante Domain Manager allows us to do is patch Dante to the static network only on channels we define. We’re jumping from DHCP to a static network in a way that is just immensely useful.”
Dube adds that setting guest domains has been another advantage. One example is when a guest engineer with a Dante enabled desk. “We were able to let them plug directly into the switch,” he explains. “We asked what endpoints they wanted access to and we added those to the guest domain. They were up and running within the whole network within 10 minutes. At the same time, we kept control of their access. Dante Domain Manager removes any worry about inadvertent security or network compromises.”
Cruse concludes by saying that when he looks at the full system he believes they have fulfilled a promise to city to provide the best possible experience in the space: “We want to be true to the history of the Orpheum. We want to be known for variety. This means we absolutely needed top-quality audio, but also flexibility to bring all these events in. Dante means we can weave programming in and out easily and still know everyone is going to sound great in here.”